"Are we almost there?" "How much farther?" "I'm hungry. When do we eat?"
Anyone who has traveled with children has all too frequently heard each of these questions resounding from the back seat of the family car -- often shortly after the trip is underway.
With today's gasoline prices, long family auto vacations are bound to become less popular than during the past few years, but there will always be times when one must load up the car and head for the open road.
Too many parents strike out on an eagerly anticipated auto trip only to return home exhausted, vowing "never again."
They have found the hard way that to set the kids in the back seat of the car and expect them to be content for hours can produce fidgety off-spring as well as impatient parents.
Even the most breath-taking panoramas cannot be counted on to keep a young child fascinated much longer than does a routine trip to the supermarket.
However, with forethought and preparation, trips can be enjoyable.
One way to handle children's boredom is to have all members of the family involved in the trip. Call a family meeting prior to leaving and give job assignments to each child. Describe each task and outline what advance preparation will be needed.
Listed below are several examples that work very well, but you can also use your imagination and devise specialized assignments suited to your children and their particular interests.
NAVIGATOR: One of the main qualifications for this job is an ability to read fine print in a moving car.
The navigator helps the driver chart the trip each morning. The route is marked with a felt tipped pen and stops are scheduled for gas, food, and waysides. Enough time is allowed for unexpected occurences and short stops at special points of interest along the way. This time allowance is important, as flexibility is essential when traveling with children. The parent who says, "I'm going to make X number of miles today -- no matter what," can expect and deserves mutiny in the back seat.
The Navigator keeps the marked map handy during each day's drive. He informs other passengers of programs and answers all questions in the how-long-till-we-get-there? or when-do-we-eat? line by consulting it.
The Navigator removes a burden from the driver, and in so doing becomes quite an important person in the car.
If more than one child in your family is old enough to perform this task, it can be rotated daily. This holds true for the rest of the jobs, too. Some parents have found that switching jobs heightens their children's interest in all aspects of the trip.
HISTORIAN: The historian is equally as important as the navigator, for this job involves keeping a complete record of the trip. Before leaving home, present the historian with an inexpensive scrapbook, a couple of rolls of film and some lessons on operating the camera.
The historians's job will be to take pictures of high points during the trip, collect free brochures of places visited, and clip pertinent articles from local newspapers purchased along the way. These items will be placed in the scrapbook with a daily journal of programs and anecdotes composed by this job holder. The resulting record will be much treasured by the whole family in years to come.
SECRETARY: The secretary is in charge of correspondence with those back home. Equipment for this job includes a small box containing an address book, a roll of stamps, some change for buying postcards, and a pen and pencils.
The secretary chooses and purchases the cards to be mailed.
With a little assistance, even a child who still prints can handle this job.
ASSISTANT NUTRITIONIST: Here is another job for the small fry. During a trip with a great deal of driving, the wise parent carries an ice chest containing fresh fruit and small cans of juice for snacking. The assistant nutritionist helps Mother shop for these items each day and is allowed a voice in choosing that will be purchased -- but reason must prevail. One of the fringe benefits of this job is an early lesson in dollar management.
Washing the fruit after it is purchased and packing the ice chest is a part of the assistant nutritionist's job, as is feeding quarters into ince machines.
RECREATION DIRECTOR: The recreation director is in charge of exercise and the alleviation of boredom in the ranks. This job is best suited to an older child who can take responsibility for younger brothers and sisters. The mission of the recreation director is to burn up the excess energy of the younger set. Impromptu footraces, hopping contests, or other strenuous diversions of that nature can be staged at waysides. A jump rope doesn't take up much room and is invaluable.
The recreation director has a cache of inexpensive prizes -- boxes of raisins , gum, and small bags of shelled peanuts -- which were chosen before leaving home. These are awarded to the winners of the energy burning contests.
There is no doubt that hours of driving can be hard on everyone in the car, but if each member of the family is involved in the trip and has the feeling of responsibility that goes with the involvement, your next family auto journey is certain to be a more pleasant one.