We’ve come a long way since the infamous Clark W. Griswold took his beloved brood on the cross-country trek-of-all-treks that helped make both his character and the notion of the American Summer Vacation somehow iconic. “Look kids: Big Ben!” he’d say, as they drove in circles through central London, his way of making sure his kids were never bored and always stimulated.
But we can learn a lot from Sparky’s volition—the desire to make sure our kids are engaged and learning while on the road.
With that in mind, here are 10 tips on how to keep your kids entertained and stimulated as you get to where you need to go—be it on sweaty road trips, long flights, train rides and even walks.
1. Imagination Station
Many people would likely agree that travel is one of the most inspiring activities. So why not add even more fodder to the imagination machine? Finding shapes in clouds is an all-time favorite for Miami-based mom, Sandra Levy, and her two kids (ages 7 and 9), who like to play this cloud-shape-hunting game every time they travel, be it by plane, train or automobile. “It really gets their imagination going and connects them more deeply with the natural environment,” Levy says.
2. Sing Along
“We also really love to sing,” says Levy, who claims that her kids seldom get bored because they easily and happily default to song when there is nothing else to do. Singing is great for road trips, pumping the collective family mojo and inevitably putting a smile on everyone’s face.
3. Travel Scrabble
Word to your mother! And to everyone else in your family, too, because Travel Scrabble can be fun for everyone alike. “My kids love challenging one another with big words and high scores, and when we play I’m always amazed at the extent of their vocabularies,” says Levy. Scrabble is especially great for long train rides where you can spread out on a table.
4. Hi-Tech: DSI and iTouch
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em is what we’ll say about electronics and hi-tech toys, which we are often quick to restrict or regulate, but in the case of long trips can sometimes be our saving grace.
5. Captain Capital
When you find yourself out in the world with your family, it is always nice to engage one another in conversations about the world—geography, history, and politics. If you’re on an American road trip, for example, play Name the State Capital with your kids, rewarding points for correct answers and giving some kind of grand prize when you arrive at your destination.
Life on the road can make a person reflective—what with all that gazing out the window and looking out onto the great panoramas. For that reason it’s nice to use family vacations as an opportunity to go deep with your kids and actually talk about things that matter. Tell them each to think of three things they would do to make the world a better place.
7. The Never-a-Dull-Moment Bag (or Bag-of-Inexpensive-Toys)
Brooklyn mom Kristen Lynch literally has a bag of tricks. “Fill a backpack with all kinds of inexpensive toys, such as crayons and coloring books, small puzzles, dolls, toy cars, and so on. This variety keeps a sense of newness flowing,” which in turn keeps kids engaged for longer periods of time.
8. Road Readers
Many of us tend to get dizzy when we read while in motion, but if you and/or your kids are not particularly sensitive to that, having books on hand when you travel can be incredibly practical.
9. The Everyone Playlist
Sometimes the best thing about being on the road is getting to hear the music playing as the car cruises along. To avoid fights and keep everyone present and excited, create a family playlist that caters to everyone’s tastes.
And last but not least, we invite you to do the one thing we seldom have time, energy or even the inclination to do in our highly technological world—TALK. Use this extra special quality time with your family to communicate, to speak to another, to share thoughts and feelings, and to make the absolute best of one another’s company.