Travelling With Kids (And Saving Your Sanity)

By my calculations, this year we have logged more than 80 hours of extended travel with our kids (some of it was just me and the kids) by plane and car.  And we’re looking at probably 50 more before the year is finished (starting next week!).  So I’m starting to feel like I’ve got this down, more or less.

My kids are in the 2-5 range, so I’m sure it would be a different story and a different game plan with a baby or with older kids, but here are some things that have worked for us! UPDATE 7/6/15 My older kids are now in the 5-7 range and most of these activities are still very entertaining for them. I’ll add a few more things we have included to our travel preparations, as we still do a fair amount of traveling with kids each year. Look for the updates throughout the post. (Post contains affiliate links, which help support this blog- thank you!)

The Basics:
We start out with a few foundation items: a cooler with plenty of healthy snacks, a few not- so healthy ones, and drinks.  Books, pillow/ blanky, and one or two beloved toys.  Technology- some new tunes on an mp3 player- both kid songs and grown up music, a portable DVD player for the car, our favorite kid shows, Leap Pads, earphone splitter, and headphones.

We are usually in the car for 13-14 hours one way, so we need a LOT to keep our kids entertained and happy.  I don’t want them watching movies the whole time, and they aren’t really into that either- usually 1-2 movies only for a trip that length. I do encourage them to nap, and sometimes they will for a short time, but the majority of the time they are kept happiest when they have a variety of activities to choose from.  We alternate the basics above with activities from the bag of tricks below.

The Activity Rotation
We rotate through our bag of tricks, each activity lasting on average from 15-30 minutes, repeating our favorites multiple times. (Your kids might have longer attention spans, depending on their personalities and ages, the times I list below are just to give a general idea)  Here are some of our favorites:

Good old pencil and paper for drawing, name writing, and letter/ number/ shape practice.  This one probably only lasts 10-15 minutes at a time.

Magnadoodles.  We would do this activity maybe after a movie, not drawing in notebooks.  Probably another 10-15 minute activity for my boys.

Silly putty is a great fine motor activity and there are sooo many variations on this activity.  Sculpting, twisting, stretching, ink printing, stamping, impression making, bubble blowing etc.  We are happy with this activity for at least 30 minutes.

A memory game of some type is good (Here is the one we have); there are also tons of free printables you can find on Pinterest that are travel memory games or scavenger hunts. This is a 10-15 minute activity for us, but I think as they get older, and if I had more variations of it, they would play longer.

Scratch art.  This is a fun activity for older kids and maybe grown ups too!  You use the wooden stylus to scratch off the black coating and underneath is brightly colored plastic when you hold it up to the light.  This is a 25-30 minute activity for my kids, but they need a little encouragement.

Dry erase activities (like this).  We pack a couple different colors of dry erase pens, and just use tissue to erase.  For whatever reason, my boys both love using dry erase markers over any other type of writing implement.  My only warning is that dry erase pen is VERY hard to get out of clothing…  My kids will play with this activity for about 25 minutes.

Magnatab.  This is somewhat similar to the magnadoodle in that you use a magnetic stylus, but it works by pulling up a little metal ball that lodges in a groove near the top of the surface.  You can’t draw anything very detailed, but it makes a satisfying sound and it is somewhat of a novelty.  My kids will probably spend about 20 minutes on this.

Stringing beads and shapes. This is actually an activity that I inherited from my mom, and it is kind of nostalgic because Marissa and I played with this in the car 20+ years ago!  My mom actually had us help her make salt dough shapes, which we let dry and then painted together.  My mom cut out a bunch of felt shapes and punched holes in them, and everything got strung on shoelaces.  We used to have all kinds of neon colored laces; this is what is left two decades later! Haha.  We add random empty spools, beads, etc. for stringing.  My kids will play with this for 20 minutes usually.

Felt board with story puppets and shapes.  Here’s another one I played with as a child, which my mom gave back to me.  (My mom is super creative, as you may be able to tell.  She made all of the puppets herself.)  The kids play with this usually about 15 minutes, then throw the shapes all around the car for another 10. I guess we take what we can get. Haha.

Eye Spy Books. We have a couple of these books along with some magnifying glasses.  That combo seems to last us about 30 minutes if we have enough books to search through.

Dollar Store games.  We have a few little things like this that we have found at the dollar store or saved from kid’s meals which will entertain the kids for 5-10 minutes on average.  Not very long, but it does the trick to distract them sometimes when they are starting to get whiny or have a meltdown.

