Travel time bonding activities

Before kids, I was leery of sitting near kids on planes.  Having two of my own now, I am committed to NOT being the one with the annoying kids!   The very best way to keep kids amused on planes is to give in to giving them your full attention.  I’ve skipped their naps and let them have bottles on planes, and that has worked.  But they are 9 and 13 now! Set them — and you — up for fun.

Travel time doesn’t have to be an annoying waiting game, even if your flight is cancelled.  It’s a great time to talk and bond!  Here is my list of tech-free strategies — no mind-numbing beeping or squeaky little voices:

*Phone Pictures 1348.jpgLook for unusual signs. Read them aloud, imagine why they are there (hilarious accidents leading to “one way” signs, for example), or imagine what they’d serve at this public supper, and photograph them. Look for and try regional, unusual, or new foods.
*What’s in there?  Trucks, cars, buses, wagons, warehouses.  To simplify for younger kids, make crazy suggestions like penguins, pingpong balls, or bean bag chairs when you see those cargo planes or big trailers on the runway. For biggers, figure out the system that it’s part of: shipping, luggage transfers, food access?
*Uno is a great card game for the plane, and in general the plane is a great place to capitalize on having your kids’ undivided attention to teach them card games or practice a foreign language.

*Tell the kids’ stories: one of mine came out with a small peep; one came out screaming her head off!  Haha.  The first one stayed in the hospital for a while; with the second one I said bring the car seat and winter coat tomorrow, and Running Mate said “It’s not like they’re going to just send her home with us.” But they did! haha.  One kid got a first bath from Nanny, one got a first bath from Running Mate (dad).  They had different baby songs, we lived in different places.

*Keep lists: when my son was small, on road trips we kept a list of mighty machines; my daughter likes animals.  You could adapt this for plane travel and your family’s personality: plaid pPhone Pictures 1291.jpgants? someone traveling with a pet? a bird, flying dragon, or good witch out the plane window? Spot a necktie or fuzzy hat in the airports or rest stops, keep track of your points.  At takeoff and landing, look for back yard swimming pools, parks, parking lots full of school buses.
*Mad Libs!  Filling in the blanks is great practice for learning nouns and verbs.
*Rock paper scissors – we’ve found that if you do this often enough, the competition goes out of it.  We also occasionally throw a new sign, the “thumbs up” sign might be a grenade, the wick of which scissors and sharp paper can cut. We did one with Chinese food – two fists beside each other for egg roll, two fingers for chop sticks, and thumb between the pointer and middle fingers (like “I’ve got your nose”) for fortune cookie.  Just make up the rules as you go.

*Cat’s cradle – another cooperative game for the kids.*Sound effects game – make a noise and have the other players build a story around it.  Creaking or clapping are good to start with, and using props like ruffling book pages is encouraged — but be warned, preteen boys and dads tend to deteriorate into body sounds. And this one is better for the car.

*With pen and paper, you can play tic-tac-toe, hangman, draw your pet and let the kids color it in, play an impromptu drawing-and-guessing game similar to dictionary,  draw the head (or spikes) of a dragon and let them finish it.*Hum-a-song — one person hums and the other guesses.  Itsy-bitsy spider, happy birthday, holiday songs.*Origami — teach your child one simple construction.  My 5-y-o made penguins till the paper was gone!  Then we gave them away everywhere we went.Phone Pictures 902

When I drive, my mind always wanders back to the Native Americans that lived here before the highways, and I imagine if one could come up this hill and know exactly where they were, or if they followed a river up to it’s source, or could fish out of my Dad’s pond.  I talk about it with my kids, but I don’t know yet if they really “get” it.  They indulge me, mostly.  I think Pioneer Culture, with wagons and paths, are more imaginable for them, and we do talk about that, too.

I’d love to know what kinds of games YOU play that aren’t on this list; please do add them in below and share with us.

And if you’d like to chat about making the transitions from vacation to home to school, shoot me an email at Funnermother [at]funnermother.com.  Happy dog days!

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Planning Now for A Kids-At-Home Summer

kids running through field

Click this idyllic image to purchase this print from Vickie Wade Fine Art.

I’m setting up some daily structure for the summer now.  We have one important rule: no computer before 11 am. They are allowed an hour a day during the summer, and it works better if I give them “time to earn” that privilege.  This summer they’ll also be allowed an hour of playstation time, but not before 3.  And they are required to read for at least an hour a day. That’s our day by day.

They are looking forward to ending their first year in public school and having a long leisurely summer.  They did a great job tackling a big transition, and I’m happy to have the chance to stay home and allow them the kind of summer I had as a kid.

But I also asked them to put a couple of fun things on their wish list for the summer, and here’s what they picked.

vintage circus camel

Click this image to purchase this fun instant download from Digital Design Vault.

