10 Must-Haves for a Road Trip with a Toddler

Roadtrip Essentials - Toddler

This past 4th of July weekend, we drove to Philadelphia to visit my sister and her family. This was our first major road trip with Tommy since our cross-country move from CA to NC when he was 4 months old. Road trips with an infant are no easy feat, but I was even more worried about attempting a long drive with a two-year-old. When T was an infant, we had to pull over often to nurse him and change his diaper, there were multiple changes of clothes for all of us, and we cleaned up a lot of messes that came out of both ends of the baby. But, he also slept more than he was awake, and while he was awake, he was content smiling at his reflection in the car seat mirror, sucking on a pacifier, or playing pat-a-cake with me. With a two-year-old, I faced the possibility of him throwing a tantrum through 5 different states and refusing to sleep for one minute of the 7 hour drive.

Luckily, we came prepared and the drive to Pennsylvania was a success… besides T shouting “I’m stuck!!” a few times at the top of his lungs (toddler translation: “Get me out of this car seat, now!”) and some serious screaming when he was jolted awake when Daddy had to brake suddenly while navigating some awful traffic (which added an extra couple hours to the drive). We drove home in the evening to avoid traffic, and Tommy actually stayed awake (and happy!) until 12:30 AM, which was amazing because then he slept in when we got home around 1:30 AM (so we could sleep in, too)!

For the details of how we survived our road trip with a 2-year-old, read on below for my list of 10 must-haves for a road trip with a toddler:

Roadtrip Essentials with numbers - Toddler

1. Laundry Basket: A small round laundry basket is the absolute best way to store items that I will need easy access to throughout the drive. Not only is it easy to transport, but it also allows me see all of the contents of the basket without having to dig to see the items at the bottom of the bin. We picked one up for $1 at Dollar Tree and packed it full of snacks and activities for the drive.

2. 13 x 9 in Cake Pan: Bringing a rectangular cake pan along for the road trip is a total game changer! It is the perfect size to serve as a little lap activity tray in the car seat, and the raised sides keep items from falling onto the car floor and getting lost under the seats.

Some of the items we brought to use in our cake pan/activity tray:

  • Toy cars & trains– I drew a little map with a road and train tracks and placed it in the bottom of the cake pan. Tommy LOVED it!

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  • Stickers, markers, crayons, & paper: The raised edges of the pan keep the art supplies from rolling onto the floor. Stickers keep a toddler’s attention for a long time, as they can be stuck not only to paper, but also to arms, clothing, and foreheads.
  • Play dough & tools: I rolled out some play dough in the bottom of the pan and threw in some cookie cutters and plastic utensils for easy entertainment!

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  • Building blocks: I brought along a small bag of LEGO® DUPLO® blocks and tossed them into the cake pan. T had fun building structures, and since the blocks click together, we didn’t have to worry about the block towers spilling all over the place when Daddy put on the brakes.
  • Puzzles: I brought along a small $1 foam alphabet puzzle from Dollar Tree. The cake pan gave him a flat surface to lay out the pieces and complete the puzzle while keeping it all neatly contained.

3. Sound Books: Books with sound buttons kept T entertained without me having to sit in the back seat and read to him. He had fun playing the songs in his Thomas the Train sound book, and we could turn on the radio in the front of the car so we didn’t have to listen to it.

4. Convertible car seat with a cup holder: Tommy quickly goes into a panic if he doesn’t have his sippy cup on hand the very moment he gets thirsty. A car seat with a cup holder ensures that he will have his drink close at hand when he needs it and it won’t roll onto the floor and under the seat. Tommy loves his Evenflo Symphony LX All-in-One Car Seat. Not only does it have two built-in cup holders, but it is super cozy with cushioning by the head perfect for dozing. The cover is also removable and machine washable, which makes it easy to keep clean.

He always uses a sippy cup with a straw and a lid that screws on to minimize the risk of spills in the car.

5. Snacks: Perhaps the most important thing to pack for a road trip is the snack bag!

Some good road trip snacks for toddlers:

  • Fruit snacks
  • Clif Kid Z Bars
  • Raw veggies- baby carrots, mini cucumbers & celery sticks (if your toddler will eat them)
  • Veggie straws
  • Fruit/veggie squeeze pouches
  • Pretzels
  • String cheese

Snacks to avoid in the car:

  • Crumbly crackers & cookies
  • Snacks with itty-bitty pieces (puffs, cereal)
  • Fruit that will mush (bananas, peaches, pears)
  • Fruit that will drip & stain (watermelon, oranges, berries)
  • Gum and sticky candies
  • Snacks covered in orange cheese powder (Cheetos, Doritos, cheese puffs)

Also, the cake pan came in handy as a serving tray for snacks throughout the drive!

