A while back, I asked my pediatrician, in almost embarrassing earnestness: “so what did you do on car trips with kids before iPads and iPhones?” My family played games and sang songs, but other than practically reciting the entire Odyssey for my dad (something he generously endured on a trip to Mammoth when I was a senior in high school), I can’t remember how our long drives passed.
She said she was a big fan of audio books.
Davis is a small town, but the driving to and from school every day adds up. I keep a box for the toys and books that accumulate beside Hudson’s chair, but he usually spends the time peppering me with questions.
Most days I look forward to hearing about what he sees and what he did at school—letting some stories grow elaborate: “A whale? Oh! What does a whale’s breath smell like? Like fish? Is that stinky?” The longer I can hold off the strings of “why?” and “what’re you doing, mommy?” (a sure cue that he’s bored) the better.
But every other day or so he still asks me to read him a book. “I can’t while I’m driving, buddy!” I reply.
So I thought back to that conversation with my pediatrician.
Have you ever used audio books with your kids in the car? They’re a wonderful antidote to screen time. We played The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit, written and read by none other than the lovely Emma Thompson alongside a stirring soundtrack evocative of the Scottish highlands—when we were driving along the coast of Italy (bag pipes being so fitting). We still quote it to one another in our best brogue: “Throw the radish!”
If Emma Thompson can do it, why can’t I? (Don’t answer that.)
So the other night, while we were reading together, I recorded myself.
Right now, Hudson is a loyal fan of Julia Donaldson’s books—and so I am I! (Thank goodness.) The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, and even The Gruffalo’s Child are in regular rotation—they’re perfect for this time of year! (And the stories are so clever and engaging that I actually haven’t tired of reading them yet!)
The Gruffalo is particularly good for reading aloud—there are lots of repeating phrases that kids will love to say with you. And the pattern motif lets kids practice predicting what will happen next based upon what happened previously. However, Hudson knows it almost by heart.
The advantage to making your own (besides that you can do it in an instant, for free) is that you can leave pauses for call-and-repsonse:
“A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo?” “A gruffalo! Why, didn’t you know?”
“He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.”
“A gruffalo! Why, _[pause]______?”
“He has terrible [pause], and terrible [pause], and terrible [pause] in his terrible [pause].”
The good and the bad? By the time we say “jaws” together, Hudson is practically shouting out the answers.
You can make an audio recording on your computer or smartphone to play in your car. There are dedicated apps for this, but the pre-installed Voice Memo function works, too.
- Use a story you both know well, so that it’s easy to follow along with—both verbally and if your child wants to turn the pages along with the recording. (This is true when using purchased audio books, as well—especially then, when a new voice can be hard to understand at first.)
- Speak clearly, but get into it! (You can listen to a sample for encouragement.)
- Leave pauses for increased engagement. (And be ready to help fill in the blanks together.)
- Be safe! Set the audio up to play while you’re still parked, or pull off to the side of the road if you need to cue up a story on your phone.
Most newer cars have integrated ways to play audio from your phone on your car speakers, but here’s a guide to alternatives (often as simple as using an RCA cable with your audio jacks).
The whole thing will take you under 10 minutes for a story like The Gruffalo or Room on the Broom!
What are your tricks for keeping little ones entertained in the car?
This content was created in partnership with Ford to help make creativity a part of every drive.