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Car Schooling: 29 Tips To Survive School On The Road

When I first began dreaming of homeschooling, I had this luxurious idea of my kids and I huddled around a sunlit table, pouring over books and performing perfect little experiments together while the birds chirped outside and the flowers outside garden window smiled at me.

Do you SEE that sunshine? Ah, now I look back at this photo and just LAUGH. I thought I had it all together back then.

You see, the seasons of life have a way of changing.

Not long after receiving our Celiac disease diagnoses (yes, plural), my kids began receiving Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Physical Therapy every week. We spent at least 6 hours a week shuttling back and forth for these [medically necessary]  events. And this didn’t include doctor visits, grocery shopping, library trips, playdates, or homeschool co-ops.

AH! I thought I was going crazy!

I quickly learned the value of Car Schooling — that is, taking homeschooling on the road.

Here are 29 suggestions to help your car schooling homeschooling take flight (or wheels) — from tricks, to organization, to resources and more.

Make Use Of Audio

1. I’m pretty sure that audio books are God’s gift to busy families. We got hooked on a wonderful history biography series that takes an in-depth look at the personal life of famous individuals, like Theodore Roosevelt, Milton Hershey, George Washington, and more. This has spawned lots of GREAT discussion with our kids as we learn together. The vocal phrasing and delivery of the recordings is top-notch and thoroughly enjoyable. Here’s a list of some audios we’re enjoying:

2. In addition to audiobooks, we also try to consume a wide variety of music, including some great classical music. Okay, don’t laugh. We listen to Classical Music For Dummies because it has great, interesting, and easily digestible background information and is a fantastic introduction to orchestra. (Okay, you may laugh. A little.) We also love listening to Seeds Music, which helps us with our Bible memory as well.

Decide What Goes on the Road

3. Evaluate what subjects you want to tackle on the road and which ones you want to do at home. We try to aim to do our core subjects (math, spelling, writing) at home 50% of the time. When we need to dash out, it’s easy for us to grab our essential bin of core content. I’ve got examples of my bins in my post: How to Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself.

4. I know other mamas who set up a weekly binder with a tab for every day of the week. They slide in daily math pages, spelling work, extra curricular pages, etc. These singular binders slip easily into a bag or backpack to make schooling on the run even easier.

  • I prefer these durable tabs that hold up to abuse on the road.
  • And they come in glitter for the girly-girl in your life!

5. When you get back from schooling in the car, your natural response is going to be to DUMP everything on the floor. In our house, we have designated drop zones for backpacks, textbooks, and school supplies. They don’t have to unpack right away — they just need to dump them in the right spot. I learned this lifesaving tip from one of my all-time favorite books.

6. Keep a clipboard handy with blank paper (for littles — or all ages) to draw on a
nd a clipboard with notebook paper. I also keep a clipboard where I can scribble notes to myself or keep track of things I need to follow up with when I get home. I prefer these slimline clipboards that don’t poke you and fit nice and flat in a bag. Also, look at all these fun colors!!! Life is too short to have a boring clipboard.

7. It’s okay to have special projects for the car. We love these flip-flap books — and they are great to complete on the go (check out our complete review).

Flip-Flap Books with CC Cycle Match Ups

8. Another special project we keep for the car are Dover coloring books. For $2-4 you can color — and learn — about a wide range of topics. Be sure to check #12 and #14 for how we handle this in the car. Here are our favorite Dover coloring books:

Get Prepared

9. We have a bag/box/bin for every activity we participate in. So if we are going to co-op, the kids grab their co-op backpack. Taekwando? They have a dedicated bag. Music lessons? Same. This saves the panic of “where did my ____ go?!” Everything for that activity in that bag and stays in that bag. No transferring or emptying for another activity. This does mean that my kids own more than one backpack. And I’m totally okay with that. I also keep dedicated bags for myself based on what activity I’m doing.

10. No matter how early I wake up, I still find it’s a crunch to get out the door. I do so much better if I set stuff out the night before and have it prepped. Take my advice — PREP THE NIGHT BEFORE. I line up the kid bags for the activities of the day (see #9), water bottles, my purse/bags, school that we plan to do, and the necessary food.

11. Figure out how you plan to haul your items around. I know a lot of people who use these crates to haul their stuff around. Personally, I need both hands free, so I use a backpack. But sometimes you need more than a backpack can carry. To get things out to the car in one trip, I actually use square sturdy laundry baskets (don’t laugh — these work AMAZING) or a market basket. My Reisenthel basket is incredible — it’s made in Germany and holds up PHENOMENALLY well. I’ve had my basket for 8 years and still get compliments (and it looks brand new).

Dealing With The Car

12. Have a plan for keeping books, drinks, and frequently reached items in the car. We have kept a bin between seats and used those over-the-seat organizers (with best success with the latter).

13. Give your kids a flat surface in the car. I’ve used clipboards for older kids (see #6) and this Travel Tray for younger ones. I like these trays because they clip around the back of your kid — so a fussy toddler won’t accidentally drop their tray. Yet they are soft and safe in a crash. AND they prevent things from rolling off one’s lap and have cupholders. We bought our Travel Tray years ago and it was one of the best travel purchases we made.

14. My kids use these special twistables so they aren’t breaking pencil lead (i.e. – we don’t have to travel with a pencil sharpener), losing a marker cap, or breaking a crayon. They keep them in a zip pouch in their bag. Likewise, we use a lot of mechanical pencils so we don’t have to worry about lead breaking.

