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The Christmas holidays bring the opportunity to visit family or friends, sometimes at the end of a long journey. Whether we travel by air, train or car, a trip with children is a challenge all the same. What to do with those hours?
To some extent, the challenge of entertaining children while cooped up can apply to our family preparedness as well. If a family is evacuated – uprooted by a flood, hurricane, wildfire, or other calamity that puts them out of their home for a period of time – there will be some long hours to amuse children, as well as yourself.
So a trip over the river and through the woods is a good time to practice basic concepts that are proven successful while traveling with children. Complete success, however, requires that time is taken to plan ahead, at least a little.
Be sure to pack snacks or meals, and drinks. Begin your trip with every family member having their own brown bag filled with food. Commercial snack packs are very expensive, so have the kids make their own. Lay out bread, crackers, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, carrot sticks, celery, pickles, raisins, nuts, lunch meats, salami, olives, grapes, bananas – whatever is healthy and handy from my food storage. Every child makes their own lunch to take along. Before placing their food in their bags decorate the bag with their name and add a juice box or water bottle. Remember napkins, and always have some wet wipes in the car.
Armed with their brown bag, they are ready to snack without constantly asking mom and dad if it’s time to eat. Goodies like cookies and candy are for a parent to dole out as he or she sees fit. Be sure you also have a few plastic bags for the trash. Just before leaving, have everyone get their own water bottle, and grab a “sippy cup” for the wee ones who are too small to handle a water container. When the time comes, mom can then fill it with the contents of a juice box.
Before leaving home, children can each choose a favorite toy to take along. This should be size-appropriate – especially if traveling by air.
Remember comfort items like pillows, favorite blankets, story books, teddy bears, sunglasses and an easily accessible change of clothes just in case someone has an accident.
If you are traveling in an area where snow, fog and/or cold weather and cold winds are possible, be sure you also have warm blankets in the car just in case you get stuck. If you need to put chains on your tires, you may be stopped for a while due to winter road conditions, subject to traffic controls.
For those prone to motion sickness, take along Dramamine and basic medications for stomach upset and headaches. These are often available at gas stations, but very expensive when bought at a travel stop or airport.
If you have young children, make clean up easier at the end of the trip by placing a towel or sheet on the seats. When you reach your destination or stop for the night, carefully fold and shake it out. Return it to the seat, and clean-up is a breeze.
Now comes the case for bribes. Or shall we call them “incentives”? Reward good behavior. Bring along a roll or two of quarters. Determine ahead of time when you will hand out the coins, and use them liberally (we don’t mean that politically).
You can give your kids a quarter for each hour they don’t argue. At the end of the trip they then will have their own money for snacks and souvenirs. You may have to increase that to more than a quarter, but that’s up to you.
Wrapped surprises are always popular. You’ll be amazed at the extra interest a little wrapping paper can lend to your travel strategies. Wrap a new toy or snack. Each time you stop, give the kids a gift to unwrap when you get back in the car. Don’t spend lots of money on this. Wrap gifts with pages from the Sunday comics section of the newspaper. Wrapped items may include one or two pieces of bite-size candy per person, a box of cookies, or a new toy car or doll from a budget store – or even pages to color or crossword puzzles or Mad Libs to solve (see below).
Keeping children occupied while traveling is an absolute necessity to preserving family harmony and sanity. We know from journals it was something pioneer mothers had to deal with, even out on the Great Plains with the coyotes and rattlesnakes as added attractions.
If you have a child who gets motion sick, it is important to keep their mind occupied and focused, preferably looking out the windows. Many games can also be used during those long flights or long layovers when flying to your holiday destination. The following simple games and ideas will help you all to thrive and survive on any trip.
20 Things to do to Pass the Time When Traveling With Children
- Play I Spy. Someone says “I spy with my little eye something ______” (add an adjective: blue, round… or even “shiny”). Each family member takes a turn guessing, and the one who guesses correctly gets to be the next spy.
- 20 Questions. Someone thinks about a person or object and everyone takes turns asking a Yes or No question in search of clues. This continues for 20 questions or until someone guesses correctly. Anyone may guess as soon as they think they have the answer. Example of questions: Is it living, is it blue, will it fit in my hand? Remember, only Yes or No questions.
- Make your own Crossword Puzzle. Ask questions about your destination in the puzzle or about your family – use your imagination. You could even use this as a review of school work that might need to be made up if the kids will miss a day or two while on vacation. Crossword puzzles can be made for free at several web sites – just do a search for crossword puzzles.
- Make your own Dot to Dot. Take a simple picture such as the shape of a state. Cover with a sheet of copy paper and tape to a window. Make dots at various points around the shape, creating the proper angles and curves. Remove the paper with the dots and number some, use lower case letters for others – and upper case letters for the rest according to the separate shapes, and order in which they should be connected. You can also use pictures of a pet or even of your child. You can also print images off the Internet from various sites with resources for classrooms, home school, and even FHE ideas.
