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My husband, two dogs, four year old kiddo and one year old baby recently drove from Washington State to Minnesota. It was about 25 hours in the car, spread out over 6 driving days. Usually, we would have flown, but the pandemic pushed us into our first family road trip experience a little sooner than we anticipated.
Art activities on the road saved our sanity. I’ve condensed what I’ve learned about how to survive a cross country road trip with two young children into this list of 15 to help you engage your children with Art in the car on your next road trip.
There were a few products that were key to our success on the road. You can find them here in the “Supplies for Art While Traveling” section. The travel tray was so helpful, and necessary for many of the activities on this list.
None of these products are sponsored. I genuinely love and recommend them!
1.) Build a Nature Mandala
This activity is great for rest stop breaks. You and your little artist can stretch your legs while keeping social distance as you gather loose parts from nature to build a mandala.
I love this art play as a way to practice building patterns with kids. The best thing about it? You don’t have to plan ahead or pack anything extra. You can build a nature mandala anywhere!
2.) Play Dough To Go
Our favorite play dough recipe packs really well into these cheap plastic containers.
Choose a few fun invitations with loose parts to pack up and store in the car for an easy sensory play experience on the road.
The play dough play can be used on this great tray, and packed back up when your child is done. We played with our two invitations in the car every day.
3.) Build a Fairy/Gnome House
Here’s another rest stop activity that doesn’t require any planning ahead. When you’re trying to avoid high touch surfaces found on rest stop play structures, alternate physical play opportunities like this are a saving grace.
There are so many different ways to build a fairy house. My favorite part of this process is thinking about the next little artist who will hap upon it later!
4.) Post It Collage
Instead of lugging a bin of toys with us on the road trip, I packed a few open ended materials into a hotel bin: balloons, paper fasteners, post it’s and magnetic tiles. Post it’s kept both kids happily playing every day when we checked into a new hotel room and the parents unpacked and settled in.
My four year old liked making murals with them. Baby loved just sticking and unsticking them. When we were packing up in the morning, we would have big brother leave a trail of post it’s for baby to occupy herself with.
Remember, if you don’t have time to clean them up, please leave a generous tip for your hardworking housekeeper.
5.) Hidden Rocks
Painting rocks is a frequent flyer project in our household. Little ones love painting objects!
We brought a pile of painted rocks with us on the trip, and Mr. Four got to hide them at the different rest stops we took breaks at. We will be driving this route a few times a year as we go back and forth between the west coast and Midwest, so we will also have fun looking around to see if the rocks are still there next time we pass through.
6.) Build with Mud
I know this sounds too messy for a road trip, and maybe it is depending on your circumstances and child, but my little sensory seeker NEEDS some level of messy sensory play to be his best self.
Mud play isn’t something you need to plan ahead for. Making one of your rest stop breaks a messy muddy one might work as well for you as it does for us. You can splash in it, “paint” with it, or make mud faces with it. It might be just the thing your little artist needs to feel calm and centered for another leg of your journey.
7.) Bead with Cereal
This snacktivity will keep your little one occupied AND fill up their tummy.
I packed 8-10 of these cereal beading kits and pulled one out whenever the time was right. My little guy loves this activity, and I bet yours will as well.
8.) Car Window Art
Crayola sells markers just for car windows. We did this a little, but my four year old cant comfortably reach his car window well enough to draw while he’s in his car seat. This would work great for older kids, or in a different car set up that would allow your child to reach.
9.) Wikki Stix
Have you tried these?! They are amazing! You can sculpt with them, draw with them, tinker with them, and just stick them back in the container when you’re done.
We will never go on a long road trip without Wikki Stix in our car!
10.) Dry Erase Drawing
Having a dry erase drawing board on a road trip with kids is a great idea. You can create prompts for them as a parent (“decorate the cake”, “draw toppings on the pizza”, “design the race car”) or simply let them play with mark making on their own. It is the perfect process art tool for travel, and won’t leave you with loose papers to worry about saving and cherishing while you’re on the road.
11.) Felt Board Fun
This felt board has been in our restaurant bag (pre-Covid) for years, so it was a no brainer to include it in our bag of road trip tricks.
Felt boards are so much fun to create with, and we’ve found they are a valuable tool in practicing storytelling skills. Perfect for traveling. I’m really happy with the quality of this one, but you can also make your own! Just glue some larger pieces of felt to a cardboard backing and cut up some smaller pieces for your own felt board.
12.) Kid Made Modern Notched Craft Sticks
These things are amazing. I got a pack for 3ish dollars at Target. The brand is Kid Made Modern They are small, portable and offer ample opportunity to build and tinker. Your little artist will love creating with these on road trip rest stops and in the car!
We decided to get Mr. Four a small digital camera for the road trip. He loves playing around with his camera and taking photos of the new sights.
I love looking back at the photos he takes to re experience our adventure through his perspective.
14.) Paper Fastener Sculpture
Paper fasteners are small, portable and work well with a variety of things. You can use them with leaves to make a cool kinetic leaf snake sculpture, cardboard animal sculpture, a hotel notepad robot, a post it snake, the sky is the limit.
Paper fastener creations often become beloved toys, so watch out for the new stowaways you’ll find in your car!
15.) Blank Post Cards
Addressing and stamping blank post cards ahead of time is a fun way to involve loved ones (especially grandparents) in your travels. Blank post cards can be decorated in the car with a travel watercolor set or other art material of your choice.
Your child will love telling grandma all about the new things they are experiencing on the trip, and grandma will love her postcard even more.
I hope some of these project ideas jump out at you as fun ideas for your next family trip. Car travel with little kids can be hard, but I find plenty of art takes the edge off. Happy Travels!