Softening on road-trip screen-time

Our new setup.

Our new setup.

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

That was the lesson from today’s road trip to North Lake Tahoe, where we’ll spend the better part of the next week at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. (One of the reasons we’re here: the tents in which the girls are sleeping as I write this post.)

In the olden days—you know, four years ago, when L was one—I swore I’d never be the kind of parent who stuck his kids in front of a screen on road trips. I grumbled about the parents who fail to engage kids on long drives, cited research about the deleterious effects of screen time, noted that my kids seemed more lethargic after watching TV, and vowed that I’d never, EVER soften on this stance.

Today, however, I finally and formally caved; the kids watched Frozen on our Kindle Fire during the first 100 minutes of the drive.

Logistically, this development was easy; once I installed a plastic arm from iGrip to the pole of my headrest, the biggest challenge was staying awake to write about it. Philosophically, however, it was a HUGE deal for me.

The kids, of course, thought their new in-car entertainment system was a real treat. As soon as the movie ended, they clamored for more.

And that’s where I drew the line.

You see, after years of railing against the notion of screens in cars on road trips, I wasn’t about to embrace these suckers on an unlimited basis. Instead, my new philosophy on the subject revolves around limited exposure—they can watch ONE movie or ONE program per drive. Nothing more. No matter what.

So far, the new policy seems to be working out for everyone. The lesson: In family travel (and in everything, really), be ready to admit you’re wrong.

What’s your opinion about screen time for kids on road trips?

The Best Family Travel Product Ever

We. Love. This. Game.

We. Love. This. Game.

After four years of searching, I have found the single best family travel product in the history of family travel products: Rory’s Story Cubes.

Yes, the game/activity is something that can fit in your pants pocket or a stocking (HINT, HINT). Yes, it comprises nothing more than nine dice (or, in the app, nine virtual dice). But the “Cubes” rock because 1) they are so simple and 2) they spark endless creativity in both you AND the kids.

Here’s how the Story Cubes work. Every side of each die has an image. When you roll the dice, you get nine different images facing skyward. Then you have to tell a story that incorporates each one.

According to the official game rules, it doesn’t matter which image you choose to begin your story, so long as you touch ‘em all before you’re done. And, of course, the wackier the story, the better (which is particularly why 4-year-old L loves this game so much).

The company behind the product, Belfast-based The Creativity Hub, also regularly publishes suggestions from fans and customers of alternative ways to play.

(Also, for the record, the game comes in two other versions: Actions and Voyages.)

Because the parent company is based in Ireland, it’s fitting that we discovered the game at the cottage we rented last week on the Connemara coast. We had plenty of games from which to choose, including Ker-Plunk, Operation and more. Time and time again, we went for the Cubes.

When we returned to London, I purchased the app (for Android; no Apple products in this family). Since then, none of us has been able to stop playing. (Also, since then, I’ve connected with the game creator, Rory O’Connor, on Twitter.)

Because I’m not a fan of unnecessary screen time for kids, I prefer the dice you can shake in your hand and throw. That said, I admit that the Smartphone and tablet versions are great because you can play them in environments that aren’t exactly conducive to throwing dice (namely, on planes during long flights and in cars on road trips).

Whichever version you choose ($7.65 on Amazon.com; $2.25 for the Android app), consider this sucker a must-buy. And have a blast.

What are your favorite games/products to bring along when you travel with the kids?

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