Kid-Tested: 7 Tips for Surviving a Screen-Free Family Road Trip
This summer, our family embarked on a 10-hour road trip with three kids, ages 6, 7 and 9….with no electronic devices to occupy them. I needed to remind myself – and expose my kids – to the fact that they can entertain themselves without the overstimulation of constant screen time.
And folks, I am here to tell you, that while every moment wasn’t pure bliss, we didn’t just merely survive the trip, we were reminded of the reality that our kids were more content, less agitated and actually enjoyed screen-free activities. With a little planning and creativity, these seven tips can take you from screen time to serene time on your next trip:
- They pack, you edit. Encourage your kids to pack their own carry-on bag for road trips. And let them know there won’t be any screens coming along. Give them suggestions for things to bring that will keep them busy – crayons, markers, notebooks, legos, storybooks, small toys. Then, you be the editor. Check out what they packed and help them decide what they will really use and enjoy. This process puts a sense of ownership on them to bring things that will occupy them.
- Prepare individual snack packs. Our kids tend to equate boredom with the need for food in the car, so I pack each child their own lunchbox full of snacks, a combo of healthy options like apples, trail mix and yogurt, and also fun options they enjoy more such as chips, popcorn and cookies. This takes the away the constant “mom, I’m hungry” and puts the control and choice in their hands as to how often and how quickly they want to satisfy their cravings.
- Visit the library. Before your trip, stop by your local library and allow each child to pick out 4-5 books to bring along. Having something fresh will keep them engaged longer than pulling from the staples on your bookshelf at home. And try something new like audio books. These are a huge hit with our crew, and you can now find personal audio books that you simply plug headphones into allowing everyone to enjoy their own literary experience.
- Spend $5 at Target. My kids love all the little trinket toys in what we call the “dollar section” at Target. Ahead of a long trip, I give them each $5 to buy a few new toys, notebooks, markers, etc. here to pack in their backpack. It gets them excited about having something new to use and, well, a couple bucks can go a long way when my parental sanity is concerned.
- Bring blankets. While I hadn’t planned this, on our last long car ride, all three of my kids happened to bring their pillows and blankets and they used them to create their own private spaces by fastening them up around their seats. It gave them a place to escape from everyone else and they felt the same fun as when building blanket forts at home.
- Find traditional “games” on your phone. My kids were shocked with I pulled out my phone and said I had a game on it they could play. Ah, it’s not what you think though, I told them. There are still interactive games to be found on your phone, such the “Heads Up” app, which feeds you the content, but is still played in the traditional sense of the clue-giving game. It’s the perfect way to bring along games when you’re tight on space. And it’s something the kids can do together when energy levels are high.
- Offer incentives. While I’m not a big advocate of always rewarding my kids for normal good behavior, a long road trip with whining kids can break you rather quickly. So before we leave, I create a simple chart with 30-minute increments and for every 30 minutes of good behavior, there is a small reward (usually in the form of M&Ms or sour patch kids for ours, but go with whatever works for you). Try to keep the blocks of time manageable for kids, sometimes even a half-hour can seem like eternity to them in the car.