Ah, summer. It is the time of year when a young family's fancy turns to thoughts of gassing up the car, belting in the kids and hitting the open road.
Optimistic notions of saving money, traveling at your own pace and getting reacquainted with your family are soon tempered with the reality of traveling anywhere, for any length of time with anyone not yet old enough to drive themselves.
When the novelty of playing 20 Questions has worn off, and the suggestion of singing another rousing chorus of "100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" makes you want to careen off a steep cliff, take heart.
There are some fresh choices for entertaining your passengers of all ages. Several North County toy stores have addressed the problem of what to do with the potentially lethal combination of a pre-adolescent, a car, and a road map earmarked for anywhere north of Disneyland.
An employee at Kay-Bee Toy & Hobby Shop in Plaza Camino Real says that when it comes to family car travel, the law of the land is wide open. Everything from stuffed animals to a deck of cards is fair game.
"We get parents who buy Barbie dolls and other action figures for their kids to play with," he said. "You name it, unless it's a Frisbee, people tell us they're getting it for the car."
When it comes to travel games sold in the stores, small and compact are major features to consider. Many travel games also have attached or magnetized pieces that are not apt to get lost in the crevices of a car seat.
Imaginarium in the North County Fair shopping mall sells miniature versions of popular board games including Clue, Memory, Sorry, Chinese Checkers and Trouble. Thinker Things in Del Mar's Flower Hill Mall also carries a line of the miniature board games, including magnetic chess and Tic Tac Toe. Other staples of the travel game industry found in most toy stores are Hang Man, Connect Four and Master Mind.
ART ON A ROLL
One of the most popular activities to hit the road is Travel Magnadoodle, a small, magnetized drawing board with a magnetic pencil designed for all ages. To erase your work of art and start anew, simply slide an attached bar across the bottom of the board and you have a clean slate. Travel Magnadoodle not only keeps passengers from asking every five minutes, "Are we there yet?", it may inspire a few budding Rembrandts.
Those childhood staples--paper and crayons--should not be sneezed at either. Unlike Travel Magnadoodle, the finished crayon on paper product can be tacked on the refrigerator door when you get back home.
Creative Teaching Supplies in Solana Beach, which has an entire section devoted to travel games for kids, carries a lap-top coloring desk stocked with a roll of paper advanced by turning knobs.
Toy stores and the children's section of bookstores often stock activity or game books ideal for travel. Books with lots of big pictures do well in the car, especially if your child can't yet read or tends to get woozy while reading on the move. The "Where's Waldo" books are NOT ideal choices for the carsick-prone child.
The Automobile Club of Southern California has recently published a travel activity book for kids. Priced at $3.50 for AAA members and $4.95 for others, the book has an activity for every state in the country, ranging from crossword puzzles to connect the dots. Trivia questions include, "What is Minnesota's nickname?" and "What's the fastest way to Evansville from Gary?"
The age of the video game has entered the realm of the family car, too. Toy stores routinely stock hand-held, battery-operated video games such as football and Super Mario.
Low-tech cousins--miniature pinball-type toys that release a small ball with a coiled spring--can eliminate the high-tech noise and battery requirement. DRIVING HOME A POINT
A new concept in the Educating-Your-Kid-While- Driving-Through-Tulsa category might be found through Discovery Toys in Oceanside. Several are suited expressly for travel, said Barbie Armentrout, a consultant for the catalogue toy company. Discovery Toys are sold like Tupperware, through demonstration parties in homes.
Various games teach kids ages 3 and up multiplication, health, phonics, cultures and animals. Many of the games are self-correcting so a child need not tug on the driver's sleeve for assistance.
A series of cassette tapes by children's entertainers such as Joe Scruggs and Raffi can keep the kids' toes tapping or quiet them down.
Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, though. Armentrout of Discovery Toys said her kids are hooked on a tape called "Sounds Like Fun," which has lullabys, nursery rhymes, teaches counting and the like.
"All three of my kids have had this tape since the womb. They feel secure with the repetition and the woman's voice is attractive and pleasant," Armentrout said. "I still like it, but my husband detests it and will not have it in the car."