We recently went on a trip with our extended family that took us six hours north of our home.
I really, really hate traveling. I get every kind of sick (carsick, seasick, airsick, you name it), and I just hate being strapped down for hours at a time.
We were traveling with our almost-three-year-old, which I knew was likely to make the experience even less enjoyable; but I really wanted to make the drive as tolerable as possible for all of us.
We don’t own any electronic devices (apart from our outdated Androids), so I knew I’d have to be a little creative to keep her occupied for so many hours in her car seat. Naturally, I also wanted these activities to be as mess-free as possible. (But I was not about to prepare elaborate handmade activities for two days. I am just not that productive.)
I looked through Pinterest for a few ideas, and headed to the dollar store for a few supplies. I think I spent about $13 in total, and most of the items I bought can be reused indefinitely. In fact, I decided that all the items would remain in a “travel bag” that my daughter would only get to use when going for long trips, to keep them special and interesting.
To my amazement, these few activities kept her perfectly content throughout the trip — both ways. She didn’t even nap on the way there, so that was about 11 hours combined.
The advantages of screen-free activities?
- No annoying noises for us to listen to while we drove. Just delicious silence for us to enjoy as she concentrated on her tasks.
- No post-screen hangover. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to go from staring at a screen to doing . . . anything else. And I imagine that transition is even harder for little ones. You know how miserable and whiny most kids get after extended time staring at cartoons or hunched over an iPad, right?
- We avoided feeding the monster of screen addiction. (It’s a real thing.)
Here’s what we did instead:
Water Magic Colouring Book
I found a book like this one at our local Dollarama for $3. (It was a Carebear one).
I normally don’t buy gimmicky things like this for my child — this activity doesn’t foster any creativity, skill, qualities or knowledge whatsoever. You just make the page wet and colors magically fill in the pictures. And I generally dislike registered characters. But I made an exception for the trip.
Totally worth it. She played with it for a full 45 minutes on the way up and an hour on the way back. She would “colour” in every page, one at a time; and by the time she was done the last one, the first had dried enough that she could start all over again.
We actually found she liked it better to use a damp cloth rather than the magic water pen that came with it.
The only downside was that she so saturated the pages that by the end, some of the white coating started to scratch off. So it might not get much use after this trip.
I found some generic “Floam” at the dollar store. It wasn’t as big a hit as the Water Magic book, but it was novel enough to intrigue her and keep her occupied for about ten minutes each way. I wonder if the name-brand stuff would be better — this stuff stuck to her fingers and came apart a little too much.
On the upside, it was quite tidy; and when I showed her how to use a big clump to pick up the little balls that were sticking to her fingers, she enjoyed working at that.
Stickers on a Sketchpad
I got a couple of sheets of stickers and a good-sized, coil-bound sketchpad for her to stick them onto as she pleased. She LOVED it. Again, this kept her occupied for 45 minutes each way.
Stickers are great for strengthening manual dexterity, and the activity was great for exercising concentration.
New (To Her) Books
I believe novelty is key when it comes to keeping little ones entertained on a boring trip.
I had pulled out a book from the closet where I keep thrift-store finds that I want to save for later. I intentionally chose a completely unfamiliar book full of detailed illustrations to captivate her attention. She enjoyed examining the images for a good 15 minutes.
Looking out the Window
Remember when we used to do this? Before handheld video games were common?
I imagine this was no big deal for Lydia since she’s used to doing nothing in a vehicle. (Half the time we don’t even have music playing when we drive.)
When she got tired of the above activities, simply looking out the window occupied her for a good hour. It’s my belief that kids CAN and WILL sit and look around quietly if their world isn’t normally dominated by screens.
Drawing on Sketchpad with Special Crayons
Again, I don’t normally buy this kind of thing — I generally avoid plastic as much as possible for environmental reasons — but I wanted to get my daughter some kind of new and interesting colouring utensils, just for the trip. So I got her a pack of Crayola Twistables (they were only $2 at our dollar store). The point is just that they were something she hadn’t used before, so they seemed special. They also don’t have caps that will get lost and don’t need to be sharpened. She used the same sketchpad she’d used for the stickers.
She coloured with them for about half an hour each way, and also used them during shorter trips while we were out there. They will remain her special travel pencils.
Okay, this isn’t really an activity, per se. But they kept her occupied and happy.
I bought bottled juice from the grocery store (something she never gets at home) and packed homemade popcorn. Add a straw and you have a happy little traveller!
What are some of your favourite screen-free activities for little ones?