This post is sponsored by Esurance. All opinions are mine.
My kids aren’t homeschooled – they go to Montessori school – but that doesn’t mean I don’t teach them lessons at home, too!
Whenever an opportunity for learning naturally occurs, I jump on it! I want my kids to learn life lessons as they go, instead of feeling like they have to catch up once they’ve “left the nest.”
I knew too many people in college who were just beginning to figure out how to do their own laundry, cook a simple meal, and budget for basic expenses.
So, we have conversations around tons of topics, in depth. Nutrition, politics, money, organizing… and one of the things that comes up almost every day is cars!
My husband and I own our cars (no payment), and our kids have learned so many valuable lessons from our family cars.
5 Lessons My Kids Learn From Our Family Car
Lesson 1 – It’s never too early to learn.
My kids are super excited about being able to drive when they’re teens, so they ask me lost of questions about how the car works, traffic rules, and so on. Curiosity and love of learning is something I encourage, so I’m happy to answer any questions they have, and look up the answers to ones I don’t know!
The kids want to know which side of the road to drive on, what the dotted or solid lines in the center of the road mean, which traffic lights are signaling which drivers, why someone beeped their horn, and what every road sign says.
They want to see the engine, learn about what different parts are under the hood of the car, find our spare tire (it’s actually UNDER our car and cranks down – very exciting!), and push ALL of the buttons inside the car (safely, and supervised).
My husband and I also teach the kids about the importance of having car insurance. Having insurance is just as important as knowing the rules of the road or how to use all of the controls of the vehicle. It’s not optional for any responsible and legal driver!
And when the kids are playing on their own? They get a chance to practice everything they’ve learned. They create elaborate cities (with sometimes confusing traffic patterns, but hey… they’re little), make road signs out of construction paper, and do their best to teach their toy cars the right way to drive.
Of course, since they’re toys, sometimes they smash into each other on purpose, but isn’t that expected (and fun)?
Lesson2 – Take care of the things you own.
Maintaining our cars well is important, so we do our best. We stay on top of routine maintenance and do additional checks before taking any long road trip. Periodically, we check the tire pressure and tread wear, and the kids are there with us for all of it.
My kids help maintain the cars too! They wash our family van regularly, in the driveway during warmer weather, or in the drive-through car wash when it’s cold. Every time they ride in the car, they clean out their belongings and any trash when they exit.
These lessons and habits will serve them well when they’re older and have their own vehicles! Hopefully they won’t be driving rusty garbage cans due to lack of care.
Of course, not all care is routine. Sometimes, unexpected events happen.
We’ll drive over something sharp (like the handmade iron nail we ran over at an Amish farm in Maryland – oops!) and pop a perfectly good tire. Or maybe we’ll be the unfortunate victims of a pointy pebble on the road, and have our gas tank punctured (this happened while we lived in Lemoore). And other times, maybe we’ll be rear-ended, like last summer, and have to replace the car seats and the bumper (and get lots of chiropractic care). Or, here in the desert, rabbits will decide our wiring looks delicious, and eat it… causing over $4,000 in damage.
We talk about savings with our kids all of the time – for the different things that can come up unexpectedly. But when it comes to cars, we also teach the kids how important it is to have insurance, to protect ourselves from not being able to recover from these surprises.
Lesson 3 – Live beneath your means. Save.
I have never had a car payment. I bought my first car, a 1996 Jeep Cherokee, with $1000 in cash, and since then I’ve saved and “upgraded” when I could afford to. Even when I moved up to a little bit newer car (before we had Anneliese, so that we would feel a bit safer with her car seat installation), my husband continued to drive the Jeep for years and years, until we had saved up enough for him to buy a truck, which he got a really great deal on.
Sure, I’d love to have a brand new car with all of the fancy features available. But that isn’t an option right now, because our family chooses to make the most responsible decisions we can, and going into debt for a vehicle doesn’t make sense to us. And the kids know that we’re putting away some money every single month, in a savings account specifically earmarked for “the next car,” whatever and whenever that happens to be.
We have conversations with our kids often about having a plan and saving up. About how saving money now means that we have more options in the future. And we give them a little bit of money to practice with.
Lesson 4 – Never compromise on safety.
Recently, I drove Anneliese and one other child from her class to a pumpkin patch for a school field trip. The other child who was riding with us complained, “I don’t like this harness. It’s tight.” and wiggled around as I clipped her into her seat.
I was so proud when Anneliese told her, “It needs to be tight to be safe. We have to be safe in the car.”
Her friend didn’t complain again, and when the field trip was over, she hopped into the seat to go back to school, and let me secure her without a fuss.
Since my kids were toddlers, I have always told them about the importance of being properly restrained. At this point, Henry (15 months) even tries to help me buckle his car seat’s chest clip! It’s so adorable. He knows it’s never negotiable, and that it’s important!
And when it’s very cold and my kids want to wear their bigger coats, they know they can use them as blankets in the car, then put them on once they’re out of the seat. (It’s not safe to wear puffy coats in a car seat.)
Sometimes they need a reminder about safe driving practices though. Joey sits right behind me, and if he drops something on the floor, he’ll ask me to hand it to him. I always remind him that when I’m driving, I can’t reach around and do things like that because it wouldn’t be safe; I need to focus on the road, other drivers, and pedestrians.
And if they ask me to change the music to something on my phone, I always tell them they have to wait until I can stop somewhere. A distracted driver is not a safe driver!
While it may not be convenient to pull into a parking lot to text with my husband about dinner plans, I remind myself that my kids are always watching and learning from me, and that they’ll build their teenage-driver car safety (or un-safety) behaviors and habits based on what I’m doing now. If I don’t want them texting in an intersection in 10 years, I shouldn’t do it myself now.
Lesson 5 – Together, we can go anywhere.
While traveling by air takes a lot of planning and it’s always on someone else’s timeline, traveling in the car we own is so much more flexible! And together, we can go anywhere.
The big kids have made not one, but TWO, cross-country moves. First from California to Maryland, then back to California again. We’ve driven to visit the beach in Florida for a month (my husband had some training there), to visit an aunt and uncle and new baby cousin in Pennsylvania. We’ve gone to countless museums, aquariums, zoos, parks, and wildlife refuges. AND Legoland.
I know travel can be tricky, but I think the comfort of our familiar car and the fact that we’re all together makes it much smoother for the kids. They have no problem going to sleep in hotels or relatives’ houses, and they’re always excited for the next adventure when it’s time to load back up into the car!
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