Making long trips by car can at times be nerve-wracking for adults, especially if they must travel with their children.
"Are we there yet, Daddy?"
"How much longer, Mommy?"
"I've got to go to the bathroom." (You just stopped for that purpose only 10 minutes earlier.)
"I'm bored. There's nothing to do but sit here, and I'm getting tired."
"Mom, Billy touched me. Make him stay on his side of the car."
Sound all too familiar? By the time you reach your destination - whether it is a vacation spot or the home of an out-of-state friend or relative - you're ready to pull your hair (or scalp one of the kids).
My wife and I have taken a few such trips ourselves. Then we discovered a way not only to avoid the same endless questions and squabbles but also to make the trip enjoyable and (dare I say it) educational for both ourselves and our four daughters. We developed travel notebooks for each child. They worked so well, we've used them on every major trip we've taken since then.
In addition to keeping the children constructively occupied, a travel notebook can help homeschooling families make use of travel time as educational time. They also provide a convenient memory bank for the child's future and help him or her develop pride in accomplishment.
Because the outward appearance of the notebook can send a message to the child about its importance (or lack thereof), we decided to make our notebooks very attractive and formal. We purchased each child a 9 1/2" x 11 1/2", 2-pocket, 3-clip notebook (capacity of about 30 to 35 pages). Each child chose her own unique color to aid in rapid identification.
Next, I used my desktop publishing software to create an attractive title page. Because the trip we were planning was to Florida to celebrate the Christmas holidays with my wife's parents, I titled each notebook Christmas in Florida: The Florida Vacation of the Peterson Family. Beneath the subtitle I typed "as recorded by" followed by each child's name and the dates of the trip.
The "meat" of the notebook was a series of sections, each of which was named on a separate sheet and included in the table of contents, which followed the title page. The first section, a regional map of the southeastern United States, was titled "The Route We Took." It included state boundaries, major cities, and the highway routes on which we would travel. The children were to track our route in red as we progressed from point to point along the way. Because they had the map in front of them and could tell by road signs where we were, we eliminated "Are we there yet?" and "How much farther?"
Next, we included a national map with broken lines for state boundaries and bold lines for regional boundaries. Using this map, the children were to identify the states from which they saw other cars. The map included a color-coded key to each of 10 geographic regions of the United States and Canada. We gave each child her own box of crayons (you might use colored pencils) for coloring in each state from which they spotted a license plate.
This section proved to be the most enjoyable for the girls as they competed to see which of them would be the first to color completely each region. During the course of the trip from Tennessee to Florida (which we divided into four days - we stopped a lot along the way), they were able to color in all but six of the states. They also saw cars from Mexico (I had failed to entertain that possibility and had therefore not included it on the map), Puerto Rico, and even South Korea!
The third major section was simply 15 to 20 pages of lined notebook paper on which they were to list the various places we stopped and to make journal entries expressing their thoughts and feelings and recording activities in which they engaged during the trip. One daughter, for example, made the following entries on the first day:
"Dec. 17 - Saw a skunk at North Carolina welcome center. It walked right in front of the car!
"Saw Spanish moss growing on trees along highway in South Carolina.
"Saw Atlantic Ocean for first time at 3:25 p.m."
My wife and I made no attempt to dictate what types of things the girls should include in their journals. They wrote what was of interest to them. Some of them even drew pictures of things they saw.
The last section of the notebook was titled "The Trip in Pictures" and had to be completed after the trip was over. All along the way, each of us (parents and children alike) was alert to things that would make good photographs because we all knew we had to put pictures in our books. I inserted 10 blank sheets of typing paper into each notebook for this purpose. This section was to become the private photo album of the trip for each child.
When the trip was over and the film had returned from the developer, the girls gathered around excitedly as we began to go through the pictures.
"Oh, I remember that!" they exclaimed.
"Hey, do you remember what happened when we . . ."
"I want that one of me digging in the sand."
We had taken more than enough shots of everything (double prints, no less), so there was generally no bickering over who got which pictures. The problem was getting them to narrow the number to what would fit comfortably and attractively into their notebooks. Once selections were made, they attached each photo to the blank pages with rubber cement. Then they wrote appropriate captions (some humorous, some explanatory, and some statistical) for each photo.
Finally, we made use of the pockets of the notebooks. As we traveled, the girls had gathered quite an impressive collection of pamphlets, postcards, and tourist or informational material. They organized these items in the front and back pockets of their notebooks, Some of the material proved useful when they were making journal entries. They are especially helpful in jogging positive memories of the various attractions we visited along the way, including historic St. Augustine and Castillo de San Marcos, Marineland, Kennedy Space Center, and the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.
An Effective Tool
The notebook idea was without question the most effective tool we've found to ease tensions on long trips and conduct a positive school day at the same time. Our first travel notebooks made that trip one of the most enjoyable we've ever taken. I'm certain that the girls will never forget it. Even now, years after that trip, the girls pull out their notebooks, look at the pictures, and show their work to friends and relatives.
Last summer, when we were preparing to vacation in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, the girls were appalled to learn that I thought that they were now too old to need the notebooks and I didn't plan to prepare any this time. Popular demand, however, forced me to make four copies of "Summer in Pennsylvania and New York: The Peterson Family Summer." (When your kids start demanding that you make workbooks so they can learn, you know the method is effective!)
It has worked for us. Why not give it a try yourself on your next trip?