Martin and Sylvia are taking a plane trip this week, and it got me wondering how they might entertain themselves on a long day of travel. While the actual flight may not be a tremendously long one, there may be hours of waiting, layovers, delays, missed connections, and/or traffic to contend with. Keeping children calm and engaged through the complicated process of modern travel can be especially challenging when there are limitations on what you can bring in the way of size and number of bags, and if you don’t have devices, don’t believe in using them, or generally limit your child’s screen time, then you need a few tricks up your sleeve. We love to listen to music and Sparkle Stories, of course, but hands and bodies crave movement and purpose, so portable crafts and projects are a must in our travel kit.
We used to over-pack in this regard, lugging a backpack full of things that ultimately just took up way too much space. Unless your child is old enough to stay really focused on specific projects like, say, knitting a hat or a pair of socks for hours on end, then the key is variety and novelty.
This may be a no-brainer, but my son loves to draw. Every year he receives a new hardcover sketchbook in his stocking and spends several months filling every page. Moleskine or Moleskine-style journals are fantastic for travel because they can beat around in bags and backpacks for an entire year and never fall apart. For traveling, though, there’s a special sketchbook. It only comes out for a trip. Newness and the idea of something being special-just-for-travel makes for fresh artistic inspiration. Throw in a special set of pens, pencils, or crayons that are just for trips, and a familiar activity becomes exciting again for a while. Also, by the time the special journal is filled, you’ll have a wonderful keepsake full of travel art. If you are checking baggage, be sure to put a pair of safety scissors and a glue stick so that, when you reach your destination, things like tickets or other interesting paper mementos can be affixed to the journal’s pages, too!
On the chance that you’ll have a long wait somewhere along the way, you can make the journal more interesting but making an activity/game sheet and pasting it into the front cover. Tailor this to your child, but some things to include may be:
*draw a map of our route
*draw or write about the person or place you are most excited to see on this trip
*draw or write about the friends or things you’ll miss while you’re away
*count up how many things you see that are green and then draw your favorite
*play Heads, Bodies, and Legs with a sibling or parent (one person draws the head, the next person draws the body, etc.)
*Tag Team Mandala drawing (one person starts in the center, the next person does the next ring of the circle, and so on).
*make your own Connect the Dots
*please do share some more ideas!
As for the other things we pack, I’ve gone smaller and smaller and finally feel like we can get a nice variety of activities into a pretty small bag. For example, we used to try to bring a fiber project like knitting or crochet, or stringing beads. The problem is that the bulk to interest ratio was too high. We didn’t spend much time with that kind of thing and it took up a ton of space, needles could get broken easily, and we might just end up bringing home a tangled mess instead of a half-finished scarf. So, we’ve gone micro with the fiber and now it’s no big deal if it only comes out for a few minutes at a time. Embroidery was the answer. Tiny skeins of wool and tiny plastic hoops mean an entire project only takes up the same space as a wallet and potentially provides a great deal of activity time. We like to make a drawing and then use split stitch to follow the drawn lines. If you have a nice, open-weave fabric, you can bring the more blunt-tipped embroidery needles, too.
Fiber, in general, is easily compressed, so it’s the first place my brain goes for projects. It’s also great if one material can be used for several different activities. Embroidery floss definitely fits that bill. Besides the actual embroidery, we use it for making friendship bracelets with the knotting method and also with the Braiding Wheel. The Braiding Wheel is a fantastically portable device for making a sturdy, colorful 16-strand cord that can be used for bracelets, keychains, and the like. I showed Oliver how to use it and he was hooked instantly! It takes a while to make a length of cord and can be set aside and returned to over and over again. The template can easily be made at home, and this is another project that will only take up about the size of a wallet in your activity kit. There is a great tutorial on making and using a Braiding Wheel on Instructables here: http://www.instructables.com/
I also like to pack a few colors of modeling beeswax. We like to use beeswax because it doesn’t dry up and crumble, it takes some time to warm it up and work with it, and the scent is relaxing. Other things that may find their way into the bag:
*string and book of string games
*a few new-to-us books on the small side
*a travel map and travel guide for our destination (for art inspiration and discussion)
*one of our smallest stuffed friends and a play silk (because a little piece of fabric can turn a chair in an airport waiting area into a cave for a stuffed bear, and other such adventures)
We can pretty much pack an entertaining day and snacks into a small child-sized backpack instead of the adult-sized pack we used to cram full to bursting.
How do you get through a long day(s) of travel with the kids?
Shannon Herrick is a mixed media artist and farmer, navigating the wilderness of modern life from a Little House in the Young Woods of southern Vermont. She spins yarn and tales, makes snow angels and reads fortunes in cups of hot cocoa. Musings and otherness can be found at www.thespunmonkey.com, and her turf on Etsy is here: www.thespunmonkey.etsy.com