Along this theme I decided to do a 4-5 part series on learning while traveling. Just like you want to do more than just make it through the day at home, you want to do more than just make it through the trip with your young kids.
The first thing you need for any good car trip or long flight is toys!
Don't ever say a child is "just" playing. That's like saying a surgeon is "just" operating or a pilot is "just" flying an airplane. Play is the essence of being a child.
Think of what kind of activities lend themselves to time in the car or plane and to a varied experience for your child. These include but are not limited to fine motor skills, stacking, sorting, reading, pretend play, and drawing. Your goal should be to fill your child's time with meaningful and interesting work. Parents are not clowns, our job is not to simply amuse our children with flashing lights and moving images. We are teachers, our job is to demonstrate new skills to our children and give them plenty of space and time to explore and practice independently. Keep this in mind when you choose your toys to bring for travel. A toy meant to amuse will hold a toddler's interest for 5 minutes. A toy meant to be explored, completed, manipulated, will hold their interest far longer, often 15-30 minutes.
Here are some of my favorite toys for each of these types of activities:
Wooden Stringing Sets: This has become hands down Tobias' favorite toy. We keep it strictly for church and traveling so it retains his interest. The long "threading needle" wooden piece helps little hands get the beads on and the beads are colorful and large. I would recommend this for 18 months-3 years old. Older children can handle more difficult lacing bead sets, such as the Melissa and Doug one. Those could be used to practice patterns or counting. For children under 3, the simple act of lacing the beads is plenty of stimulation.
Stack and Roll Cups: I like these when we go to visit family because they stack up tiny to fit in the baggage. They can be stacked while sitting in a rear-facing carseat and turned into balls when you get to Grandma's :)
Board Books: Okay, this should be self-explanatory :) I will make a few unique suggestions you may not have thought of though.
- 10 Button Book by William Accorsi--this book has slots for the buttons to fit into on each page so children can count the buttons on each page. This is a bit difficult for Tobias so I'd recommend it for the 2 and up crowd.
- Quiet Books--these are usually cloth books that have zippers, buttons, and snaps for kids to manipulate and work with as they read through the book. Great for keeping minds and hands busy and preps them for buttoning their own shirts and zipping their own coats.
- Cloth Books--there are tons of these around. Tobias has had 3 of these since infancy and they still hold his interest. We keep them in the car because they are soft and in case of an accident wouldn't hurt if they flew across the car and because they are so versatile. Newborns chew them, grasp them, and look at the pictures. Pre-toddlers start turning pages and feeling the different textures and enjoy listening to the story being read. Toddlers will move velcro pieces around, turn pages, and name the things in the pictures. Have I mentioned these are versatile and that I love them?
Magnadoodle: Nothing beats a toy that inspires creativity, encourages writing, and is mess free!