When I was a child my siblings and I were passengers on several cross country car trips. Back then there were no magic electronic devices to entertain us and for that I am thankful. My mom and dad were adept at drawing us into various games and fun activities and since many involved looking out the window I became familiar with the United States and it's diverse and beautiful topography, flora and fauna.
As parents, my husband and I engaged in many of the same activities with our children and added some new ones of our own. Whether on short 15 minute drives to town or long haul treks back and forth between the southwest and northwest, I thoroughly enjoyed the time traveling created for interaction and contemplation. Some of the best moments with my children have been in a car singing, talking, listening and playing games.
As an example, while driving with one or the other in silence, me not talking and in the days before earbuds, more than once was I rewarded with insight into their lives as they shared with me a thought that had been given the time and space to work it's way to the surface. Especially treasured in the teen years! I never once regretted that most of the vehicles we drove had non-working radios and tape decks.
It doesn't matter if you're going by train, plane, automobile, camper, bus, ferry, even waiting for a flight - all these situations present you with gifts of time, valuable time, time you will never get back, time to interact, laugh, have fun with your children and get to know them better, and for them to get to know you.
Does the idea of traveling without electronic diversions terrify you? Trust me, it can be done and your children will benefit as will you. To help you along, I’ve compiled a list of 14 things a child can do as an alternative to viewing a screen:
Keep a scrapbook or journal. Using a blank drawing book they can keep track of the various state license plates they see on the way. How many can they find? They can glue in brochures from places you stop, illustrate animals and plants seen, describe or draw scenic views and points of interest, journal the trip, etc.
Tell progressive stories with or without prompts from story cards. Someone begins the story by thinking of something that might start off the day for a character or person. They tell one sentence of the story. The next person continues the story by adding their own sentence. This goes on until the person who began the story feels it is complete and says "The End". The next person begins the next story and so on.
Solve mental math problems. You talk out a multiple step problem to be solved in the head. “What is 1 plus 7 minus 3 times 3 divided by 5?” Get the idea?
Play the alphabet game. Start with finding an “A” on a billboard, license plate, car, etc. Anything outside of the car is fair game. Go all the way to "Z".
Ever heard of 20 questions or the guessing game? One person thinks of an object and the others take turns asking questions to help them guess what it is. There are a few ways to play this and instructions can be found easily online. Be sure and establish the rules before beginning.
If motion sickness is not a problem, how about playing tic-tac-toe?
Play "I Spy".
Children can master making many kinds of string figures or play Cat's Cradle.
Count how many yellow cars you see, boats on trailers, and so forth.
Shape animals and people from Modeling Beeswax.
Tell jokes, the young ones in particular like Knock Knock jokes.
Sing, sing, sing! Rounds, harmonies, nursery rhymes, Old MacDonald, There's a Hole in the Bucket, Over in the Meadow and more.
Do handwork: fingerknit, needle knit or crochet.
And if any of you are still feeling nervous, I just want you to know it’s okay if your children don’t have something to do the entire time. Everyone needs a break. So please, give yourself permission to relax into letting your child simply look out the window and retreat into their own creative space.
There's nothing wrong with quiet.