WikkiStix.  This is another activity that is fun for kids and adults alike.  These “sticks” are actually pieces of yarn coated in some kind of wax that sticks to itself and other nonporous surfaces, but leaves your hands mess- free… win!  This awesome fine motor activity lasts us a good 30 minutes.

Here’s another blast from my past!  As you can tell, these also belonged to Marissa and I as kids.  Now my kids love coloring on the chalkboards.  I will probably have to give Marissa hers soon as her daughter gets old enough to use it.  :)  We just use colored chalk and tissue for erasers.  These have also stood the test of time for 20+ years!  This is a 20 minute activity.

Every once in a while, we get a really good kids meal toy.  We got several sets of these connector things from Wendy’s a few months ago, and I save two sets for our next car trip.  My kids will play with these for 30 minutes.

Magnet story board.  This is a new toy that I haven’t showed my kids yet. It is a metal box with three sheets of punch-out magnet animals that you can mix and match to make silly looking animals.  I’m hoping this one will give us at least 30 minutes of creativity. UPDATE 7/6/15 My kids have loved this activity and they sometimes request it even when they’re not traveling.

Sculpting play foam.  We love this stuff!  As long as your kids are old enough to not throw it around, it is super easy to clean up, and it sticks to itself only- not your hands, so totally mess- free!  Woohoo!  This is a 20+ minute activity.

Window Crayons and mirrors.  Ok, I’m going to warn you- this can get messy, so skip it if your kids will draw on seats, themselves, etc.  The crayons are almost a dry lipstick consistency, but it does wipe off very easily with wet wipes.  We do this activity for 15 minutes- any longer, and my kids will start drawing a mural on their carseats.

Mess- free markers.  If the previous activity made you shudder, then maybe this one will float your boat. These markers don’t actually use ink; they only work on specially treated paper.  So it is impossible to make a mess with these. My kids are interested in this for about 15 minutes.

Various car doo-dads.  Dancing giraffes, bendy blocks (made that name up), kaleidoscopes (we have these), and marble mazes that I sewed based on tutorials around the web.  Each of these activities is good for 5 minutes, give or take.

Creative commons photo credit

Triangular crayons or colored pencils for road trips are brilliant- they don’t roll. I think a few companies make them now; ours are Melissa and Doug.  We also have some clipboards that help a lot with coloring and many of the above activities just to provide a hard surface to work on.

UPDATE 7/6/15 Here are a few more items we have added:

Our most recent addition is this Boogie board. We haven’t used it on a trip yet, so I don’t have my own picture, but it is a fun LCD writing tablet that is fun for doodling on.

My boys love doing these types of mini Lego kits. They aren’t too expensive (usually around $5) and they can do them over and over. Cut out the picture on the front of the package, and keep the instructions if your kids are into that, and keep it all together with the Lego pieces in a ziplock bag.

For the grownups: For car trips, we bring our favorite healthy snacks, a couple treats, protein bars or drinks, our caffeine of choice (almost always Dr. Pepper), a book to read from, and an audiobook that is as exciting as possible.  One of our last trips we listened to Ender’s Game and it kept all the drowsiness away for both of us, which is super important if you drive at all during the night.

Between all the different activities, eating, potty breaks, movies, naps, and the mandatory looking out the window minutes between activities, that pretty much takes up our whole trip.  We have modified this to work on airplanes too.  It’s always a good idea to have at least a couple new things that your kids haven’t seen before.  On one trip, we wrapped everything in wrapping paper, and it was really fun for the kids to open their “presents”.  We never get these toys and activities out at any other time than travelling, so they are extremely desirable and the kids are excited to play with them.

Oh- before I forget- I got these toys from a variety of sources. Amazon, ToysRUs, some were gifts or we made them, Walmart, and a whimsy, magical toy store in the southwest Portland metro-ish area of Oregon called Mudpuddles. Favorite toystore ever! (I would link to them, but they don’t appear to have a working website. Dang. We are going to visit soon and do some Christmas shopping!)

Hopefully there were some good ideas for you.  Happy travels!

Rock art gift

I was looking through pictures from last summer and came across pictures of a special gift from my son’s fourth birthday party.  I am excited to share this creative gift/activity idea with you!  My parents and some of my younger siblings had been at the beach earlier in the summer and my dad had the idea of collecting the smooth, differently colored rocks from the sand and starting a collection for my son.  Some rocks were big, black, smooth and flat, and others were funny shapes, bright colors, and small.

