First, there is no reason it has to be every hour. It could be every 2 hours or even just randomly. We have DVD players in the car, and we always buy a new movie or two for our trips. No reason the movies can't be one of the surprises. I started to think of more ideas for low cost surprises for my kids (and ideas that don't involve tv for those without dvd players). Here's what I've come up with, please feel free to add some!
- Coloring pages to reflect the trip - a map of the state you are visiting, pictures of what you will see along the way (cows, cars, trees, etc.).
- A bingo game. You could very easily make this yourself. Print out a grid with pictures (and words for readers) of things along the way and give the kids a bingo dobber (or marker or crayon if you're worried about mess) to mark off what they see.
- Books. Thanks to Pinky being in some preschool classes we have been able to order from the Scholastic book club - great books and great prices! For our next trip, I ordered her a Littlest Pet Shop I Spy book. I think that will keep her busy for a little while!
- Happy Meal toys. I'm not kidding the little trinket toys keep my kids entertained forever. Pinky loves to play with miniature Barbies, My Little Ponys, or any type of little figurine.
- Magnet play sets. We love these! There are a lot of different types out there (I know WalMart had some for under $5 last time I was there), and it's easy to keep track of pieces when they're magnetic!
- Shop the Dollar Store for other toys/games that will interest your child. I can always find some neat stuff at our Dollar Store.
- Music CDs. Our local library allows you to digitally check out music CDs and burn them to disc for your own personal use. We've gotten quite a few kids' music CDs this way (and all of them are educational - Spanish language, learn the alphabet, Dressing Do's and Don'ts)
- Eye Spy bottles that I made in a previous post.
- Snacks - either a healthy snack or something that is a "treat" for your child (our favorite around here right now is animal crackers).
- ColorWonder books and markers. Okay, not exactly inexpensive, but with Pinky, these buy us hours of quiet time, and there's no mess!
- Crayola Dry Erase Activity Center. Again, not inexpensive (around $15), but great for preschoolers. Here is a link to check it out: Crayola Dry Erase Activity Center. You can also print out more activity sheets online. I just bought this for my niece and know that Pinky would love it too.
- A journal or scrapbook to keep track of your trip. This could be as simple as a spiral bound notebook and crayons or as elaborate as blank board books, stickers, embellishments or anything else you can dream up.
- Lacing toys. You could even make your own with simple cardboard shapes and a shoelace.
- For smaller kids, make your own touch and feel book. I made one for Pinky when she was small and Chaos loves it now too. I took items from around the house (a piece of an old towel, aluminum foil, sandpaper, corrugated cardboard, etc) and glued pieces of them to my own homemade book (cardboard pages tied together with string).
- Puppets. Again, you could make your own or buy them.
- Musical instruments for an in car band. This is another item that you could make yourself to save money.
- A great idea I found on Familyfun.com - a toy bib. Their description: "If you often find yourself searching for far-flung objects, try making your baby a toy bib. To create one, snap 2 or 3 pacifier or mitten clips (available at suspenderstore.com) to the bottom of a bib, then attach a couple of small diversions to them. The toys won't stray from a little arm's reach -- and you can leave the bib on for snacktime. "
Whew. That's what I've come up with so far. Please comment if you can think of other fun things to do in the car. I will add to this list if I think of more (and I'm sure I will). Happy traveling!