I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Sneaky Learning Ideas for Summer Road Trips

Sneaky Learning Ideas for Summer Road Trips- 1980s style car ride fun SANS screens

What do you get when you combine seven people, one dog, a very small space, and eight to ten hours a day of unstructured togetherness?

Well, it depends on the season. 

Should all of that be tossed together in the dead of a tundra-like midwestern winter, I'd say you have a recipe for cabin fever with a side of seasonal neurosis.

But, should you be stirring that pot in the sunshine of summer, I'd assume you're cooking up road trip bliss.
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In full disclosure here, folks: I'm one of those mommas who looks forward to car trips with kids. The longer the better. We're a rare breed, to be sure.

The final locations are always nice, of course. Amusement parks, vacation resorts, beach condos. Yes, yes to all of that. But for me, family road trips are not about the destination. They're about the journey...the time together in the car. The eight to ten hours of uninterrupted time with The Hubs and my kids. 

While our new-to-us Mountaineer came with a DVD player, we much prefer to travel 1980s style SANA screens.

That's right. Seven people. Eight to ten hours. No screens.

It can be done. 

(Ninety-nine bottles of milk on the wall, anyone?)

Since we live in a teeny-tiny Mayberry, most of our summertime travels consist of short day trips to the big city. However, as my extended family lives on the other side of the country, The Hubs and I have been known to make three-day-long trips with all of the kids -- for a roundtrip total of six days of cramped car living. 

As a homeschool momma, I can't think of a better chance for sneaky learning. With a little bit of purposeful planning and a well-packed backpack, I can turn a captive audience into a captivated one.

Here are some of my top sneaky learning tricks/resources for summer road trips.

Before the trip

Gather resources for a brief introduction

Days before heading out, visit the library or scour youtube for some books and videos about the places you'll be visiting, towns you'll be passing through, and landmarks you'll be seeing along the way. This will give you some talking points to revisit with your kids upon arrival, will help them understand and appreciate the significance of your final end spot, and will ignite some initial excitement about the journey not just the destination. 

Sneaky Learning Ideas for Summer Road Trips

Map it out

Print out simple road maps from one leg of the trip to another. Help your child highlight the journey with a marker and circle any of the locations or interesting stops you'll make along the way. Calculate the mileage and potential drive time together. Place these maps in clear protective sleeves inside a binder. Then during the trip, encourage him/her to use a dry erase marker to mark the sections of road you've driven through each time you take a bathroom break or stop for gas. 

During the trip

Read aloud

My older kids would count Rabbit Hill as one of their favorite read alouds ever. It was a good book. But, I think the fact that we read it while driving through the woods on our way to a campsite several summers ago made it extra memorable.

Whether we're driving the thirty miles to one grandma's house or the three days to the other's, we always bring along a family read aloud. I'll admit that I actually had to see a chiropractor after one especially long trip. (I'm not sure why my neck was wrenched sideways after that vacation. It couldn't possibly have been from the hours of twisting my torso sideways so that the story could be heard all the way in the back seat. No, it couldn't be that. I guess we'll just have to call that one of life's unsolvable problems like those you find in low-grade mystery novels.)

Sometimes we mix things up and listen to an audio book. (Our most favorite so far has been Echo, a story that follows three different children from different parts of the world during WWII. The accents and sound effects provided by the exceptional narrators made the audio version a MUST.)

Keep a travel journal

Buy a simple travel journal or create one of your own using the following free resources:

Stash the journal in a backseat pocket with some fun gel pens and a clipboard for writing. (I always prefer storage clipboards so that my kids can keep their journal, colored pencils, and blank drawing paper together.)

Sneaky Learning Ideas for Summer Road Trips

Play old fashioned car games

When we knew we'd be going on a two week car adventure at the start of a new year, the Hubs and I purchased the License Plate Game, a wooden game board that allows you to flip over license plate tiles every time you see a car from that particular state. By the end of our journey, our family had spotted a plate from all but three of the 50 states. Now each time we go on a long distance trip, we flip all the tiles over to starting position and try to beat our long standing record.

Other car games we enjoy include the following:

  • I Spy
  • Count the number of (color) cars between this town and the next
  • Be the first to find all 26 letters of the alphabet in road signs
  • Name a word that begins with the last letter of the word said before it. (doG, GirL, LadY, Yo-yO...)

