Instead of “Are we there yet?”, it may be interesting to hear “Look, we just passed Elko, it’s less than an hour to Grandpa’s house.” and “That’s just enough time to make a picture for Grandpa. I’ve got my colors right here in my bag.” So who thinks this is probably impossible??? Actually, when children are involved in planning the trip, it is amazing how the attitude of the whole trip is filled with eager anticipation, rather than lots of questions and complaints. But if they don’t know what to expect, and if their “daily schedule” is out of whack, we are not setting them up to succeed.
This is the FIRST kind of magic I am recommending in my little mini-series focused on enhancing your family road trips. The introduction to the series starts here.
Creating the Magic of Anticipation
Anticipation requires planning, setting up everything for success, and making sure each person is in on the game. Children who are involved in this process are more invested in the trip. Mental images are made that help them their enthusiasm up for meeting milestones, getting to the destinations and the things they can enjoy along the way.
MAPS create Road Trip Magic – real paper maps that you can spread out on the kitchen table with long roads to highlight with a yellow marker along the planned path – noting names of places to pass, and marking places where there are planned stops. And it is absolutely imperative to take along with you on road trips, and to get it out when they start asking.. GPS devices are fine for adults who can adapt to thinking only a few miles at a time. But a child needs the hands-on experience of making their own road trip art memoir. They benefit from seeing the BIG picture ! If they are not yet ready for a real map, let them make their own!! Take a sheet of paper, make a big circle (or other shape) about an inch or two from the border. Paste pictures of significant sites/destinations they can look forward to, or let them draw / color their own version. It does not have to be to scale, it just has to provide positive mental images to look forward to. Put this in a sheet protector and connect it to the back of the seat in front of the child ! See what happens !
When a child is familiar with what to expect, what they can look forward to along the way, and heart-felt anticipation about what they find there, there will be magic in entire adventure (even if it has nothing to do with Disney World). It is fun to do the research to find little side trips to stop at along the way, like a quick tour of a roadside Gator Museum, or taking pictures looking like you are holding the Largest Ball of String in the world. Tracking on the map along the way allows them to see the progress made, and how close they are getting to the next destination.
When our children were younger, we bought the easy to fold, smaller laminated ones, we cut out pictures to tape onto the map, and we used stickers to mark our progress on the map any time they asked. We would mark the midway point ahead of time, and pack a little celebration kit, so we could enjoy a few minutes listening to one of John Phillip Sousa’s Marches and playing with colorful streamer sticks and noise-makers like it was New Years Eve! For longer trips, we just added a few more “milestones” to celebrate. It’s amazing how the attitude stays upbeat with these little interludes… until their preteen years, then the eyes start to roll !
From a whole child perspective, this is a fantastic way for children to get a better perspective of the world we live in, developing spatial awareness of how we fit on this planet.
Packing a Road Trip Bag of FUN can also help build anticipation for the activities that can be enjoyed along the way. Children enjoy being active participants in choosing what goes in the bag, and when to enjoy these activities in the car. These may include books, music, games, toys, etc. In our On The Road adventure camp this summer, the students got a new music CD and book for their travels, AND they made and decorated many games and toys to put in their Road Trip bag. And they are proud to show off their artwork, and play the games they set up. We’ll get to the contents of this bag as we go through our series. The point here, is that the children are actively involved in packing their own bag, so that they are excited about what choices they have along the way. (Except for a few surprises they may not be aware of… highlighted in the next article.)
Anticipating and preparing for typical daily routines is also incredibly important in keeping peace on the road. It is easy to get distracted from our normal schedule on the road, but the psyche of a child is set to the rhythm of their day. It doesn’t have to be PERFECT, but pay respect to what a child’s body needs and when it normally gets it.
It takes effort to prepare and provide good healthy snacks to keep hungry animals at bay.
I really like the Travel Treat Boxes that I found here, http://pmkcrafts.blogspot.com/2010/07/travel-treat-boxes.html ! I love the way it is packed, but what I really love is that each child has their own box with their name on it… they can eat whatever they want from that box, in whichever order they want to, but it does not get refilled until it is empty. Again… with this anticipation thing… let then children choose what to fit into their boxes (from the limited supply of healthy foods they like that parents make available to them).
Consider adding “family treats” that are packed in the cooler. It is truly an attitude refresher to stop at a rest stop, sit at a picnic table in the shade and chow down on some fresh cold watermelon, and have a seed spitting contest (spitting toward the nearest garbage can). Watch out for the other tourists… and remember to clean up your mess ! Does anyone eat watermelon with seeds anymore? Does anyone else bring along a salt shaker to these watermelon feasts, or is that just the red-necked Texan in me showing?
Of course, as always, we have to keep an eye on the routine so that a majority of “snacks” are not eaten right before the main meal… Or, like our family, we spend a majority of the time in the restaurant trying to get our daughter to eat some real food. Is this just me, or does this happen to other folks as well?
Sticking to regularly scheduled nap times can be a challenge, but it is extremely important to plan and get children to look forward to these special quiet time activities. If your kids are like mine, just saying “nap time” will NOT work ! no way! no how! But families typically have “sleepy time routines” that involve a bit of a snack, reading a story, singing or listening to quiet time songs. Plus, I have some more ideas in the upcoming article “Creating Road Trip Magic through Moodling””.
Sticking to routines is especially important for babies and the little ones whose level of anticipation is in maximum gear while playing peek-a-boo. There will be a separate and additional article on traveling with babies ! Needless to say, the babies have their own anticipation schedule for getting fed, played with, and lulled to sleep. All other plans should be made around that… for YOUR peace of mind, as well as theirs.
SO PLEASE SHARE !!! How does your family set up for success with your children to anticipate the wonder and joy on your family road trips? How do YOU set up the snack food situation? How do you work in naps? Do you use maps, or a different method of tracking the progress of your trip?