Thursday, July 23, 2009

Keeping Toddlers Occupied in the Car

For those of you joining me from Frugal Fridays, we are planning to attend my cousin's wedding in three weeks. It's about a 9.5 hour drive straight through, one way. We have a two-year-old. Yikes.

After doing some searching and thinking, here is what I've come up with so far. I won't be doing everything on the list, and I'm sticking to things that I can put together for cheap and/or free.

Things to Make:
* Color and Shape Cloth Book - You can see all the images here. I made it in a similar fashion to Goose's ABC cloth book, though the pages are cut a bit smaller. To make the pattern for the shapes, I used Microsoft Word and then sized them about the same (I think no bigger than 4x4"). I printed them, cut them out, then used fabric scraps. Like last time, I used Wonder Under to fuse them to the page and sewed around them with a zig-zag stitch. Instead of using fabric for the words, this time I used a fabric pen borrowed from my mother-in-law. Much easier! :>)

* Lacing Cards - I cut some stiff cardboard into shapes and punched holes around the edges. I bought a thick pink shoelace for her to use. She preferred to just play with them - calling the yellow pony-tailed girl "Papa", the green bed "tractor" and the red house "barn". Who am I to correct her?

* Finger Puppets - Ended up not making any. I planned to use some felt and fabric scraps that I have on hand . . . maybe when she gets a bit older.

* Photo Magnets - I printed some photos of family and cats, and used a big pile of freebie refrigerator magnets that I've been collecting forever just in case I had a use for them. And now I do! I used plain old Tacky Glue, and the photos stuck pretty well. I brought a rimmed cookie sheet that I plan to bring for Goose to use as a lap board for this and a number of other activities.

* Magnetic Puzzles - I printed pictures on cardstock (did searches for "coloring pages" on the images I wanted - cow, chicken, cat, pig), colored them in with markers, cut them apart, and attached magnets on the back for use on the cookie sheet.

* Play-Dough - perhaps Cardamom's Pod's recipe - though I wouldn't hand it to Goose to play with in the car. This would have been more of an in-the-hotel sort of thing. Had I done it. :>) Instead, I brought one of Goose's favorite toys from home, her Little People Nativity Set. She LOVES playing with her "baby Jesus toys".

* Geometric Insert Puzzles - I traced 3x3" shapes onto foam sheets, using shapes in Microsoft Word for the patterns. To make it easier for little fingers to grasp, I stitched a bead above the magnet on each piece so Goose can grasp that to pull the piece out. Unfortunately, the adhesive on the magnets didn't stick as well to the foam as the magnent stuck to the cookie sheet, so I glued them on. While she isn't all that exact with colors OR shapes, Goose enjoyed saying "blue, yellow, green" and "circle, triangle, square" as I handed her pieces. And the beads really helped, I thought.

* Sound Bottles - this is a Montessori thing - you paint several bottles so you can't see what's inside, then fill them with things that makes noise, two for each thing (i.e. uncooked rice or beans, etc.). The little one has to match the sounds and pick which ones have the same thing. They can check their work by looking at the bottoms, where you paint colored circles. Then again, this might not be the best thing to do in the car. :>) (Based on two posts at Chasing Cheerios.) I didn't do this. :>)

* Mini Felt Boards - I made one with a number of squares in several different colors, and one that is basically a felt Mr. Potato Head. I did some searching online to get ideas of what to put on the spud, then free-handed eyes, noses, mouths, glasses, ears, and feet. I was going to do arms, but then they just seemed too small to bother. The shape matching idea came from the list of activity bags for preschoolers at The Sunny Patch. I actually ended up not giving her these as I forgot to bring magnets to help hold the heavy background felt to the cookie sheet. We'll play with them at home instead.

