Ways to Keep a Busy Toddler Entertained on a Road Trip

We recently made a very long journey across the country.  My sister and I and our collective 6 children piled into her SUV and joined the family caravan to Iowa (an 18 hour drive) to visit my Grandparents and other family who live nearby.  My big kids are used to traveling in the car.  We’re a road-tripping family and they are big enough now that they can entertain themselves for large portions of time.

The thought of entertaining our extremely active and curious and into-everything toddler had me stressed for weeks before the trip, though.  So much so that I asked my friends on Facebook for some advice and ideas to keep him entertained. The answers I received made me realize that the level of destruction our 20 month old creates is much greater than most people are used to.  He doesn’t color in coloring books, he bites the tips off of crayons/markers as quickly as possible.  Giving him an electronic device is a scary proposition.  Books are not safe in his hands (unless he is directly supervised).

We ended up having some very successful activities, and I thought there might be some other parents of crazy-destructive and extremely active toddlers out there who could use some ideas.  Here are the activities that our little one was most interested in:

1) Magazines to tear apart.

There’s no way Elijah would look at books while we drove without eventually ripping them to shreds (even board books.  He’s good at what he does.)  Before the trip I saved up random catalogs and magazines that came in the mail.

He began by looking at the pictures and then moved on to ripping the pages out, crumpling them up and throwing them on the floor.  I had zero stress about his treatment of the catalogs/magazines I’d have normally recycled straight from the mailbox.  He had a delightful time ripping and tossing and when we stopped at the next gas station I just gathered up the paper bits and threw them away.

2) Edible playdough.  

I made this recipe and brought along a small cookie sheet and a few little playdough toys (pieces from this set). He played with the dough for a while and (just like I was sure he would) ended up eating it.  Once again, it kept him busy for a while with zero stress for me.

3) The Classic Fruit Loop Necklace.

 I enlisted the help of my older kiddos before our trip to make a few cereal necklaces for Elijah.  They were a big hit! He swung them around and banged them on his tray, making a lovely racket and settled in to munching after a while.

4) Finger Puppets. 

We have this set and this set.  They kept him busy for a few minutes, but then Ellie and her cousin ended up putting on a crazy and elaborate puppet show which entertained all the kids for quite a bit longer than expected.  So, if all else fails, hire a puppeteer.

5) Popsicle Sticks with Velcro

My sister brought a set of these DIY craft sticks with velcro.  I was pleasantly surprised by how long Elijah played with them.  He didn’t build anything, but he loved being handed a whole wad of craft sticks and pulling them apart one by one.  He’d drop each stick on the floor as he went and for the most part they landed on top of each other.  So when he ran out of sticks I’d just reach back and pick up the pile and hand it to him again.  They would be fun for older kids, too.

6) Pull an All-Nighter so the Toddler Will Sleep While You Drive

I would not recommend this, but it did end up working pretty well for us.  Elijah had a tough time sleeping our first night on the road.  In fact, he didn’t fall asleep at all.  Because we were sharing a room with my sister and all the kids, I ended up taking him out and walking the hallways of the hotel for hours.  Because he was exhausted from staying up all night, he slept quite a bit during the next full day of driving. Not recommended, but effective.

7) Movies and Music

Elijah is not a big movie watcher.  But he did enjoy some of the shows the big kids were watching in short bursts.  Every once in a while we needed to break out the tunes and have a mandatory dance party.  We’d all sing along and burn off some energy car-dancing.  Elijah loved joining in.

8)Frequent stops.  

Our days of powering through road trips are over for a while. Kids need frequent stops to burn off energy and attend to (ahem) other business. When stopping for meals or pit stops, look for a park or another place that would work well for running, jumping and stretching tiny legs.  It makes getting back in the car again so much easier.

Do you have any tips for a happy toddler road trip?