Last week was our family vacation. Traditionally, my parents rent a house on the beach for the week and we hang around, doing fun, often tourist-y things. This year, for a number of reasons, we didn't stay at the house with my folks and sibs, but opted to drive back and forth every day. This resulted in a grand total of 4+ hours in the car every day with four toddlers and a very pregnant mama (me).
Here's what I learned.
What didn't work:
Arts and crafts in the car, unless we're talking about coloring with crayons, are not a big thing for the under 7 crowd.
My three year old learned quickly that if he was bored, he should ask for food. The car snacks were types of junk food he doesn't get at home. He got to the point where he was "hungry" every five minutes, even if the last snack was two minutes ago. After the first treat, we learned that if we offered him something boring, like a plain graham cracker, he would stop asking.
Sometimes, when you're pregnant and tired, you're just not going to be comfortable in the car, no matter how many little luxuries (chocolate almonds) you packed.
What did work:
Command centers. Each child had a back pack with necessities (blanket, coloring book, clip board for a lap desk, snacks, etc.). Since car seats keep kids from being able to reach the floor under most circumstances, I used carabiner clips (from the Dollar Tree), to clip each child's pack to the back of the chair in front of them. Had we been hiking or camping, each back could be zipped up and detached in seconds to allow the child to take the backpack with them.
Audio books. We listened to "The Fellowship of the Ring" read by Robert Inglis for much of the trip. Great stuff. My little geeklings are learning so much!
Car snacks. I know, I know. I complained about the three year old. But, truly, breakfast in the car with the kids every day was less of a disaster than I imagined it would be. They had fresh grapes and frozen gogurts every morning and the real junk snacks didn't start til later. We also made sure to fill water bottles with ice and water in the morning, so the sugar was kept to a minimum.
Family time. The driving was hard, no doubt about it. But the quality time with family was priceless. If I had to do it again, I would.