My BFF Robyn is a MOPS mom and has a blog Coolest Mommy's Coolest Thoughts with all kinds of tips on child raising and money saving techniques. I was fortunate enough to have her bless me with this two-part article on traveling with kids. It's the perfect topic for Thanksgiving and Christmas trips, which are just around the corner.
Thanksgiving is next week and Christmas is next month. This means many of you will be traveling with small children. Through the years, we've found a few tips and tricks to help us travel. Please note, we DO have a video player in the van, but we DO NOT use it constantly when driving. Sean & I believe that children need to learn to entertain themselves some and they need to learn to handle boredom because all of life will not entertain you. So using the "TV is a privilege, not a guarantee" attitude, here's a few tips.
Here is the first part of the article I wrote regarding travel. More coming next week:
Do the words “Family Vacation” strike terror into your heart? With the holidays approaching and many people traveling, I wanted to give you some simple ideas to help make traveling with children easier.
For car travel, get some inexpensive toys/games from garage sales or dollar stores that you use only during travel. If you put them away for non-travel times, these toys will become an exciting thing for your children.
Don’t forget the snacks. My kids know that Pringles and Twizzlers are always packed for our car trips. Not healthy, but a family memory and something to pass the time. Besides, how else can they learn about using Twizzlers as a straw in your 7Up? Yum, yum.
The best travel tip I’ve ever received is to stop a little early for lunch at a fast food with a playplace. Let the kids run around and play while you eat. The rule is, “When you want to stop and eat, we leave.” When the kids are done playing, the adults have eaten a quiet meal. One adult takes kids to the bathroom, one orders kid meals to go for them and we load up. The kids eat and play with their new toy for about a half hour. Then they are full and tired and will remain quiet or sleep for a while. We will never again try to force them to eat in the restaurant when they could be burning off all kinds of energy.
No playplace available? Grab food and find a park (or rest stop) and force them to run. Make the kids run races and do exercise competitions (jumping jacks, best high jump) while you eat. Then feed them when you get back on the road.
Some other fun things are window clings for them to put on the windows (carseats, backs of seats, etc.) and silly games like find the alphabet in signs you pass or sing silly songs. Get books on tape/CD from the library to entertain. We often check out the book as well so our reader can read along with the tape.
A few other random travel tips:
One of our former MOPS moms told us to get a jellyroll pan for each child. It looks like a cookie sheet but has the sides all around it. Since it’s metal, magnets stick to it. For boys who love cars or trains, you can attach contact paper that you ‘create’ into roads or tracks. Then they can drive their cars/trains on it and they won’t roll off because of the raised edges.
Take it a step farther and pick up those inexpensive sticker books with scenes that you attach the stickers onto. (Usually found at airports, Cracker Barrel restaurants, etc. for about $1-1.50 per book.) If you attach the stickers to any magnet—might I recommend the freebies you get all over town—and cut out around the sticker, you can have a baggie of each sticker/magnet book. The kids can place the scene on their tray and put the magnetic stickers on the page. Pick up and put away when done.
These trays are also great for coloring (even at home when not traveling). Colors don’t roll off and if you have an enthusiastic scribbler, the color will only be on the tray.
It’s not always possible to do, but if you can plan extra time into your travel, take a little break to stop along the way at those various green sign sightseeing places. While a Pony Express Station might not be the most fascinating thing you’ll ever see, it’s fun to talk about history while you’re standing in the place. Stopping helps break up the driving a little and does create a memory that lasts a lifetime. A thirty-minute stop can make the next several hours of driving go much smoother.
For driving to the same place all the time (such as Grandma’s house), create a special map for your child. For example, when we go to our Grandma’s house, our map (hand-drawn by me) has: our house, windmills, the water tower that looks like a balloon, Exotic Animal Farm, a certain funny city name (because the kids like the name of the town and say it over and over in a sing-song voice), ice cream cone (we stop for a treat), buffalo (we pass some buffalo signs), toll booth (we take the toll road on the way), a windmill we pass, Grandma’s house. If you prefer to go high-tech, you can take photos when you go and create a pictorial map for the next trip.
I encourage you to move away from using only DVD’s to entertain kids in cars. We have a movie player in our van, but our kids are well aware of the rules. We will watch one video and then the machine goes off and screen goes up for a minimum of one hour. My kids have been forced to learn goofy songs, play silly license plate games and they have learned that sometimes you have to be bored and happy at the same time. They have learned to read in a moving car. They have invented all kinds of their own games and ways to entertain themselves.
Turning off all screens, including gaming devices and cell phones, has also taught us to communicate with our children on a deeper level. When you’re trapped for 9+ hours together in a vehicle, you can turn that into some amazing teaching time and sharing time without the kids realizing it. We work Bible stories into the day or share scriptures with the kids. It's especially meaningful when we pass incredible scenery and teach them about all the beauty in God’s creation. We know where the Llama farm is and where every windmill can be found on our route.
Part two--air travel--coming next week.
Thank you, Robyn!