Carschooling Unplugged

Homeschooling is a misnomer because many homeschooling families are very seldom home. Whether it’s traveling from art class to Tae Kwon Do, a field trip sixty miles away, or a long distance trek to visit grandparents, sometimes schooling needs to take place in the car.

Audio books, videos, tablets, and other gadgets are a natural fit for learning lessons in the car. These gizmos are also good for keeping impatient kids quiet and entertained while you’re steering a couple tons of steel down a crowded freeway. However, if you want to limit or even do away with electronics in the car, it’s time to look at some fun ways to keep kids busy and engaged while unplugged.

First of all, provide your kids with a flat surface and a way to keep all their materials tidy. Consider a travel or activity tray for younger children and a clipboard for older children. Use an organizer tote or tub for supplies, small toys, and snacks. Multi-pocketed organizers that hang over the back of the front seats also come in handy to keep things neat, off the floor, and within a child’s reach. Plastic containers with tightly fitting lids can be used to store tiny pieces.

Other must-haves for education and entertainment include a baking sheet and magnets, a felt board, and a dry erase board with markers. These can be used for a huge variety of activities, plus they provide hours of fun fueled by your child’s own imagination. You can find small combination dry erase/magnet boards at most discount stores. Some of the boards are marked with lines for handwriting practice.

Many Surprise Ride Kits are perfect for carschooling, and they come in their own compact box with a handle! Carschooling is also a way to get more mileage out of a Surprise Ride project your child has already completed.

Let’s start off by discussing which Surprise Rides work best for carschooling.

  • Build a Dinosaur Science Kit – Kids can assemble the dinosaur in the car. The completed figure along with the toy fossil can be used for imaginative play. The included book and fact cards give kids something to read on the road, and they can take turns reading aloud to each other. Have the kids write down the name of their favorite dinosaur. As cars whiz by, challenge your kids to pay attention to the letters on license plates. When they spy a letter in their dinosaur’s name, they can cross it off. First one to find all the letters to spell their dinosaur’s name, wins!
  • Magic Trick Kit – The magic wand, pack of cards, booklet about card tricks, and secret scarf included in the kit are excellent items to add to your carschooling materials. The kit also contains a paperback copy of Fake Snakes and Weird Wizards from the HANK series written by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver. This kit will make boredom disappear on a long ride.
  • Design a Superhero Cape Kit – Although the cape should be assembled before heading on a trip, there is still plenty of fun to be had with this kit. With their capes as inspiration, kids will dream up their own superhero adventures. Using the art and writing materials you’ve brought along, they can write and illustrate their own heroic tales. Pack some small action figures so your child can act out stories. Imaginative play is learning.
  • Paint a Pirate’s Chest Activity Kit – Painting while Mom or Dad are driving is not a good idea, but the pirate theme of this kit can be continued while on the road. For starters, the completed treasure chest can be used to store small pieces to other activities.  In these days of GPS and map apps, kids have few opportunities to figure out a paper map on their own. Old fashioned, fold up, paper maps are still available, or you may have a road atlas. Play X Marks the Spot by drawing a big X on your destination. Have the kids keep track of the route, marking off towns and landmarks as you pass by. For younger kids, hand draw or print a simple map off the computer. Folding skills also come in handy if you use a traditional paper road map. Remember, electronics aren’t always dependable, and map reading is an excellent skill to learn. Completing a scavenger hunt is another treasure themed activity. Make a list of things you might find on a road trip. For example, a brown cow, a river, a gasoline tanker, or a billboard advertising a restaurant. The first one to find all the items on the list wins!
  • Paint a Birdhouse Activity KitOnce again, painting is not recommended as a carschool activity, but the enclosed book on birds will help your child identify winged creatures as you travel. Reinforce the concept of primary colors by having your child count the number of red, blue, and yellow cars that pass by. Which color is more popular? For older kids, add orange, purple, and green as colors to find.  
  • Make a Penguin Pillow Kit – Complete the pillow before you leave so your child has a soft companion to bring along. The Magic Tree House book will provide reading enjoyment. And last but not least, the windup penguin toy will bring plenty of laughs, especially if you’ve provided a hard flat surface for the kids to work and play on.

With a few basic items and some Surprise Ride kits, your unplugged journey is destined to be successful.


Lillian Pluta is a former middle school language arts teacher, a published children’s book author, a seasoned homeschool mom with co-op teaching experience, and a freelance blogger. She currently lives along the South Texas coast with her family and a small menagerie of rescued animals. When she’s not teaching or writing, she enjoys learning to play classical guitar and watching sumo wrestling.