Almost all parents know that the time they spend running errands—in a car with a tot in tow—can be difficult when they’d really rather be at home, playing with and getting to know their baby.
But what many don’t know is that a car is a great place to have some family fun, promote learning, and bond with baby. After a few quick trips, your little backseat driver will begin to recognize the sights and sounds of cars zipping by, trucks unloading and loading, sirens screeching, and drivers waiting at lights.
It’s easy to ignite the learning. Simply set your own eagle-sharp eyes on the road and narrate your adventure. Describe what you see, mimic what you hear, and encourage your tiny motorist to do the same. Ditch the radio for funny comments and astute observations about your journey. Ask rhetorical questions and provide answers. Ready to start your engine? Read the following and try the tips below.
Fact: Babies and toddlers learn about life by watching the world roll by.
So drive and point out: Anything that goes, including passenger cars, SUVs, trucks, bicycles, wagons, scooters, skateboards, and strollers.
Help older tots spot: Police cars, fire trucks, dump trucks, delivery trucks, emergency vehicles, buses, and trains. Name all and describe them.
Thrill factor: Hands-down awesome!
Call baby’s attention to: Honking horns, spinning wheels, bumpy roads, and smooth highways to boost his vocabulary. Point out stoplights, stop signs, parking lots, and fun sights around town. Ask strictly rhetorical questions, such as, “Where do you think the family in that car is going? Are they headed home for dinner? Or going to visit Grandma?”
At home: Share board books about cars, trucks, and other vehicles. Visit the local library or look online for books such as Things That Go! by Amy Pixton; Planes by Byron Barton; and Tip, Tip, Dig, Dig by Emma Garcia.
What kids gain: Language, vocabulary, and conversation skills; increased powers of observation; a growing ability to focus on an object and pay attention.
Bonus move: Find a spot where you can hang out with your tot and see cars travel across bridges or disappear into tunnels, and watch workers in big rigs going about their business.
Fact: Babies learn through repetition.
So drive and count: Cars and more. Point to three vehicles in a row and invite your little learner to repeat the numbers “One, two, three.” Try again with the next group of cars (or trucks or buses) and listen for baby’s reaction. Even if she’s silent at first, she may be getting the hang of it, so keep at it.
Help older babies and toddlers count: Stoplights, stop signs, cars, trucks loading and unloading packages,pedestrians, kids riding bikes, pets on leashes, stores, houses, and fire hydrants. Identify all as you see them. Then count in groups of three or five.
Thrill factor: It’s a challenge!
Call attention to: Outdoor activities you see and hear in your community, including farmers’ markets, concerts, festivals, and community parks and gardens. Make up a spur-of-the-moment challenge, a mobile scavenger hunt, or mystery ride to boost your child’s reasoning skills and encourage her to describe sights she encounters. Help her find one squirrel, two birds, or three people hiking. Encourage her to count to five if she can.
At home: Count stuffed animals, books, cookies, and whatever else you have in multiples to reinforce learning and extend the activity.
What kids develop: One-to-one correspondence; language, vocabulary, and conversation skills; building blocks for math.
Bonus move: Try a little “number” carpool karaoke. Teach your tot songs such as “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” or “The Ants Go Marching One by One” before your next ride.