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15 Montessori-inspired road trip games to play with your kids

Try these activities as an alternative to handing over the iPad to make the long car ride a meaningful part of your vacation.

15 Montessori-inspired road trip games to play with your kids

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.

  • Going to the beach? Try this one.
  • Traveling to a forest? one is great
  • Traveling to a big city? We love this.

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

Try giving everyone in the car a turn to choose the music selection. Both Frank Leto and Growing Sound make wonderful Montessori-friendly children's music.

6. Audiobooks

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.

13. Bubbles

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.

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They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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Balance board

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Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

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Detective set

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This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

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Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

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The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

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Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

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Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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