* Busy Board - I collected various "fasteners" - large button, buckle, belt, velcro, tie, clip, zipper, etc. I made a pillowcase of sorts for the cookie sheet we took, and she can practice doing and undoing the different things. Inside the zipper is a pocket that held a small cat and dog, which she really enjoyed. Idea is from Teaching Montessori in the Home: Pre-School Years. Actually, I ended up adjusting the "case" since I decided to bring a larger cookie sheet, so I just opened the seam and stitched in a couple extra pieces of fabric along the top . . . then I ended up bringing the small cookie sheet, too, because I wasn't sure if Goose would think the big sheet was too awkward. She was fine with both, of course.

* I-Spy Bottle or Bag (Here is the one mentioned in a recent link roundup, though I saw another post recently about using an empty water bottle.) (Didn't get to this.)

* Magnetic "Paper" Dolls - This is credited to my mother-in-law. She found some fabric with a paper doll print. We cut around the dolls, and fused them to card stock with a metal washer between the fabric and the paper. We then fused the clothes to cardstock and glued magnets on the back. (again, magnet is stronger than adhesive - so we needed glue.) They are VERY CUTE! Goose preferred a magnet on the doll, too, so she didn't have to worry about it sliding. My aunt actually talked some of the fabric off my MIL and made some for her granddaughter, my cousin's little girl. She really enjoyed them, too!

Things to Put Together:
* Sorting Colors and Shapes - inspired by Sarah's Musing's preschool inspiration post. (I guess it WAS inspiring!) Like Sarah, I bought some reusable ice cubes - I think there are four colors and two shapes. I thought we might work on sorting them by color and by shape, but Goose isn't into that yet. Kind of a shift on that idea, though, was a package of brightly colored pom poms in three sizes. Goose enjoyed saying the different colors and "big" or "tiny" as I passed them to her, and she sorted them into a small tackle box, courtesy of her grandpa.

* Stringing Empty Thread Spools - So I'm a big geek about saving random things that you never know you might need. Kind of like Valerie at Frugal Family Fun Blog's invention kit. Anyway, I thought these spools would be easy for Goose to string on a piece of yarn (or shoelace), especially if I added a pipe cleaner "needle" as shown here on Chasing Cheerios. I ended up doubling the shoelace over (with a spool tied in what was the middle that became the end as a stopper) and used scotch tape to tape one end of the shoelace just below the other end, to make the "needle" part a bit longer. Goose LOVED this, and loved wearing it, too! You can see her modeling it as she was talking to my mom while we were waiting for Old Faithful here.

* Sewing - Valerie at Frugal Family Fun Blog posted several months ago about beginning sewing. I have some plastic blunt embroidery needles that I picked up at the thrift store, some embroidery floss, some cross-stitch fabric (very open weave) and a Goose-sized embroidery hoop. However, when I test-drove it, I realized the needle was still too big for it to pass through easily. So, we'll give it a run when I can find a better fabric for it.

* Bubble Wrap & Tin Foil I didn't give Goose the tin foil, but she enjoyed the bubble wrap!

* Crayons & Paper - always a hit, though she tends to request *I* draw things for her (such as our cats, and Papa), so it's not exactly something she does herself. :>)

* Yarn on Sandpaper - idea is from the list of activity bags for preschoolers at The Sunny Patch. Goose liked it pretty much right away!

* Chalk & Black Paper - Not only did I finally find the chalk I knew I had stashed away, I found another box at Goodwill for 50 cents. I also found the black paper I'd bought for cheap at the thrift shop a while back! Goose liked scribbling with it, though one or two colors were messier than the others, so I just wiped her hands with a baby wipe when she was done.

* Pipe Cleaners - can't remember where I saw this, but they can just bend and dink around with them. I'm thinking I'll roll the edges down a bit so they aren't sharp. Didn't use them.

* Open & Close containers - pictured here at Chasing Cheerios. I found a daily pill box and washed it out, a few small plastic containers, and a small wooden container. I didn't give it to her in the car because I knew if she dropped any lids, she'd get mad. She has enjoyed it at home, though.

