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Pocket bags make a long car trip a shorter ride for kids

Are you planning a vacation by car with a young child? You can make the trip more enjoyable for the child and yourself by making a ''pocket bag'' for his many small possessions before you start your trip.

Our family took a tent-camping trip with our daughter, then two years old, and our son, then five. The back seat and floor of the Volkswagen bug were soon deep in clutter. Things got lost or stepped on the first day.

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The next trip, tenting some 9,000 miles coast to coast across Canada, was better. I made each child a pocket bag to hold their little treasures for the trip. They were like wall hangings, with pockets tied to the back of the front seats of the car. It worked!

The children loved having their own space, and used the bags with very little reminding. It didn't eliminate clutter, but it did help make it manageable.

If you'd like to make a pocket bag, here are some steps to follow.

Collect the items: What will your child want to use on the trip? Our children chose small toy cars, pencils, crayons, comb, activity book, and hand puppets. Children's interests will vary; so will the items they'll want to take.

Take a look at your car: Sit in the back seat where your child will sit, and look at the seat in front of you. Can you find places to attach a pocket bag? You'll probably invent your own attachments to suit your car.

Measure: Since cars vary, you may want to make a paper pattern to see what will fit your own car.

Cut out backing: Cut out a piece of strong fabric, such as denim, allowing for a hem on three sides and a fold-over at the top to insert a wooden dowel for hanging. Hem outside edges.

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Decide how to tie it: Take the backing piece and an assortment of tying items into the car with you. You may use sturdy cloth ties, twill tape, or even elastic to slip over the headrest on the seat ahead of you. It is important to tie it top and bottom so the children can move freely in and out of the car without the bag getting in their way.

Plan the layout: Put the backing piece on the floor, and place on it all the items you want to make pockets for. Rearrange them until you have them in the best spot for your space. Some small flat items can overlap others. It seems good to have the smallest items at the top and larger ones nearer the bottom.

Cut out the pockets: Children enjoy seeing bits of fabric from denim jeans, a favorite playsuit that's worn out, or scraps of fabric in their favorite colors. Be sure to use sturdy fabric, preferably darker colors and prints. Allow 5/8 -inch extra on all sides for the hem, and leave a little bit of extra space so things will slide in and out of the pocket easily. And be sure to allow for the thickness of the item. It is good to have part of the item showing when it is in the pocket so the child can easily find what he is looking for. In the case of expensive items like a radio, it's best to have the object completely covered by the pocket for security.

When you have the pockets cut out, hem each one separately. Then pin them in place on the backing. Machine stitch in place, reinforcing each top corner.

If you want any large pockets on the back, plan for this before sewing the front pockets in place. I added a large flat pocket at lower back for the clipboard.

The finished effect is colorful patchwork, fun to see as well as to use.

On a long trip you may want to carry a small supply of surprises - little inexpensive toys or a book - to give the child something new after a few days on the road. It's fun to pop one of these into a pocket for the child to discover when a hot afternoon begins to drag.

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