Memorial Day marks the unofficial first day of summer. Regardless of where the mercury lies, lifeguards will be climbing their towers, teachers will be locking up their classrooms and many dads and moms will be gassing up their tanks – albeit wiping their brow as they wonder what possessed them to agree to a family vacation.

Whether your family’s summer trek takes you down the street to the beaches of Washington Park or Stone Lake for an afternoon, out to America’s Rollercoast in Ohio for a day, or to a mountain destination a day’s drive away, a little preparation can head off the inevitable cries of bored children. Imagine the family vacation where you are never asked “Are we there yet?”

Present these travel activities to your children (you can join in too!) and you may never again have to threaten to turn the car around:

Paper Plate Game (my daughters named this one):

Other topic ideas: use the 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces; or local items such as  palm trees, mountains or cacti.

This activity can be adapted so that a child of any age or ability can participate. For a child who is unable to read, use sticklers rather than words, e.g. cow, duck, truck, airplane, etc… on each fringe;  or  color the fringe so your child has to find an object of that color, such as green (grass), red (firetruck), white (sheep), yellow (school bus).

In the days ahead of your vacation, the paper plate activity may keep your children safely occupied while you pack. The center of the paper plate can be colored and decorated, creating a sentimental reminder of the 2018 Family Vacation. Children may want to create several paper plates for the ride there and the ride back.

License Plate Game:

Add some learning by asking them to write the state’s capitol or the state nickname next to the license plate. Or, as you near your destination, to write down the states whose license plates they haven’t yet seen.

For some reason, I’ve always been fascinated by license plates and it’s something that I’ve passed onto my girls without intention. We still marvel at out-of-state vehicles. It’s not every day that you see a car from Alaska or Labrador. Far off places still spark a conversation, as we wonder what route a semi from Ontario takes to the U. S., or the route to take from Chicago to Manitoba.

If your children are too young to read license plates, the alphabet game is equally fun. Here’s how it works:

Here is another take on the Alphabet Game:

When my daughters were just tots, we made up a name called “Categories”:

Other categories could be flowers, cities, vegetables, cartoon characters, makes of vehicles or items to take on a picnic. The possibilities are endless.

Other fun travel items that can ward off boredom, as well as the jabs, pokes and tears, are travel bingo (available at many stores in the game section or $1.00 bins), travel journal, story book sketch pad (each sheet has an open area for artwork on the top and lines for writing on the bottom), word puzzles and books. Beware of choking hazards.

When the fun of these activities wears off, rest stops with grassy areas invite your children to burn off that pent up energy. As the person who was stuck in the middle of the back seat or in the rear of station wagon, I can tell you that it would be a great kindness to rotate seats (if children do not need car seats) to allow every person the chance to sit in the enviable spot next to a window.

If you enjoy the journey as much as the destination, you’re bound to make great family memories this summer. These activities might just sprinkle your drive with a little geography, reading, history and science, and perhaps countless laughs.