I have been thinking since the last post of all the additional ways we keep the kids engaged on road trips. Here are a few more ideas:
- Collect as You Go – Bring an extra backpack to let children collect ticket stubs, receipts, brochures, maps and souvenirs as you go. This can be a treasure trove of supplies for scrapbooking or other art projects after the trip.
- Pick up Brochures – I know I mentioned brochures, but they deserve their own bullet point. This is especially true if you stop at a hotel lobby or rest stop that has a wall of brochures. Encourage your children to take a copy of all that look appealing. These can provide a few hours of quiet reading and conversation. They might also spark a detour to a local museum or bakery (Mr. Sticky’s in Williamsport PA on our last trip – amazing!).
- Have a Navigator – I know most cars have an electronic navigator, but there are good life skills in teaching your older child to read and follow a map and calculate mileage, distances and times for travel.
- Bring a Child-Friendly Digital Camera – A camera or video camera that you allow your children to use can do wonders for long car trips. Let them take 100s of pictures then print a few of their favorites to document. We have a few creative videos my then bored nine-year-old took from the back seat of the mini-van that are priceless.
I have a tendency to over schedule. As we enter the Holiday Season, this year more than ever, I want to slow down, appreciate the small things and make time for family. Here are a few things I am going to keep in mind, not just to keep sanity, but hopefully to add enjoyment.
- Help children plan their gift giving – I sat with the girls this weekend and helped them to build a list of what giftcards they wanted to get for which teachers, which friends they wanted to buy for and who they feel we need to add to our card list.
- Start shopping early and space out errands – We took a trip to the mall on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. to start on their lists and look for holiday ideas for a few relatives. We are far enough out that it was low key and fun.
- Focus on experience and time more than spending and things – We are focused on giving experiences like concert and play tickets or classes through the community center. Claire (youngest daughter) is giving Troy (husband) a gift card for rock climbing they can use together.
- Focus on your family’s true meaning of the holidays – Whatever your beliefs, focus there. In our house, there is focus on faith, family and traditions. Build holiday activites around what is really important to you.
- Build in kid-fun – It’s around this time every year, we spend a few hours on a Saturday morning making Gingerbread houses decorated with all the leftover Halloween candy. Build pillow forts, and stock up on hot cocoa.
- Remember downtime in the schedule – Most children benefit from having at least some downtime (relaxed playtime) everyday. As much as there are errands to run and places to be, build in time to chill and recharge.
- Take time to be thankful – Have conversations often about what we are thankful for, what makes us happy, how we like to share our downtime and what we love about one another. Especially when things are stressful, it’s good to focus on and share the positives; it’s good to be specific.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children need an hour of downtime a day. Downtime is truly unstructured, go play time. It can be a child with friends or siblings, but it doesn’t have to be, the idea is it’s up to them. This is child lead play when the individual child is in charge of their own agenda. It can truly be unproductive time, it can even be a half hour spent finding shapes in passing clouds or watching the rain drops on a window. If your children aren’t up to an hour a day, set this as a goal. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Turn off the TVs and computers – Screentime is anti-downtime. Children who are passively viewing are still being otherwise entertained. Set family limits for screentime and respect them moving forward.
- It is okay if they are bored – When children whine and complain about being bored, it often means they haven’t had enough practice with downtime. They need more practice at entertaining themselves.
- Avoid too many structured activities – Children who are constantly on the go to lessons, classes, clubs and playgroups may not have enough downtime. This is especially true for those having to additionally tag along to their siblings’ activities. It’s good practice to look at the overall family schedule, put downtime on the calendar if you have to.
- Start small – If this is a new concept to your family, start with 10 to 15 minute stretches, then gradually increase the time.
Downtime provides a great opportunity for children to develop their imagination and creativity. It is a chance to build their own stories and games. Downtime also challenges different social skills than what are practiced in more structured activities.