Road tripping with young children is no small feat. In addition to your clothes and other needed items, there’s the stroller, the pillows, the toys and books (we all want happy riders), the movies and music, the cooler full of snacks and drinks, charge cords for all our mobile devices, oh and of course, the kids!
This last summer, when we set out on our exciting east coast road trip (Liberty Bell in PA, Washington Crossing the Delaware in NJ, Natural History Museum in NYC, etc), I had my itinerary all planned out. Each day was accounted for with either driving or sight seeing, and we were all excited! I was sure I had thought of everything.
However, as we journeyed, I was happy to learn I had not thought of it all! I knew our trip would be educational, but I had no idea how many academic “fringe benefits” there’d be!
The 50 States: For starters, I had ordered the “Wee Sing America” CD (Pamela Conn Beall) from our library. In my americanly romantic mind, I thought it would be fun to listen to these patriotic songs as we traversed through the historical, revolutionary roads. Additionally, as a fun gift for the kids, I purchased Melissa and Doug’s License Plate Game. The wonderfully thought out game added so much to our hours spent on the road. For each car or truck we passed during our 3000 mile trip, I had both my 7 and 5 year old reading the plates and exclaiming which state they had just seen. And as it turned out (which was totally unplanned) there was a “states song” on the CD which my son and daughter fell in love with. Because we were talking so much about the states with the license plate game, they naturally wanted to put these state names to song. So within a week, they had learned ALL the 50 states, in alphabetical order, with great joy! That was not part of my educational syllabus – but hey – I’ll take it!
Elevator Etiquette: I don’t know about you, but I find “social etiquette” and children don’t naturally go together. There’s time and training that is needed to achieve a happy balance. So with each hotel we stayed at there were elevators which allowed us to practice the importance of elevator etiquette numerous times a day. In a short time, my children learned that when waiting for an elevator you stand back and wait to the riders to exit – rather than push on like elephants. Likewise, once you get on board, they had to take “happy” turns pushing the buttons or that privilege was taken away. Great motivation to do the right thing the first time!
Hotel Room Numbers: What a great math lesson this was! Once we arrived on the floor where our room was each night, we began letting our kids take the key card and do the figuring out of where we’d be spending the night. We’d walk off the elevator and see the list of room numbers: 401-429 to the right and 430-450 to the left. We talked about odd and even numbers as well as greater than and less than. From the number on our key card, the kids figured out which direction our room was (odd or even = left or right) and then had to decide if we need to walk a far ways to our room or if it would be close to the elevator. It was real life math!!
Organization: To make our mornings smooth, it was each child’s job to know the next day’s activity and to pull out the clothes they needed for that activity; whether it be a long car ride, a day at the Liberty Bell, a day in NYC or just a down day. They began to use their anticipation skills and pre-plan for their own needs in the future. Really – exercising that independence skill I strive to teach them daily.
Additionally, this meant they needed to sort through and organize their car pack for whatever items they wanted close to them during the car ride. They needed to grab their books, music, toys, etc that they thought they’d use the next day. Again, thinking ahead and becoming self-sufficient.
NO Instant Gratification: Good or bad, instant Gratification doesn’t exist on road trips. Instead, car rides help children understand that not everything happens within a couple hours – like a plane ride. They learn how much distance exists between states and destinations. And with that stretch of highway comes time. A blessed thing! That opportunity of time allows kids to again exercise their muscle of patience and self-sufficientcy. They learn to entertain themselves. I loved the natural rhythm that evolved as we drove each day. The early excitement in the morning as we began our day, the slow settling into the drive and sinking into a good book, sticker project, coloring activity, or new toy, and then the shift into playing with one another. They learned to entertain themselves or each other with the simpliest of things.
At the end of out trip – we drove from NJ to STL in one day – 17 beautiful hours! But after about 11 hours of driving, our 10 month old was tired and bored of his toys. “Enter knee highs!” I had some knee highs in a bag which my kids found. They got the idea to tie them together and then across the inside of the car (from hand rail to hand rail). They then strung toys on it so the baby could reach out and play with the toys. And happily it worked. Hey – it all comes down to the marketing, right? How ideas are presented. Change up the angle or the way the toys are played with and it’s a new toy. But that little discovery would not have come about if we were on the plane.
Our east coast trip was one of our most favorite trips to date. We had so many happy, fun, inspiring, sweet family times that I’d do it again in a heartbeat if given the chance. In fact, we’re planning a “Westward-Ho” summer road trip for 2014! Stay-tuned! I bet there are more “fringe-benefits” when traveling with kids to be discovered! Have you traveled with kid-lets and what benefits have you found?