As the holidays are approaching we may be traveling with kids, or trying to keep them busy once we get to our destination. As a mom, I am a huge fan of plan ahead activity bags. Now that my daughter is older I have her pack her own activity bag. But when she was little it was something we did not leave home without. Let's get serious about making our own lives easier when planning your child's time outside of your home. This post is a little longer, but I have broken up some ideas by age so you can skip ahead to save you some time. There are many kinds of bags you can pack to keep your little ones occupied. You may need different items that come with you to the doctor or shopping, than ones to take on a road trip. Here are some ideas for a "pack in advance" bag you can keep near the door, or in the car, so when you're ready to go, you have it all organized with less stress. Just remember to refill anything that gets used on the last trip so you are ready for next time.
1 >> For infants and toddlers.
Things to distract. A mirror is great for babies who are just starting to see the world around them, but toddlers seem to love them too. The best kind are the ones that are attached to the back of the seat in a car or built into a safety toy. Your child won't get sick of looking at themselves and practicing different faces in the mirror.
Low-tech toys. No need to bring loud, annoying light up toys in the car, there is already a lot of stimulation for everyone. I like to keep the car bag packed with items only for the car. That way each time they are used they are familiar but new, because they don't get played with every day at home. Some examples: soft-sided books or board books, stuffed animals or plastic keys. Don't plan on bringing anything with small pieces like a puzzle or game no matter what the age, because those will just get lost in the car forever. Above are some of our favorite books that we read for many years. The bottom stack is great for bedtime and who doesn't love Harold or Dr Suess?
Music. If you have found music that is appropriate that you can tolerate, go for it. Nursery rhymes are fun, but can get annoying after awhile. We liked Baby Einstein, Kids Bop and Brain Beats for older kids.
Beading. (ages 3+) This activity is better for kids once they arrive at their destination because of the smaller pieces that won't work in the car. This bead kit will give your little one great hand eye coordination practice. You can also do a DIY version with larger beads and shoelaces. Just make sure that the beads or pieces are large enough to not be a choking hazard and can easily fit the string you provide to avoid frustration for everyone.
2 >> Essentials for toddlers and younger school-aged kids, you won't regret packing.
Food related. Snacks are great for anyone in the car. The type of snack that you bring will depend on what you know works best. You can either fill up a reusable container with something fresh at the last minute before leaving, or buy something pre-packaged like granola bars, low-sugar fruit snacks, crackers or cereal. (This will save you money in not stopping for expensive food along the way and will probably be better for you and your kids).
Sippy cup. It is sometimes hard to get fresh water when you are out and about without over paying. If you fill up before you go, keep it out of the heat and make sure the container is BPA free (if plastic) and you should be good to go.
Wipes. Even if you have a clean eater it is always a good idea to have wipes and extra diapers. If you have an accident you'll need these. Over pack in case you're out of the house longer than you think.
Plastic bag. This may sound like an odd one. Here is why you won't regret packing one. My friend told me about a story when her child had the flu and threw up in the car on a road trip. If you have a plastic bag at the very least, you can put things in there to deal with later and temporarily store in the trunk, if you really have a mess. After that story, I always had a plastic bag on hand and luckily, never had to use it!
Clothes. Pack an extra change of clothes and leave them in the car or activity bag. That way you won't have to worry about finding extra clean clothes before leaving the house. I only used the extra ones a few times, but when you need them, you really need them.
Small cooler pack. This is super helpful for sippy cups on a hot day. You can also pack yogurt and some fresh items if they need to eat on the go.
3 >> For older kids.
Games. While movies and devices won't be left behind I'm sure, try and limit the time they are used. Engage them in a game of Eye Spy or my favorite, looking for all of the out of state license plates on cars passing by. Crossword puzzles and sudoku books (can also be found on an iPad) are great brain teasers. We loved quizzing each other on the state capitols with these cards we got in the dollar section at Target. (Great for waiting at the doctor's office, also a challenge for kids and adults alike). We still love the Spot it game (even if not the Frozen version) is challenging for adults and kids, but should be played on a table and sometimes gets a little loud. Something fun to play when you get to your road trip destination to keep everyone busy. (Also a great gift idea).
Books. If you have a great reader who doesn't get car sick while reading, books can be a great way to keep kids busy for longer periods of time. Since riding in the car can be really boring, allow your kids to pick out whatever they want to read. Don't worry about challenging them — make it more fun by offering up comic books or an easier book than their current reading level. Don't forget about the library. Maybe even engage the whole family in a book on CD or podcast to keep it interesting.
Drawing and writing. My daughter is really into writing stories and art. So we usually suggest that she bring some markers and her gel pens to keep her busy with a blank pad of paper for writing or drawing. Also, give them a container to store the pens and markers so they don't get all over the table or the back seat of the car.
Headphones. Appropriate music or movies can be fun, soothing and a great way to pass the time. But others may not want to share the same song or volume level. Give your kids headphones so they can chose what to listen to. Many have volume controls so they can't over do it and hurt their ears.
More ideas on plan ahead activity bags here on my Pinterest board. Enjoy and happy holidays.