My dad packaged the rocks up in a cool box and you can see from my son’s face that he thinks this gift is awesome.  “What?  You’re giving me rocks?”

This was a delightful tactile experience for both my boys- the youngest was two at the time so we had to watch him carefully so he wouldn’t put the rocks in his mouth.

“I can make a sandwich!”

“Look at this smiley face!”

In fact, it was so delightful, that pretty soon we had this going on:

Ok, so maybe we’re easily entertained (nothing wrong with that!) but something about this hands-on experience really brought out our creativity.



Honestly, the adults probably had as much fun as my son did making rock creations, and it was a great memory to make together.  I loved that it was spatially interesting and mentally stimulating (kind of like putting together a puzzle).  Mostly, I loved that my family thought about my son while they were away, and spent a lot of time picking up these rocks that they knew he would love.

Sock Monkeys for Texas

For Making the World a Little Sweeter this month, we are going to do a Craft Hope project.  If you haven’t seen the Craft Hope website, check it out.  It is a site that encourages readers to do a craft project about once a month that will benefit folks with a need somewhere in the world.

Image from

The current project at Craft Hope is sweet sock monkeys.  The recipients?  Kids in Texas who have lost their homes this past summer in fires.  Read this post to learn more, but basically 1,600 homes burned down during the record- breaking summer heat Texas experienced this year.  Many of those were likely homes for young families, and that means that there are a lot of children who have lost the homes that were familiar to them.  That’s where Project 15, Sock Monkeys for Texas comes in.  All of the sock monkeys that are collected will be given to children who have lost their homes during these fires.  I made my first-ever sock monkey this week in an afternoon’s time.  Would you care to join me in participating in this project? Here’s how:

1. You need a pair of socks, stuffing, and a few sewing notions.  I found these brand- new socks for a dollar at D.I., and I had planned another project for them, but after I read about Project 15, I knew what their ultimate destiny would be.  (Ooh-ooh-ooh-ahh-ahh!)

2.  If you’ve never made a sock monkey before, check out these super- useful tutorials:

  • Craft Stylish (Download the pdf file. This tutorial has a nice diagram that helps when you are cutting.)
  • Craftbits (This tutorial gives great step-by-step instructions with pictures and I found it really helpful for explaining how to put the parts together.)

3. Sew up your monkey. 😀  You can make it as simple or as fancy as you like.  Some cute kid is going to love it either way.

My skewompus but lovable sock monkey friend.

4. Mail your monkey and feel warm fuzzies. Here’s the link again for the original post which if you scroll to the bottom contains the address to send it to.

Did I mention there is a deadline?  No, I guess I didn’t… but Jade Sims (Craft Hope founder) needs the monkeys by November 24th– that’s Thanksgiving. 

I’m mailing my monkey tomorrow.  Will you join me in this monkey business?!

Finishing Half-Finished Projects

A while ago I talked about my procrastination problem– I mean the fact that I start tons of projects but don’t finish them.  Ever since then, I have been trying to finish up projects that I started or had the supplies for but hadn’t completed.  Here are a few:

1. Bibs. I bought a cheap pack of bibs a long time ago and intended on decorating all of them but most of them just sat in my closet for a long time… until this week!  I used scraps of fabric from past projects and vintage sheets to add some interest, and even gave a few away. 

2. Burp cloths.  I had a template at one point that I had used to make burp cloths before, but I couldn’t find it when I went to make these burp cloths out of flannel scraps, so I drew up my own template.   These were really quick to make; I just sewed them with right sides together and a little hole for turning them right side out, then I top stitched them together.

3. Marble maze game.  I first saw this idea over at Serving Pink Lemonade.  Again, I just used fleece scraps and marbles I had lying around.  This would be a good activity for preschool and school aged kids to stay busy while traveling, at church, at the dentist’s office, etc. 

4. Glass etching.  Between Marissa and I, we had everything we needed for this project months ago, but we never got around to it, and she went to Africa.  But now that she is back, we decided to give it a try. We followed this tutorial from make it and love it.  Here are a couple of things that I made.

We used the Silhouette to cut out the letters. I didn’t have any vinyl, so we just cut contact paper to an 8 1/2 x 11 size and ran it through.  It worked pretty well, although it didn’t want to stick on the carrier sheet very firmly.  Our etching cream seemed to work ok, although we had to leave it on for more like 30 minutes to get the desired effect.

