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'Car schooling' enhances trips with the kids in tow

By THERESA WILLINGHAM
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 27, 2002

Whether your children learn at home or in a school, chances are you spend more time in the car than you thought either choice would entail.

Publicly and privately schooled children have more opportunities than ever for extracurricular activities, ranging from sports and performing arts to scouting and after-school programs. There is no shortage of opportunities for home-schooled children to socialize with their peers at science center classes, art and music programs, and learning cooperatives. And for home schoolers, there's also the added necessity of accompanying Mom and Dad along on routine errands.

Obviously, it's important to choose outside and extracurricular activities carefully. A child whose itinerary doesn't include a few hours a day without some scheduled activity can burn out as quickly as any overscheduled adult.

Assuming you've already helped your children select their activities thoughtfully, but still find yourself in the car several hours a week, there are things you can do to make the best of your car time together.

Author Diane Flynn Keith recognized the problem a few years ago and coined the phrase "car schooling" to describe activities and ideas she used to enhance the time she spent shuttling her children around. Car schooling, she says in her book by the same name, is "an alternative approach to home schooling and after schooling, designed to improve everyone's time on the road."

You've probably thought of some of these yourself: audio books and singalong tapes, for example.

But did you know that some of these materials are educational?

Bookstores carry cassette tapes and CDs that feature multiplication table rap, geography mnemonic songs and musical biographies of composers and musicians. You can buy these products online as well.

Flynn also suggests some educational advantages and twists to old-time favorites. Remember that old round-robin game, where everyone takes turns adding to a story? That one improves listening skills, comprehension and vocabulary, while exercising the imagination. Looking for various license tags? That becomes a good math activity when you practice rounding tag numbers up and down.

Turn Truth or Dare into Decade or Dare and you've got a history game going. Take turns naming a decade (say, 1880-1890), and each person in the car has to come up with an event that happened during that time. Determine some silly consequences, like saying the alphabet backwards, in advance. If you're not sure about an answer on this one, though, be sure to take the time to find out sometime that day, so no one goes away with erroneous information.

How about 20 Questions, done to the tune of science or geography or any other subject you or your children enjoy or in which they (and you) can use some improvement? You might want to keep some general reference book in the car for this one, and for the Decade or Dare game.

While you're stuck in traffic and casually identifying all the snowbird license tags, turn it into a scavenger hunt and see who can find the most states in a certain amount of time. While you're at it, see if your kids know where those states are located.

Another good game is Highway Alphabet Soup, the object of which is to find words on road signs beginning with each letter of the alphabet. The first person to make it all the way to Z wins. (X can be a freebee unless you get lucky!)

If you want to drive everyone nuts but learn a lot in the process, keep books of word games, logic puzzles and mind games handy. A great language arts booster that kids rarely regard as educational, but that fits the bill quite nicely, is that timeless old standby, Mad Libs. Mad Libs are collections of quirky little short stories that are missing valuable features like nouns, verbs and adjectives. Take turns filling in the blanks to create some wild tales, and to develop an enduring sense of grammar at the same time.

There are plenty of free online resources to print out and keep on hand at the Discovery Channel's Brain Booster Archive, at school.discovery.com/brainboosters. There you can find questions to stimulate lateral thinking, such as:

What do a cow, a shoe and a baby all have in common? A tongue, what else? How about a doctor's office, a post office and music? A scale.

Besides books, puzzles and tapes, you can also keep sets of Quiz Cards in a car activity box, or Fandex cards. These are hinged together like the Quiz Cards, but are subject-specific on topics such as U.S. presidents, state capitals and the Civil War.

You can find Fandex cards at Amazon.com and a variety of other booksellers and educational resources.

Happy driving!

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