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Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time with Carschooling®!
by Diane Flynn Keith
Note: Some of the ideas, resources, and activities presented here have been adapted from the new book, Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities To Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time published by Prima Publishing, a division of Random House.

Are you gearing up for the next half of the homeschool year? If so, your calendar may be filled with park days, co-op classes, and field trips. You’ll be spending some time on the road shuttling the kids to all of the wonderful learning opportunities. Traveling long distances with kids or enduring traffic jams on short jaunts can bring out the whine in drive time. Why not use the time spent in the car to enhance your family’s education and keep everyone in good spirits? Here are some carschooling activities and resources for every subject that are simple, easy to use, and will provide fast results as you and your family get on the real information highway!

English Language Arts

Fishing for ABC’s — Let your kids go fishing in the car! Give them a short dowel with a long string that has a magnet attached to it. Place magnetized letters and words into a shoebox under their feet. Tell them to “fish” for whatever will stick to the magnet on their dowel. When they “catch” a letter or word – tell them to read it out loud or use it in a sentence.

Stories On Tape — Kids love to listen to stories as you tool along the highway. Jim Weiss, storyteller extraordinaire, has a collection of fairy tales, folk tales, myths, short stories, and mysteries available on CD and audiocassette. He has a soothing, melodic voice that he uses to create wonderful characters that inspire and entertain listeners of all ages. Get a free catalog of titles from Greathall Productions, 1-800-477-6234,

Magna Doodle is a terrific tool that you can store under the seat in the car. It comes in two sizes, one of which is a small, travel version. The Magna-Doodle consists of a magnetic drawing board, and an attached wand-type writing/drawing device. Put the wand on the screen and create words, sentences, poetry, numbers, pictures and more – or use it to play word games like “Hangman.” Magna Doodles are available wherever toys are sold and at

Books-On Tape — Audio Bookshelf offers a wonderful catalog of unabridged, award-winning books (on tape and CD) that your family will love. Their website even has printable curriculum activities to match every title. Audio Bookshelf, 174 Prescott Hill Rd, Northport, ME 04849. 1-800-234-1713 Web:


Counting Games — This is a really simple activity for young children. Simply pick something that you see on the road and count as many of them as you can. Some fun things to count are: red cars, cows, billboards, trees, phone booths, 18-wheelers, speed limit signs, fast food restaurants, and bumper stickers.

Rock ‘N Learn: Mulitiplication Rock — This company, owned by two brothers, Brad and Richard Caudle, has set math facts and many other subjects to rock music to make rote memorization of facts easier. The tapes come with an instruction booklet with song lyrics, as well as practice activities to enhance learning. Their tapes are sold in most large bookstores and are also available at their website:

Klutz Wraps – Kids match up math questions and answers by connecting them with a string that wraps around an entire math booklet. To check your answers you flip the book over to see if the string lines up with the answer-key printed there. Wraps are grade-specific for Math (and Reading) for K-2. There’s an “Ouchless Multiplication” edition too. Ages 5-10. Available at bookstores and at

Stock Car Game — Every player gets an imaginary $500 to invest in the stock of their choice. Each player picks a publicly held company inspired by what you see as you look out the car windows. In our family, one player picked McDonalds, another Chrysler, another Texaco, another saw a billboard ad for Intel’s Pentium Processor and chose that. We brought the newspaper along in the car as we drove to swimming lessons, and each looked up their stock in the business section of the newspaper and discussed any changes in its value. After one month, the person whose stock had increased in value the most – won the game.

Social Sciences (History, Social Studies, Geography, Etc.)

History with Memory Boxes — Create a Memory Box to record a history of your road trip, and with older kids to instill an understanding of historical artifacts.

What You Will Need: A shoebox, plain adhesive stickers, pen, and things collected and gathered along the way

Directions: Give each child a Memory Box (a shoebox) and tell them to collect things to put into their Memory Box that will not only be reminders of their trip, but artifacts that record the history of their trip. At each stop along the way, encourage them to find an item to put into their Memory Boxes like rocks or feathers found on the ground, or a postcard purchased from a souvenir store. Use the stickers and pen to label the items with the date and location they were found. Each Memory Box will be a mishmash of collections that have relevance to each child and will trigger reminiscences of their trip.

