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Great Waiting Games

In the Car . . .

I Spy, license-plate alphabet, and scavenger hunts are universally beloved car games. But on long excursions, even these activities  -- as well as wipe-off storyboards and other drawing tools  -- can fall short.

That's why Nancy Kay of Nashville has resorted to something unconventional but effective on her ten-hour drives to South Carolina with her three daughters (ages 4, 2, and 3 months). "I get a book of several hundred stickers and let my four-year-old put them all over the back window next to her," says Kay. "Sometimes she'll line up the stickers according to colors or shapes." If you're slightly more protective of your car windows (Kay has to use a razor to remove the stickers), consider blocking the sun and creating a play board at the same time: Cover the back side window with a piece of taped-on cardboard and let your child place the stickers there.

A less messy hit with Kay's kids: puppets or stuffed animals to go along with a story on tape. The kids can act out the plot while listening to the story  -- and keep the baby entertained at the same time. Verbal games fall into the no-mess category. My family plays Beep, Cheep, calling out "beep" for stop signs and "cheep" for speed-limit signs. It's silly but fast, especially if you add other things to look for with rhyming words to say.

An advantage of road trips is that you can keep your car stocked with handy props that you don't have to repack each time you set out. Key items we stash in the lunch box under the seat include Scotch tape, a notebook, and a kitchen timer. The tape is the brainchild of my preschooler's teacher, Joyce Drolette of Bozeman, MT, who taught me to rank it right up there with crayons as a creative tool. "Kids can rip up and tape things together for hours," she says. In the car, this serves a dual purpose, as they fasten together empty cups, paper bags, straws, and other trash into wild creations.

We also use tape to secure "treasures" of all sorts that we pick up along the way  -- pictures, leaves, feathers, and so forth  -- into a travel journal that we keep in the car. As for the kitchen timer: It keeps our guessing games moving along. How long before we see a cow? How about the next stop sign? And, of course, how long until we get there?

Contributing editor Barbara Rowley's most recent book is Baby Days: Activities, Ideas and Games for Enjoying Daily Life With a Child Under Three.