The Educational Value of Road Trips By Pamela MacIsaac #TeachMeTuesday

Does the thought of being trapped in a car for hours on end with your family fill you with excitement – or dread? Travelling with kids, especially by car, can be a test of our patience and fortitude as parents, but also a unique chance to build our relationships, skills, and understanding of the world. Here are a few tips to help turn those hours of car-time into great memories and an opportunity to develop numeracy and literacy, as well as social and creative and critical-thinking skills.

Plan Ahead – and Involve Your Kids

As with any teachable moment with our kids, the best road trips happen when we plan ahead, researching the history, geography, and local culture of places on our route and making an itinerary, but also leaving space for those important spontaneous detours. Make sure to bring your kids in on the discussions, and let them have real input into decision-making about the trip to give them a sense of ownership and connection.

Limit Screen Time

Gadgets can make car travel easier for everyone…and they can also induce lethargy and keep us from fully engaging with the world around us. Before you set out on the road, agree on the reasonable use of electronics in the car. Banning gadgets altogether can be counter-productive, plus a smartphone can be a highly useful research and planning tool while you’re on the road, but limiting the type and duration of their use is important.

Pack a Bag of Books

If you can, try to find books that relate to the locales you’re visiting, such as nonfiction about local history or geography or fiction set in the region. If your stash of books becomes stale, try visiting the local public library in a city or town on your route. The local library is a window into the community, but, even more importantly, they also tend to have a cart, shelf or even a whole room set aside for the sale of used books. The money from used book sales helps the local library…and you can’t beat the prices!


Bring a deck of cards, and task everyone with learning and demonstrating a new game. Magnetic travel boards and trivia card games suitable for kids are an excellent purchase. And, of course, there are the classic car games. Practice deductive reasoning with I Spy and 20 Questions, or work on your math skills with Add it up which requires players to correctly add, multiply, or create equations from the numbers and letters on passing license plates. Develop your creative-thinking skills with Story-Telling in which one player starts a story with a sentence and everyone in the car has to add to it. Strengthen working memory with listing games, such as Grandmother’s Suitcase. The possibilities are endless.

Keep your Eyes Open

Set up a geography or landmark scavenger hunt for the trip. If you know you’ll be passing an amusement park, for example, search for a “roller-coaster” or a “horse and buggy” if you’re passing through Amish or Hutterite country. The list can be extended each day.

Create Little Navigators

Let your kids help navigate, whether you’re using a smartphone, tablet, or old-school paper map. Learning to use navigational tools encourages the development of spatial awareness, numeracy, literacy, and environmental responsibility.

Eat and Shop Locally

Rather than stopping at a global chain restaurant, pull off the highway into the main street of small towns and take a chance on locally owned businesses. Stop at farmers’ markets or stands for healthy snacks. Talk about why a particular fruit or vegetable might grow well in this geographic region or how a certain food might have become popular. Interact with servers, owners, and anyone else you meet to find out more about businesses in the area. Not only is it educational, but eating at locally owned restaurants, stores and farmers’ markets and stands benefits local business people who may depend on the tourist trade in a seasonal industry.

Write it Down

Before you leave, take your kids shopping and let them pick out an inexpensive notebook to use as a trip journal. Encourage them to collect pamphlets, ticket stubs, menus and other paper souvenirs to cut up and paste into the journals as they write. If they’re stuck for ideas or reluctant to write, have a list of prompts ready or have them write and illustrate Top 10 lists each day on a different topic.

The best way to encourage your kids to learn from road trips is to model engagement yourself. Try to observe limits for your own gadget use, immerse yourself in games, keep your own souvenirs and journal, and learn about local food, history, and geography yourself. You never know…it might just turn out to be an educational opportunity for the grown-ups too!

PMacIsaacHeadshotPam MacIsaac is a writer, teacher, enthusiastic amateur cook, mom, and lifelong pet owner. Her academic coaching practice, Think Academic Enrichment and Support (, offers literacy tutoring, enrichment classes, PA Day and March Break Creativity Camps, and other services for kids in midtown Toronto. She lives in the Arlington Village/Oakwood & Vaughan neighbourhood, and loves her local parks!

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