Boomerang! The Children’s Audiomagazine — When you subscribe to Boomerang you receive a cassette tape in the mail every 6 weeks that features kid reporters traveling back in time to interview famous people from history, relaying the news, explaining current events, and much more. This is great listening! 1-800-333-7858,

Social Studies Through Factory Tours — Have you ever wondered how jelly beans, crayons or cars are made? You can discover these things and more by taking a factory tour. Next time you take a car trip, see if there are factories that offer tours in the area you will be visiting. One resource for finding factory tours throughout the U.S. is the book, Watch It Made in the U.S.A.: A Visitor’s Guide to the Companies that Make Your Favorite Products by Bruce Brumberg and Karen Axelrod. It’s available at the library, and in bookstores.

Fandex are information cards on subjects like the US presidents, state capitals, the Civil War, etc., that are all hinged together so that they fan out. They are available on a variety of subjects and contain interesting text along with colorful illustrations. Younger carschoolers who read well will enjoy these too. Available at bookstores and toy stores or order them from Rainbow Resources Catalog,


Windshield Entomology — Show your carschoolers the dead bugs that get squished on the windshield. See if you can identify them. Have the kids look up the bugs in a field guide and tell one interesting fact about each bug.

EXPLORABOOK Explorabook - A Kid's Science Museum in a Box by John Cassidy (ISBN: 1878257145) is a neat science activity book designed to take along in the car. The book contains interesting facts, puzzles, and games based in scientific principle. Available at most bookstores and at

Magnify It! — Keep an inexpensive magnifying glass in the car for each of your children. Encourage them to look at everything they can find in the car — hair, clothing, car seat fabric, seatbelts, maps, food, fingernails, skin, scabs, dirt, dried up apple, candy, sandwich crusts, paper, wrappers, other people's hands, etc. When you get to your destination collect more things to examine with the magnifying glass on the way home like dirt, feathers, weeds, leaves, flowers, seeds, dead bugs, pond scum (sealed in a plastic bag) — anything! Encourage kids to sketch what they see through the magnifying glass. This activity teaches two important scientific skills: observation and recording.

Animal Soundtracks – This game comes with an audio cassette tape of animal sounds. Players try to match the sounds to the correct photograph of an animal on their gameboard. They place a token on each picture that they correctly identify. The first player to cover all of their pictures with tokens wins! Playing time is about 10 minutes. One of the more clever features of this game is that on the reverse of the picture side of the game board are the animals’ names printed out – creating a second game board. Players can then identify the word that names the animal as they hear the sound the animal makes. Not only does this game encourage active listening and sound discrimination (important pre-reading skills), it develops word recognition, while teaching kids about animal life. Note: You may need a sturdy lap desk with a raised edge around it so the tokens won’t slip off of the game board and onto the car floor. (Or, put small pieces of velcro on the token and game board to keep pieces in place.) From Living & Learning (Cambridge) Ltd., 5400 Turner Ave., NW, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49544

Visual & Performing Arts

Paper Bag Puppet Show — Keep a stack of brown lunch bags in the car along with a marker pen. When you need a change of pace while riding in the car -- pull out a bag, slip it over your hand, draw a mouth and some eyes on it, and provide an instant puppet show. The kids will want to get in on the act too. Pass out bags all around, draw faces on them, and then act out your favorite fairy tale. It’s great fun!

Classical Kids Audio Recordings are a great way to introduce the family to classical music. Each title is a fictional story that includes real historical information about the composers, along with samples of their work. Some of the titles include: Beethoven Lives Upstairs, Mr. Bach Comes To Call, Mozart’s Magic Fantasy, and Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery. All are available from online bookstores such as

Name That Tune — Each carschooler takes turns humming a song. The other players in the car try to guess the title. The person who guesses correctly gets to hum the next tune. This game can be varied by limiting the songs one can hum to a specific category. For example, a player can only hum a tune from a Broadway musical, or country/western tune, or rock 'n roll, or campfire tunes, or religious hymns, etc.

