Carved into every parent's job description is the word "chauffeur." Between the soccer field and the library, the Girl Scout meeting and the visit to Grandma's, parents and children see a lot of each other on their way to see someone else.
Since squeezing out time for your children from today's schedules is increasingly difficult, why not take advantage of the enforced togetherness your car demands? Here is a good time to sit down (you have to, anyway) and talk with your children, reviewing the day and planning the next.
But getting a sometimes mute teenager or inarticulate tot to talk requires finesse and full-force attention -- both hard to muster in rush-hour traffic at the end of a long day. The following games are designed to exercise the jawbone , open up at least one channel between parent and child, and in some cases, strengthen the child's education. If the games happen to lead to discussion about your child's experiences, successes and failures, so much the better. Language
* Alphabet -- Start with any letters your children recognize, and ask them to look at license plates, signposts, and advertisements to find those letters. Try to do the whole alphabet, in sequence. Spell out your child's name, and the names of all those in the car. Take turns giving each other difficult words to spell.
* Vocabulary -- This can be as simple as "I'll say a word, then you say a word" -- not an easy feat for a two-year-old. You can progress to listing words that begin with a particular letter, words that sound beautiful (cellophane, millionaire), animal words, compound words, long words and their definitions, funny words (dribble, splotch), or active verbs.
* Definitions -- The next step is synonyms, antonyms, and cliches. Math
* Numbers -- Look for digits in license plates and roadside signs, picking out 1 through 50. Look for your street address, your social security number, all numbers divisible by three.
* Problems -- You suggest a number (like 5), and ask your school-age child what two numbers added together make your number. Progress to subtraction, then larger numbers, and finally multipli cat
* Sets -- Make up small, non-infinite sets, and ask what numbers they include. Take turns in all these games and let the kids try to stump you. Memory
* Facts -- The car is a great place to strengthen this thinking skill. Pick a series of facts you (or your children) think worth memorizing, and go around the car, each person saying one fact. You might start with days of the week, months of the year, teams in the National football League, books of the Old Testament, or names of US Presidents. Problem solvers
* Ethics -- This is one area of children's education for which parents have primary responsibility.
The way parents choose to live their own lives is, of course, the best teacher. But games like this one can help them show their children how to deal with difficulties that arise outside the parents' sphere of influence.
Pose an ethical dilemma, one that might come up in your child's life. What would you do if you caught your best friend stealing? Or, if five of you pool your money so you can go to the movies, and there is only enough to buy four tickets, who gets to go?
Let each child tell you how he or she would solve the problem. Be very careful not to impose your solution as the only one available -- your kids may show you a better way. also, let each person take a turn thinking up a problem; sometimes personal problems can arise more easily in this impersonal atmosphere.
* What if? -- What if people had wings? What if you lived at the art gallery? What if the roads were paved with grass? What if we were the size of insects, and insects were the size of people? What if you played soccer with ping-pong balls? Children are particularly skilled at this game, coming up with possibilities widely overlooked by their more staid parents.
* Mini D&D -- Another popular game based largely on imagination -- and some rather expensive books and dice -- is sweeping the teen-age and adult markets. Called "Dungeons and Dragons," it can be played in a less precise, more fun way without the equipment. It requires an inventive leader and one or more players.
Take your players on a mental trip into some dank area (cave, maze, castle) with plenty of spots for monsters to lurk. Equip the children with various swords, ropes, daggers, light beams, and disappearing powders.
Then, make sure they encounter plenty of fierce-but-conquerable beasts, dragons, skeletons, and witches, and allow the children to work out their escape.You might provide them with a mission -- to recover the treasure, rescue the brave but helpless king, or rid the area of monsters -- and congratulate them heartily as these feats are accomplished.