By Sarah Becker Anderson, OTR/L
As school ends and summer begins, many families are beginning to plan for summer travel. Whether it is a short trip or a long journey, traveling can be both exciting and stressful. Here are a few tips and ideas to help as families plan summer vacations.
1. Plan the trip as a family and prepare a travel map: Children anticipate events and are often very excited and may ask regularly, "how many more days". Use a calendar to show how many days are left before leaving on vacation. You can put a sticker on the day you are leaving and cross off days one week prior to leaving. Plan out your route with the children using a map. They can learn to read a map at the same time. Although we tend to use our "google maps" on our phones or navigating systems, use a paper map too. With small children, you can draw out a simple map with them so they have some understanding of what they might see along the way. Create a family travel book.
2. Avoid using screen time while traveling: If you are going on a long journey, watching a movie or playing games on IPADs or phones can be nice for some down time, but it is important to limit the amount of screen time, just like at home. Too much screen time has been shown to increase behaviors and could lead to more "meltdowns". Plan out when screen time will be acceptable so you avoid the "can I play on your phone" question over and over. Instead of screen time, play travel games like "I Spy",or look for license plates from other states. See how many states you can find. Traveling can also be a great time to listen to audio books or music. Bring along lap trays so you can use play doh, coloring books and crayons, word finds, crossword puzzles or dot-to-dots. Magnetic travel games and puzzles are also an option, or brain teasers. Put together an activity bag that can be readily available.
3. Schedule rest or quiet time: It is important to have some quiet rest time. This can be a great time to put on quiet music and limit the amount of noise or activity in the car. Try to have this planned out ahead of time to avoid those moments of complete frustration. It can be very hard to have "quiet time" when everyone is overwhelmed.
4. Avoid eating fast food and long stops at gas stations. Stop for picnics instead: Picnics are a great way to get out of the car and run around while making sure everyone is eating healthier options. Plan to stop at rest stops so you can use the bathroom too. It is a great way to avoid long stops at the gas station and spending money on those unwanted treats or snacks. Bring your own snacks or treats for the car. Try and stick to drinking water, limiting juice or pop. When you do have to stop for gas, but you don't want to get everyone out of the car, play guessing games. How long will it take to get gas or can you count to 100 before the car is full, or how many times you can sing the ABC's? See if you can find all the letters of the alphabet while waiting for the car to fill up.
5. Incorporate writing into your trip: One way to keep your child writing or engaged in learning is to create a time for daily journaling. Older children can write a daily entry about what they saw or learned each day and younger children can draw pictures. This can be a great way to remember your vacation. Or, you can do this as a family. Keep a family journal. This can be a great way to end your day, reflecting on the adventures of the day.
6. Some children may benefit from talking about "unexpected events" prior to leaving on vacation. Flat tire, road detours, traffic congestion, weather. This may help them prepare, if something does happen and can also be a great time to talk about being flexible or being able to "go with the flow".
Enjoy your summer travels and have fun!