6. Bib with a pocket: When it’s time to eat, I throw a bib my little road trip buddy! I love the silicone bibs by Ulubulu– there is a big pocket to catch falling crumbs and drips, and then I can easily wipe it clean when he’s done eating.

7. Garbage bags: I always keep a few tall kitchen bags rolled up in the back seat pocket. Besides the obvious use to hold food wrappers, wet diapers, and tissues, you can fold a garbage bag in half and lay it across your lap as a makeshift place mat. It can also save the upholstery to contain a mess in the instance that somebody gets carsick.

8. Smartphone with a data plan: This is a must-have for the grown-ups in the car! There are so many helpful apps out there that make the trip easier for everyone:

  • For navigation, Waze helps us anticipate traffic jams and accidents (and suggests alternate routes), as well as alerting us to upcoming stoplight cameras and police cars to help avoid tickets.
  • If we need to find a nearby place to stop to eat, the Yelp mobile app helps us find a restaurant that fits our budget and taste.
  • I use Road Ninja to find upcoming gas stations, fast food, and rest stops.
  • If we need to stop over somewhere for the night during a long drive, we use the Hotwire app to find a great deal on a hotel and book it right from my phone.

One of the very best uses for a data-enabled smartphone is the ability to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot. The iPad that Tommy uses is Wi-Fi only, but his tech-savvy Daddy taught me how to set up a hotspot to connect the tablet to my iPhone’s data plan. T having internet access in the back seat meant that he could watch endless kid-friendly videos using apps like PBS Kids and YouTube Kids so I didn’t have to fork over $20 for a single season of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

9. Tablet: In addition to movies, music, and e-books, my iPad is set with two screens full of apps just for Tommy that can keep him entertained for hours! For a full description of Tommy’s favorite apps (for iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch) check out our Favorite Art, Shapes, and Colors Apps for Toddlers, our Favorite ABCs & 123s Apps for Toddlers, our Favorite Puzzle and Sorting Apps for Toddlers, and our Favorite Games & Video Apps for Toddlers.

10. Bedtime Items: So that Tommy had less of a chance of skipping naptime during the drive, I moved all of his comfort items out of his crib and into the back seat of the car. When it was time for him to sleep, I tucked him in with his favorite blanket, his little stuffed Elmo, and his “pup pup” lovey blanket that he always sleeps with in his crib. A small pillow is also helpful to prop up the drooping head.

Some other ways that I survive road trips with a toddler:

  • I keep wipes, diapers, a changing pad and a change of clothes in the back seat pocket directly in front of Tommy’s car seat for easy access.
  • I dress him in comfortable, easy-to-remove clothes and shoes. Pants with an elastic waist and no buckles or zippers are best for quick diaper changes, and slip-on shoes allow him to remove them himself and slide them back on easily when needed. I like to have him wear something that is cozy enough to sleep in, so that I can easily transfer him right to bed if he is asleep when we arrive at our destination.
  • I keep hand sanitizer in the center console at all times! Gas stations and rest stops are full of germs- I try to remember to use hand sanitizer on the whole family before returning to the car and digging our hands back into the tube of Pringles.
  • When he gets restless in the car, I move to the back seat and keep him company. He likes to talk about what he sees out the window (“blue car,” “big tree,” “airplane”), sing songs with hand motions (“Wheels on the Bus,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider”), and to have me read books to him.
  • If time allows, we try to stop at kid-friendly spots to stretch instead of just gas stations and restaurants. After being confined to a car seat for hours, moving straight into a high chair at a restaurant is not fun for the little guy. He is thrilled if we let him burn off some energy by running around a park while we eat lunch at a picnic bench instead. A plus if there is a scenic spot for a photo-op, like this park we found just minutes off the freeway in Richmond, VA.

11403400_1690763834488884_107700619930078715_nDo you do a lot of long-distance driving with little ones? What are your must-haves and tips for the road? Share in the comments!

And if you have any air travel plans coming up with little ones, check out our 10 Must-Haves for Flying with a One-Year-Old.

