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Turn humdrum errand routine into a special playtime for children

The parent who heeds a child's ``take me along'' plea sometimes wishes later that he'd said ``no'' and gone off on his errands alone. However, the dullest afternoon of errands can take on a special glow if you let a youngster become an integral part of the trip. Here are a few ideas for in-the-car and general errands. Single out the child who hasn't had a one-to-one chat with you lately and take him along. But don't use these excursions as reprimand time. Errands can be both a learning and a sharing experience for parent and child. If you take just one child along, you'll find this one-to-one time important in learning more about your child, because he may be more apt to speak out in the privacy of the car than in the busy home atmosphere. (I can remember a first-grade son blurting out: ``They called m e 4-eyes at school today.'' Well, we had a good chat about that.)

Rather than asking ``Were you good in school today?'' (few children will volunteer they were bad), ask questions that require thoughtful answers: What did you learn that Grandpa would be interested in? What is the best book in your desk? Who would you like to invite to the park with us Saturday?

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Children also enjoy being informed about home news, and car travel allows you to share. ``Did you know we're going to buy paint to redo the laundry room?'' ``Help me remember to get a collar for the cat.'' ``I got a letter today and guess who's having supper with us Friday?''

Beyond providing an opportunity for conversation, errands can be educational. Try these ideas on your young companions.

The Odometer Game. Look at the starting mileage. Each person in the car gets to guess the mileage when the car is returned to the garage. One child can write down the guesses.

The Navigator. Let a child plan the route, working from your list of stops. If you have a local map, let her plan different ways so everyone learns new streets. (See that your car contains maps, pencils, papers, and small books and games during these growing years.) If someone has on a watch with a second hand, it's also fun to guess how long a red light will be.

What's out the window? Younger children like games that involve looking out the window. Name a color and see how many things of that color a child can find in five minutes. Or, ask a child to name something he sees that begins with A, then B, etc. (auto, bridge). New readers will like to show you the words they can read along the roadside.

Song time. Let children teach you songs they've learned in school -- the idea of teaching you something will overcome any musical shyness. If kids are slow at singing, see who can sing the highest note, the lowest note, or hold a tone the longest.

Read aloud. Take along an exciting book and let your child practice reading aloud. Give minimum corrections.

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How much change? As you make purchases on the errand stops, let a child figure how much change you should get back. Or, when you use a charge card, let him check the addition, then see that the charge slip carbons are saved for future reference.

Good driving. Let your errand helper point out good driving moves by you and others. Learning both driving law and etiquette will make him a better cycler now and a better driver later.

How many minutes? When little voices say: ``When will we be home?'' let them make a time schedule of their own so they can help you keep on schedule. Driving time to the cleaners: 10 minutes. At the cleaners: 5 minutes. Driving time to the gas station: 3 minutes. At the gas station: 8 minutes. Driving time to the yogurt shop: 4 minutes. At the yogurt shop: 7 minutes. Driving time home: 6 minutes. What's the total? What time is it now? When will we be home?

If errands include buying clothes for yourself, go armed with puzzles or coloring books for play in the changing room. And don't forget to ask for opinions on what you're trying on! Young children should be asked opinions on their clothes, too. Showing them three outfits you like and letting them choose one makes clothes buying more participatory for the youngest child. Don't hesitate to point out prices showing that sometimes one can have two shirts for the price of one.

Often a child needs to purchase a gift for a party. Kids love the opportunity to look at all the toys in the store! Again, encourage him to look at prices, select the three he thinks best, and then consult with you.

Teaching patience, the importance of having a list, how to allow enough time to arrive safely, the value of each dollar spent, and the fun of being together in the car make errand hours companionable and profitable.

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