Thing 1: Living Treasures Animal Park, Build A Cactus Garden, Grow a jade plant

Thing 2: Get good Pokemon cards, Ride a camel, play laser tag at Lazer Storm

All pretty manageable goals for a summer vacation.

We go to the library regularly year round, we have a big-for-the-suburbs garden to tend, and I’m going to continue having them prepare dinner one night a week. So those are our weekly activities.

I’m also going to get them to the water park, to Maine, and with luck I’ll get us ALL organized for a camping trip.  Our first.  Eek.

colorful waterpark print

Click this image to purchase it from Supkophoto.

My friend Gina over at Sister Serendip has a great summer plan for loose weekly themes and manages to keep five little ones lightly focused and fairly busy all summer.  Check her out, too.  And then tell me what YOUR plans are, over on Facebook or in the comments below.  Here we go!

I am in my happy place

Old Orchard Beach Pier

Click this image of Old Orchard Beach to purchase it from Elizabeth Thomas Photo.

Tantalizing.  So much is about the smells of lake and ocean.

Pine, wet earth, the salty air, coconut sunscreen, high tide, my childhood home, my other childhood home.

il_570xN.359869296_2vix

Click this image to buy it from CEJPhotography.

We left Running Mate behind, packing and cleaning without us under foot. The Things miss him, achingly so!

The 13-hour drive was doubled by jumping jacks breaks — my response to their bickering. But all that falls away in the cold waters of home.

When others talk and write of ethnicity, this is what I reflect on.  New England.  My family is a broad mix of bloodlines. We identify with family and regional histories.  And I want the Things to have that platform, too.

So we are a heartbreaking 3/4 of us as the Things hear stories about how Silas was followed home by a cat, how Pa drove a school bus for an integrated school near a military base in Maine while he was in college, how Big Nanny would let her children (my mother) cook potatoes right on the cast iron stove on cold Saturday afternoons.  The one-room schoolhouse, the potato harvest that shut down the schools each fall so all could work, our potato inspector and grave-digger grandfathers.

Family stories are proven and re-proven to strengthen families, an Emory University reconfirmed this recently.  Huffington Post published a “DYK: Do you know” questionnaire, and it was fun to go through it as a family.  But the facts in the questions, the article points out, are not what’s relevant.  It’s the time spent relaying them.  You can follow our Maine travels and our neverending attempt to move to Maine, over on Facebook.  Stop by and tell me if your kids know your family stories, and what they are!

Pittsburgh in the spring

Whether you live here or travel here, Pittsburgh is more fun than you think!  For a straightforward list of the biggest kid sites, look at Kidsburgh, which includes the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, the Carnegie Science Center (which has a great Sports Works facility included in admission where your kids can bungee jump, ride a virtual roller coaster, and lots of other physical goodies), and the Children’s Museum of Pittsbrgh.  But there are fun quirky things to do with your kids around every corner.  Free fun can be had at any number of Pittsburgh’s awesome playgrounds.  My family’s favorite is the Blue Slide Park in Squirrel Hill, but there are tons of them, mostly in our two biggest parks, Schenley and Frick, both of which are also laced with walking and hiking trails.

Just Ducky Tours on the South Side feature old WWII vehicles that drive directly from land into water and your kid might even get to drive it;  D’s Dogs in Regent square has a range of vegetarian and meat dogs, and one of the city’s largest beer selections.  Then walk on down to the Forbes & Braddock Playground and digest for a while.  On the other side of town in Lawrenceville, find the Kickback Pinball Cafe, a great soup-and-sandwich spot for tweens, teens, and parents interested in pinball!  Downtown in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District you will find Toonseum, a comic book museum whose current exhibit covers women comic artists.  Their hours are abbreviated, so check their site.  If your kids are builders or fans of Legos and K’nex, see what’s going on at Snapology in the South Hills.  Their new Discovery Center offers classes and camps themed with Star Wars, Minecraft, stop-gap animation, and more.  They also offer open play for a fee and a new mini-fig trading station, just bring one to trade!  If you’re here in May, the International Children’s Festival offers a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities and performances.

On your way into town from the East, stop at the Big Mac Museum, commemorating the famous sandwich’s inventor from right here in greater Pittsburgh.  Take a picture beside the giant Big Mac inside the restaurant and enjoy the old-time atmosphere.  And if you like quirky and kitsch, check out this list of things to do at Quirky Travel Guy’s site!

If you have history buffs, Pittsburgh offers sites related to the French and British fighting at Fort Pitt and it’s predecessor, Fort Duquesne, during America’s early formation, or for labor historians, find the cemetery where victims of the 1892 Homestead Strike are buried and ride the Duquesne Incline as workers of the past did every day.  Pittsburgh is a big sports and sports history place, as well.  So come and explore a city praised for its sports, its industrial heritage, and its renewal as a city of the future, focused on education and medicine.