5. Car seat protector pad.  I had seen the piddle pads that you can buy but I wanted something that would cover more of the seat.  I made it when I started potty training my son, but planned to continue using it after we finished potty training.  It has been really useful so far… it has kept me from having to wash the seat from potty accidents, spilled drinks, ketchup and cheese, all all sorts of other icky stuff.  It was easy to make… I just cut a slightly trapezoidal shape, put it in the car seat, and marked where to add the darts, make slits for the straps on the side, and a long button hole in the middle for the buckle.  I used flannel and part of an extra waterproof crib pad on the bottom. I am going to make another one for my other son’s car seat, and I think I will add a layer of batting to make it even more absorbent, and cushy.

I think those are enough projects for one post, but there’s more, believe me!  I will share a few other projects that I have finished in the next few days.  What projects have you all been working on?  Leave a comment with a link to your latest and greatest, and I will be sure to visit and comment on your blog too!

How to host a bubbles activity

My friend Sherilee and I recently started a neighborhood playgroup that meets once a week.  We try to have a variety of activities planned, and as it gets warmer we are trying to do more outdoor activities.  A week or two ago we wanted to do something to take advantage of the warm-ish and sunny-ish weather- something fun outdoors that wouldn’t get anyone too cold (it was an even 60 degrees).  I remembered some fun bubbles activities that I did growing up, plus a few more I’d heard about but never tried, so I suggested an all- bubbles activity.  We planned a few stations for the kids to rotate around in a grassy area next to my home.  Some things turned out great, others not- so great.  Here is a run down of what we did (and in some cases, what I would do differently the next time around).

Station 1: BIG Bubbles

Bubble solution, big wands, large, shallow Tupperware container(s) (i.e. the under the bed type)
Bubble solution:
Make your own bubble solution by combining 10 parts tap water (soft water works the best but if your water is too hard and you don’t mind the expense, try distilled water), 1 part Dawn dish detergent, and 1/4 part glycerin (which can be expensive, so you can try substituting white Karo syrup).
Mix up your bubble solution the night before if possible (the longer it sits, the better it works).  Use Dawn detergent, it seems to work the best.  Joy detergent comes in second.

Big wands:
Round up any bubble wands you may already have, and make a few extra in creative shapes using old wire hangers. just bend them to the shape you want, and bend the hanger part upwards to be the handle.  These can be dipped in the Tupperware tub and waved to make bigger bubbles- lots of fun.

Bonus: If you want, fill a kiddie pool with a couple inches of bubble solution and use a hula hoop to pull a giant bubble up over your kid standing in the pool.

Station 2: Creative Bubble Blowing

Old washrags that can be cut up, rubber bands, plastic water bottles to cut up, small, wide containers for bubble solution (such as an empty sour cream container), pipe cleaners, fly swatter, various kitchen utensils or toys with holes, regular bubble solution, cheap, clean stretchy gloves.
Foam snakes:
Cut the water bottle all the way across about halfway down, and rubber band a square of washrag just larger than the opening to the piece that has the drinking opening at the other end (if you didn’t have old water bottles you could use toilet paper tubes as well). Get the material damp with water, then dip in the bubble solution (or just dish soap) and blow through the other end and you will get cool bubble foam snakes.  Check out this link to Family Fun Magazine for more details if that doesn’t make sense.

Photo credit to

Creative bubble wands: twist pipe cleaners into fancy shapes for customized bubble wands, and use mason jar lids, slotted spoons, fly swatters, or anything you can come up with for creative bubble play.  Put on the stretchy fabric gloves (just the kind that are usually a couple dollars- you probably already have a pair) and try bouncing the bubbles! Check out this link for more info.

Station 3: Bubble Art

White paper, regular bubble solution, small containers for bubble solution, bubble wands for each container, food coloring or tempera paint (which would probably work the best), markers

Photo credit to

Bubble “Modern” Art:
Add several drops of food coloring to each cup of bubble solution.  Write each child’s name on a piece of paper, then have the kids catch the bubbles you blow on the paper.  This works best when it is not too breezy.  Make sure to do several different colors, then let the papers dry in the sun with a rock holding the paper down while the kids move on to the next station.

Station 4: Snacks and Clean-Up

Have one or two buckets filled with clean warm water for kids to rinse their hands (or faces, or heads as the case may be… speaking from experience here) and some paper towels.

