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Car Schooling®

by Diane Flynn Keith

Just as you stock up on supplies for the new homeschool year, preparing your mobile classroom is equally important. Families who learn in their cars while traveling to homeschool field trips, co-op classes and other homeschool adventures keep an assortment of supplies handy for any educational opportunity that comes along. Here is a list of items that car educators recommend for a good start to the new car school year.

  • Audiotapes & CDs - Books, stories, and songs on audiocassette tape or on CD are the mainstay of car schools everywhere. You will find good selections at your local library. Another terrific resource for family listening titles is Audio Bookshelf, 1-800-234-1713, or www.audiobookshelf.com.
  • Audiocassette or CD Player -- so you can listen to those cassettes and CDs.
  • Paper - you will need to keep a good supply of paper so that your students can sketch, trace, draw, write, and keep score to their heart's content.
  • Pencils, Colored Pencils, Pens, Markers, Crayons - these writing implements will be used over and over again in activities that help the miles pass quickly. A word of warning: crayons will melt in warm climates so keep them packaged in a plastic bag to prevent upholstery damage.
  • Erasers, Sharpeners - Eraser-tipped pencils for correcting car game scores and tally marks are a must. You'll need a pencil sharpener too - but get one that has a plastic bubble shield over the sharpener that will catch the shavings so they don't wind up on the car floor or permanently stuck in the little grooves of the console.
  • Lap Desk - You can purchase lap desks that have a hard surface (for writing) attached to a bean-bag bottom. The bean bag molds to the students legs so the lap desk stays stable and won't slip or slide while riding in the car. These lap desks come in a variety of styles and can be found at stores like Walmart® and Target®. There is also a new product called The Second Lap® that is a portable lap desk made by Cable Technologies (Spring Valley, CA). It has a hard plastic surface with a small plastic stand that props the desk up in your lap so that you can easily write a letter or draw on it. It also has a plastic clamp that holds papers in place for ease of use. In addition, kids can draw directly on the plastic surface with washable markers (in case paper is not available) and it cleans up easily with a damp cloth. About $14.95 from Cable Technologies at: www.cabtechproducts.com
  • Books - for kids who don't get carsick, be sure to bring along ®books to read.
  • Activity Books -- Crossword Puzzles, Mazes, and Word Searches provide practice in Language Arts.
  • Camera and Film (Polaroid &/or Regular or Disposable) - Keep cameras and film handy and let the kids capture those special moments in photographs while documenting your car curriculum.
  • Field Guides for Rocks, Trees, Birds, Flowers, Animals, Reptiles, Insects, etc. You never know what miracle of nature you'll see while looking out of car windows. Encourage your students to try to identify everything they see by using Field Guides available from your local library or bookstore.
  • Travel Games - Magna-Doodle™, Etch-A-Sketch™, Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe, etc., now come in smaller, portable versions and provide a fun recess from other car school fare. You can find them at stores like Walmart®, Target®, and Toys R Us®.
  • Magnetic Letters And Numbers Stored In Metal Cookie Tin - use the tin lid as a surface to spell words or practice math problems. You can purchase magnetic letters and numbers in toy stores, some office supply stores, and online at: http://www.magnetsource.com/foam.htm
  • Pipe Cleaners - these can be bent into letter and number shapes, or twisted and combined to create animals and people to act out impromptu stories. Backseat scientists may want to fashion DNA strands with these remarkably versatile tools.
  • Music Makers -- Rattles, Kazoos, Harmonicas, and Castanets will help your students to make a joyful noise. Create your own rhythms or accompany music on the radio, audiotapes or CDs. Small, portable, musical instruments can be purchased at toy stores, music stores, and at teacher supply stores.
  • Cards -- Regular Playing Cards, Go Fish, Crazy 8's, Old Maid, Pokemon™, etc., will provide hours of fun and learning in the car.
  • Magnifying Glass - talk about a boredom buster! Keep an inexpensive magnifying glass available for each passenger. Tell your students to examine their skin, clothes, fingernails, hair, lunch, coins, dollar bills, and whatever else happens to be within reach in the car. Discuss what they see, compare and contrast similar things, and have them sketch their observations. You can buy a magnifying glass at many bookstores, toy stores, drug stores, and even online at www.amazon.com.

In addition to essential tools it's important to have a few fun activities to kick off your car travels at the beginning of the new car school year. Here are a couple of classic car games to exercise observation skills and spelling practice on the road.

Car Bingo is one of the great car games. You can buy pre-packaged Car Bingo games, but it is easy to make your own. You can use a piece of plain paper, or better yet use graph paper. (By the way, a tablet of graph paper is a great thing to keep handy in the car for all kinds of games and activities - that's because when you need to draw rows, columns, etc., the graph paper has them ready-made, imprinted right on the paper!) Back to the game. Each player draws a grid containing 16 squares (4 rows of 4 squares across, and 4 squares down). This is a good time to point out to the kids that 4x4=16! Anyway, everyone fills in each square on their grid with the name of something you see on the road. For example:

  • speed limit sign
  • yellow VW bug
  • billboard
  • telephone pole
  • ambulance
  • road kill
  • exit sign
  • crosswalk
  • call box
  • gas station
  • cow
  • fast-food restaurant
  • tree
  • bridge
  • trailer
  • parking meter

When everyone has all 16 squares filled, stop. Collect all of the papers and shuffle them, face down. Each player chooses one of the game sheets at random. Then players try to find each of the things on their game sheet and marking them off with an "X". As soon as someone has 4 X's in a row in any direction - they shout "Bingo!" and win the game.

Highway Hangman is a twist on the old Hangman game. One player draws a hangman's post on a piece of paper. Then that player thinks of a secret word - but it has to be something they can actually see out of the car window. They draw a blank line for every letter in the secret word on a piece of paper. So the other players know how many letters are in the word, but they don't know which letters. The other players take turns guessing the letters of the secret word. If they guess a correct letter the player who chose the secret word writes that letter on the corresponding blank line, and the person who guessed the letter gets to try and guess the word. If they guess correctly, they win. If they guess incorrectly, play continues. If a letter is guessed and it is not one of the letters that make up the secret word, then it is written down under the blank lines to show that it has been used, but that it is not one of the letters of the secret word. For each incorrect letter guess, a stick-figure body part is drawn on the hangman's post as follows: head, body, arms, and then legs, and if you need more guesses add hands, feet, eyes, nose and mouth. If a player guesses the word before the hangman figure is complete, they win. The winner gets to choose the next secret word as play continues. By the way, if you've ever played along with television game shows like Wheel of Fortune, you know that it is best to guess the vowels first: A, E, I, O, U. Next strategy is to guess the most frequently used consonants such as L, N, R, S, and T. Good luck!

Copyright © 2006 Modern Media