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Favorite Puzzle and Sorting Apps for Toddlers (iPad, iPhone & iPod touch)

Favorite Puzzle & Sorting Apps (iPad & iPhone) for Toddlers

T is a puzzle addict… we have spent so much time over the past year sitting on the floor doing various types of peg puzzles and shape sorters, so I was thrilled to discover that there are so many great puzzle apps available on my iPad and iPhone (and for iPod touch, too) that are appropriate for his age. We have also started playing little match-the-image games and color sorting games, and these sorting apps that I discovered by Tiny Hands are so awesome to practice those sorting skills! These apps save me from having to gather bins of little same-colored or same-shaped knick knacks to set up my own sorting activities. I’m all about less clutter, and these apps allow puzzles and sorting games without all of the tiny pieces sprawled across the floor, getting lost and stepped on!

So, here we continue our round-up of Tommy’s favorite apps with our favorite puzzle and sorting apps for toddlers!

Favorite Puzzle Apps:

  • Shape Builder – Murtha Design Inc. – $2.99 – iPhone, iPad, & iPod touch

Shape BuilderThis is a great puzzle app! You can try it out for free with just a few different puzzles to choose from, but we upgraded to the full version soon after downloading because T loved it so much! The puzzle pieces have unique shapes and are matched together as plain silhouettes of different colors. Then when all the pieces are put together, the completed puzzle image is revealed. Very fun and great for developing visual problem solving skills!

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  • ABC Alphabet Puzzles – Codegent – $2.99 – iPhone, iPad, & iPod touch

ABC PuzzlesThis is a cute app that has a puzzle of one animal beginning with each letter of the alphabet. You can try out a few puzzles for free, or upgrade to the whole alphabet for $2.99. The puzzles are challenging with uniquely shapes pieces, but not so hard that a toddler would get too frustrated with it. It’s a way to practice visual problem solving skills, animals, and ABCs all in one place. Great app!

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  • Shape-O! ABC – Bellamon – $1.99 – iPhone, iPad, & iPod touch

Shape-O ABCsThis app has pretty puzzles with objects made up of simple geometric shapes. Each puzzle also has letter tiles to spell a word, and it says the name of the letter when you drop it into the correct place. This app gives your little one the option to change the colors within the puzzle for pretty new variations of the puzzles as well. If the child gets stuck, they can click the eye icon above the puzzle and it will automatically place a piece for them. There is background music that plays, and the option to mute the music also. You can change the complexity of the puzzles to simple, medium, or hard and you can also choose to have the words removed, with letter hints, or without letter hints. There is also an option to have either uppercase or lowercase letters in the words. This is a great, inexpensive app that can grow with your child as their puzzle and ABC skills increase.

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  • Animal Match Up – BabyFirst – Free – iPhone, iPad, & iPod touch

Animal Match UpThis is a fun app that matches animal heads, bodies, and tails. For free, you can get the safari animals. The child just has to swipe their finger up or down to scroll through different animal parts until they find the ones match with the same animal and color. Once the correct pieces are lined up, it tells the name of the animal and then mixes up the body parts again. For $2.99, you can upgrade and get 45 more animals to mix and match, with five themes including jungle animals, farm animals, underwater creatures, and birds. We haven’t upgraded because he gets enough entertainment from just the one free set of animals.

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  • Little Puzzles Preschool Games – Grasshopper Apps – Free – iPhone, iPad, & iPod touch

PuzzleThis app is comprised of four-piece square picture puzzles. You can adjust the difficulty level by taking away the picture guides and increasing the number of puzzle tiles. You can even make your own puzzles using your photos! Super fun and totally FREE!

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Favorite Sorting Apps:

  • TinyHands Sorting 1 – TINYHANDS APPS – Free for first 3 game boards (open all 15 boards for $3.99) – iPad

TH-Sorting 1TinyHands makes very fun and intellectually engaging sorting apps. This app has 15 different boards to choose from, each one with a different type of sorting game. There are shape sorting games, color sorting games, games where you match objects  by size, and more advanced games where you sort items by the season they belong to or match animals to their homes. There is a cute little character that pops up after you complete a board and you can pop the balloons to make him fall down. T absolutely loves that part! Designed for ages 2 and up.

