Travel fun without screens

The new book from Jervis = Genius.

The new book from Jervis = Genius.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again, probably): We’re not fans of screens in this family. Sure, the girls are allowed to watch programs here and there (as well as the occasional movie), but for the most part my wife and I try to promote tech-free fun.

This is why I was so jazzed when a friend lent me a copy of How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids by San Francisco Bay Area-based writer and maker (and single dad) Matthew Jervis.

The book came out this summer. In it, the author provides a treasure-trove of tech-free options for keeping kids occupied (the subtitle actually is “Tricks, Tools, and Spontaneous Screen-Free Activities”). I know the American Academy of Pediatrics recently stepped away from its previous declaration that parents should eliminate any screen time for kids under the age of two, but research indicates that kids who are encouraged to be creative on their own (read: WITHOUT SCREENS) tend to be more skilled and confident and perform better in life.

That’s where Jervis’ suggestions can come in handy, especially on family trips. Many of the suggestions work well during family travel. Some even work perfectly in the confined spaces of passenger cabins on airplanes or trains.

Take the one on page 60, for instance—“You Complete Me.” In this exercise, Jervis suggests folding a piece of paper in thirds length-wise and having different family members take turns drawing different phases of an object (be it a person or an animal).

This game is one of our favorites on the road, and it usually keep the girls busy for hours (Jervis notes it keeps most kids busy for 30-45 minutes).

Another of my favorite of Jervis’ suggestions: a game he calls “Pebble People” (page 44). In this activity, the author suggests finding 10-15 smooth stones and drawing faces on them, then encouraging kids to draw play environments on a piece of paper so their new friends can have some context in which to interact.

I could go on and on summarizing all of the games in the book but that would spoil the fun. Instead, check it out before your next family trip and leave your tablets and Kindles and iPod Touches at home.

What are your favorite screen-free activities for a family vacation?

Channeling family travel excitement

The book. By Mommy.

The book. By Mommy.

Ours is a house of artists. I use words to express myself; Powerwoman and our daughters use images. My wife and older daughter in particular turn to drawings and sketches when they wish to express deep and personal thoughts. This means pre-trip excitement often sparks a ton of art time.

Usually L is the queen of this handiwork, cranking out single sheets and books about the things she thinks we’ll experience on the road. (To R’s credit, she’s still working on the whole hold-a-marker-the-right-way trick.)

This week, however, my wife has run point.

The fruits of her labor: A book about our August trip to Walt Disney World. Because we’ve never been there as a family (we’ve only taken the girls to Disneyland), the girls have been pestering us about what it’s like and what they’ll see. Yes, we answer them when they ask. But to sweeten the storyline, Powerwoman started a book (quite literally) to illustrate our replies.

The first page of the book presents a map of Fantasyland, complete with images of the carousel and the iconic Cinderella Castle. A rough strategy for subsequent pages include a rendering of Arandelle (our girls, like all girls, are obsessed with Frozen), Epcot Theme Park, and more.

As of today, the expectations were for Powerwoman to create one new page a week. You better believe the girls intend to hold her to this schedule. The penalty: Incessant nagging.

In all seriousness, the book has been a huge hit. It’s also been a great inspiration—as if L and R weren’t excited already, the book (and discussion about it) has jump-started their interest in a big way. By the time August rolls around, the girls likely will be bursting at the seams for the conclusion of their pre-trip primer. I’m also looking forward to using it as a distraction tool on the six-hour plane ride to Orlando.

This whole process has taught us a valuable lesson: It’s never too early to get your children excited about upcoming family trips. Anything that sparks their imagination, anything that triggers and encourages excitement about travel, is worthwhile. Especially if it involves creativity, too.

How do you get your children excited for upcoming family trips?

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