By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
Traveling with kids can be a delightful experience. Seeing children grow and learn during the trip adds to their parents’ or grandparents’ enjoyment. If only it were that simple. If the children weren’t so whiny . . . if they weren’t so impatient . . . if they would at least show some enthusiasm for the vacation! Do these complaints sound familiar? Then you’re ready for a few tricks that can help turn your bored youngsters into exuberant travelers.
1. Share your enthusiasm
No matter how tired you are after planning, list making, and packing, don’t lose your enthusiasm. Let the kids know how much you are looking forward to the trip. If you aren’t excited about it, you can’t expect them to be. Later, when traveling down the road, point out unusual or special sights “” an odd-shaped tree, a clever sign, or a field of flowers. Your own exuberance is infectious and they’ll catch the fever.
2. What’s in it for them?
When talking about the trip, describe all the neat things the children will see and do. Don’t make them feel as though they’ll be cooped up in a motorhome for several weeks of summer school. For instance, talk about the museum you’re going to visit that’s full of dinosaurs that stand several stories tall. Children aren’t averse to learning as long as they have fun doing it.
3. Involve children in the planning process
If this is your first trip with a particular child, talk to him or her about previous travel experiences. What did they like most? Was anything really horrible or boring? You’ll pick up clues about what to include and what to avoid as you let the kids be part of the planning process.
4. Map reading can be fun
The best time to introduce children to maps is when they are young. Even as a small child, Kaye loved to help plan the trip and then reveled in tracking the route on a map as her family rode down the highway. When the Christies became a traveling team, Kaye already was a first-rate map reader and an excellent copilot. Lowell certainly preferred to do the driving and to leave the map-reading to his copilot.
5. Long trips
Even the most travel-seasoned children can get bored during a long drive. So, be sure to take along a stock of games, books, and puzzles, and let them entertain themselves.
6. Junior Ranger Program
Most national parks and some national forests offer Junior Ranger Programs for children. Inquire at the park’s visitors center or ranger station as soon as you arrive to find out about this program, or visit www.nps.gov/interp/learnnps.htm to enter the Junior Ranger Web page. That way, the kids can check out the activities and decide which ones they want to tackle. Most of the activities are specific to a particular park. True Junior Ranger status comes after the child completes the program, for which he or she will receive an official Junior Ranger badge or patch.
7. “Passport To Your National Parks” book and stamps
If you have visited or plan to visit several national parks during your trip, or if the children simply like to keep track of where they’ve visited through the years, consider purchasing the 104-page “Passport To Your National Parks” travelogue. This guide contains maps, information about various parks, illustrations, and photographs. It also includes an area in which the kids can keep a collection of stamps from an annual commemorative stamp series the park service has been issuing since 1986. And don’t forget to have the Passport “cancelled” with a rubber stamp “” similar to those received on an international passport “” at each park you visit. The Passport and stamps can be purchased at most National Park Service bookstores, or through www.eparks.com.
8. Keep a scrapbook or journal
Helping children to maintain a scrapbook or journal of their vacation keeps them occupied and lets them create something they’ll enjoy once they return home. They might cut pictures out of brochures and paste them in the journal, keep their ticket stubs from certain performances, or make drawings of their favorite experiences.
9. Disposable camera
Buying a disposable camera for each child old enough to use it will ensure hours of fun. First, with a personal camera children can capture the sights or attractions that interest them the most. Later, they can relive their adventure by viewing the pictures. (You don’t have to tell them how much you enjoy looking over their shoulders.)
10. Don’t overestimate the stamina of a child
In your own enjoyment of walking and hiking, don’t forget that a child’s stamina may not be as strong as yours. Plan your hikes and other outings with the children’s welfare in mind. Otherwise, go alone and leave another family member with the kids.
11. Keep a checklist
Birds, mammals, reptiles, it doesn’t matter “” nature-loving kids enjoy them all, especially when they get to keep track of the ones they see. Park visitors centers typically provide one or more wildlife checklists for a small fee. Older children with more experience in nature may want to carry a field guide so they can identify some of the creatures they see. (Tell them not to worry if they don’t spot every animal on the list. Even experienced naturalists can’t identify everything.)
12. Kid-friendly books
Whether you stop at a museum, a park, a monument, or a historic site, you’ll nearly always find a bookstore or gift shop with an interesting selection of books for sale. We ought to know “” we’ve purchased most of them. These stores often have a special section with books for children of various ages. Whether you turn the kids loose to find a book when you first arrive at the park or wait until you’re ready leave, such books will heighten a child’s enjoyment of the visit. (Just don’t tell them you want them to develop good reading habits.)
13. A Great American Landmarks Adventure
The National Park Service designed this website “” www2.cr.nps.gov/pad/adventure/landmark.htm “” especially for children. Youngsters who already know how to use the Internet can travel through the site at their own pace, while smaller visitors may need some help. Once the kids board the Time Machine, they’ll be whisked off to see Pictograph Cave in Montana, where ancient Indians painted pictures that are still visible today; transported to the Connecticut home of Mark Twain; or conveyed to a Saturn V launch test vehicle in Alabama, similar to the one used by astronaut Neil Armstrong and his crew on their trip to the moon. Each stop along this virtual journey includes a black-and-white line drawing that can be printed out for the kids to color.