There is a tiny Luchador in the back seat of my car.
Sometimes though, he is not a Luchador, he is a cowboy. Or an artist. He's asleep and snoring. Or singing Eric Hutchinson songs. He's a major league baseball player. Or just a major league pain in the butt.
But while he is trapped in the back seat of my car, he is mine, all mine. A captive audience. He is not distracted by Skylander videos, footballs, or his little herd of playmates. It is the perfect opportunity for me to capture his attention, and his heart, every day.
I have never thought of drive time with my kids as wasted time. On the contrary, having their undivided attention gives me the chance to get to know them. And I take every opportunity to use that time to take what I learn from them and turn it into conversation, connection, and common ground.
Use Your Back Seat Wisely
The back seat of your car is not just a place the kids ride when you haul them from here to there. It's a place they eat, change clothes for soccer practice, learn new words, and tell you about their day. Don't ride in silence...talk, think, problem-solve, tell stories. Here are five ways I have used the back seat of my car as a classroom on wheels:
1. Tell a shared story: Start a made up story with your little one...then ask them to add to it. Then you add to what they've said, and so on, back and forth. You might be surprised how creative they get, especially when you ask them questions as you go like "Oh! And then what happened?" or "No way! What did he do next?" This exercise helps them learn sequence, dialogue, story arc, descriptive language, and quick thinking.
2. Listen to the classical music station on your radio: One of my kid's favorite things to do is listen to a song on the classical music station in Dallas, WRR, and then we describe what's happening in the song based on what it sounds like. This exercise gets them thinking abstractly, and helps them see the connection and meaning between action and thought. Prompt them while you're listening with thoughts like "Did you hear that – sounds like they're being chased! Who do you think is chasing them?" or "That sounds like a volcano erupting to me! What does it sound like to you?".
3. Ask them about their day: And don't give up after the perfunctory "Fine" is muttered. Ask specifically "What did you do in science today?" and continue asking about projects, events, or subjects that they talked about yesterday. When they know that you really want to know about, and care about, what they do all day long they are much more inclined to share. As time goes by with this exercise, it'll be them asking you how YOUR day went. Make sure to praise specific things they did well with...and not just getting a good grade. My highest praise goes to Luka for demonstrating "watching out for everyone littler than you."
4. Point out new things as you drive: We like to point out clouds that look like broccoli. Trees that look like robots. Bird poop on the window that looks like a sailboat. This visual exercise gets kids' brains thinking conceptually...connecting things that are seemingly unrelated. This connecting process is the basis for creative problem solving, so teaching them to think this way (ie THIS is like THAT) will make it easier for them to creative solve problems on homework, and in life, as they get older.
5. Learn about your community: Luka was born with a map of Dallas in his head, I swear. Just like his dad, the city planner. Luka can tell me where to turn when I get lost. Say the names of the streets as you pass them. Point out the grocery store, the library, the gas station, and every friend's house as you pass them. Tell a story of something that happened to you at each place like "Oh, I remember the time when..." or "I just saw Toby's mom at that store yesterday!" The more they think about the world around them, and not just their tiny little ego-centric bubble, the more of a community-minded citizen they'll become.
My best back seat trick
I recently shared with a friend one of the techniques I have been using for getting Luka's attention, and affection. If you've been reading this blog since 2008, then you know that he has been more than a handful. If you live in my neighborhood, I've probably cried on your shoulder more than a few times in the past seven years.
After a few years of miserable living with this child, I stopped trying to control his behavior, stopped telling him what to do or not do. I just started telling him "You're sweet. You're kind. You're smart. I love you." Every day. That's it. No "Pick up your toys." or "Do what I say" or "Stop throwing that sippy cup at my head." There were no conditions to being told that he was sweet, kind, smart, and loved.
And after awhile, he started to become just what I was telling him over and over that he was. Sweet. Kind. Smart. Lovable. Once he knew that I thought this of him no matter what he did, he started listening to me. Really listening. And then asking my opinion. And then trying to please me. It took a long time, and a lot of afternoon rides in the car where I simply told him how sweet, kind, and smart he was, while we played one of the games I mentioned above.
Now I always look forward to driving Luka here and there. It's one more opportunity to continue to build the bond I have with him. To push the little Luchador's thinking in a new direction. And to decide what the bird poop on the window looks like today, together.
How do you make the most of your time in the car?
The Chevy Traverse
This advice is brought to you by the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse, with seating for up to eight and a five-star safety rating. Our crossover was #TraverseTested for everything from last minute road trips to daily carpooling, so you know it¹s the perfect ride to get you and your family back to school in style.
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