BY Meredith Flory

Keeping children quiet and entertained while traveling can seem like a daunting task. But what if we approach the time it takes to get to our destination as time available to learn with our children? Thinking creatively about how to best use your child’s undivided attention when they’re buckled in might help us enjoy the journey more.

Just as adults might pick reads that seem more leisurely on vacation, students can get the benefit of reading while focusing on activities that seem more fun than work. Melissa Watson, Teacher Librarian at Stevens Creek Elementary School discussed motivating summer reading with me: “Usually kids that ‘hate’ reading have not experienced true engagement with a book. The kind of engagement where you just can’t put it down. So, the key is finding a book that is highly interesting to the child,” she says. “Parents also need to remember that their children may not like the same titles or style of books that they themselves enjoyed as a child and should not be critical of a child’s book selection.” If a child is drawn to a graphic novel, parents often call them comic books, it is okay. There are some very wonderful graphic novels out there and yes, they do have a story line and often teach great life lessons.  

The following activities are suggestions from real moms and educators, and are grouped by reading level to help you find appropriate ones for your child. However, some are appropriate for multiple ages and reading levels. 

Pre-literacy Learners

Children that are not yet reading on their own are often young enough that they need to be kept busy while traveling with activities that can help lay a foundation for reading.

Busy Bags: Ruchi O’Connor, a local mom originally from Australia, has a lot of experience flying with small children. Busy bags occupy her boys and are “good for airline travel when you need to pack light”. On a recent trip her 3-year-old played independently with a bag of cut-up felt pieces, making pictures and working on shapes and colors. Busy bags can be made using simple items like pipe cleaners or lacing cards placed in a reusable pouch or freezer bag.

Sticker Books: Local stay-at-home-mom Lauren Shoemaker purchases sticker books for her two children when they travel. She explains, “There are a million different kinds and it has the shape of the character (or whatever goes there) and the description.” Children match stickers from one page onto a corresponding activity, teaching sorting and matching.

Toddler Apps: Augusta mom Heather Letourneau shared that her family uses the apps available through, a subscription service with activities that you can use on any device through your account. Additionally, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street and a variety of other educational organizations have apps available. It’s important to consider age-appropriate limits on screentime, and noise-control headphones for little ones, but as a special treat, apps can be great for a plane. On a flight to Seattle, we used a Little Critter read-along app about going on vacation to keep our toddler engaged.

Emergent and Early Readers

Students who need shorter texts and occasional assistance may enjoy reading new books silently or aloud on a long trip.  

Activity books: Find an activity book that focuses on a topic of interest, with mazes, search-and-find pictures and other puzzles for busy minds. Some are created with dry-erase pages and, using the correct marker, can be erased and reused. 

E-Readers and Audio Books: Depending on your budget, many electronics specifically geared towards educational activities can be helpful. Sara Mitchell, a local military wife and mother to three girls who travels by car over 16 hours to see family likes, “the Leap Pad because I can control what goes on it,” yet there is a lot they can do independently. Watson suggested the app Epic! Books (, a low-priced subscription service to high quality children’s ebooks and audio books. She recommends audio books because, “it is especially wonderful if the entire family can listen to a book that everyone will enjoy and can discuss. Travel time passes so quickly when everyone is so absorbed in the story.”  

Independent Readers 

Students capable of reading longer books may need to be encouraged to do so when traveling, and they need to see that adults love reading for pleasure too. 

Shared Reading: Create a mini-book club for the trip. Tead the same book as teens or set reading goals for the family. Decide upon activities like discussion questions or challenge rewards.

Non-fiction Books: Use the travel part of the trip to get your children excited about where you are going with non-fiction books. Watson suggests, “If traveling to a well-known location, there is a great series of historical fiction books where kids are trying to solve mysteries in real places (Real Kids, Real Places by Carole Marsh). Although the story is fictional, the author provides a lot of interesting facts about the location. 

Getting Ready for College and Career

Help older students find their interests and passions by investing in their learning opportunities. 

Trip Planning: Planning family appropriate activities can keep teens busy in a positive way on technology. Advance research skills by asking your teen to plan one day of the trip by picking the museum, restaurant, etc. Add another dimension by setting a budget to follow.

Word Games: is a website I loved to suggest to my students that helps with test prep. Every correct answer to the vocabulary game increases the puzzle skill level and donates 10 grains of rice to end world hunger. Challenging crossword puzzles or other brain teasers can be fun to do together.  

Genre Exploring: Purchase serious magazines on a subject the student enjoys, such as science, politics or animals. Read a mystery together and try to solve the ending, or pull a genre from a hat for everyone to try. Watson suggests Common Sense Media ( to help you find books and media that are age- and readinglevel appropriate to your children.  

Meredith Flory is an Augusta-area freelance writer, military spouse and mother of two. She has a masters degree in children’s literature from Kansas State University and has taught high school and college English.

This article appears in the May – June 2016 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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