Preparing kids to travel? Play games.


We’ve always been big on making a game out of learning new skills, and turning even the ho-hum into an adventure for our kids. When they were tiny and we were preparing to take them to exotic places for the first time, we came up with a series of games we played at home to get them ready. Even big kids have fun with these:

Tooth Brush Drills

Perhaps the number one way people become ill when traveling is from ingesting local water that contains contaminants, or parasites, or some other ugly, microscopic critter. Remembering not to drink the water is easy.

Remembering not to rinse your toothbrush, is not. Tooth brushing is one of those things we do on autopilot, and we have to retrain ourselves NOT to use sink water when we do it.

  • Randomly announce that the bathroom has been transported to Mexico, or North Africa, or Myanmar, and as such, the water is not to be trusted.
  • Place a water bottle by the sink and teach your children how to rinse their tooth brushes, swish and spit using only the water in that bottle.
  • Make it fun by making a loud buzzer noise if a child touches the faucet, or by announcing that the child has contracted some horrible plague and must now take his medicine (make it fun medicine, this is a game!)

Our youngest child, at three, was the toothbrush police when we traveled. He’d be the one yelling loudly from the bathroom, “DON’T DRINK THE WATER!! DON’T RINSE YOUR TOOTHBRUSH!!  YOU’LL BE SORRY!!!!”

International Dinners

Many parents worry about their children’s eating habits as they travel. Some children are very difficult when it comes to meal times and encouraging flexibility and dietary branching out can be a real challenge. One of the ways that we encouraged a broad palate in our children, from the time they were babies, was to have an international dinner at least once a week.

  • Choose a country, head to the library (or search on line) for recipes native to that place.
  • Shop for the foods and do the cooking together with your kids.
  • Decorate the table with a map of that country, or a drawing of the flag your child makes.
  • Find some music from that country to play, and maybe a story book about life there, or the mythology of the culture.
  • Don’t just introduce a new food, introduce a new people, place, and type of life experience.

These are the tiny steps that are easy to take in world schooling our children without ever leaving home.

We often tried to schedule the international dinners to coincide with evenings when we were having guests for dinner. Other families are often eager to join the party and bring something they’ve learned about that country to share. If you can find an actual PERSON to invite to dinner (or perhaps even cook with your family) so much the better!

The goal of this game is to make foreign people, places and their foods less scary to skeptical little people.

It is certainly fine for kids, and adults, to prefer some foods over others, and no child need eat a whole plate of lima beans if they truly dislike them. However, taking one bite of something before passing judgement on it is a requirement at our house.

There are cultures in which refusing food is the height of rudeness and our children need to be prepared to honor their hosts, be grateful for what is set before them, and try anything. Besides, sometimes they find that the slimy looking green stuff on top of their tacos (nopales-cactus paddle) is actually their new favorite thing!

Power Free Evenings

We’re a pretty plugged in society, in general. Rare is the household that doesn’t have a TV, game console, ipods, computers, DVD players or some configuration thereof. Some families have one of each in every child’s room. Kids who are used to so much electronic entertainment may have difficulty unplugging while on the road and declare themselves “bored” fairly quickly.

I am in NO WAY anti-media. But I am definitely in favor of the judicious use of it.

Our kids enjoy a movie night as much as anyone. They each have their own ipod. We have six computers in a family of six people. But we’re not emotionally dependent on these things for our happiness, or for contentment in the car, or at home, or anywhere else.

Unplugging once in a while has its merits, especially for children who need to develop a whole range of coping mechanisms for the rest of their lives. Self entertainment and the ability to be content with very little is not a small thing, and is relatively easily accomplished, simply by adhering to the “less is more” philosophy of stuff and tech time for kids.

Good friends of ours practice this with “power free evenings” once a week.

Every Friday afternoon at around 4 p.m. they unplug everything in the house but the fridge.

  • They light candles for dinner, play board games after dinner, read aloud from a good book, color, paint, play dominoes, put on plays for one another… anything and everything that does not require an electrical outlet to enjoy it.
  • This is a GREAT strategy for preparing children to travel to places where there may or may not be reliable electricity–or any electricity at all.

When our power was cut for three days in Africa, the children just assumed we were playing an extended game of “Power Free Evenings” and we had a lot of fun.

No Toys Allowed

Whether you are hiking to your favorite picnic spot in the woods, spending the day on the shores of a lake, or sunning yourself on the beach, try leaving all toys at home. This encourages kids to use their imaginations and make do with what is around them.

One of our kids created a game called “Kingdom Building” and is always on the lookout for a good pile of rocks to build his castles. With sticks for people and rocks for building material, what more could a kid want?

Bathroom Fun

Children are notoriously amused by bathrooms, at home and abroad. I’ll never forget my oldest son’s first encounter with a bidet in Mexico City or the slightly disturbed and violated look on his face after attempting to use it for the first time! We never quite got over the jokes about squatties in southern Italy and Africa… but then, we have three boys.

In our usual vein of “let’s prepare them at home before being embarrassed abroad,” we practiced for “different” bathrooms at home.  How? By posting a sign that informed users the bathroom was now in Germany and no one could use it without paying fifty cents, or Mexico and in order to get a few sheets of toilet paper one would need to pay a quarter to whichever family member had been designated the keeper of the toilet paper.

If you want to get really “authentic,” take the toilet paper out altogether and put a plastic coke bottle with a hole drilled in the cap by the toilet filled with water… portable bidet like we saw over and over in Tunisia.

This game is the MOST fun if you wait to play it until you have friends over for the day!

Posted by | Comments Off on Preparing kids to travel? Play games.  | January 14, 2014
Category: Family Travel

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