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  • TinyHands Sorting 2 – TINYHANDS APPS – Free for first 3 game boards (open all 15 boards for $3.99) – iPad

TH-Sorting 2This app is just like Sorting 1, offering 15 new sorting boards designed for ages 2 and up. This one includes different types of shape sorting boards, a board sorting vehicles by whether they fly or drive on a road, dressing a child for the rain and one for warm weather, sorting sticks by whether they are oriented vertically or horizontally, and sorting objects at the beach by whether they belong in the water or on the sand. This app is very fun and so engaging and educational for toddlers!

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  • TinyHands Lotto 1 – TINYHANDS APPS – Free for first 2 matching boards (open all 10 boards for $3.99) – iPad

TH_LottoIn this app, the child simply matches images to their corresponding image. It teaches vocabulary words, saying the name of each object as it is matched. There are 10 matching boards total. Like Sorting 1 and Sorting 2, there is a little character that enters the screen after a board is completed. This one drives a little car that blows bubbles that you can pop. There is also a little frog that sits at the bottom of the screen that will blow up like a balloon and float away if you tap on him.

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  • TinyHands First Words 2 – TINYHANDS APPS – Free for first 2 matching boards (open all 10 boards for $3.99) – iPad

TH_First WordsI don’t know why this app isn’t just called Lotto 2 (or why Lotto 1 isn’t called First Words 1). This is the exact same app as Lotto 1, just with 10 new matching boards total. Designed for ages 2 and up, but simple enough for younger toddlers to do. This (and Lotto 1) would be fun to work on together with a one-year-old to help learn new words.

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  • TinyHands What’s My Pair 1 – TINYHANDS APPS – Free for first 3 matching boards (open all 12 boards for $3.99) – iPad

TH_Whats My PairThere are 3 boards in Level 1 of this app, including colors, facial expressions, and musical instruments. Level 1 is very basic like Lotto 1 and First Words 2, except in this app you match the images side by side and they disappear after you match them. Again when you finish a board, there is the little animal that floats up with balloons that you can pop. There are 4 levels with 3 boards each (a total of 12 boards). I have not upgraded to the full app yet, but it appears that the matches get more challenging with matches including quantities of objects, silhouettes to objects, one side of an object to another side of a symmetrical object, and colors to fruits. This upgrade will probably be our next iTunes purchase- the harder levels look like a fun challenge that T would enjoy.IMG_0513  IMG_0515IMG_0672

Are there any other great puzzle or sorting apps for toddlers that you love? Share in the comments! Or just download these ones, try them out, and let us know how you liked them!

Stay tuned for one more post about Tommy’s other favorite apps- and don’t forget to check out our Favorite Art, Shapes, and Colors Apps for Toddlers, our Favorite ABCs & 123s Apps for Toddlers, and our Favorite Games & Video Apps for Toddlers.

Play Wallet for Kids

For the past 6 months or so, Tommy has had a very annoying habit of digging my wallet out of the diaper bag and pulling everything out of it. It was driving me crazy when I would get to the store and realize that my credit card or drivers license were missing… and then I would come home to find them strewn across the living room floor with his toys. I recently bought a new wallet that zips all the way around so that it’s harder for him to get into. I was going to throw my old wallet away, but my husband had the brilliant idea of handing the old wallet down to T instead. Since he’s so obsessed with it, why not give it to him?

An empty wallet would be no fun to play with, so I gathered some items and now T has his very own play wallet that he can mess with to his heart’s content without being scolded by Mommy! A win for both of us!

I found this play money at Dollar Tree with bills, coins, and a cash drawer to hold it all- and he loves taking it in and out of the different compartments in the wallet.

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I also gathered some cards for him to put in the wallet, including: an old school ID, preferred customer cards for stores I no longer live near, business cards, an old hotel key, promotional cards from the mail, and used gift cards.

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He loves having his own wallet and now he never bothers with mine anymore! Hooray!

He also likes to play a game with it where he grabs things from around the play room and “buys” them from me. He uses a little magnet doodle board as a signature pad and it’s adorable. He pretends to swipe the credit card, and then “signs his name” on the doodle board and says “Thank you! Bye bye!” Then we switch roles and he’s the cashier. I give him the fake money and he sorts it in the cash tray and puts my items in a bag for me. Cutest bag boy ever!

10986910_10101862142099279_641162979782441764_n  10488132_10101862139614259_571318793786448817_nAnother fun idea for kids who like to play cashier: take them to the grocery store when you only have a few items you need to pick up. Our local Kroger and Trader Joe’s have mini shopping carts for kids, and T gets so excited when he gets to be in charge of pushing the cart! Also, if your grocery store has a self check-out, it’s really fun for kids to help scan and bag the items if you’re only picking up a few things.

