Is my car an education tool?

We do a lot of driving. The largest city within four hours of us is Madison, WI, so we drive there three days a week for swimming, soccer, violin , dance and social skills lessons for my kids. We drive to Chicago once a week for cello lessons. So one of my biggest worries is that the kids are wasting their lives away in the car.

This is not the worry I expected to have when I signed away my high-flying CEO position in favor of  life on a farm.

We listen to lots of classical music in the car. The Suzuki method espouses the idea that listening to a piece of music is akin to practicing it, so I tell myself that we are really practicing a lot.

But it’s hard to know where reality ends and my rationalizations begin. Is is good to take the kids to Madison? Do all kids need to try new stuff or can they hang out on the farm all day?

Don’t tell me the farm is a great place to grow up. Because it’s isolated. And one kid, for sure, is a city kid. And I feel that I owe it to him to show him more of the world. But I’m not sure: at what cost?

24 replies
  1. L (another Lisa)
    L (another Lisa) says:

    I think it is ok. If your children live to 80 years old that is 29,200 days and 700,800 hours alive (excluding leaps years) Lets say they average 20 hours per week in the car for all 52 weeks per year for 10 years straight. That is 10,400 hours in the car. It ends up being 1.48% in the car, not really a big deal. BUT you could also look at it as you have 157680 hours to be a kid (24* 365* 18) and you are spending 10400 in the car and that is 6.59 % of the time you are a kid.

    There are worse ways to spend your time than in a car.

  2. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    How great it is that your boys will have documented evidence through this blog that that you struggled with these issues in deciding how best to raise them? I really think this may be one of the most powerful teaching tools that you give to them. I would love to be able read about what my own mother was thinking when she faced all the inevitable parenting decisions with me, and then to compare that with how her perspective has changed as she has grown older, and become a grandparent.

    My guess is that the boys will probably remember the time you spent together in the car fondly.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Wow. Thst’s a really interesting perspective, thanks.

      The one time I have been on the front page of the New York Times was in an article sbout how I’m messing up my kids by putting my life online. (The New York Times even brought in experts to weigh on on the drama.)

      So i always worry anout that. Your comment shows me
      another perspective. Thank you!


  3. Lak
    Lak says:

    that is like 18 hours a week in the car? You’re a stronger woman than me. I like to drive but that is a lot.

    For that amount of time you could get an apartment in town and spend some time there and focus on schooling then when they were at the farm they could just hang out.

  4. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    Yes! My friend and her 3 kids used to say they were van-schoolers. They were doing the things they chose to do, and traveling in the van was the only way to do it. That’s when they got their school work and reading done.

    Only you can know when it’s too much. The kids may let you know by complaining about being in the car or not wanting to go. The older they are, the more being in the car makes sense. A kid’s job is play as you say.

    It’s ok to hang around the farm all day. It’s not ok to be isolated all the time.

    I don’t think you exactly owe it to them to show them new things for its own sake, but if kids need to see people or go places they usually make their needs known.

    And yes, all that listening counts! They memorize the music and learn dynamics and patterns.

  5. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Here’a an off-topic comment. Swimming lessons. After reading one of your posts on this blog, I wondered if your sons were taking them. I’m glad to hear that they are doing so. I think they’re really important for some obvious reasons.

  6. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Your kids spend less time in the car per week, than most children spend watching television. I’m actually a fan of car trips. Endless time for reading books, listening to books on tape, dreaming while looking out the window, conversations, singing, etc.

  7. Anna
    Anna says:

    Um, I can’t believe you let the kids drink red gatorade. Many kids have food sensitivity to red food coloring. Given what you have written about the kids, I would think red food coloring would be off the list. Try to go without any red food coloring for a few weeks and see how it goes.

      • Julie
        Julie says:

        Red food dye is a problem for two of mine too. It was the first thing I saw when your post came up (the red drink). Definitely check it out! As for the car issue, you’ll find what works for you all and it’s ok if it takes some time. Enjoy your sweet boys, be thankful that you can provide the opportunities for them, and learn to live your life in seasons – the best parenting advice I received from the best book on homeschooling I’ve read, The Well Trained Mind by Wise and Bauer. This may be a season for activities and time spent in the car :)

  8. karelys
    karelys says:

    maybe they can learn to multitask. like advancing homework while riding the car that way they have more party time whenever they get to their destination. like, after practice they have a bit more time to do something fun or another because they carved more time out of homework time.

  9. Cherri Porter
    Cherri Porter says:

    Part of the problem isn’t your life, or mine, or the farm or the car. It’s that we are thinkers and writers and we must measure and write our lives. Thus, every choice and idea is under the microscope over and over. It is never made, but always remade.

    The choices we’re making are not terrible ones by any stretch of the imagination. But, our brains, when left to do what our brains do, can convince us so. Cut yourself some slack. Whatever you do, however you play it, however you measure it, your kids and mine will have successes and will have things they’ll need to work on as adults. And, that will be their burden. I think your kids are okay, in the car or not.

