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For most of us traveling any long distances (or even short) with kids can be a daunting thought. Images of screaming kids in the car or crying kids on a plane spring to mind and can put a lot of people off actually traveling with their children. If you are one of the brave ones though who have dared to go onto the open skies or road with children you’ll know that one of the easiest ways to distract them from the ever painful call of ‘are we there yet?’ is Tablets, Smart Phones, or Mini Movie Players. Sitting the kids in front of the screen or handing the phone to let them play a game and distract them seems like a relief and an easy way to get some peace and quiet to make your own journey more comfortable. But is taking the easy way and using screens as a way to distract and entertain while traveling really the best option in the long term for you and your children?

The Realities of Screen Time

For many parents the inventions of tablet devises, or portable DVD players that play movies, TV shows and games have seemed to be heaven sent and have often allowed parents to take a little more time to themselves and some much longed for peace and quiet. When traveling long distances either by car or plane they can often seem like the perfect option to keep kids occupied and busy while letting the parents relax and enjoy their flight. We know that there have been studies conducted about the amount of screen time that is suitable for children and that having them glued to devices isn’t obviously the best thing, but when we travel it seems like a different set of rules and often traveling with children can seem more like a ‘let’s just get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible’ scenario where the normal rules go out the window.

So while some of us may even hold out a little while and point out the sheep on the side of the road or try to play spotto it’s usually not long before kids get restless and our first instinct is to control the situation and hand over what ever screen you have before things escalate.

While for some this method may work well, giving in to handing over devices just to ‘keep the peace’ can actually be doing more damage than you realise.

Children need to be bored

Yes! That’s right, it’s actually GOOD for children to have time to just sit and be bored. By giving children time out from constant stimulation that screens present you are giving their minds much needed breathing space. Being bored is when children slip into a different level of thinking and it’s often when both in kids and adults their most creative ideas form. Think about, sitting and staring out the car window may seem like the worst way to pass time, and if you told a child to do that for a few hours I’m sure they would not last five minutes without screaming out for some kind of device to keep away the boredom. But if you are able to hold off from this then in that space of boredom imagination has time to come out and play.

Now I’m not suggesting you take your kids on a five hour road trip and tell them to stare out of the window the whole time, lets face it, that would quickly turn to a living hell! But what I am suggesting is working out a way to reset our kids and getting them to a place where then are able to spend even ten to twenty minutes at a time just in the wonder of their own minds and growing their special imaginations.

So What Are The Options?

Now doing a massive overhaul all at once can be daunting enough to not even want to start. So Depending on how dependent your kids already are on screens, and of course your own tolerance levels, you can work out a plan for your next trip that suits you.

Audio Books

Audio Books can also be a great option for car rides as they can get the whole family involved. They can be a great teaching tool for parents. By stopping the tape at some pivotal point and discussing the story line or why a character may be doing what they are doing you can further engage kids minds. It’s also a great way for the whole family to bond, talking about their favourite parts or characters, what they wish may have happened and having kids think of alternative endings. The possibility’s with stories are endless and allows kids to really use their imaginations and the great things about Audio Books is you wont get car sick reading them!

Activities

In a car or even on a plane or long journey train, it’s great to get some fun activities going with the kids where they can use their hands and imaginations at once. Some of my favourites are Pipe cleaners, an inexpensive craft item that is easily bendable and not messing like Plasticine makes for a great activity. Have competitions or have everyone take turns to make a suggestion of what to make so that there can be more interaction between (non driving) parents and siblings. You could even offer small prizes or treats to winners. An example could be that one child picks ‘birds’ then everyone else tries to shape birds out of the pipe cleaners they are given and the person with the best bird could win a prize for that round. Offering prizes can be a great way of getting kids really engaged in the task.

Twenty question cards or other quiz cards can also be a great way to pass some time. Depending on the ages of the children they could take it in turns to be the quiz master or if they are not at reading age then a parent can always call out the questions. Again there is opportunities for prizes and great laughs and fun. Try adding in some quizzes about the area you are going or the activities you will be doing once you arrive at your destination. This way the kids will be learning some great new facts and also building up their excitement for the adventure to come.

Colouring in books are always a winner. It allows kids to have some quiet time while using their fine motor skills and getting some of that anxious energy out by being able to create. At this time it’s really nice to be able to put on some soothing music to promote stillness if they are a bit buoyed up by the excitement of other activities. Have kids choose their own colouring books prior to departure so they are happy with their choices and there is no ‘but I wanted THAT one!

Movies

If it was a longer journey and you have exhausted your other options and the kids just need to take time to chill, then putting on a film can be a great option at some point. Studies have shown that full-length films can actually be beneficial for a child’s development, as they have to use their attention span to focus on the story line and understand what is happening. There are also a lot of kid’s films out there that have great morals and stories, also think about where you are going and it can be fun to find a film that will tell a story relating to the trip you are actually on. For example, say you are on a six-hour journey to the snow, choose a film like Snow Dogs to get the kids excited about their upcoming adventure.

It’s important that between each activity the children still have their time however to just stare out the window and have a bit of peace and quiet themselves. Who knows what they might see and what may inspire them to create new games or think up amazing stories or promote question asking which allows for learning and growing.

Making trips about the journey not just the destination

By making your trips more interactive you are helping your kids and yourself to actually enjoy the journey and look upon the travel time as part of the fun of traveling. Interacting with your kids on these journeys also creates further bonding and open up learning and growing opportunities for both of you. If you put in the bit of extra effort, the kids will end up thanking you for it and will be left with beautiful memories of the journey not just the holiday and eventually it will become part of the excitement that comes with going away. By pre planning activities for the trip you’re helping your children’s minds grow and expand and also creating a trip that you end up enjoying even more.