Learning in the Car with Small Children

Families today spend a lot of time in the car. Many parents get frustrated and feel like it is a waste of time, but, as with any time spent with your family, it can be used for good purposes. Although we tend to just think of time in the car as something that should be endured, it can be a valuable time for learning games and activities.

Many preschoolers are just starting to learn letters and sounds. While driving, you pass a lot of signs. Read them aloud to your children and ask what sound does that make. You can point out when the sounds are the same as their name: “That sign says ‘gas.’ ‘Gas’ has the same sound as ‘Gregory,’ g-g-g.” You can point out when signs have the same beginning sounds as “mom,” “dad,” “dog,” or any other word that might have meaning to your child. You can also help them recognize the letters. Have them look at a few capital letters before you leave home and see if they can find the same letters on signs as you drive.

If you are fortunate enough to pass some natural beauty as you drive, your children can learn about animals and plants. Point out any hawks you see, or other birds of prey, and explain to your children what the birds are doing as they’re circling and looking for food. Explain the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees by telling your child how the leaves on one type of tree fall off after they turn pretty colors and the other stays green all year round. You can also explain how the grass is green when it gets rain and brown when it’s been dry for a while. Children love to learn about nature and science and tend to be very interested in these topics.

Something that many people don’t think about but that is a valuable subject for children and their parents to talk about is social-emotional development. This sounds a little intimidating, but it can be as easy as asking kids how they feel about anything that happened during the day. This might be thinking about how it made them feel when their friend wanted to play with them or when someone took a toy away from them. Your child may not yet have the ability to recall how he felt earlier. You can help him by asking, “What was your favorite part of your day? What was the worse part?’ Using these answers, you can engage your child in a discussion about their feelings, how the interact with others and learn more about what your child has done while at school. Who hasn’t asked, “What did you do today,” only to hear, “Nothing.” This trick can help avoid that situation. Whatever you chose to do, use this precious alone time in the car to interact with your child, they will find it very rewarding.

Finally, don’t forget that some children need some downtime, and the car can provide this. Some quite music and no conversation in a car, particularly after a busy day at school, can help some children prepare for the rest of the evening.