Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Travel Bucket

We all know that traveling by car with kids can be frustrating.  Especially if there are siblings as they tend to entertain themselves by driving each-other nuts.  However, besides portable electronics that allow us to access movies and a variety of games there are also a few old-fashioned tricks that can help as well.

Two items I have found essential on especially-long road trips are my 12 pack cooler bag and my "travel bucket" 

The 12 pack cooler bag is just big enough to fit exactly 12 cans of soda which makes it a perfect place to throw a few juice boxes, some grapes, and a couple of sandwiches.  This results in fewer stops because having a few things packed means stops are only required for the bathroom, two meals, gas (hopefully the kind with which you refill, not the kind that needs relieving) and sleep.

The other essential item basically acts as a catch all for the entertainment.  Variety is the spice of life and even watching TV and playing video games gets boring when enough time as passed.  It is possible to do three and four days in the car (even with a three-year-old) with-out these niceties.  I've done it with my own kid.  The key was the "travel bucket".  Ours, is really more of a basket and is pictured below.  It can actually be belted into the center of a bench seat between two passengers to provide a little "block" between siblings.  Having a boundary line won't prevent all arguments but it certainly does its part in making it clear who is in whose space. 

I purchased this particular basket because ice cube trays for keeping already-made ice that I also found at the same store fit inside it quite nicely.  I simply wove ribbon through the holes in the basket to hold the ice bucket in place.  The travel bucket now has three divisions and can hold books and other "flat" objects vertically as well as store the bucket of small items and larger loose items where they can be easily found.

You would fill this basket differently depending on the age of the child/children with whom you are traveling, however here are some essential ideas that work quite nicely for most school-aged and preschool kids.

A couple of favorite books are a must.  For younger kids you can get the "on tape" versions and play the story on your car's stereo or have mp3's etc. with headphones.  Kids pick up on how to operate these devices quickly and easily so even for a 3 or 4 year old, a quick tutorial before the trip should suffice.  Of course, if it is the three-year-old that taught you how to make it work in the first place, this step is not needed.  Don't worry if they aren't turning the pages in time with the sound - So what?  They are having a good time and being entertained.  On this same note, I've recently discovered a great narrator, Jim Weiss, that I'm sure has been around forever but I was only recently introduced.  He has done wonderful elementary versions of many classics.  You can find him online and download single stories or entire albums of stories easily.  Here is a link to a catalouge of his collection.   Of course, there are no books to go with these, but its a nice way to change the pace occasionally and the way he tells his chosen tales is both calm and engaging.

I also make sure to include at least one search and find.  The one in the bucket pictured, is by Klutz and came with special "tools" for seeing.  I include a new search and find for each trip that takes more than one day.  This way it takes awhile for everything to be found.  Search and finds are made for different development levels so you can find beginner versions as well as adult-oriented search and find books for your teens.

The last book I include is a road atlas that has our route highlighted.  For Alice, when she was three I included pictures representing each stop in a way that made sense to her.  I taped the pictures in over where the city or town was where that stop would take place.  We always go over the route together in advance and this way she knows what to expect as well as how to use her atlas.  As she gets older, she needs less and less help with this, and during our next trip when she asks, "when will we get there" I will simply refer her to her atlas.  "Why don't you look at the map and see if you can guess, we just passed  through. . . "  When we take trips across state lines, I use stickies and label them with the days we will travel through that state.  If you'll be traveling at night at all, make sure to bring a book light for anyone in the back seat old enough to not simply fall asleep.

The next item/s are things I refer to as a "fidgets".  As do many other educators - particularly in the "special ed" departments.  This can be anything that helps to give a kid a place for his or her fidgety energy and every classroom should have a basket full of them.  You know those little stress men that when squeezed have their ears pop out?  He is a great example of a fidget.  Anything squeezable and/or with different textures.  At least one for each traveler (but all different and interchangeable) works well.  You can often find great fidgets in the dollar bins at many stores or you can make your own.  Put 1/2 cup of flour (or a variety of other substances) into a surgical glove or balloon, tie it off tightly and this becomes a wonderful fidget (Be safe this is only for kids who are NOT going to chew on the fidget.  You also wouldn't want them to tear it open and spill the flour all over your car).  You can get different textures for your fidget balloons by including other substances as well, lavender buds, corn starch, lentils and anything with rounded edges will all work.  If your passengers are trustworthy about putting things away when finished, a plastic egg with Silly Putty would also work for this purpose.  Another fidget idea with a different kind of fidgeting motion is a Slinky as long as the sound it makes isn't going to become one more item over which to argue and go crazy.

