Two weeks ago, we hopefully exposed you to some new ideas for fun family bonding. This week, we talk about some ways to occupy little ones while traveling (while in the air, on the road, and upon arrival at a hotel).
There are a wealth of resources on this subject (especially personal blogs), I’m sure. Our own Angela from RWAV wrote on car travel kits about a year ago. Instead of repeating what is already out there, I’ll fill you in on what has worked for us so far (with 4 1/2 y.o. and almost 2 y.o.).
Similar to Angela’s travel kits, we ALWAYS travel with an activity box between the 2 carseats. In the bottom of the box, we put a towel for surprise messes or to use as a blanket. The box usually has some plastic toy figures, periodical style books like Highlights or Hi-Five (“I Spy” books are also GREAT), a toy train, and a few other small toys. For trips, though, we freshen up the supply with toys they aren’t used to seeing in the car. Maybe it is Mr. Potato Head (which they love...and the parts work great with sticking into playdough, too!), some new crayons and coloring pad, a small magna-doodle, a lovey (stuffed animal friend). You could also take a metal baking sheet with for magnet fun and the tray can also double as a “desk” for writing (try construction paper and chalk!) Having their own snacks is always a smile-maker, too. :)
Don't forget "electronic entertainment" in the way of a video iPod or the travel DVD players that many cars (not ours) come equipped with. And there is always the good standby of listening to music or audio books together. It's a good idea to set a limit on any of these alternatives for many reasons, but I think one reason is that children should spend time viewing their surroundings while driving (in the way of I spy games or just appreciating a different environment). When listening to music, begin introducing your children to genres that you as an adult can deal with on a long trip ;-). Classical music has become a family favorite, so much so that my oldest often asks to listen to it now. Next week, I plan to expose you to a wonderful family friendly music resource that our family recently came across - "Seeds Family Worship," a great compilation of Scriptures set to music that is also "adult friendly." ;-)
For this last recent flight we all took together, I didn’t want to overwhelm anyone (us or passengers) with a huge bag of “stuff”. I was already a little overwhelmed by one blog I read sometime ago that said a child needs something new every 5 minutes to preoccupy their time! PLEASE! Are you kidding me? That would have required a suitcase larger than a carry on!!! Well, obviously, I did not go that route. For big brother, it was a couple of thin books (picture finders, coloring books, and a Hooked on Phonics book), crayons, some plastic figures, a Leapster with 4 games (which surprisingly I don’t recall him ever playing with!), a small metal slinky, various character playing cards, and silly putty. Though he did look at a few of these items, he played with the silly putty for the longest period of time (seriously, I think he played with it for about an hour at one time...it was his first experience with the stuff). The rest of the time he held his “Teddy,” observed his surroundings, enjoyed the complimentary snacks, and (since we were in coach and the movies weren’t free) watched the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie trailer about 20 times! (Oh dear!)
Little brother had a smaller bag with a couple of books, small plastic figures, small metal slinky and his favorite item - a small plastic container filled with smooth rocks, shells, marbles, and colored wooden chips. He would go through the container, observing each item, rubbing it in his chubby little hands. Most of the time, however, he either napped, snacked, or would move from my lap to his daddy’s. But at least he was pretty calm. That’s all I ask.
I try to remember that when we are staying in a hotel or vacation home the boys won’t have toys available to them. I usually pack something that I know occupies them, such as playdough, a few blocks, and maybe a couple of DVDs. But, you’d be surprised at how easily a child can make ANYTHING into a toy or fun and games. Little brother loved hiding behind the sliding glass door’s curtains. The boys also liked playing with whatever they came across in the hotel, jumping on the bed (hey, it’s not our bed!), and whatever toys were already in their travel bag. Plus, if you are on a trip, chances are you already have activities planned to look forward to. Getting outside in a different environment, exploring the hotel, riding an elevator, getting ice in the ice bucket, eating on the balcony - all that alone can be stimulation and excitement for most kids.
Don’t forget about Letterboxing or Geocaching as a family activity on trips. Also, websites like familyfun.com often have great activities with simple items you can find on your trips (which may save the day if the weather isn’t accommodating to your wishes).
Finally, I’ve learned that although a “schedule” can be a good thing (especially if there are certain places/activities that you don’t want to miss), consider keeping a loose schedule. Be flexible...and maybe don’t plan to give your child a run-down of every little thing you plan to do. Sometimes, if you or they are worn out, it can be too much pressure to do it all or it can lead to huge let downs if it doesn’t all work out as you planned. Plus, “unplanned” chill time can be a great time for everyone.
Hope your spring and summer travels are happy ones!