Learning doesn’t happen only during “school hours.” Some of the best learning happens while traveling.
Our family enjoys traveling—both related to work and purely pleasure vacations. We have all learned a lot while traveling and created wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. Here’s some of what we have learned and our 25 favorite car activities.
Real life learning while traveling
How to Pack a Suitcase
I turn over packing their suitcases as soon as possible. This builds independence and responsibility. If they forget something, there is no one else to blame. I created a packing check-list for each child to follow as she packs her suitcase.
In the beginning, I read the list out loud as she gathers the items. This way I can make sure she gets everything packed (and in a timely manner), but she is still responsible for packing. As she gets older, I begin turning the responsibility over by first having her pack then reading over the list with her. Eventually, I allow her to pack all on her own for weekend visits to family. It won’t be long before I can turn over the whole responsibility for long trips also.
- Clothes (list how many outfits are needed)
- Bras and underwear (list how many are needed)
- Socks (list how many are needed)
- Shoes, including one pair of tennis shoes
- Toiletries bag (including deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, hair accessories, glasses case)
- mp3 player
- Special friends, blankets, or pillows
- Do you need?
- Flip flops or water shoes
- Swimsuit and goggles
- Coat or jacket
Learning to Travel Well
Traveling can be a challenge for anyone. You do not have the comforts of your home—bed, food, toys, routine. The schedule is often unpredictable and there is bound to be some event that requires great flexibility.
We have always lived in a different town than our family, so even as infants our girls traveled four to five hours to visit family at least quarterly. The year we lived in Madison, WI we drove 12 hours with two and five-year-olds to visit family several times.
It requires planning and training, but kids can learn to ride in a car or plane and still be pleasant.
Getting Along in Small Spaces
Whether you are traveling in a car or on a plane, your child will have much less room to move about. She will learn to keep her belongings tidy and to stay mostly in her space. When the girls were four and seven we took a three-week trip to Maine pulling our travel trailer. This was actually one of our best travel memories. Everyone got along and kept their toys and clothes picked up. (It helped that we didn’t have much stuff with us so clean up was much easier and quicker.)
When we saw squabbles beginning we were able to stop them quickly before they turned into full-blown arguments because we were right there.
When your children’s movement will be restricted such as traveling in a car or plane or staying in a hotel, it is important to plan time to run and jump to get the energy out. When possible, find a park or rest stop with a playground to have a picnic lunch. Find a little bit of grass or a rooftop garden at the hotel to play tag or hopscotch. We usually keep some balls and jump ropes in the car for just such a time as this. Even ten minutes of playing can make the next two hours of driving or the evening in the hotel much more enjoyable.
Family Time is Important
Taking a trip as a family sends an important message to your children. They are important. Family is important. Spending time together is important. Make the most of this time by taking a break from social media and email if possible and really focus on spending quality time together.
Appreciate Other Cultures
Even if you only travel within the United States, you will experience different cultures. The East Coast feels very different from the West Coast and both feel very different from the Midwest. It is good to experience different cultures, try new foods, and learn new phrases. (Did you know a water fountain is called a bubbler in Wisconsin?)
Experiencing different cultures helps your child understand different view points. It also gives her a new frame of reference. Now when we read about the lobsters of Maine, it is real and they can relate better to the story.
Field Trips in New Places
Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Phoenix Botanical Garden, Mystic, CT Aquarium, Florida Keys Bird Sanctuary. These are just some of the fun field trips we have taken on our travels. Not all were planned before beginning the trip. Regardless of where you travel, there are cool places to visit.
Before visiting, search the Internet for children’s museums, science museums, and botanical gardens both at your destination and along the route. We have had some very pleasant surprises for field trips. You can also include journaling as a way to remember what you saw.
Traveling is a wonderful time to learn life skills such as how to:
- tip a server
- ride a city bus
- read a map
- eat healthy when eating out a lot
25 Games and Activities for Traveling
Even when you recognize that valuable learning is taking place on vacation, you still have to survive the actual trip. Here is a list of our favorite games and activities for traveling.
- Note pad and colored pencils or crayons
- Dot-to-Dot books
- Books—Here are our favorite books.
- mp3 players preloaded with music and audio books
- Audio books—Here are our favorite audio books.
- Mad Libs—There are so many options for all age levels. It’s always fun to see how crazy the story can get.
- Handicrafts such as braiding, crochet, knitting with circular needles, friendship bracelets, and finger knitting
- String Figures—Mom’s Minivan has lots of great video tutorials to help your kids learn how to make the string figures
- 20 questions—One player chooses a person, a place, or a thing but doesn’t tell anyone else. Other players take turns asking questions about the chosen item such as: Is it smaller than a shoe box? Do I own one? Have I been there? Is it red? When a player thinks s/he knows the answer s/he may make a guess.
- Math games such as guess my number or math problems—Yes, my kids do ask to play these games.
- I remember when—This can be a wonderful time to remember special, silly, or significant events in your family’s history. Kids love hearing about themselves when they were little and especially about the silly things you did as a kid.
- Battleship—This is a wonderful paper version from Miller Pads and Paper. No little pieces to lose! (Pick it up at your next homeschool convention.)
- Lace-a-Bear from Lauri Toys
- Doll House Lace-a-Scene from Lauri Toys
- Magnetic paper dolls—These come in many varieties but most come in a tin case like this set or you can make your own DIY magnetic paper dolls.
- Pipe Cleaners—Lots of creative fun happens with pipe cleaners. This kit with instruction book was helpful to get the creative juices flowing.
- Rhyme Out—This is a fun game that really makes you think. Even the seven-year-old can play.
- Spot It
- Lab Mice
- Magnetic Hangman
- Magnetic Tic-Tac-Toe
- Magnetic Checkers
- You Gotta Be Kidding—The Crazy Game of “Would You Rather”
- Travel Blurt
- Movies—We do allow them to watch movies while traveling, but we limit their screen time. We try to alternate a couple of hours of screen time with a couple hours of a low-tech option from the list above.
Other Posts About Traveling with Kids
Here are some other great sites with tips and resources for traveling with kids.
- Cornerstone Confessions shares five very practical traveling tips and the ultimate guide to traveling with preschoolers (although many of the tips are helpful for just adults traveling too!).
- Mom’s Minivan has string figure video instructions, game printables, and lots of resources.
- The Sunny Patch has directions for how to make your own DIY travel binder.
- True Aim Education shares how to travel on a plane with kids.
- Simply Helping Him reminds us to have realistic expectations.
- Your Modern Family shares 25 tips for traveling with kids that will help you as you prepare for your next trip.
- Living Unabridged has nine tips for traveling with kids. This is great practical advice.
- Homeschooling in Real Life reminds us that it is definitely worth the time and money invested to take young kids on a trip.
- Harrington Harmonies shares their top ten list of toys to take on a long trip or move.
- Homeschooling Down Under shares advice for homeschooling while traveling.
- Education Possible shares some tips on learning while in Florida.
- Adventures in Mommydom shares advice on how to incorporate journaling into your vacation.
You can also watch the iHomeschool Network hangout about learning while on vacation.
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