  10. silvermine
    silvermine says:

    It’s a thing — Carschooling. :D Whether its fine or not is up to you and your kids and if you think you’re in the car too much. But if you double up and do some school, you’ll be less bored and have more free time at home. :D

    We listen to books on CD from the library a lot and have an Audible subscription. I can even play them books from my phone. We listen to a lot of history and stuff that way. Or just books too hard for them to read to themselves just yet. We listened to skip counting songs. And sometimes just have really long conversation about science or philosophy. When you’re all trapped together, good conversations happen. :)

    • Mark K
      Mark K says:

      Well said Silvermine.

      If the drive is in traffic that precludes you from engaging in conversation, that is a shame, because being stuck in the car for an hour or two can really promote long open ended talks. Audio books are great too, especially if you pause a lot for discussion!

  11. Brianna Doby
    Brianna Doby says:

    I lived in the boonies. I’m raising my kids 5 minutes from the downtown of a major US city. It’s disconcerting making that change–I empathize.

    Here’s what I think about the car: commutes to/from activities as a child, with my brilliant mom as a companion, made for about a million teaching moments that could never be cataloged or indexed. She would sometimes play tapes of lectures from her grad school profs, or we’d sing songs in harmony, or talk, or I would read to her…

    You’re brilliant. That’s not really in question (and not kissing ass, your intelligence is what it is). You’ve read the research: odds are high that given your kids’ genes and their socio-economic status, they’re going to be pretty damn brilliant, too.

    I wonder if time spent in the car with you is some truly fantastic parenting/bonding/relating time for your kids. I know it was for me and my mother. Did you ever think of adding another metric to your homeschooling standards–how they relate to each other and to you? Are your relationships with them strengthening? Do you feel more connection? Since so much of how children learn to attach comes from their attachment to you, could that be what you’re addressing in quiet hours spent in the car?

  12. Sarah Rain
    Sarah Rain says:

    Is what they’re getting out of the trip better than what they’d be getting in eight hours if they weren’t stuck in the car? I personally hate being in the car and hate forcing my kids to be. I don’t think it’s good for our bodies or minds to be sitting still for long periods. If I felt that trips to the city were important (I don’t myself for my family, but that’s just me) I’d probably at least try to minimize them. Three times a week to Madison and once a week to Chicago? That’s insane. Why not consolidate and make it once a week each to Madison and Chicago? And explore all the things that are available locally?

  13. Erika
    Erika says:

    I can see driving to Madison for violin. I can even see driving to Chicago for an awesome cello eacher. But don’t they have swimming and dance closer? Platteville? Dodgeville? Dubuque, even?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have put a lot of thought into this. First of all, there are no private swimming lessons in Platteville. The social skills lessons and violin lessons are hardest to find. So once we have those in Madison, everything being there is easiest.


    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Social skills lessons are the layman’s term for “pragmatics”. And when it comes to teaching pragmatics, a good teacher is more important than what type of kids are there.

      So we go to Madison to get to the pragmatics coach. My son’s IEP had pragmatics as a specific goal and the person administering the IEP in our rural school confessed to me that she did not even know what the word means.

      So at some point, it’s easier to drive to Madison than fight for coaching in the school.


  14. Mel
    Mel says:

    I have to admit that when I was growing up car time for me was reading time. In fact, when I turned 15 and was learning to drive my mom had to teach me how to get to the mall in town because I had no idea where anything was or how to get to it. I just had a relative idea of how far through a book I could read to get to certain places we would go. If the boys can use that time to read books, those that are interesting to them (have you checked out the Magic TreeHouse series? They are kids fiction but incorporate a ton of fact and they even have add on books to go along with the regular series. So if Magic TreeHouse number #5 is about dinosaurs there is an add on book ALL about dinosaurs which are called Fact Trackers Or they could be reading their books you are having them use for school. Maybe you could get them lapdesks to use so they don’t hurt their necks. Such as

    Also, if you are going to be spending that much time in the car, you might want to spend some time putting together a bag of snacks. Take an hour one day a week to cut up fresh peppers, carrot sticks, etc and put into separate baggies you can wash & reuse ( heres a list I found online for ideas. ) Maybe you can have the boys choose which baggies of snacks they want that day. I’d throw in some baggies of chips or pretzel sticks too. They will love the variety if you have them bagged ahead of time. Also, get them each two of their own waterbottles that you can easily store in a cooler so they stay cold. One waterbottle for the way to and one for the way home.

    If you need more ideas feel free to let me know. Hope that helps!

  15. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The photo really made an impression on me – more than the words. The kids are with you – and you can ask questions and answer their questions about what they’re reading while you drive – and yet they are somehow “alone”. You are driving so your main focus should be on the road for safety reasons. Your effectiveness at teaching is not as good as if you were reviewing their learning material with them by their side. They are learning and you can guide them but only to a certain extent. The important thing is to look for and understand how learning is taking place on the road – not whether it is good or bad.

  16. Lisa Velmer Nielsen
    Lisa Velmer Nielsen says:

    My fabulous friend Laurette Lynn does really smart interviews about home education. Everyone here should listen and learn. Recently she featured a woman, who among other things, is the author of a book called “Car Schooling.” Below is a link to the podcast with the author and a link to her book.



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