Friday, June 11, 2010

Are we there yet?

Recalling those long trips to New England every summer to visit family reminds me of that familiar phrase “Are we there yet?” With two young children and at least seven hours of driving time, the challenge to keep them entertained was huge. It was my husband’s job to get us there safely, and it was my job to keep peace in the car so Dad was not distracted and everyone arrived in one piece… including me.

After one ‘not so successful’ trip (you really don’t want to know), I decided there had to be a better way! So with a little creativity I came up with a method to keep the ‘troops’ happy. Shopping at my local farmers’ market one day I discovered sturdy plastic boxes with a tight fitting lid that seafood came in that one of the vendors was selling. They were just about the size of a child’s lap and deep enough to provide room for lots of goodies. They needed cleaning and deodorizing, but a little elbow grease, some lemon juice and a little sunshine took care of that. The next challenge was - what would keep my kids busy, not cost me a fortune, not make too much of a mess and still fit into this box?

After a quick search through the house I found construction paper, scissors, crayons, markers, glue sticks, colored pencils and stickers, not a bad start. We also had a series of cassette tapes of favorite children’s stories. At a discount store there were comic books, coloring books, puzzle books and some inexpensive trinkets. And as an added treat I bought some juice boxes (they were brand new when my kids were little!!!) and a few non-traditional snacks. Oh yes and did I mention the library? It was a great source for games to play in the car while traveling. Now that the ‘loot’ was assembled, how do I make it fun?

We started our trips pretty early in the morning so there was not much activity right away, but after that first rest stop, the troops were rarin’ to go and usually needed a drink or a snack. When everyone was strapped in and we were comfortably on our way, I would hand each child a box, complete with their name written on the side in their favorite color. Inside the box was a piece of constriction paper, and some markers. Their first job was to make a card for Aunt Jeanine and Uncle Jerry thanking them for having us for a visit. The lid of the box provided a desk top for writing or creating and all of the supplies were kept neatly inside during the trip. Every 30 minutes or so I would hand them something else from the goodies I had hidden in the front seat beside my feet. When it seemed that they needed to relax a bit, we would pop in one of the story tapes. After a while the whole family might get involved in a game, like ‘name the license plates’ or ‘I am going to market and I am going to buy …’ trying to come up with an item for every letter of the alphabet or we might even sing a few songs. As the children got older, the items in the box changed but they still looked forward to the next 'treasure' from Mom's front seat stash.

Traveling with children can be fun…just be prepared with a good bag of tricks!

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