Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Making it work for the kids

When you look at our itinerary, it may seem far too educational, or full of too many activities. In fact, each day is planned around kid-friendly stops which do, in fact, include a fair number of interpretive centers and museums of varying descriptions. I'm easily entertained, so kid destinations work for me as well. More importantly, however, is the peace these stops bring to the journey. When the kids know that the next stop will hold something of particular interest to them, they're more willing to help pack the travel vehicle and climb back in for the ride. The stop also works to keep the peace along the way; argue in the back seat or otherwise cause problems for your fellow travelers and we may just skip that destination. And there's nothing that says we must stop at each of these destinations; they're reminders for the driver as we toodle along toward our next camping and fishing spot.

Part of the purpose of posting to public blog is to provide a place to post answers to questions I'm asked repeatedly. A popular question involves how we organize our car to maximize every traveler's sanity. Do we have a DVD player? What about snacks, toys and other items?

First, all of our camping gear fits behind the middle row of seats. We remove the back bench before we leave home, and pack very lightly. The ice chest is near the back door for easy access at lunchtime or immediately upon arriving at camp. The coats and pillows are on top for easy access. One suitcase carries clothes for three people at this point. (Easier to do when they're little people.) All of this is held to the floor by a cargo net in case of emergency stops or worse.

Still, it's not like we don't have plenty in the car to fly around those stops. Between the girls' seats we keep one blanket for each of them and one backpack each which they fill with the travel items of their choices (favored toys, activities or books). There's also a travel toy chest (a soft-sided box) that resides permanently in the car for carrying everyday items like the travel desk, play center toy, and a small selection of other larger toys. Each girls' seat includes a side pocket filled with pencils, colored pencils and crayons. The pocket in the seatback in front of them (both of which I can reach easily from the driver's seat) holds empty sketchpads, activity books and coloring books.

Don't undervalue pure staring time. Our Little Passengers, now 5 and 8, often are happy to stare out the window for miles, sometimes pointing out things along the way, other times humming or enjoying their own deep thoughts. Still, it helps to be prepared for when the "staries" wear off.

Since DH doesn't always travel with us on these longer trips, I often have a vacant passenger's seat. That's handy in a small minivan carrying two small children. I call it my staging area. Here I place books, toys and activities for the girls which I hand back when they get antsy AND NOT BEFORE! Before long trips, I sock away some of their favorite car-friendly toys (anything that doesn't spill and stain, basically) a couple of months before our trips, then reintroduce them on the ride. In past trips, I've also included new surprises in the pile which I release late in the trip when the other items have done their work. Introducing the newest last works fantastically because, while the other toys entertain for a little while, a new item holds their attention longer EVEN when they've about had it with the car.

And of course we have a snack back between the driver's seat and passenger's seat for easy access at any point in our travels. The bag is full of healthy snacks including nuts, dried fruits, healthy snack bars, fruit leather. Sometimes it also has cookies and crackers. Each passenger has her own pocket for a water bottle, which we refresh throughout the trip.

The passenger floor is my area, for things like maps, guides, my camera and, when we take it, our geocaching backpack. There's a slot in the driver's door that provides me a spot for a journal, pens, secret snack, current map, and whathaveyou. The passenger's door pocket holds essentials like sunscreen, bug repellent, and a ziplock bag where I collect the extra plastic spoons, sports, forks and napkins along the way. (I can't begin to tell you how many times THAT bag has paid off when we forget utensils or spill after the last napkin provided is gone.)

We do have a roof rack on which I have carried wood countless miles. We can carry our bikes and skis there, too. But otherwise, I try to keep it spare up there in favor of better gas mileage and property security.

OH! And you have to bring your tunes! If you have an iPod (the girls acquired a Shuffle at a fundraising event last year) load it up not only with the driver's favorite hits, but plenty of music for the kids. Books and other stories can also be downloaded from the net for your listening pleasure along the way. (Our car was INCREDIBLY peaceful for hours on our last trip as the entire family, DH included, enjoyed the reading of Robinson Crusoe.) I've noticed that sometimes, while they enjoy my music, the girls get a bit fidgety after awhile. At that point, if I switch to their music, they settle right down again.

You may have noticed no mention of the DVD player. In fact, we don't have one, nor have we considered it. The girls, who average about an hour of tube time every two weeks or so, are used to finding other sources of entertainment, many of which travel well such as knitting, sewing, drawing and, lately, writing poetry and stories. The DVD player idea has crossed my mind, but if they can be otherwise self entertained while enjoy the world as it passes by, we'll stick with real life.

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