One of the things that set the Montessori approach apart is its focus on engagement, rather than simply entertaining children. All Montessori classroom work is designed to be child-led. After being shown how to use something, the kids are the ones completing the work on their own, which encourages active, not passive, participation. They are active, rather than passive participants.
While there's no need to turn your car into a classroom, the Montessori principle of engaging children with purposeful, hands-on activities can be applied to your summer road trip to keep everyone learning and having fun on the go.
Try these activities as an alternative to handing over the iPad to make the long car ride a meaningful part of your vacation.
1. I spy
This classic game is a great one for road trips because it requires no materials and can be adapted for children of all ages. Keep it simple ("I spy something red") for your youngest and make it more challenging ("I spy something shaped like an octagon") for older children.
If your child is enjoying learning their letter sounds, the car is also a great place to practice I spy with sounds ("I spy something that starts with b").
2. Lacing Cards
Lacing cards are a pre-sewing work included in many Montessori classes for 3-6-year-olds. They are great for building fine motor skills and concentration. Young children often concentrate on this activity for long periods of time, but it has very few pieces, making it a good one for long car trips. There are many fun options, making it easy to find one that matches your child's interests.
3. Read out loud from a book about your destination
Books are always a great road trip option, but it's even more special if you can find a book about the place you're visiting.
4. Etch a sketch
Art supplies are great to bring for the hotel room but can be a bit messy in the car. Try giving your child an Etch a Sketch for the backseat instead. This will allow them to unleash their creativity without filling your car with melted crayons and paper scraps.
It is also great for practicing control of the hand. Alternatively, try this Magnatab magnetic drawing toy.
5. Meaningful music
Audiobooks are another great way to keep children happy and engaged in the car and many are available through the public library for free.
7. Tell me a story
Tell your child you're going to make up your very own story together. You say the first couple of lines of the story and then ask someone else in the car to continue it. Keep taking turns, letting everyone in the car participate in the game until the story comes to a conclusion. Try setting the story in a car or in your destination help get your child excited about the trip.
8. Scavenger hunt
Before your trip, ask your child to help you make a list of all of the interesting things they'd like to see along the way. This might include certain animals, a fancy car they like, or different types of trees or flowers.
Make a list with little checkboxes and ask them to keep a lookout and check off what they find on your journey. Don't feel like making a list? Try this one.
9. Make a map
Draw or print a simple map of your travel route. Let your child draw or write things they see or things that happen along the route. This makes a great free souvenir of your journey!
10. Road trip bingo
If your child already knows their letters and numbers, try license plate bingo or another travel bingo game. This is not only entertaining, but it's also great for visual depiction and practicing reading as your child tries to decipher the different license plates.
Activities for rest stops
Try to view rest stops as more than a quick potty break, especially on a longer trip. While it's tempting to push through and get where you're going, doing so can often backfire with young children. Allot just 15 to 20 minutes for one of these easy activities, or some simple free play time.
11. Nature hunt
Set a time limit of five minutes and task everyone with finding the most interesting nature item they can. Ask everyone to place their item on a small blanket and share what they liked about it.
12. Sidewalk chalk
Bring a small container of sidewalk chalk and tell your children they have 15 minutes to decorate the rest stop sidewalk and make it beautiful for all of the travelers coming through.
Bring a small bottle of bubbles for your child to blow and chase while they stretches their legs.
14. Bucket and shovel
A bucket is multi-purpose so it's a great item to bring on any road trip. If the rest stop is rocky, they can collect their favorite rocks to sort or show you before putting them back. If it's sandy, they can dig in the sand a bit before hopping back in the car
15. Bird watching
Bring some child-sized binoculars and see how many types of birds your little one can spot. These can be great to use at your destination as well.
While all of these activities are fun and engaging for children, a Montessori road trip is more about attitude than any one activity. Be open to exploration, focus on the experience, and find little ways for your child to be independent and active along the way.