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10 Back-to-School Carpool Hacks All Parents Need to Save Their Sanity

For parents, back to school means spending way too much time shuttling kids all over creation. These hacks will help you do the kiddie carpool with ease!

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Keep snacks and drinks on hand

Check for any food allergies with your carpool families first, of course. But the hungry horrors can make a routine trip across town in traffic to the next dance lesson simply awful. For some kids, having a snack in the car is the only nutrition they’ll get until dinner, so keeping healthy snacks and drinks available is crucial. Make sure to keep the food and liquids in their containers so they don’t spill all over your car. Snack in the Box is a cool snack container featuring two separate chambers that each hold six ounces of your favorite dry snack; it will keep food from being crushed or mushed. And when kids are thirsty, its handy companion, Drink in the Box, is the healthy, reusable option to replace sugary, disposable juice boxes. Best yet there’s NO spilling.

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Fun car games

Having happily occupied kids makes carpooling bearable. See if you can get the kids to ditch the standard technology and try out some fun car games like these classic choices. Kids love novelty—test each other with the best jokes you can find. Cait Shelton from Massachusetts has two kids, but during the school year she regularly finds herself hauling around two to four more little ones. She says, “Though sometimes it makes me crazy, it can be the kids’ favorite part of the day. Our must-have is a joke book and someone to read from it (or pass it around and they take turns). Hearing the younger kids (ages 3-5) learn how to tell and execute a joke is just priceless.” Another must have are travel games with magnetic pieces so nothing gets lost. The Purple Cow has a line of 25 classic magnetic board games each in a thin travel tin with magnetic pieces. Kids can learn classics like checkers and hangman while sitting in traffic.

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Supplies for the siblings

Don’t forget the younger siblings who are along for the ride too. You’ll have no doubt made sure you’re stopping sibling rivalries before they start with these tips. But all bets are off if the baby spits up or poops in the middle of the morning carpool. You won’t have to stress if you keep a stash of diapers, wipes, a bag for the mess, and hand sanitizer on hand. You’ll be spick and span—at least until you can properly wash your hands. It’s also important to have baby-calming options on hand, since driving with a screaming baby in a car full of kids is both stressful and dangerous. The Baby Shusher is a cute, dome shaped device that can be placed in baby’s car seat and uses a recorded human voice making rhythmic ‘shushes’ for up to 30 minutes at a time. This helps to interrupt your baby’s crying session and gets baby to calm and maybe even sleep in the car.

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Get a car organizer

To make life easier, everything needs to have its place and that’s especially true in the car. For vital car organizing tips, check out these quick tricks that stop the mess for good. Just remember that it’s not safe to have stuff rolling around loose—it could become a dangerous projectile if you have to slam on your brakes or, heaven forbid, you’re in an accident. An organized car also means the kids will have enough room for themselves AND all their gear. Finally, you’ll know exactly where everything is—no feeling around under the seat for the water bottle or the lip balm. The Lassig Backseat Car Organizer is perfect because it attaches to the back of most vehicle seats, has tons of pockets to stash stuff including crayons, toys and tissues plus it’s an adorable pattern so the kids facing it have something fun to look at instead of the back of your head!

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Check your first-aid kit

It’s unavoidable with little ones: Someone will need first aid at some point. Make sure you’re up-to-date on the latest first-aid procedures. And keep a designated kit in the car for these mishaps will allow you to deal with the situation quickly and efficiently. ZIPIT Colorz Box Storage Case are perfect for the car and for storing first aid supplies, cleaning essentials and more. They come in awesome colors and patterns and can be thrown in the washing machine on the gentle cycle if necessary.

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Fill up, and bring flashlights

Simple advanced planning can make a world of difference: Check out 10 everyday emergencies you should be prepared to manage. You can also look to AAA for loads of tips and information on safe traveling. Make sure your car is up to date on maintenance, and that you don’t let your gas tank dip below a quarter-full. With the shorter days of winter, having a few flashlights stashed in the car will help getting kids in and out safely, and come in handy if you have a flat tire. Make sure you have a cellphone cord with a car charger so you’ll always be powered up in case of an emergency.

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Keep an extra booster seat on hand

There’s always an extra kid who needs a ride. Some parents are tempted to put the child into the car with just a seat belt—but that isn’t safe. Most kids will need carseats up until middle school, depending on their height and weight. For more information, check out the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. A great option is the mifold® the Grab-and-Go Booster: Instead of boosting the child up to meet the seat belt, it pulls the belt down into the perfect position for the child. Amazingly, the device folds to fit in your glove box when you don’t need it, and you know it must be safe because at least one police department uses it to transport kids in cruisers in emergencies. Retailing for $45, the device is intended for children between four and 12 years old who weigh between 40 and 100 pounds. For more car seat safety information, check out the number-one mistake parents make with car seats in winter.

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Don’t forget the driver

Being a parent can be stressful and tiring. You can learn a lot—and get empathy— from other parents of young children. Driving other people’s children safely is a big responsibility, which is why some carpooling moms or dads will nap in their car between carpools if there’s time. Keep a few things in the car that are just for you, like a favorite book, a blanket, or great tunes. Francine Rothkopf, mom of three from Massachusetts says, “My minivan is my portable living room. I have electrical plugs and adapters galore. I always have my 36 ounce cup of ice water on hand (except when it’s coffee). My Nook Reader lives in my purse (because sometimes it’s not the minivan, it’s the waiting room). Large bottle of ibuprofen and a container of gum. Nail file conveniently attached to visor. Lip therapy in cup holder. And the cell phone holder in the vent, so I can be hands free but use Waze to get everywhere. I even know where to pull up if I need to catch a Wi-Fi connection on my laptop!”

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A great playlist

Having some fun and educational tunes at the ready will add spice to any carpool. You can make your own or use an existing playlist created for specific ages—like those you can find on Spotify. Don’t forget that music offers some pretty incredible health benefits. Adam and Danielle Busby, parents of six and stars of the hit TLC show OutDaughtered (they have the only all-girl set of quintuplets!) have found a playlist that they love. They share, “Sometimes the best way to get the girls to listen to what we have to say is to sing it! When we drive, do crafts, or play games, we always have upbeat music on in the background. Learning Resources has a great Learning Rocks Spotify playlist full of educational tunes that inspire a whole lot of learning.” The Busby’s favorite playlist features tunes from The Jackson 5, the Ramones, and songs including “I’m Just a Bill,” making it fun for adults and kids alike.

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Keep an emergency contact list

This is often overlooked but crucially important and a huge time saver in case something does happen and you need to reach a parent. (Make sure you have an in-case-of-emergency file and plan for you and your family, by the way.) Allstate Insurance Company has some sound advice: “Let’s face it, everyone is human and emergencies happen. Once you’ve established a (carpool) schedule, distribute it to each participating family along with an emergency contact list including names of parents, children, addresses and phone numbers. You may want to consider having a back-up driver just in case.” Make sure every parent in your carpool has this list programmed into their phone and printed and stored in the glove box or somewhere easily accessible within the car. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you do you’ll be grateful.

Laura Richards
Laura Richards is a Boston-based journalist with a passion for storytelling, reporting, content marketing, and branding. She has written for Reader's Digest, The New York Times, The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe Magazine, Glamour, Martha Stewart Living, Woman's Day, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, House Beautiful, and more. Her areas of specialty include health and wellness, lifestyle, parenting, and business and entrepreneurship.