- Hold a Spelling Bee. Save your child’s spelling tests. Take them along on your trip and test each child. Give extra points to children who can spell words that are more advanced than their school lists. Bring a dictionary and have children test mom and dad.
- Small Cookie Sheets as Magnet Boards. These are great to use with magnetic letters and color forms. You can also create other distractions by gluing a small piece of magnetic strip to the back of pictures, flannel cut outs and more. The trays are also great for coloring as the crayons and paper will stay in place because of the lip around the cookie sheet. But when you go to a budget store to buy these, take a small magnet to be sure the metal responds to magnets.
- Crayons. Coloring books or coloring pages, along with crayons and colored pencils are always a hit. Copies of free coloring pages are available for Disney characters, the latest animated hit movie, animals, trucks and any interest your child may have on family-oriented internet sites. If you must travel on Sunday, make copies of temples, prophets and scripture heroes. The children can color these as you read or discuss scripture stories.
- Tell a story. The first person starts a story. For example: There once was a monster that lived in New York. He was tall and green and had a blue________. The next person finishes the sentence and then adds to the story and so on until someone decides to end the tale.
- Books or Stories on Audio. Get an audio book on CD and listen together through your car’s entertainment system, or MP3 player.
- Make a Scrapbook. Take along a “book”. This can be as simple as several pieces of construction paper stapled together, or a binder with note book paper. This can also be as serious as a purchased journal. Each time you stop, pick up a travel brochure, local map, postcard, or other small item to include in your scrapbook. When you get back in the car take a few minutes to record some information about the stop or things you have seen since the previous stop. If you take a photo, describe it in the scrapbook and then when you print the photos later you will know the location where they were taken.
- Play the License Plate Game. Instead of just shouting out a state when you see the plate, take along a map of the United States and color in the state. This will help children to practice both their spelling and geography.
- Play “Who Am I?” Have each person in the car choose a famous person or someone you all know as a Mystery Person. Have them give you hints as to the person’s identity. The player who guesses correctly is the winner, and chooses the next Mystery Person. This is a great opportunity to teach children more about their ancestors and other family members. It would also be a great way for them to get to know more about mom and dad.
- Put in a CD and sing along. You can also bring along copies of the lyrics to songs you would like them to learn, such as old children’s classics and religious songs.
- Keep a Travel Log. Read travel brochures and historical information about the places on your journey, as well as your destination.
- Appoint a Navigator. Make an older child feel important by appointing them Navigator. He or she can calculate mileage from home to each way point on your route, as well as to your destination. Give them a map, and teach them how to read it and make measurements. Granted, there is GPS in some cars, but of what use is an electronic map if children don’t learn to read and use the real thing? Navigating is a way to use math skills, and an opportunity to teach children to read signs, mileage markers, and match them with the towns and features on a map. They can also calculate your gas mileage after each fuel stop.
- Classic Radio Shows. Listen to old time radio shows on CD. They will be new to your children and there are many varieties for all tastes – comedies, mysteries, adventure, etc. Our kids learned to appreciate episodes of The Shadow, Jack Benny, and Sherlock Holmes. Download them for free online.
- Remember Mad Libs? These are so funny and a great way to teach the parts of speech. We take these along on bus trips with the high school band, and they are great fun. We have written our own with titles like “Our Amazing Band Director”
- Bear Hunt. The first person says, “I’m going on a bear hunt and I’m taking a ______.” The next person repeats the phrase and the item and adds an item of their own. Each person then continues the pattern adding their own item. Tweek this game a little and go on a pioneer hunt and load your handcart.
- Be creative. Learn a craft or skill such as knitting or card making. Have supplies on hand. For knitting you could have needles and yarn or a knitting loom. For card you can have card stock precut and use stickers, stamps and markers to make cards to send to friends or thank you notes for holiday gifts.
- Play the alphabet game. Choose a topic such as names or animals or places. Then, take turns beginning with A. If you are doing girls names, A…Alice, B…Bethany, C…Carolyn and so forth. You can play several rounds with a topic and the rule that you can’t repeat a name.
You may notice that I did not mention DVDs. While they are great to pass the time, they will not make great memories and they do not build family unity in the same way as interacting with one another. Take a little time during your trip to teach your children the things that mean most to you, through games and activities. Teach them a little about family or church history. Teach them a gospel principle through a story. The games mentioned will help keep these teaching moments fun for all.
If you are the grandparent and your family is traveling to see you, why not have some of these things ready to send home with your family? The kids will love discovering what you have sent for them to do and their parents will be forever grateful – or if not forever, then at least until they arrive home!
So this year, wend your way to Grandma’s House while making great memories of a fun family trip – but take a moment now to prepare.