I have a 4 year old boy (Benjamin) and a 2 year old girl (Lyla), and we end out spending a lot of time in the car going on road trips. We live in Orlando and have driven back and forth from Dallas where my in-laws live (17 hour trip) 3 times. My parents live in Chattanooga, TN (8 hours), and my brother lives in Charlotte, NC (8 hours). I feel like we are always driving somewhere or another, and I’m always looking for ways to keep the kids entertained in the car.
I’m a little bit obsessed with cardboard box tops. You know the kind that go on top of those cardboard boxes with handles that they sell at office supplies stores (also called Bankers Boxes)? I use them for everything. In fact, when I have a project going that I haven’t finished yet, I scoop all of the pieces into a cardboard box top and set it up on a shelf. Sometimes there will be 5 or 6 stacked on top of each other. I had been using these box tops as little travel trays for snacks and coloring for a long time, but I recently decided to try making other kinds of mini activity tables out of them.
1. Travel Chalk Board Table
My kids spend hours playing with black (or dark) construction paper and chalk. It sort of erases, but not as cleanly as an actual chalk board. The plus side: NOT MESSY! You don’t have to drive down the road wondering if washable markers actually come off of car seats easily. There also aren’t a lot of pieces to drop on the floor of the car where you just can’t reach them without pulling over.
Another fun idea: Use chalkboard paint to paint the full inside of the box top. Maybe use a few coats, and follow the prepping instructions. Use a little painter’s sponge as an eraser. If you really don’t want to worry about your kids dropping things, you could thread and tie embroidery floss through the sponge and then securely tie it to the cardboard box.
2. Travel Coloring Center
This is the simplest way to use cardboard box tops on a road trip. The edges of the lid help keep the paper and markers in place. I prefer markers in the car because I’ve seen what kind of damage just one melted crayon can do.
Another fun idea: Use a hot glue gun to attach a clip or little dollar store clip board to one side of the box. Then attach plastic pencil holders/drawer organizers to the other side, to help keep the markers organized and the coloring page in place.
3. Mini Train Table
You might wonder if a small little track like this would keep a kid occupied for very long in the car. If you child is anything like my son, then the answer is YES! Benjamin loves all things related to trains and tracks, and would enjoy playing with this little table for a long time in the car. I didn’t attach or glue down any of the tracks, but they stay in place well. Also, my son enjoys taking them apart and putting them back together.
Another fun idea: You could attach the tracks to the box top a number of ways. I would recommend those 3M command strips. If you didn’t want to attach all of the tracks, but wanted to make it a little sturdier, you could attach just one or two pieces of track to stabilize the rest.
4. Sticky Letters Activity Table
This is a really fun activity, and my kids enjoy doing it at home too. I saw something like this on Pinterest once, and thought it would work really well in a box top. For this project, you will need contact paper and duct tape. Cut a piece of contact paper that is larger on all sides than an 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper. Peel off the back to the contact paper, and place it over a piece of printer paper sticky side up. Fold over the top piece of contact paper and press and smooth it down (to make it a little easier to insert new pieces of paper). Now tape down the contact paper with 3 pieces of colorful duct tape. Now you have a sticky surface for your kids to attach things to. My son LOVED playing with the buttons as he created his letter B. I’ve created free files that you can print for all of the letters in the alphabet. *Be careful not to let children under the age of 3 play with buttons, especially in the car. They are a choking hazard.*
Another fun idea: Use a blank piece of paper, and let your kids create their own shapes or scenes with buttons, pom poms, or even paper clips. You could also use coloring book pages.
*This post was originally posted at C.R.A.F.T. as a part of Jamie’s Really Awesome Free Trips series.