We've been doing lots of driving about this summer. I asked to stay busy and I have received my request! We most recently returned from a few days at camp over the Fourth of July and then another trip to the Maine Highlands on Sunday. Travelling by car with children can be exhausting emotionally. The close proximity for long stretches of time (long can be 20 minutes) seems to bring out impatience and boredom which leads to crankiness or annoying others to have at least something to do. I love when we travel by Yukon and the oldest two are spread apart in the very back- extra elbow room for them and a small, but helpful, sound barrier between us and them. But often we take the car and are full to capacity. I have discovered a lifesaver, however, for our car trips.
Audio books and audio drama.
We have been a fan of The Story of the World audio series read by Jim Weiss ever since we bought our first set, about two years ago. I love that we get a bit of history into us when we're out running errands and such. I highly recommend this series, even for younger children. You could use it like us- not as a "curriculum", per se, but as educational entertainment and a supplement to what your children are learning at home or in school.
Speaking of Jim Weiss, we also love any and all of his work that he has recorded under his company name, Greathall Productions. We add to our collection of these storytelling CDs frequently and listen to them over and over again. I especially appreciate that suggestions are given for various age groups, in case you don't know where to start, or what the target audience is. The kids' favorite so far is Animal Tales, especially The Tortoise and the Hare.
The most recent and wonderful discovery I've made in the audio world are Maestro Classics. These CDs were on display at the recent homeschool convention I went to and I only had to listen for a minute to know they were worth buying. Each CD has original music composed by Stephen Simon and performed by the London Philharmonic. The music is composed to tell such stories as Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Casey at the Bat, Peter and the Wolf, and (my favorite so far) The Tortoise and the Hare. The CDs also include history, information about composing and other musical terms, and there is always a sing-a-long. I simply, simply love these and I am so impressed with the quality. The kids ask for them as soon as we get in the car... and it makes for a much more joyous journey. This is a wonderful way to introduce music to young children (I'm not sure older kids would appreciate them quite as much). The narration is also superb.
Lamplighter Publishing has also recorded several audio dramas which are phenomenal, especially for older children and their parents. They can be more intense, but have a wealth of values and entertainment in them. We enjoyed The Robber's Cave and it especially seems to appeal to boys, which is refreshing in this market.
One final specific audio we are loving is James Herriot's Treasury for Children, read by Jim Dale. I must say that Dale rivals Jim Weiss in a big way. Herriot's stories in and of themselves are so charming, but Dale brings them (and the very British country characters) to a fullness of life. This is another that the kids are begging for in the car.
Of course you don't need to buy any of these to have great entertainment in your car. Your local library is probably well stocked with audio books on CD at no cost at all. We've enjoyed The Magic Treehouse series, Roald Dahl stories, and the like from our own library. The benefits of listening to audio books, classical music, and audio drama are huge- they spark your children's creativity, encourage their attention span, and are just plain educational. Not to mention, they seriously cut down on boredom and it's undesirable effects during those long car rides.