Here’s why you and yours should hit the highway:
1. The expression on your kid’s face is way more rewarding than the 80-foot-tall plastic dinosaur you drove two hours out of your way to see. Roadside attractions offer the perfect opportunity to toss off your parenting hat and share in the whimsy of your child’s daydreams. Remember what it’s like to be a kid? You will when you see Junior’s face light up at the sight of the Corn Palace or Prairie Dog Town USA. The wonder in a child’s eyes is a priceless attraction — and one that won’t last forever.
2. The only thing cooler than playing “Oregon Trail” on the computer at school is standing in the actual ruts made more than a century and a half ago by real covered wagons. Educational computer games and creative curriculum only go so far; to really bring history to life, bring your kids closer to history — literally. Whether your family visits the birthplace of Great-grandma Johnson or the site of Custer’s last stand, historical events are made more memorable by first-hand experiences.
3. With scheduled bathroom breaks every two hours, what better time to potty train? Rosemary, an Issaquah mother of two, unintentionally potty trained her youngest daughter on a 2,000-mile road trip from Washington to Wisconsin. While passing through scorching eastern Washington, Rosemary realized that those hot, nonbreathable disposable diapers were making baby Elizabeth cranky and uncomfortable. Rather than watch her wilt in the back seat, Rosemary stopped for cotton training pants, then pulled over every two hours for a potty break. By South Dakota, Elizabeth was potty trained.
4. I Spy is a game in danger of extinction. Before portable video games and DVD-equipped minivans, kids (and parents) were forced to entertain themselves. While each game only lasted a few minutes at best, friendly (or not-so-friendly) competitions of Slug Bug, Twenty Questions and Rock Paper Scissors were played continuously to help pass the time. If your child is more excited by virtual reality than reality, it might be time to unplug and hit the open road.
5. When else do you have a captive audience for all of your “When I was a kid” stories? Kids tire quickly of being lectured by their parents; telling stories about your own childhood is a great way to communicate your values on important issues. They may roll their eyes when you flash back to your childhood, but studies clearly show that children crave moral guidance from their parents. Take advantage of long car rides as an opportunity to talk. And remember: Good talking also means good listening!
6. It’s an exciting (and safe) way to give your teen driver some practice. Not everyone looks forward to riding shotgun as their teenager hones her skills, but what better way to add thrills to an otherwise boring car trip? If your teen has at least a learner’s permit, pick a stretch of road with long straightaways and minimal traffic. On long-distance trips, your teen can log lots of practice before attempting more obstacle-ridden roads, while you get a break from the wheel.
7. It’s way more fun than summer school. Besides the potential for history and geography lessons, road trips can be a good excuse to engage other parts of the brain that often go dormant for the summer. Younger kids can play the alphabet game and practice recognition skills by finding signs that contain all the letters of the alphabet. Your older children will enjoy being the “map reader,” or using mile markers to calculate the remaining time or distance to the next destination. Encourage your children, no matter what age, to keep a journal of their trip. Even if they have only recently learned to write or can only draw pictures, this is a souvenir you will both enjoy down the road.
Katie McPhail is a Seattle-based writer and a communications coordinator. Most of her writing is on education, running and the boating industry.