Entertaining Children While Traveling: Fun and Games for Your Family
Hitting the open road is an annual family adventure in the American culture. Whether you're traveling to see the sights or visiting family out-of-town, keeping children entertained during long trips is key to whether the trip is the best or worst ever. Long hours riding in the car or nights in a strange hotel room can be a challenge for even the best-organized parents.
Older children can usually keep themselves occupied with coloring books, hand-held games, and music players. Younger children (5 and under) have shorter attention spans and can be a real challenge when away from home and a familiar routine. As the mother of 2 boys, one still under the age of 5, here are some ideas that I've used over the years that were successful.
First, resist the idea that you need to pack a bag full of toys to take along with you. Pack one favorite toy or blankie that your child loves, then fill a "surprise bag" with the following:
BALLOONS- they are cheap, portable, and fun. There are a variety of games you can play, even in a hotel room. Play hide the balloon, or just bat it around. Toddlers will be content to just carry one around. Just be sure that young children do not play with uninflated balloons, and that if any balloons pop, all pieces are picked up quickly because that can present a choking hazard.
BEAN BAGS- easy to make, even if you don't sew. For a quick, non-sew bean bag, use a colored sock, fill half-way with dried beans, and tie to close. Make 2-3 bags, so you can use them for games, or make a set for each child. Drop or toss the bags into the hotel's wastecan or ice bucket. Make a target game by placing travel brochures on the floor and try to hit each one with a bean bag. Play catch or try your hand at juggling.
PUPPETS- this is a great backseat activity. Make your own with socks (before you leave home), and make sure the kids name their creations. They can can carry on a conversation using the puppets or make up a story. A parent can also join in, adding to the story or asking the puppets questions.
PAPER, SCISSORS, GLUE STICKS, CRAYONS- for children 3 and up. Paper is a great medium; you can draw on it , cut it, and fold it. Try your hand at origami, even if all you know how to make is the classic "Cootie catcher", your child will be amazed. Collect travel brouchures, cut out the pictures, and glue them to plain paper. You can make a family scrapbook of your trip, a fantasy picture book, or simple puzzles. Just be sure to supervise any cutting and gluing activities so that hotel bedspreads and furniture aren't damaged.
FLASHLIGHT- swipe it from your car's glovebox. Turn out all the hotel room's lights for a game of flashlight tag; you're tagged when the flashlight shines on you. Use it to make hand shadows on the wall or funny/scary faces.
Need more activities? Utilize what the hotel room provides.
Make a sheet fort by placing extra blankets over tables and chairs.
Even if the kids don't need a bath, (HA!) use the bathtub for water play. Use the plastic drinking cups for scooping water into the ice bucket, use the tray as a boat. Poke holes into disposable cups to create dribble and shower cups. Sink the "boat" with filled cups of water, i.e. how many full cups can the floating tray hold before it starts to sink?
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Most of all, be flexible, be creative. Both the kids and the parents will have a great time the next time you travel away from home.