Physical Education

Off-Ramp Romps — Take frequent road breaks on car trips with kids. Call ahead to the Chamber of Commerce of various cities along your route, and ask where the closest local public park with swings and slides, restrooms, and picnic tables is located to the freeway off-ramp. Your kids can get a workout trying out all of the playground equipment, and you may make some new friends!

Thumb Wrestling — This is a great game to help expend a little energy in the car. You need two players. The players clasp hands in a hand-shake keeping their thumbs straight up. Then the players move their thumbs in a criss-cross motion while saying, “One, two, three, four, let’s have a thumb war. Five, six, seven, eight, try to keep your thumb real straight.” Each thumb wrestler tries to pin down the other’s thumb with their own, keeping their hands clasped the entire time. If there are more than two people who want to play, the winner can take on other challengers in the car.

Stop Watch Olympics — When everyone is just too cranky and cramped up from driving too long a time, pull over into a Highway Rest Area and have a spur-of-the-moment Stop Watch Olympics. If you don’t have a stop watch just use a clock with a second hand to time the carschoolers as they race from one landmark to another. You can make these games as serious or as silly as you like. For example, have everyone hop on one foot for as long as they can, or count the number of jumping jacks each person can do in 30 seconds.

Foreign Languages

Foreign Language Tapes — Teach Me Tapes (1-800-456-4656) has a set of tapes that teach foreign languages to elementary grade children that include: Japanese, Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, Russian and more. The recipient of the Parents' Choice award, Teach Me Tapes works on the premise that a child's early exposure to new languages and cultures enhances foreign language learning skills and promotes a better understanding of America's multi-cultural society. They come with activity books to follow along with the tapes.

Practice Makes Perfect Game — This is a simple method for practicing any foreign language when in the car. Pick a category like animals, numbers, or colors. Then call out what you see in Spanish. For example, the category is “numbers.” Take turns spotting road signs with numbers on them (like mileage or speed limit signs) and saying the number in Spanish instead of English. Or if the category is “animals” and someone sees a cow – they say vaca instead of cow. It’s a great way to practice and improve foreign language skills.


Car Fortunes

Tell your kids to add up all of the numbers in their birthday. For example, a child whose birthday is 10-18-95, would add all of the individual numbers together as follows: 1 + 0 + 1 + 8 + 9 + 5 = 24. The sum of their birthday digits is their special number. Then, tell the kids that when you say ‘go’ they should start counting the cars that go buy. When they reach their special number, they shout out what kind of a car it is. That will be the kind of car they will drive on their 16th birthday.

Mail Call

Kids love to get mail and this is a great activity for young children to do in the car. Save up all of your junk mail and bring it along in a bag. When the kids get a little antsy, just say, “Mail Call!” Then, divide up all of the mail evenly and let them open it. Have them tell you as best as they can, what it is – based on the pictures in the brochures, etc. If they can read – have them read the mail to you.

Bubble Gum Blowing Contest

Bring bubble gum on your car trips and when it’s time for fun -- have a bubble blowing contest. The winner is the person who blows the largest bubble. What do they win? More gum! (Note: It might be a good idea to keep a jar of peanut butter in the car – it helps remove bubble gum from hair.)


Carschool Tips

* CrayolaÒ makes wipe-off markers to use on windows. Keep them in the car to keep track of game scores on the window. It eliminates the need for paper and pencil, and the scores and tally marks wipe right off with a damp cloth when you’re through playing the games.

* Card games can be difficult to play in the car because it’s hard for small hands to hold onto the cards. Punch holes in one corner of the cards and use a metal ring that opens and closes (available at office supply stores) to hold the cards together. The kids can fan out their cards without dropping them.

You can see that creating a curriculum for use in your carschool will increase your family’s fun on the road. These are just a few of the over 350 activities that you will find in the book Carschooling available at bookstores everywhere. You can order the book and find more free activities and resources at

Copyrighted 2002, by Diane Flynn Keith, All Rights Reserved. Carschooling is a Registered Trademark.