next time the kids are alternately bickering and complaining they're bored
in the car, toss a box of colorful Band-Aids into the back seat.
``That always works,'' promises Jan McCawley, who tested this remedy
driving six young children from Michigan to the East Coast.
``The Band-Aids will keep them busy and at least they won't make a
sticky-gooey mess,'' says McCawley, who now is a grandmother and wrote to
tell me about her favorite method for quelling the car monsters.
Wherever I go, parents beg for the trade secret to keep the peace on
the highway and along country and suburban roads. I wish I had a formula
guaranteed to work: the money would be rolling in.
Unfortunately, strategies vary not only with children's ages, but with
their moods that day as well. One thing remains constant: whether it's
around town, an hour ride to grandma's house or a six-hour drive, most
kids, no matter what their ages, don't like being cooped up in car seats
and seat belts for too long.
``It's an unnatural situation to ask kids to sit still, and babies
simply are not going to sleep all the time,'' explains Joanne Oppenheim, a
child-development expert and co-author with her daughter Stephanie of the
just-released ``1997 Guide to More Than 1,000 Kid-Tested Best Toys, Books
& Videos for Kids'' (Prima Publishing, $13).
The book offers travel toy recommendations for every age group. For
example, because babies' attention spans are so short, they need a variety
of toys from books to keys to mirrors to keep them amused. Some parents
suggest something as simple as taping pictures of babies next to the
safety seat to keep your child smiling for a while.
Under the category of ``keep their hands and brains busy,'' older
preschoolers and gradeschoolers will give a thumbs up to the new magnetic
boards and colorful, flexible magnet pieces from Wonderboard. Kids can mix
and match pieces to create outrageous bugs or fish. Another set from
Magneforms provides dozens of different-sized triangles, circles, squares
and rectangles to build designs from.
Even the reluctant artists in the family won't be able to resist
glow-in-the-dark crayons or markers that change colors. Keep a supply,
plus a pad of paper and stickers within easy reach. Crayola has several
easy-to-carry travel kits including a Mini Stamp 'N Go activity kit with
stamp markers ($7.99).
Hand puppets can get the creative juices flowing, too, as can a supply
of colorful, inexpensive thread for the friendship bracelet fans in your
house. Keep a plastic box stocked with thread in the car. My favorite
puppets are the small, fuzzy creatures from the Vermont-based Mary Meyer
Company. Choose farm or forest animals as well as Santa, a snowman or a
skeleton. They cost about $5.
My favorite solution for short and long rides: books on tape. You don't
have to purchase them; they're available for rent at the library and video
store. The kids' teachers will gladly give recommendations. Hearing
``Kidnapped'' or ``The Little Princess'' may spur a child to go back and
read the book or another by the same author. The kids sometimes get so
engrossed in the story, they want to keep driving. Parents enjoy the
Look for some of the kids' favorite authors such as Gary Paulsen or
Judy Blume as well as some of your childhood favorites. Here's an ideal
opportunity to introduce them to something you loved. Joanne Oppenheim
highly recommends ``The People Who Could Fly,'' in which James Earl Jones
and Virginia Hamilton narrate a dozen of the best black folk tales from
her collection. (The 75-minute tape and book are $15 from Knopf.)
Of course, the kids may argue about which story to listen to, but
that's another column.
Another solution to stop the whining is to start everyone singing. If
your gang needs some help getting started, Vicki Lansky is among those who
offer a tape of familiar travel tunes including ``Comin' Round the
Mountain,'' ``On Top of Old Smokey'' and ``Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.''
(The 30-minute tape with words to the songs is $9.95; call 800-255-3379.)
Two others from the Music for Little People catalog that Oppenheim
recommends: an all-star country collection called ``Big Country'' with
songs by Randy Travis, Crystal Gayle and more; and ``A Child's Celebration
of Showtunes'' with some of the most famous songs from ``Oliver,''
``Fiddler on the Roof'' and ``The King and I.'' (Prices start at $9.95.
Call 800-727-2233 to order.)
If there are budding rock stars along, suggest they make a tape of
favorite sing-along songs with their own lyrics. The only drawback is that
they may not want you to play any other tunes.
Hand-held electronic games are bound to satisfy the older troops, for a
while anyway. I like ``Lights Out,'' which Games Magazine named the best
puzzle of '96. The object is to turn all of the lights out of the
electronic puzzle but the possibilities are endless. The game includes
more than 1,000 different puzzles of various levels of difficulty (Tiger
We don't always need electronic bells and whistles, though, as the
phenomenal success of Brain Quest cards has proven. The colorful card
decks full of queries ``to challenge the mind'' are designed for specific
age groups from preschool on up. Consider the newest ``After School Sports
Brain Quest'' and ``After School Weird Stuff,'' both for grades 4-6 and
each containing 800 questions and answers (Workman Publishing, $10.95).
I'm planning to toss the Sports Quest at my favorite fan on our next
long trip. Do you know who was the first pitcher to win 100 games in both
major leagues? Cy Young.
There's one more way to chase the back-seat blues: Start a conversation
with the kids. Just ask Joanne Oppenheim.
``The car was the one place in the world where we did a lot of
talking,'' she said. ``They got my attention, but I got theirs, too. It
was found time.''
(Look for new books from HarperCollins West: ``A Kid's Guide to
Vacation Fun in the Rocky Mountains'' and, for parents, ``Are We There