* Sort In Compartments - pictured here at Chasing Cheerios. (I asked my dad for an old small tackle box. :>)) We mostly did this with the pom poms, except without any method to the sorting. :>)

* Match Color Paint Strips - based on matching colors using clothes pins at Chasing Cheerios. I plan to get paint strips and just use the darkest color on each for now. Though I watched Goose operate a spring clothespin yesterday, she doesn't really have the colors down at all. Didn't do it, but will sometime.

* White board and markers - At the thrift store, I found a small white board that is in a zippered case, there is also a pocket for markers. Like the play-dough, this one will need to be closely supervised. I didn't end up finding markers that were a balance between easy to wash off and shows up on the board. But I'll keep looking.

Things to Buy
* Little Books - I have kept my eyes peeled at the thrift shop and picked up a handful of new-to-us board books, plus ones that I've put away for Goose since books are 1) to be read and 2) to be pulled off the shelves in their entirety. One thing I wish I did was read the new ones to her once or twice so she'd have been familiar with them. Though I know she'd have wanted to read them over and over and over anyway . . .

* Travel Games (though I really didn't find any really for toddlers)

* Small New Toys - don't think I'm going to bother since I have so many other things planned.

* I considered getting Goose a magnifying glass, but decided to wait a while. I can see her accidentally setting fire to something in the backseat . . . (update - found one at the thrift store, but not for the trip. She and Papa can look at bugs or something with it.)

And for when the going gets really rough, I planned to borrow my parents' small TV/VCR, and we could also play DVDs on the laptop. We ended up not taking the TV and never did play anything for her on the laptop. She did quite well with all the other stuff!

Anything to add? Any tips? To make things extra exciting, I was planning to potty training her, until the stomach bug hit. Now she isn't very interested, and we have about three weeks before the trip. It looks like we're going to wait.

And, my 100th post will be coming up in the next couple of weeks. I'm putting together a number of random items to give away and I'd love it if you'd come back and enter - the more, the merrier! It's like a phobia of having a party and no one coming . . . I would be so sad to have a give-away and no one enter it . . . :>)

For more frugal ideas, visit Life as Mom.


Valerie @ Frugal Family Fun Blog said...

Wow! Great links here, and I'm off to check them out.... I'm honored to be listed among such great bloggers, thank you!!

My Boaz's Ruth said...

Another problem with magnifying glass -- it could break.

I have not found any games for less than 3 years old yet. I'm trying to figure out a way to print pictures and make my own "matching" game out of it.

Fairion said...

Thank you for this post. I just found your blog but will be back lots. Today we are going to get supplies to start the embroidery with our daughter. I love the Mr. Potato Head felt board. I will definitely be making that when we get home.

Lenetta @ Nettacow said...

Thanks for stopping by, everyone! I found some new ideas in a book, so I plan to update the post when I finish reading it. (The Toddler's Busy Book, I think it's called. There's a pre-school version as well.) I am hoping we'll be well-situated for travel!

Sarah said...

Lots of great ideas here! The only other thing that might be fun is to get one of those little photo albums (the kind that hold one photo each page) and put in photos of family that she's going to see to re-familiarize her with some members she hasn't seen in a while, as well as pictures of her favorite things at home (cats. Tractor. Etc.)

Great ideas and thanks for the link as well!


Berchta said...

Thank you for the lovely post.I want to buy my daughter some toddler climbing toys. Do you know of a good place where I can buy them?

Angela said...

I also have "The Toddler's Busy Book". It's great! You have been busy putting all this stuff together! We got back from our trip today, it was 8 hours one way. Isabella had her Grandma with (her favorite person in the whole world) so Grandma and the doll from Grandma's house kept her occupied the ENTIRE time, yay! One thing that I do is pick up toys at garage sales and the Dollar Store, and save them for trips, she also loves to listen to CD's in the car. Oh, and I LOVE the magnetic paper dolls, too cute!

Lenetta @ Nettacow said...

