Or how to keep your child entertained on the road!
You know how excited kids are to get going on a vacation, but ten minutes down the road they start asking “Are we there yet?” No? Just our family? Well, we are not huge fans of just sticking an electronic in front of our child. Therefore, we have had to be creative in our methods of entertaining him as we drive down the road. Enter our reading road trip kits!
We have done different road trip games. Driving through the night while someone sleeps might work. And we have enjoyed audiobooks. Of these three, audiobooks are probably our favorite! These are best borrowed from your local library. We do both physical form and by using an app such as Hoopla or Libby. Physical audiobooks work great when you have multiple people wanting to listen to different titles. If this is you, Playaways are easy to use for most kids!
But our favorite method of keeping the excitement real was using what we affectionately call our “busy bag.” This is my bag of books, games, and other surprises that have not been seen recently so they appear fresh. Many times, these are found at dollar stores, garage sales, or freebies in the mail.
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What to put in a busy bag?
Have you seen those bags or envelopes that tell you to “open me at lunch” and “open me at the first rest stop?” Some other examples are “open after crossing the state line” or “open me at __ time.” These bags are perfect for including small treats or craft items that can be done in the car.
Some of the ideas I have used over the years have been found online. Others are suggestions from the Montessori preschool our child attended. He has threaded pipe cleaners through wiffle balls. We have practiced word building with popsicle sticks and magnetic letters. He has used a magnifying glass to inspect toy animals. Unfortunately, our child is getting a bit old for most of the fun ideas we have used in the past. And when I look for new ideas, they are always geared towards much younger children. Luckily, I came up with a new idea (interactive reading road trip kits) and so far, it has been a huge success.
Tying the bag into books
Recently we attended a library program that included stem activities throughout the reading of a picture book. Then I remembered a marketing launch for a title in which I received tchotchkes relating to the theme of the book. And this sparked an idea which encourages our child to read his way through a road trip. (Luckily our child does not get carsick while reading unlike his poor mother who can only do audiobooks these days.) The nice bit about this is that it doesn’t matter what our destination is or if that destination is fluid. These reading road trip kits are better based on the length of the trip.
How this works is I must have pre-read the book so that I have ideas of what to include in these surprise bags. Fortunately, as a children’s librarian, I love to read children’s books. This means it doesn’t make me unhappy to read all these fun books before my son does.
SPOILER ALERT – I WILL BE SHARING DETAILS FROM THE FIRST TWO MAGIC TREE HOUSE BOOKS BELOW.
How to build the bags
After reading the titles in advance I figure out what aspects I want to highlight. Often these are driven by items I already have collected or snacks I’m okay with us eating in the car. I try to not add too many cheap toys that will be broken or thrown away by the end of the trip. Some examples of things we can use and reuse in our family would be notebooks, Lego builds, simple crafts, and tools. You will see all of these represented below, along with some other items that won’t last as long but that’s okay too. It’s all about the balance!
I create instruction cards for each of the items. Here I use the term instruction lightly. Some items don’t need instructions. For those I include a comment or a question. We hope the question cards will create conversation although sometimes they are answered with a simple yes or no. I’m working on how to frame those questions to inspire longer answers. But if he is too interested in what he has opened to respond, I won’t let my feelings get hurt. That just means I’ve created a good package.
I then gather my items and a bunch of brown paper lunch bags. These are big enough to hold my items and wrap small enough to fit in my busy bag. Insert one item and instruction label into each bag, close with tape, and write on the outside when it can be opened. Pro Tip: If you are doing more than one book, write a note somewhere on the bag which book it goes with or you might have bags opened that don’t make sense. Pack your reading road trip kit with your other supplies and you are done.
Now for the build
As an example of what I’m talking about, I’m going to use the first two books in the series Magic Tree House. We really enjoyed reading those titles.
I love this series because they are fast reads and have exciting situations. They also take place all around the world and throughout time. My aim was to have four packages to open as he progressed through the book. These would include both things to do and a snack to eat.
So, for the first package, I started off with a bag which was to be opened on page 3 when Jack and Annie first discover the treehouse. Inside there was a bunch of Legos and an instruction card requesting a tree house built from the Legos. We use cookie sheets to contain activities in the car and so far, have had no issues with simple Lego builds while moving.
Side note: our son’s school has an annual “build a magic tree house” during the Spring semester of first grade. That was when Covid hit, and our schools shut down completely and we never got to participate in the build. However, that was the inspiration for our first interactive on this read as we had already started planning our build.
Now I appreciate the character of Jack who travels everywhere with his backpack and notebook. So, the next package to open, on page 18, had a small notebook and pencil which could be used to take notes about any interesting things that occurred during our trip. We have several of these notebooks from over the years and they make great remembrances.
On page 29 Jack finds a gold medallion with the letter M on it and we find this is a great time for a snack of, what else, chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. I won’t actually participate in the eating of these coins because I had a very negative experience eating chocolate coins in the car when I was around seven years old. But the kid and the husband were more than happy to eat my share.
The last item for this title is for the collectors in the group. Annie convinces a Pteranodon on page 50 to fly Jack away from a Tyrannosaurus Rex so we included a package to open that contained some small toy dinosaurs.
And that takes care of the trip to the location. But what happens on the trip home? We recommend packing some more road trip kits for the return voyage and keeping them unseen. And why not move on to the next book in the series?
In this title, the kids wake up early the next morning and want to go back to see if the tree house is still there. Since it is dark out, Annie brings along a flashlight. Every kid should have their own flashlight, so we packed one up to be opened at in the first package.
Now a flashlight on its own isn’t too exciting but we did get one that shines in multiple colors: green, red, blue, and white. They used to require separate color discs to shine in multiple colors but that is no longer necessary which we love. It means one less thing to lose. We did also discuss the safety issues of using the flashlight in the car while we are driving down the road.
In this story, Jack and Annie find their way to the Middle Ages and end up at a castle. Jack does learn some interesting facts such as that feasts could include peacocks for dinner. This is not something we want to eat in the car. Instead, we had a bag of Pepperidge Farms Chessmen cookies to eat while reading chapter 4.
They also use a map found in a book to escape the guards at the castle so when we get to page 43 there is an envelope with a card which instructs our son to draw his own map in his notebook from the last book. We always have pens, pencils, and crayons around it can be as colorful as he wishes. Of course, he doesn’t have to stop reading to draw his map right now.
The last item for this title would be a package to open when Jack and Annie get home and Jack finds a leather bookmark in his backpack. While I’m not about to pack supplies for a leather bookmark, I did pack supplies to create a paper bookmark (cardstock, stickers, etc.)
Creating memories on road trips
Some people dread the journey and focus only on the fun that will be had once they get there, wherever there may be. We choose to find the time spend driving down the road a valuable part of the vacation especially when we have the opportunity to create memories during that time.
I had so much fun creating these reading road trip kits for two favorite titles, and it made for a much more enjoyable trip because there were random surprises to be had throughout the drive. I can’t wait to create more of these road trip kits and possibly expand to using them at other times. We still read out loud almost every night and I can see incorporating this same idea into a long chapter book reading. If you use these ideas as is, or create your own based on other books, please share them with us. I’m always looking for new reads and this was a really fun project. Leave a comment, tag us on Instagram @campinganswer or send us an email: campinganswer at gmail dot com.