Whether your kids go to traditional school or homeschool, driving in the car is a great time to do some fun family car schooling. Travel experiences are my favorite way to educate the kids, and planning some great car activities can make a road trip even better.
As homeschoolers, the car often becomes a second home as we drive on trips, field trips, lessons, and meet up with friends. Natural learning comes through life experiences of travel, cooperating with family, language learning, money management, culture appreciation, and family time together. When you see life as a learning opportunity, the trip can be just as meaningful as the destination. It’s all in how you see the situation.
Being on a road trip as the only parent is a survival situation no matter how hard we all try to plan a family road trip with less stress. Our group is not the folk-singing, peaceful, travelling family like you see on happy car trips in movies. The four kids are usually fighting over which movie to watch on the TV with headphones, and I have my own book or podcast playing on my Bluetooth headphones to block out the backseat arguing. If we are driving more than a few hours, the TV goes on in the back of the van.
Warning. Don’t call the fun they have in the car and at the destination “learning” or “educational”. That’s when the kids stop enjoying it and start complaining!
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Don’t Bring Homework… Unless You Have To
When we first started travelling, I used to pack a bag of math books, take the morning time binder, and print out car worksheets. Inevitably, I would arrive back home after the trip feeling like a “failure” because I never unpacked them. Only after several years of homeschooling on the road did I realize the act of travel was part of the learning experience.
Travel with bigger kids is more challenging because they have math curriculum and writing assignments to turn into for dual enrollment or co-op classes. Worksheets can be dictated to mom. Science lessons can be narrated and discussed. Books can become audiobooks for car sick kids. Math can be completed in the evenings at the hotel. Written papers can be dictated to a phone. See the curriculum as a guide and not the rule – make it work for you.
Now that I see learning as a lifestyle, instead of piling the car with worksheets and unreasonable plans, I look at resources already with us. Load up the phone with excellent audiobooks and interesting podcasts. Swap out binders for dice, decks of cards, games, books, and movies. You need extra trunk space anyway.
Audiobooks are on the top of our list of car entertainment, and we have listened to some great ones. While we have done many historical fiction, most of our car books have nothing to do with the traditional learning. And they still count!
The kids are all growing their imaginations and increasing their love of reading. The little ones are working on building their listening skills and being exposed to bigger words. Even if the four year old doesn’t know every detail of what’s going on, they can understand smaller parts while shooting the toy gun out the window at all the trees or letting his stuffed Spiderman jump from seat to window.
Family culture is being formed as you have shared experiences of imaginary worlds, made-up words, and characters who become friends. These story lines later come into their imaginative play at home. Some of my kids’ top favorite audiobooks are those we have listened to together on trips.
For short trips or taking a break between books, podcasts are the go-to option. Honestly, once a book is in process, the kids have little patience for podcasts because they want to listen to their story. Through kid podcasts, we have listened to folk stories from the world, debated, and learned all kinds of science facts. There are even podcasts that discuss composers and read poetry and give you the news for the day. Below are our favorites – all available on iTunes.
- Smash Boom Best – A show that pairs two different things and debates them
- Stories Podcasts – Traditional fork stories from around the world and new stories as told by some excellent story tellers
- Brains On – A podcast for curious minds about all things science including animals, the world, and nature
- Stuff You Should Know – A bigger kid and parent podcast about anything and everything
- Stuff You Missed in History Class – History made interesting for bigger kids and parents
Music appreciation! Songs are a part of their heritage just as much as classic stories. Make a playlist on Amazon Music for easy access.
- Turn on the hymns so your kids can add to their Christian heritage.
- Switch to the fifties channel and introduce the kids to Frank Sinatra.
- Listen together to the songs of your childhood.
- Rock out to rock classics.
- Pick a classical composer or period and look for the differences.
Yes, I realize this is a typical homeschooler thing, but it doesn’t have to be. After all these years with Classical Conversations, we best learn a lot of our memory work through short songs for math, English, history, science, and Latin. In the car currently, we are singing the Gettysburg Address along with our school scripture for the semester. Even if you aren’t a homeschooler, there are lots of Bible verses set to song for memory work everyone can do.
Once we are at a destination, these silly science and history songs are sung. Sometimes Mom uses them to drive home the connections; sometimes it’s just kids reading a familiar word and breaking out in song. I love making connections with facts they already know.
Math and Logic
The driving world is endless opportunities for real world math. The car is full of numbers: speedometer, GPS, clocks, and mileage. Take advantage of restroom, gas, and food stops to discuss money. You could even drill math facts, solve mental math problems, and have your kid create real world math problems for you to solve.
- How long until we get there? How long has it been?
- What are time zones? What time is it back home right now?
- How fast are we going? How much faster will we get there if I go 65 MPH instead of 70 MPH?
- What does miles per gallon mean?
- How long will it take us to get there if we stop to pee every hour for 15 minutes each time?!
- Estimate for me how much it will cost to get you each ice cream? How much change?
- How many movies do you have time to watch?
- What do you notice about the temperature as we move into different temperature zones?
Geography and Science
There is no better way to learn about your physical world than travel. The kids have seen so many different states and landforms around the United States. Textbooks to them become a reminder of places they’ve seen in real life. Learn geography without boring textbooks. Travel lets the kids have stories and memories instead of mere vocabulary words..
- Put the phone on the holder so the kids can see the map.
- Download the altimeter app and discuss altitude.
- Put a big kid in charge of the planning or the map or navigation. Give them a clipboard, pen, and map – looks official.
- Print copies of paper maps at home so the kids can track the journey.
- Notice the state border crossings and the landforms that might be the reason for the boundary.
- Pass around the US atlas or durable state map for them to track the trip.
- Point out landforms outside the window: see the mesa, drive up the volcano, compare the river size to another you’ve seen… Color in the pictures when you find one.
- Observe the geographical differences around you in the land, trees, animals, and weather.
- Grab a picture nature guide for them to watch for animals and birds from the car.
Turn It Off and Talk to Your Kids
Listen to them. Turn off the radio and talk to your kids about the world. Ask them questions. Talk about the stuff you see outside the window of the car and see what rabbit trail it takes you down. What are you reading? What are they reading? (link to sarah Mackenzie)
The biggest obstacle to making all this happen is ourselves. We have to turn off our own music, take off our own headsets, and be intentional about seizing the opportunities. This doesn’t mean you have to do that for eight hours all the way to Grandma’s house and back. Put on the movie and the headphones when you or they or both need a break. It’s completely allowed. Just make the rest of the time count because it already does!
You have a lifetime of knowledge in your head and a kid strapped in with nowhere to go. Sounds like an ideal opportunity to me for real conversations. All you have to do is listen.