15. Make use of magnets — especially for little kids. Markers are a no-go in the car for us because we’ve had too many close calls with a kid falling asleep with a marker uncapped (oh, the stain to the car seat and clothes!). We love magnet toys — and they work great using cookie sheets from the dollar store as a work surface.

FOR YOUNGER KIDS

FOR OLDER KIDS

FOR THE FAMILY

  • Magnetic Board Games (We had this set as kids and it was AWESOME! It’s a great way to make use of those moments in the parking lot where you are waiting.)

16. Save certain toys exclusively for the car. We keep magnetic doodle pads and etch-a-sketches in the car. If it’s warm outside, we’ll also pack along AquaDoodle Travel boards (only uses water!). Just make sure that you let these dry.

17. We love Usborne books. I’m not a seller, just a fan. Their travel packs, educational sticker books, and dry erase books have been FANTASTIC supplements to our curriculum (and are great to keep curious minds busy). My kids love being on tablets in waiting rooms — but sticker books beat tablets for them. FEW THINGS DO THAT.

18. Have fun (verbal) car games that you play. We’ll play the Alphabet Game (you know, the one where you identify letters on license plates and street signs). A favorite is the A-Game — A [letter] my name is Andy [name] I come from Alabama [location] I eat Apples [food] and the next letter is B [following letter]. Of course, there’s always I Spy and 20 Questions. These games were a highlight as a kid, especially since my parents would join in and we’d have everyone’s attention together. Never underestimate the power of memory making in the car!

19. Don’t forget you can use vinyl clings on car windows. When I was a kid, my parents gave us a giant cling map of the United States. As we drove around the US, we added all the states we visited. It’s a memory I cherish.

Want to road trip the US? HalfAHundredAcreWood.com has traveled the US many times and has lots of great ideas.

20. If you are religious, use this opportunity in the car to pray together as a family. Make a prayer box.

Don’t Die of Starvation!

21. Haha – so we all know how quickly we parents kids can go from happy to hungry. We bring snacks with us wherever we go. Once a month, I make up a giant collection of snack bags. I’ll make our own trail mix (Rice chex, GF pretzels, Enjoy Life chocolate, and cranberries) and put them in little snack baggies. We also keep a continual supply of applesauce pouches and veggie straws from Costco. We can grab these snacks at a moment’s notice. You can also consider nuts, Larabars, dried fruit, fruit leathers, and even popcorn for great keep-in-the-car snacks. (In summer months, keep in a cooler — even a non-chilled cooler will still help fight against extreme car heat.)

22. Invest in good water bottles. I wish I could tell you we found a brand we love. We haven’t. Do you have on you like? For now we quietly kill the earth with disposable water bottles. Don’t tell anyone.

23. We’ve found it really handy when eating in the car to have sturdy containers to eat out of. We’ve used a variety of containers, from basic Rubbermaid storage, to fancy Lunch Blox, to stainless steel LunchBots. I know a lot of friends who use thermoses to bring hot food from home.

24. It’s on my wishlist to invest in a cooler that actually plugs into the car’s 12V outlet (formerly known as a  cigarette lighter). As long as your car is on, this acts as a little fridge to keep your items cold. When you get to your destination, simply use a wall adapter and plug it in at your destination. As a family with Celiac and food allergies that requires us to take our own food EVERYWHERE, yeah. I’m in love with this.

25. Have a meal plan for at home. Nothing is worse than getting home HUNGRY and not having anything planned for dinner. We survive off of freezer meals for our Instant Pot.

Why I gave up my Slow Cooker for the Instant Pot (tells you everything about the IP)

Why I Gave Up My Slow Cooker for the Instant Pot

How to make Instant Pot freezer meals and cook them from frozen.

How To Make Instant Pot Freezer Meals

How to travel with an Instant Pot

How to Travel with the Instant Pot

Keep It Chill At Home

25. Give yourself — and your kids — grace. When you get home, it’s okay to let them have unstructured play time while you do chores, get caught up on housework, etc. We found that when we got home from running, we ALL needed some solid downtime. Fight your inner urge to demand “school before play.” You’ve still been giving them attention/instruction on the road — let them breathe a little.

26. You’ll notice I didn’t give tips for tablets and technology in the car. My kids recharge through media, so we try to save those moments for home. Magic School Bus, Liberty Kids, Carmen Sandiego, Wild Kratts — those are all big TV favorites in our house. We also love Nessy.com and BrainPop.com for computer play. But there’s enough input from glowing screens in our lives already. I try to keep car time screen free if possible.

Treat Yo’self

27. Mama, you’re doing an amazing thing. You’re loving on your kids. You’re running around the world town. Take the occasional time to ask yourself if what you’re involved in is best for your family and if there’s anything you could cut out. But also realize that you are giving your kids the gift of experiences. Just make sure you’re giving them the gift of yourself, as well.

28. Find something fun that YOU can do. Adult coloring books are all the rage. Personally, I like these complex dot-to-dot puzzles. Grab yourself a good PRINT book. (Have you read the Wingfeather Saga? You must!) Learn how to do some fancy lettering while you wait in the parking lot.

29. Embrace this season of life. Whether you are car schooling or just looking to survive your next road trip, time with family is always precious. Take plenty of silly selfies with your kids.

And above all, love your kids well. This is — after all — our highest calling as parents. May the road rise up to meet you, your car schooling go smoothly, and your mind not go crazy!

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2 Comments

  1. We have one of those plug in coolers! It is awesome! And great for hotel rooms that don’t have a frig also. I love all of your car-schooling tips! We car-school at some point nearly every week.

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