Any circle foods would be great for a snack- whether it is grapes or olives, or tapioca pudding prepared ahead of time, or other foods cut in circle shapes.  It would be a good idea to have some water in a pitcher and some little paper cups.
Keep a garbage bag handy to collect all the litter.

Other Set-Up:

You will want to have chairs set up for the adults to watch from, and a picnic blanket for snack time.  A few card tables might come in handy for setting up some of the stations, but you can just put everything down on the grass as well.  Other things that would be useful are balls to play with for really young kids, a bubble machine for the kids to just go crazy and try to pop all the bubbles before they get away, and sunscreen.

Have fun with bubbles this summer!

Homemade Toys: Exploring Rhythm and Music

Here is a fun project to do with kids- it is almost guaranteed to be a success with toddlers and preschoolers because 1. They love music and making noise, 2. They will be fascinated by watching normal household items transform into “musical instruments”, and 3. These kinds of toys require them to use their imagination, thus holding their attention longer.  We made an afternoon of it today, and had great fun trying out all our different creations.

Let’s make some music!

Marching Drum

1. Find a large plastic container with a lid, like this potato salad bucket.  Make sure it’s clean, and the lid fits.
2. Use a hole punch or crop tool to make two sets of 2 holes, one set on each side.
3. Thread a ribbon, thick yarn, or large shoelace through the holes.
4. Tie a knot and poke the end of the string back into the bucket.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the other side.  You have a drum that can be worn and played at the same time!
6. Find “drum sticks”- this could be chopsticks, popsicle sticks, plastic spoons, or anything you feel comfortable giving your child.

Egg Shakers

Just put a little bit of uncooked rice into one side of a plastic Easter egg, put strong glue all around the rim, and close the egg tightly.  Allow glue to dry before giving to you child.

Fun and colorful percussion!

“Jingle Bell Stick”

My son loves to sing “Jingle Bells” (still! Two- year- olds don’t get the whole seasonal music thing…) so I wanted to make him a percussion instrument with bells.

This “Jingle Bell Stick” only took 3 minutes to make.

1. Gather a craft stick or popsicle stick, mini jingle bells, and a pipe cleaner or wire.
2. Hot glue one end of the pipe cleaner to the stick, and string the first bell onto the pipe cleaner, pushing it all the way to the top.
3. String the rest of the bells on, 4 or 5 total, with a centimeter or so between them on the pipe cleaner.  Trim the excess pipe cleaner.
4. Hot glue the other end of the pipe cleaner onto the stick and jingle away!


This is one way to make your own kazoo!  It is nice for little kids because they can fit their whole little mouth inside the open end, and that allows them to sing- much more fun than saying “doo doo doo” the whole time.

All you need is a toilet paper tube, a rubber band, a small square of wax paper, and a hole punch.

Not much to it, just secure the wax paper onto the TP tube with the rubber band, and punch a hole or two with the hole punch- this allows some air to escape which will let the air vibrate better against the wax paper, making that fun buzzing noise.

You can also make a kazoo “harmonica” by folding wax paper over a comb and blowing at the open end.

I guess you could call this a harp as well, not that it actually sounds like a guitar or harp, but it gives you the idea.  I used a embroidery hoop and some rubber bands.  This is another very easy and fast “instrument to assemble, and it will come apart easily when you are done, and nothing is wasted!

Just stretch the rubber bands across the inner hoop…

… and set the inner hoop inside of the outer one and tighten the screw to keep it in place.

Voilà! You’ve got yourself a string section! 

Bottle Flute

I myself was a player of woodwinds in my day, so of course we had to do something along those lines.  Bottle flutes are easy, as there is really nothing to “make”… you just blow across the top of a clean glass or plastic bottle.  Tip: the smaller the opening, the easier it will be to make a noise.  It is fun to guess which ones will make high or low sounds.  Try putting different amounts of water into the bottles to see how that changes the pitch.

The fun thing about this kind of activity is that you can find music in so many different places, and your possibilities are as limitless as your imagination!  Of course, with all of these fun instruments, young kids should be supervised.  For older kids, try playing the spoons by holding a pair of small spoons together with the edges facing away from each other, and shake them in such a way that they clack together.  Or try filling some glasses partially with water and (very gently) tapping them with a spoon.  It would be fun to make a preschooler “orchestra” or band (ooh, or maybe a parade!?) using homemade instruments.

I know there are tons of other possibilities out there, have any of you done homemade instruments with kids?