Foam Flowers for Spring

Our latest spring craft was a quick little project that was made up of a few materials from Dollar Tree.  We found some pipe cleaners, colorful foam sheets shaped like flowers, and re-used the pop poms from our Easter Egg Color Sorting activity to make some festive Spring flowers to decorate the playroom!

Foam Flowers for Spring

For this project, you will need:

  • Crafters foam flowers (you can either buy them already in the flower shape like I did, or cut flowers from regular rectangular or square colorful crafters foam sheets)
  • Pipe cleaners (green ones will look best- these will be your flower stems)
  • Pom poms
  • Liquid glue
  • Tape
  • Paint (or glitter glue, stickers, or whatever else you’re feeling) to decorate

To make your flowers:

1. Grown-up: If you need to cut the flowers out of your crafters foam, do that first. Then, prepare your pipe cleaner flower stems. Fold a pipe cleaner in half, then bend one side of the “v” shape to make a leaf (as pictured below). Pinch the pipe cleaner together at the stem and then wrap the end of the leaf around the stem to hold the leaf shape. Make one stem for each flower you plan to make.

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2. Grown-up & Child: Squeeze a dot of glue in the middle of each flower. Let your little artist choose a color of pom pom to go in the center of each flower and place it on the glue dot.

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3. Grown-up & Child: Turn the flowers over and help your little one secure the stems in place with tape.

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4. Child: Turn the flowers over and decorate! T used pastel colored tempera paint to add some swirly strokes and texture to his flowers.

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T was so excited when he finished and was carrying his little “bouquet” all around the house. Then we hung them up on the wall with the other Easter crafts that he has made. (He got this little picture of Jesus at church on Sunday and it’s his favorite part of the Easter wall. 🙂 )

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Go ahead and make your own flowers, and comment below to let us know how it goes!

Or better yet, upload a picture to Instagram and tag @makelearngo, send a message to Make Learn Go on Facebook, or e-mail your photo to makelearngo@gmail.com for a chance for your child’s artwork to be featured on our Instagram and Facebook pages!

And don’t forget to check out our other fun Easter crafts and learning activities that you can do with your little one:

And if you’re still trying to figure out what the Easter Bunny is going to bring this year, here’s our helpful list of Easter Basket Ideas for Toddlers & Babies.

Play Dough Easter Eggs & Butterflies

Play Dough Easter Eggs & ButterfliesPlay dough is something we play with a lot. We love it because there are endless possibilities to the things you can create and different ways you can play with it. My little Tommy really likes to roll out his play dough and use cookie cutters to make different shapes. So when I saw some fun Easter-themed cookie cutters out at our local Kroger, I made sure to grab a couple! I picked out an egg shaped cookie cutter and let T choose one. He chose a butterfly.

When we got home, we picked out some some bright colors from our play dough stash and got to work rolling and cutting out our fun Easter shapes.

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We used some brightly colored pony beads (left over from our Easter Egg Color Sorting activity) to decorate the eggs and butterflies.

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He also liked using these little Crayola Model Magic Press N’ Pop Texture Tools to stamp shapes into the play dough.

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It was such a simple activity, but  and it kept the little guy entertained for a long time! He had lots of fun choosing which beads to use to decorate, and it was another opportunity to work on learning colors. Picking up and placing the little beads was a great activity to sharpen his fine motor skills, and trying to pick the beads out of the dough afterwards stepped it up to a bigger fine motor challenge.

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Next time we try this, I want to add pipe cleaners to make antennae for the butterflies. I also saw a cute cookie cutter shaped like a bunny’s head that could be fun, too- maybe with googly eyes, pipe cleaners or toothpicks for whiskers, and a bead or button for a nose).

Try it out, and let us know how you decorate your Easter play dough creations!

Take a minute to check out my simple solution for How to Fix Dried Play Dough.With a few minutes and one magic ingredient from your kitchen, play dough that was accidentally left out overnight will be as good as new!

Don’t forget to check out some of our other fun Easter crafts and learning activities that you can do with your little one:

And if you’re still trying to figure out what the Easter Bunny is going to bring this year, here’s our helpful list of Easter Basket Ideas for Toddlers & Babies.