Tips for Traveling with Kids
My husband and I spent a month or two on the road every year, with our growing kids in tow, traveling to Indian Reservations as part of our work. I developed many ways of keeping the kids comfortable, healthy, and occupied. I kept magazines and informative pictures, "bits" of learning, in the pocket of my door, ready to pull out in moments of boredom. On hand for the stereo, we had funny music, sing-along tunes, and music to dance to. We called it seat-dancing, gesticulating wildly while in our seat belts, which was lots of fun! But my best technique was to put choices into the hands of my children.
To prepare our car for travel, I tied inexpensive shoe bags to the back of the drivers' and front passenger's seats. In the four rows of small storage cubbies, I would store crayons, playing cards, boxes of juice or soy milk, modeling clay, road maps, small books, rolled-up drawing paper, and any small toy. I purchased trays for each child. The best were bed-trays, with folding legs to support the tray above a child's lap (or car seat), and a lip around the edge to prevent crayons from rolling off. Some of them had storage areas on the side (for books or magazines). Trays were easily folded and stored away when they weren't being used to make clay sculptures, draw pictures, build with legos, or eat lunch. I found trays in a variety of materials (from metal to wicker), from cheap to pricey. I preferred ones that were lightweight and easy to wipe clean.
Getting enough exercise is always a challenge on a road trip, so we took advantage of every opportunity. Besides seat-dancing, the kids did jumping jacks or ran relay races whenever we stopped at a gas station to fuel up. They chased each other down hotel corridors in the early morning or late evening. When our kids were little enough to still be crawling, we even got down on all fours to chase them ourselves. In the hotel room we might put on the radio and dance instead of watching TV. We ate in the car as often as possible, using our stops to take a walk or do some stretches instead of sitting down to eat in a restaurant. If we did choose to stop for a meal, we tried to make it a picnic, at a local park or beach or by a lake., where the kids could run around and play. Sometimes taking a ten minute detour would get us to a beautiful spot instead of putting us at a roadside rest area. Then the frisbee or ball would come out and all too soon it would be time to get back into the car and put some miles on.
Each child was invited to trace our journey on their own map. Every state has welcome centers with free maps and guide books. They were given highlighter markers to keep track of our route or color in favorite places. They had scrapbooks where they could glue maps, or portions of maps, along with torn pages of guidebooks. Of course they added their own words and pictures, which is what turned those scrapbooks into diaries of our journeys, and books filled with precious family memories. An afternoon or evening rest at a hotel was an opportunity to work on scrapbooks, write poems and songs, arrange wildflowers we had picked by the road in an empty can or bottle with drawings taped on it for more decoration, and time to read up on the areas we were journeying through.
Every road trip is an opportunity to record your own geography, scrapbook your vacation, and diary your thoughts. Save paper souvenirs like admission ticket stubs, museum maps, hotel stationery, cafe menus, road maps, and the like, to illustrate your scrapbook. Include pressed flowers that you pick by the roadside and press flat in a travel guide (or whatever other books you keep in your car). Add drawings and photographs of the people you meet and the places you visit. Write down how you feel about them. Trace your route on a map in brightly colored markers or highlighters. Compute how many miles you have traveled and how long it took. Write a song about where you have been or about where you are going. Travel is a natural course in social studies and geography. In these ways you can add writing, reading, math, art, and music. Discussions of climate, terrain, and geological formations which have changed over time (canyon walls, mountains, bodies of water) add science to the experience.
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