Sarah, you know my Goose well! Excellent suggestions. We have one of those photo books (that I really need to update!) but I have made her a little "favorite things" book using cardboard from cereal boxes, pictures from magazines, and clear contact paper. Now THAT is a Frugal Friday post! :>)

Berchta, I'm not familiar with those toys. I'd recommend keeping a sharp eye on garage sales and yard sales, and perhaps searching on ebay, though I'd guess shipping would be a killer. If you have them in your area, Craigslist and Freecycle might be a good option, too. Oh, and if there is a semi-annual children's consignment sale nearby, they can be random but sometimes you can luck out.

Angela, welcome home! As I was putting this together, I had a twinge of guilt for not getting it done sooner that you might benefit a bit. Glad to hear you didn't need it! Goose has two CDs that she likes to have on all.the.time in the car. I think it's a comfort thing for her, though.

Laura said...

Netta, I'm planning for the same trip!!!

Music is the real win in our car, but we don't like annoying toddler fare...we have a CD of our church choir, us singing, and she gets a kick out of pointing to whether mom or dad is the one singing when it's a verse by the guys or gals.

Also, much as I don't love them, a toy with lights is essential after dusk, to distract from scary darkness.

Best cheap toy: the no-spill bubble container. Katie is a pro, or mom can blow them and the A.C. carries them over to the backseat.

See you on the road in a few weeks!!!

Oh, and, my best other idea: can Koozies made of that soft stretchy wet suit material fit most sippy-cups, so milk stays fresh for several hours. And, on humid days, you don't end up with a sweating cup dripping all over your baby or bag!

Sharinskishe said...

My toddlers are now 11 and 14! Wow does time fly by.........

You have so many wonderful ideas from many sources and many awesome Bloggers. I too have the Busy Toddler book. I loved that book when I worked at a daycare and hope to use it in the far future with grandchildren.

My only tip would be traveling at night. This is what we always did and our kids spent most of the time sleeping and very little time squirming to get out of their car seats!

I hope you have a most wonderful trip and a safe journey to and from.


Lenae said...

This list is great! My husband is taking the kids on mini-road trip at the end of the month and I know my 3-year-old will dig several of these ideas. Thanks for the Quick Takes comment, by the way- always nice to know that someone's enjoying my quirky stories :)

Jenny said...

I'd also suggest buying a cheap calculator. My son loves pushing buttons and is interested in numbers. I found $1 calculators at Dollar Tree & Wal-Mart. I keep one in my purse for emergency distraction.

Lenetta @ Nettacow said...

Very true, Jenny - Goose likes to make off with my Hubs's calculator in our office and "run some numbers". :>)

2Shaye ♪♫ said...

Girl, you should just sell these bags. I'm totally NOT kidding. I had a friend who used to make little games-for-the-car kits through Ebay. This was about 6 years ago and they were so stinkin' cute. But she's not doing that anymore. I can't imagine it being boring at all...and what a fulfilling thing to sell, knowing all along that you're brightening another traveler's day, or week, or month (thinking of our LOOONG trips between Nebraska and Texas).

2Shaye ♪♫ said...

I should clarify ('cause, you know, I haven't commented enough on your blog tonight) that by 'bags' I mean a bag with a bunch of these items whipped together. When my friend did the ebay thing, she made bags out of felt...very quick and easy and washable. And then she filled them with a game or two. You could do GOBS more, though. I'll be your chief advertising agent. M'k? WHAAAAT? What at do you MEAN you don't want to split the profit 50/50??? :wink:

Cmerie said...

Great ideas! I think I'll incorporate some of these for our long plane ride on Wednesday.

Lenetta @ Nettacow said...

In case anybody is wondering, I did a post on making a "favorite things" book here. I used cut up cereal box cardboard, pictures cut out from magazines, clear contact paper, and yarn.

The girl who painted trees said...

Here's how we did the sewing

Great links and ideas.