Rule #3: Get moving.
Even in relatively cramped quarters there are ways to get the blood flowing. A few very simple seat calisthenics can help get rid of those sluggish feelings or calm a little person who's feeling boxed in and keyed up. "The best thing you can you can do for a squirming kid is show her how she can still move her muscles in tight spaces;" claims Kranowitz, "the worst thing is to force her to be motionless."
The key is stretching muscles and compressing joints. Even young toddlers can mimic movements, and preschoolers can help you count to ten during each stretch. The exercises below can help you and your child relax. Doing them together makes them even more fun!
- flex and point your feet
- take off shoes and wiggle your toes
- hug your knees tightly
- hug your shoulders
- press elbows against the seat or car seat armrest and push
- place palms together and push each finger tip into the opposite one
- bring a yard of exercise band or tubing—push feet into the middle and pull each end up
- deep pressure or massage on various muscles can be engaging and is a great option for calming infants
If you're traveling by car, make time for stops that encourage movement. Dan Olinger, father of an 18-month-old, purposely takes the long way. "We decided to stop taking the interstates, so we pass through lots of little towns with playgrounds and parks," he says. It takes us a little longer, but Ethan's happier which makes us all happier!"
Try These Activities on the Road or in the Air
Kranowitz's book offers all kinds of suggestions for activities that require minimal (or no) materials. Many of her ideas work in the car or on an airplane, as well as in the comfort of your home.
Pipe Cleaner Garland
Toddlers, preschoolers, and even older kids can stay busy with a package of pipe cleaners and their imaginations. For a more structured project, twist ends of one to make a circle. Loop another through the middle and make another circle. Continue, then connect the first and last pipe cleaners to make a circle of circles. Please note that pipe cleaners are not safe for very young toddlers or babies.
Road Sign Alphabet
Kids often know their letters long before they can read. If yours know their ABCs, work together to find letters A to Z on road signs, billboards, and storefronts. For older children, make it a race to see who can reach Z first. Adapt the game for younger children by naming things for them to find (ex: "Can you find a red car?").
Tailor some good thinking questions to your child's age and interests. Questions like "What if you were a bumblebee?" and "What if it were summer all the time?" are perfect for sparking conversations that use imagination and expand young minds. For young toddlers, ask what they think they'll see when they reach their destination.
Working individual muscles and joints throughout your child's body help soothe him, because kids' bodies naturally crave continual movement. It's simple and fun to do together. Count to five and point your toes down towards the floor. As you count to five again, pull your foot back to your shin—that's called extension and flexion. Encourage your little traveler to try it with elbows, knees, even toes. You can help by demonstrating and by applying a little resistance. For example, use your hands to push against your child's calf when he flexes his knee.
In this game, someone starts by making up a catchy, rhythmic sentence with the last word missing. The next person has to fill in that word. For example, "I know a boy who likes to cook, and when he's done we'll read a ______" (answer: book). Filling in those blanks employ language and creativity. Even if your child comes up with silly-sounding answers, you can be sure it'll be fun for all.
Grab a button and some yarn from the busy box (dental floss works, too). Thread the string through button holes, then tie the ends. Move the button to the middle and grab two ends of the loop. Make circular movements until the string is tightly wound, then pull the ends apart and watch the button spin. See if you can get the button to make a humming sound by pulling strings apart more quickly.
Fun with Fabric
This is a great project for the youngest travelers. Getting in touch with his tactile sense can be very soothing for your child. You'll be surprised how a few swatches of soft fabric like silk, velvet, corduroy, satin can keep children engaged in touching and rubbing and even playacting from the comfort of their seats.
With a little creativity, traveling can be fun, even for the stir-craziest of kids. So pack up a busy box, fuel your imagination, and hit the road!