Traveling soon? Entertain your kids sans tech…time in transit is great for family time and learning development…
What is the hurt in a few games on mommy’s iPad to pass the time? They will be stuck in a seat for six hours after all, right?
I have thought the same thing.
As an early childhood specialist who travels often with my kids, however, I have found that traveling without tech is intensely more rewarding for kids, and me too.
It is also better for their development. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.”
A one-off plane trip may not seem like “excessive media use,” yet it is also a valuable opportunity for learning and family time.
I am going to sound like an educator here, but bear with me: As parents we set standards.
Traveling together as a family is a time to unplug, connect to the surrounding environment and culture and, more importantly, to connect to ourselves and each other.
And the new spaces and stimuli of traveling provide a rich learning environment for children of all ages. We can use time in transit for teachable moments. And your children will be more prepared and trained to independently observe, interact and reflect.
I travel regularly with my two little ones ones on 8+ hour flights. We have survived 30+ hour journeys with a few tricks up my sleeve. See below for how we do it.
Keeping the tablet at home requires a little bit more preparation on your part. But not much. Read on for a game plan…
And maybe you have a few of your own tips to share? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.
1. Explore the airport
When in the airport for a long layover, we slowly make our way to the new gate and comment on the sites along the way. The walking and talking does us all good. I don’t necessarily go into each shop, because my kids will get bored, but we do window shop. We talk about safety–I slip into the conversation what to do, where to go and who to ask just in case as we walk around — and the things we notice (food courts, restrooms, screens for the arrivals and departures, etc). Observation and interaction are the key elements here.
2. Board last=bored last
Airlines often call parents with young children to board first. If it’s a domestic flight, I do board first so that I can secure space for carry on luggage. If it’s an overseas flight, we take our time. With three seats reserved, I know I’ll have plenty of room for the carry on–I pack one small backpack for myself and each kids gets a very light weight backpack of their own– then I tend to board last or at least nearly last.
By boarding later, the kids get those last wiggles out before take-off. Otherwise we have to practice the “be still” tricks before the journey has ever begun
3. Bring new books to read
The most important thing I pack in my carry-on is new books, preferably light paperbacks. I choose stories children have not read before and will want to have read to them time and time again. Tip: It helps to vary the selection with lift-the-flap books and other interactive stories.
Don’t bring all of the books out at once. Take a few out at a time ever 1-2 hours. That way, you will always have something new to share.
4. Stretch their little legs!
Whenever possible, take a stroll around the cabin. After the meal has been served, we move, as long as turbulence of the drink cart don’t prevent our walk.
5. Strategize the flight time to maximize sleep
Schedule long flights around bedtime to maximize sleep on plane. For shorter flights, daytime may be better to preserve little one’s nighttime night.
And what if your little one does not want to sleep?…
6. Start a conversation
Sometimes, your kids may be just too excited to sleep or not able to get comfortable.
Use this time to communicate. Start a conversation. You can talk about:
- Everything you see
- The food
- The clouds
- The shape of the earth
- The countries and cultures you fly over during your trip
- Where we came from, where we’re going… and everything else.
7. Tell a story where you child has a starring role
My kids love the “Once a upon a time…” series where the kids are the lead characters.The fairytale approach serves to both prepare them for the upcoming excitement and make it all feel surreal and well, fairytale-like!
I tell them about family and friends we are going to see and some of the adventures we will have on our holiday.
8. Break out the new toys
Just like a new app, a new toy will work wonders. I pull these out after mealtime. My eight year old son delights in a new lego set. Time will fly–bad pun intended ;)– as he intensely follows the instructions putting together a new plane. I bring a small cookie tin to double as a workspace and storage. To save space, you could also use the tray table and a resealable bag.
If your child is a writer, bring a new notebook, or a new set of pens, and markers. For toddlers, bring a pile of white paper and a clipboard for drawing.
You could bring a journal, or get them started on a scrapbook filled with artifacts like their boarding pass, drawings, and stories from the plane.
TIP: When choosing a new toy to bring, draw on what you know your children will enjoy and what you don’t mind leaving behind if it gets lost.
Other ideas for toys include:
- Sticker activity books
- Story Cubes, a great solo or family fun game (You can record your child’s stories to listen to or watch later to remember the trip!)
- Coloring books
- Play dough
- A small craft–You can make something for the people you will visit, or those you left behind.
Do you have a few of your own tips to share? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments…
When traveling, Regina writes her US phone number in pen on the inside of her kids’ arms, just in case.
Traveling with an infant? Determine what to pack!
See Regina’s other posts on traveling in Rabat with kids.