Activities for baby development – making the most of car rides

car ride art

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a part of #CarseatFullstop – an initiative to raise awareness about car seats. It’s an awesome campaign and we hope that by boosting awareness we are able to save lives. But it also got me thinking about how much time we spend in the car every day. Most of us in car-centric cities spend a lot more time in our cars than we might like or be aware of. For example, every morning, Harley and I take Dean to work and then return home. In the afternoon, we pick him up again before returning home. Sometimes, we go shopping together, or go to a meeting, or go to TopTots, or visit friends or any number of activities. Each of those require strapping her into her car seat and sitting in the car for anywhere between five and 30 minutes. On an average day, that’s what – at least an hour spent in the car? Why not make the most of those car rides?

Luckily, Harley often sleeps in the car. It’s something about the movement and the noise that combines to conk her out like nothing else. In fact, when I went to an awesome seminar earlier this week, I timed it perfectly – changed her nappy, nursed her and then drove to the event. The combination of clean bum, full tummy and car ride combined to successfully knock her out for a couple hours so I could actually engage with the learning opportunity. But when our little ones are awake in the car, it can also be a learning opportunity, too. Here are some ideas of ways that you can make the most of the time spent with your spawnling in the car.

Motor skill development

You won’t want to give your child anything that could go wrong while driving. That means nothing that could potentially be a choking or strangulation hazard. This means that you’ll want to be careful about which toys or snack you give your little one in the car. However, there are still some things that you can do to help keep things entertaining and stimulating for the drive.

  • Clip a toy to the headrest of the backseat. When your baby is still tiny, she can watch it and see it move when she moves with the car around corners. If there’s a rattle inside, she will also understand that movements can cause those interesting sounds. As she gets older, she might be able to reach for the toy with her feet, learning cause and effect as she kicks and interacts with the toy.
  • The same applies to hanging a toy over the car seat using a fancy baby gym that clips to your carseat, or simply attaching the toy to that handle above the door in the backseat. It’s important to avoid any loose toys other than stuffed animals as these can turn into dangerous projectiles or hazards in an emergency, but a rattle hanging from a door handle can offer plenty of amusement to a little one – just make sure it’s suspended in a way that prevents the baby from hurting herself with it (no strangulation or projectile risks, please).

Emotional, social and mental development

Car rides aren’t really the best for motor skills, let’s be honest. It isn’t ideal for movement, and if you’re in the front and baby is in the back it can be next to impossible to engage with her physically. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any involvement – this can be a great time for other kinds of development.

  • Talking is amazing at all ages. When your little one is still too young to talk, that doesn’t mean that mum’s the word in the car. I often chatter away to Harley, telling her about my plans for the day or the evening, giving her an update on what we’re doing, where we’re going and what I’m thinking about. If she makes gurgling noises, I pretend she contributed to the conversation – pausing to let her “speak” and asking or answering questions as I imagine she’d be communicating. This helps baby brains to understand the patterns of conversation. Once they can talk, it can be a good time to expand vocabularies – point out interesting things as you drive by.
  • Singing is also a big deal. I find that it calms Harley if she gets upset in the car, but it can also entertain her. Music is so good for development, so using the car as an opportunity to sing together (even if it’s just to an awesome song on the radio), is great for boosting her understanding of rhythm and melody.
  • Point out things along the way. This can be a great game (although I remember hating that game “I Spy” and even crying as a result), and is wonderful for boosting vocabulary. Sure, you can point out trees and birds at the start, but that can develop into pointing out fire engines, license plates from different areas, or interesting and memorable landmarks along your usual route. This can also help to teach your child to be oriented and make sense of the world as they grow up.
  • Let them be bored! This is a big one. Parents often think that they need to stimulate their little ones all the time, to keep them constantly occupied. We all actually benefit from being bored, from letting our minds wander – why else do you think you get the best ideas in the shower or while driving? Let you kid babble to herself, discover her feet or her car seat, watch the world go by in the window. Her imagination will grow, she will invent new games for herself and learn to be self contained in her play, too.

What are you favorite activities in the car? Do you just strive to make your little one sleep, or is that an impossibility with your baby? How do you keep your kid entertained while getting from point A to point B?

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