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While wearing chaffeur's hat, why not teacher's?

By THERESA WILLINGHAM
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 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.

Public- and private-schooled children have more opportunities than ever for extracurricular activities, ranging from sports and performing arts to Scouting and after-school programs. Home schoolers are ever busier with science centers and learning cooperatives, not to mention the necessity to accompany their parents on household errands.

Obviously, it's important to choose outside and extracurricular activities carefully to avoid burnout. But even after you've helped your children select their activities, you are likely to find yourself in the car several hours a week.

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 in her car 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. Some of her suggestions are things you've probably tried already, such as audio books and sing-along tapes.

But did you know you could sneak in some education with those same tools?

Area bookstores sell cassette tapes and CDs that feature multiplication table rap, geography mnemonic songs, and biographies of composers and musicians. Flynn also suggests some twists to old-time favorites you probably never thought of as educational. That old round robin game, where everyone takes turns adding to a story? It improves listening skills, comprehension and vocabulary, not to mention 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, 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 in the United States those states are located: northeast, south, Midwest or Pacific Coast.

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 is a collection of quirky short stories that are missing valuable features like nouns, verbs and adjectives. Take turns filling in the blanks to create some wild tales and develop an enduring sense of grammar.

There are plenty of free online resources to print out and keep on hand at the Discovery Channels Brainbooster 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 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 like U.S. presidents, state capitals, the Civil War and so on. You can find Fandex cards at Amazon.com and at a variety of other booksellers and educational resources.

Happy driving!

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