Sneaky Learning Ideas for Summer Road Trips

Hunt for landmarks

While you certainly can print out ready-made car trip scavenger hunts like this one for non-readers and this one for tweens and teens, The Hubs really likes to make scavenger hunts specific to our actual travel plans. The most memorable was created to coincide with the Disney Pixar Cars movie. A few years after the movie release, my family took a Route 66 road trip to visit my family. The Hubs made a pictorial scavenger hunt of all the Cars landmarks he knew we'd see along the way including Ramone's auto body shop, the Cadillac Ranch, the Cozy Cone Hotel, and Lizzie's curio shop...all of which were based on real places in the southwest. On the road when we'd arrive at a location, the kids would check it off on their scavenger hunt page and we'd all pile out for a photo.


If scavenger hunts aren't an option, make a pre-vacation trek to the library to grab some Find-and-Seek books, especially for your non-readers. I especially like the Spot-a-Lot series and the Usborne Things to Spot collection as they tend to be less silly and more educational.

Complete a Mad Lib

Take grammar on the road! Be on the look out all year for discounted Mad Lib books at tag sales, yard sales, and used book sales so that you can have a constant stock of fresh stories for road trips and other times in the school year that require some extra "jazz hands." If you know in advance what you'll be doing on your trip, try to find a Mad Lib book that runs parallel with that theme (ocean, camping, horseback riding, etc.) If not, generic travel Libs like the ones found in Mad Libs on the Road or Vacation Mad Libs work great too. 

Sneaky Learning Ideas for Summer Road Trips

Stop for learning breaks

Even though we always have a finish line destination on our trips, the Hubs and I try to plan for mini destinations along the way...places we can stop for an hour or so to make the miles seem less epic. Each year, we buy annual museum passes at discounted prices in order that we can also visit reciprocating museums and zoos around the state and even the country for free. This year, we purchased an annual historical society pass for only $54. For the low price of one day's admittance, we can now visit over 26 living history museums and landmarks around our state all year long. 

In addition, Geocaching at state and local parks is another great way to stretch both the legs and the mind. My kids love treasure hunting in new places and since the national geocaching registry is free, we can hide and seek wherever we go. 

After the trip

Catalog nature finds

If you happened to pick up interesting pieces of creation during your travels, encourage your kids to spend the first free afternoon home documenting these in their nature journals. Pull out their favorite field guides (Our current favorite is Nature Anatomy which helps even the most unartistic of kids draw nature well.), the nature samples, and maybe even a map to help them create simple narrations of their finds.

Host a report/presentation night

After a lengthy and memorable trip, host a report and/or presentation night. Similar to the show-n-tell of yesteryear, presentation nights can be as elaborate or as low key as you want them to be. Invite friends and family over and encourage your kids to show pictures, souvenirs, maps, and tales of adventure. After one special trip to cowboy territory, the kids and I put together a formal presentation and shared our nature samples (rattle snake skins, cactus blossoms, petrified wood, etc.) in the elementary classrooms of a local Christian school. It was a great way for my kids to review what they learned on our trip and a chance to practice their public speaking skills.

For more ideas for summer road trips


  1. Perfect timing! We'll be driving over 12 hours each way to the beach in a few weeks, and I've started putting together some travel books for my four kids (ages 5 and under) to enjoy on the way. I'm glad to find some more great ideas!

    1. Sounds like fun! I hope y'all have as much fun while driving as we do.

  2. I like to check out roadsideamerica.com for weird and quirky places on the way. Finding some of those old roadside attractions can make a trip so much more fun!

    1. I've not heard of that site, but it sounds like something my husband would love. I'll have to send this his way. Thanks!

  3. The roadsideamerica website was really cool to find out about. Apparently there is a giant Santa statue in my city that I didnt know about

  4. Such great ideas!! I had never thought of some of these and I will definitely be putting some of them to good use for our next road trip.

    I spent my childhood summers traveling the 12 hours from our home to my grandma's house and one thing my dad and I always did was memorize the route. This probably only works for a well-worn path you make frequently. But even to this day I still remember most of the Itty bitty towns we passed through in order!