Rachel Cottrell, contributing writer
Preparing for a big family trip is something I simultaneously look forward to and dread. The opportunity to spend quality family time together is a good one, but the idea of entertaining my kids for long periods of travel time is always a bit daunting. Whether we’re on a plane or on the road, I’ve found that the travel portion of the trip always goes better when I am prepared with snacks, activities, and other travel essentials.
That being said, if I’m funding a big trip, I’m not all that interested in adding to the overall expense by buying and packing trinkets and small car- or plane-friendly activities. I also think it’s really important to teach my kids that it’s OK to just be present, or even bored. This desire, paired with a move to the south end of the Valley where we find ourselves with a lot more time in the car on a day-to-day basis, led me to audiobooks and podcasts as a simple way to fill time, whether we’re in the car for five minutes or five hours.
Podcasts and audiobooks are an awesome way to entertain kids. They’ve prompted family-wide discussions, sparked an interest in my kids for things I never would have thought they’d have an interest in, and allowed us to enjoy a simpler, more peaceful ride than one filled with pestering or singing (screaming) along to the Zombies 3 soundtrack on repeat. In the current digital age, where we’re not dependent on a WIFI or phone carrier service connection to consume this form of entertainment, you don’t have to plan too far ahead to have enough time to download some content to your phone before your journey begins on the road or in the air.
If this holiday season includes family travel, take advantage of some audial entertainment, and be sure to check out these favorites from our family:
Whether you’re subscribing to a service like Audible or utilizing your local library’s digital reservation system and CD books, stocking up on books of interest to each family member is beyond easy. My twin boys just turned 6, and these are some of our favorite audiobooks we’ve tried:
The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris
A magician himself, Neil Patrick Harris has crafted a spectacular puzzle of a series about a young boy named Carter and his newfound friends as they solve the secrets of their town, Mineral Wells. There are four books in the series and my boys were engaged through all four. Neil Patrick Harris reads the first book himself and has such an entertaining nature that I was hooked too!
Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park
We are big fans of Junie B. My boys relate to her imagination and style of communication (which makes sense, as they’re the same age). These books are quick and perfect for a short journey or to finish within a day’s errand run.
Harry Potter by JK Rowling
Use discretion with younger children, but as a self-proclaimed Potterhead, I’ve always known my kids would get introduced to this franchise early. We enjoyed a lot of entertainment value from Jim Dale, the award-winning narrator of this series. He’s created more than 200 distinct voices for all the characters which added a layer of enchantment for my kids as they could follow along with the story much better.
Always accessible and constantly filling our feeds with fresh content, podcasts are a great way to find bite-sized chunks of entertainment (perfect for young minds with short attention spans). Here are some of our favorites:
Brains On is a classic, for good reason. This science-based podcast was our first foray into the world of kid-focused audio content and the format couldn’t be more entertaining. The host, Molly Bloom, introduces topics like the science of sleeping brains, why poop is so funny to talk about, and, our favorite episode, Crystals: More Than Just Shiny Rocks. Each episode is co-hosted by a kid and also includes recurring segments like mystery sounds and interviews with experts on the topic.
I’m entrepreneur-minded at heart and talking about money is something I always enjoy, especially when I’m able to teach my kids the beauty of building your own wealth. Million Bazillion answers questions that might be too complex or awkward to bring up with your kids yourself, but they help start the conversation so you can carry it on outside of the car. We’ve loved listening to episodes about what grown-ups do with their money, why kids can’t have jobs, and even why girls’ things sometimes cost more than boys things.
Short & Curly
Our family conversations started to get really philosophical, really quick after listening to Short & Curly. The Australia-based hosts take us through some common ethical dilemmas and discuss them with youngsters from around the world. If one student steals a cookie from their teacher’s desk, and no one fesses up, should the whole class be punished? We should be kind to all, but are there any times when you should stop being friends with someone? Like I said, pretty philosophical for a Kindergartner.
When Holiday (an 11-year-old with no memory of any previous life) is rescued from the water by a family on a nearby boat, she is welcomed into their home as a member of their family. However, she soon starts to wonder whether their rescuing her was a coincidence or planned, and also whether they might know more about her than she knows herself. The unique format of this show (each episode is only six minutes of the story) allows you to jump in and out when you have time and still manages to captivate young minds in that short time frame.
Story Pirates takes short stories and ideas from kids and fleshes them out into mini performances, often including Broadway stars and famous voices singing original songs based on the content. The story concepts are really clever, and the tunes often play on repeat in my own head days later — they’re catchy!
Whether you’re traveling for holiday festivities, family fun, or even just a daily trek across Cache Valley, enable your Bluetooth and enjoy a new form of entertainment as a family.