Many of us have set our sights on traveling to all of the 50 states. But, how many of us are traveling with our family? Sometimes kids moan and groan in boredom, or their bad attitudes put a damper on our experiences. Is sightseeing or scenic views interesting for our children? It absolutely can be, and here are 10 ways to engage our kids in the travel experience:
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1. Always, I mean always, have snacks – There is no better way to rejuvenate your child’s mood, than to have a snack on hand.
2. Plan with flexibility in mind – Allow extra time with kids in tow. Their moods can be unpredictable, but they can also fall into a creative state of mind, and yearn to climb, play, and explore in unpredictable settings. My kids used to bring light sabers on a hike or in a National Park, and let their imaginations run wild while walking or hiking.
3. Send them on a Scavenger Hunt – Scavenger hunts are fun and engaging for kids. Plan ahead with some simple picture scavenger hunts or specific destination hunts. (Junior Ranger Booklets often have these at the Visitor Center as part of their program.)
4. Allow them to help plan the destinations – Sometimes, looking at viewpoints and driving hours through beautiful scenery is just not that exciting for kids or teens. Let them research some fun activities or give them a few choices of stops that will rejuvenate the whole family and give them an outlet for pent up energy.
5. Make time for playtime – One of our favorite things to do in new cities or states was to find interesting or unique playgrounds. It’s amazing how they can vary – we found ocean themed parks with ocean views for mom and dad, wooden fort themed playgrounds, dinosaur parks, and even a Dennis the Menace playground in California! It may be just as fun for you as it is for them!
6. Junior Ranger Programs – Junior Ranger programs are a wealth of knowledge that is motivational and well done for almost every National and State Park. The booklets are engaging, with scavenger hunts, mazes, and most importantly, educational material that pertains to each park. Once complete, kids take an oath to respect our National/State Parks, and receive a Ranger certificate and badge or pin. There are also stamps available at the Parks where you can collect a stamp in a National Parks Stamp Book. I love this idea, and wish I’d known about it before we began traveling the U.S. (For more on this, check out How to Homeschool with the National and State Parks)
7. Put them in charge – Children often love to help their parents with any and everything! Put them in charge of a special, important job for your travel experience. Make them the official photographer, videographer, or animal spotting expert. Encourage them to help you look for animal tracks, new trees and flowers, or a special hiking stick.
8. Visit movie and TV sites – What movies or shows do your kids enjoy watching? Is there a filming location that you can work into your itinerary? (Even adults love this!) It’s great fun to find restaurants and landmarks that you’ve seen on the big screen. We’ve enjoyed setting foot on locations from The Goonies, Field of Dreams, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
9. Request an Explorer Backpack – Many museums and parks have backpacks that you can borrow, with magnifying glasses, hats, notebooks, and other relevant items to the location. My kids have spent hours in museums with these fun and free resources. You can even assemble your own as a surprise for your kids!
10. Books and Journals- I love to find picture books and stories about the location we are going to visit ahead of time. You can use libraries to gather books before and during trips. I found some fun travel book series when my kids were younger that got them really engaged, such as the Larry Gets Lost Series and the Adventures with the Parkers series. It was so rewarding to watch them get excited when the recognize a landmark from a book they had read. (Travel Book Series for Kids).
Travel Journals are also a great way to engage your kids in travel. Check out my Travel 50 States Journal for Kids, that allows children an interactive way to document and journal their travels in the USA!