Art supplies and a sketch book for each passenger are also essential, just be careful about wax crayons sitting in a hot car while taking any sort of leisurely stop.  For travel, I prefer colored pencils.  There are a lot of great "doodle books" as well as coloring books out there.  Also, if you'll be traveling at night, we LOVE our Glodoodle which lights up (multiple color choices) and comes with stencils to get you started.

Bendaroos are a fabulous "toy" that can act as a fidget and as an art supply.  If you aren't familiar with them but have a crafty kid - or one that likes to bend and twist things a lot - get familiar.  They are the modern version of piper cleaners but cooler!  Its string with wax on it so kids can play with these things over and over again and never wind up with a prick from a broken central wire.  Kits come with cards that show you how to make "pictures" out of Bendaroos as well.  Plan ahead though because sometimes the strings need to be cut in half or thirds to complete the pics and although their hands won't be sticky, kids that are particularly sensitive about having clean feeling hands all the time will want to use a wipe when finished.  I pull out just enough to complete the pics on three or four cards, and two more strings of each color, put them in a snack zip-loc bag and include them in the bucket.  Kids of different ages will use these differently so they even grow with your kids a little - Again, please be safe!  Don't give them to anyone that is still in the "sucking and chewing" phase of life.

Be prepared to sing songs and play old fashioned games too.  I know 99 bottles of soda on the wall is repetitive, annoying and cheesy (but maybe that is why kids think it is so much fun).  Make it a game: who can sing all the words to "family favorite" a capella?  Or, find some obscure but fun new titles that can become family favorites for "yelling at the top of our lungs together"  - We like Niel Diamond's "I am the Lion" (seriously, it isn't what you'd likely expect from Mr. Diamond).  There are license plate bingo, find the alphabet, alphabet word games, and a host of other games that may bring back memories for the older members of the traveling group.  Slug Bug anyone?

Lastly, there are all kinds of travel-sized games available these days.  Boggle, Bop It, and Chess are all games I've seen in travel versions.  Mellisa and Doug offers a great flip the tile wooden board version of hang man (pictured in the travel bucket).  Mad Libs tablets can be a lot of fun for kids that can write - you can even be the one to come up with the words if there are only the two of you.  Tablets with grids for playing boxes and tic-tac-toe also work when you have two that can play along with each-other nicely.  One of our favorite road games is Clever Castle because it is something that can be done independently and I only allow Alice to play it as a "rainy day" activity which keeps it special and the idea of playing it is new each time. 

Sprinkle in one short-but-sweet sight seeing stop that allows some leg stretching for each day of travel and you're set.  During one trip we stopped at the fort in Sacramento and toured it in about an hour and a half.  It was at the mid-way point for our drive for the day and worked perfectly to work out the "car kinks" and get us feeling refreshed.  Yes, it meant we didn't make the additional 100 miles are so for the day, but it made for a much more satisfying and peaceful journey and we worked a fun, but educational activity and lunch into the stop.  Your "stretch stops" can be shorter and simpler.  Plan for a 30 minute stop at a park where the youngest ones can swing and slide, or you can simply toss a ball around for a bit. 

This is how we have managed major car trips for the last three years and we haven't had a video player with which to watch movies OR video games at all along the way.

complaining still present at times but significantly minimized!

Here are some links to some companies with travel products I've mentioned.  - Go to think fun - Clever Castle and other problem solving games Clever games and toys made from wood - look for car tag - scavenger hunt and others - these are decks of cards or little booklets with some of those "old fashioned" car games explained and then taken up a notch.  Just makes it easier and less need for "thinking on your feet" is required.

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