6 Travel tips for distractible kids

6 Travel Tips for Distractible Kids

By Kathy Kuhl

How do we help our kids when they have to sit and travel? Long times in the car or plane can make anyone restless. It drive kids crazy, especially those who have trouble sitting still.

Of course, sitting to travel is not just a summer problem. Children have to sit on the way to camping, soccer, piano, co-op, therapy, or medical appointments. Country kids and suburban kids face long car rides. City kids get stuck in traffic or long transit journeys.

Here are some tips to help those hours pass.


1) Keep their hands busy

Word Spin game
Word Spin lets you practice spelling, or just enjoy building words as you move and spin the magnetic rings of letters together.
  • Choose crafts and games that are safe for the car. Obviously, no sharp parts, but also nothing too messy, nor with many small bits. You can buy or make sewing cards, with yarn or a colorful shoelace. If you knot on a blunt plastic needle, you won’t be rethreading it.
  • Each child will want paper, a few pencils, and a clipboard. Consider the hollow kinds that will hold pencils,  (not crayons) consider what will melt in a hot car. Clipboards will help your kids draw and play old-fashioned games like Dots and hangman.
  • Hand games patty-cake, One Frog, Two eyes
  • String games like Cat’s Cradle and Jacob’s Ladder.
  • Visit a dollar store before the trip and you’ll be able to gift each child a small new game en route.
  • Fidgets like Tangle Jr.
  • Don’t forget therapy toys such as weighted animals and special cushions. You’ll find these from my friends Melinda and Scott Boring at HeadsUpNow.com and other sites like Abilitations. Some favorites are listed below.
    See below in the resource section.

2) Bag check

Make the kids responsible to pack their bag for the car, but check the contents. Recheck morning of the trip for beloved essentials, and to avoid disasters. (“No, the guinea pig is not coming on this trip!”)

3) Move it

On the road, make time to move. Stop every 2-3 hours. If you’re on a plane, walk up and down aisle. Teach your kids exercises they can do in the seat: chair push-ups, lifting knees, etc. Before you go, google “stretch exercise on airplane.” Try them yourself at home first.

4) What were you expecting?

What do you expect of your kids? What do they expect on the road or in the air? Secretly, we may long for our kids to behave like tiny adults for the next six hours. Most won’t. Tell them what to expect.

Talk to your kids in advance about not bumping other people’s seats. You could set chairs in rows at home to simulate two narrow rows on a place. Talk about good manners in tight places.

5) Good music

What’s your soundtrack? I list a few favorites below. Choose a variety of moods. Experiment with new styles and composers. If your child likes John Williams’ music for Star Wars, try music by Anton Bruckner or Gustav Holst’s The Planets. Fans of The Lord of the Rings’ movies might enjoy listening to that complete score or other works by Harold Shore.

6) Audio books

Recorded books are one of my favorite ways to spend a long drive. They are also are a great way to share wonderful books with your children. Choose books you think they will enjoy. You might choose a book related to your destination. Try engaging historical fiction set where you are traveling.

A good narrator is vital

Narration is a skill and an art. My favorite narrators are here, links are below.

  • Jim Weiss, who tells great stories, myths, fables, and history. My adult son and I still enjoy listening to him.
  • Jim Dale, who did a wonderful job on the Harry Potter series.
  • It doesn’t take a famous name to create a great audio book. On Audible, Donna Tartt, the woman who read True Grit, by Charles Portis, was excellent. She has the perfect accent and voice for the text. As best I can tell, this is the only book she’s recorded, because she loves it.

So listen to samples before you buy. Your child, like my son, may be driven crazy by poor narration or computer generated voices.

7) Bonus tip for travel with kids with learning challenges

Our struggling learners often need to homeschool most of the summer. It keeps them from losing skills. But, it’s important to take a break from homeschool a couple weeks a year. Your vacation should be one of them.

Below the resource section, please share your favorite activities for travel with children. Thank you.


Keeping hands busy

Our family’s favorite music for the road

Audio books

More on travel with kids

Parenting coach Sarah Hamaker gives more practical suggestions at Crosswalk. 

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