Arches National Park (with kids!) in a Day — plus a glimpse of Canyonlands National Park

We recently took an epic, 4500+ mile road trip in a loop around some of the western United States, attempting to hit a number of requested stops on our way to and from a family reunion in Wyoming. Since our time was limited, we often managed only one day (generally 4-6 hours, to accommodate travel to and from each location) at each of our stops along the way. Despite the fact that ‘Love’s idea of a vacation is a three-hour drive to the cottage followed by a week of sedentary relaxation, I think we managed pretty well on our whirlwind trip. In case you have a similar time crunch and are wondering how to spend your precious hours at some of these same stops, here was our experience.

**Read about our stop at the Grand Canyon here.**

Since we were trekking up through Utah, ‘Love and I were determined to stop at one of the lovely national parks there.  After some research and agonization, we settled on Arches National Park (with a glimpse of nearby Canyonlands National Park).

We arrived in Moab, Utah in late afternoon, having driven from Flagstaff, Arizona with stops at Four Corners and Newspaper Rock–both of which were interesting, but rather brief and out-of-the-way.  Since we were not ready to lounge around the hotel that early in the day, we thought we’d take a jaunt over to Canyonlands National Park, since we just had a few short hikes we planned to do there. Continue reading

The Grand Canyon (with kids!) in a Day

We recently took an epic, 4500+ mile road trip in a loop around some of the western United States, attempting to hit a number of requested stops on our way to and from a family reunion in Wyoming.  Since our time was limited, we often managed only one day at each of our stops along the way.  Despite the fact that ‘Love’s idea of a vacation is a three-hour drive to the cottage followed by a week of sedentary relaxation, I think we managed pretty well on our whirlwind trip.  In case you have a similar time crunch and are wondering how to spend your precious hours at some of these same stops, here was our experience.

We drove to the Grand Canyon from our hotel in Gallup.  While this was a four-hour drive, we gained an hour en route because Gallup participates in Daylight Saving Time, while the Grand Canyon does not.  And since our bodies were still used to CST, we were able to easily be up, breakfasted, and out of the hotel by 7 am, bringing us to the Grand Canyon by 11 am–or 10 local time.  All this to say–if you can’t get a hotel close by, don’t despair! Continue reading

perspective

Kids’ emotional development, like their growth, is generally so gradual that you don’t notice it happening.  It takes a comment from friends you haven’t seen for a while–“Whoa!  Peatie sure has shot up, hasn’t he!”–to surprise you into realizing that the change has, indeed, been occurring under your very nose.

This month’s vacation created that needed perspective.  We took a 20-hour drive back to ‘Love’s family cottage, which we’ve visited every summer Pookie has been alive.  Every summer, the story has been the same: he’s perfectly okay if we’re at the cottage and he might have a few moments of happiness when we’re enjoying the beach out front, but he’s an utter beast on any day-trips, completely stressed and cranky and clingy and begging to leave.  It doesn’t matter if we’re visiting the petting farm or the ice cream stand or the lighthouse, he’s equally miserable for all of them.  It’s hard for the rest of us to enjoy excursions with his anxiety level so high.

CottageAnd then there was this year.  When we arrived at the cottage, it was nearly bedtime, and he flipped out over a stain on the ceiling.  I thought, “Here we go again…”  But that was pretty much the end of his freak-outs.  He relished each day at the beach.  He ASKED to climb the lighthouse again this year and bravely strolled around once we reached the top, even smiling for a picture, this child of mine who HATES being photographed.  He had a blast at the petting farm, admiring the animals and bouncing like crazy on the jumping pillow and even going down an enormous tube slide all on his own.  He placed an ice cream order–and then ate the ice cream.

Looking back at the pictures, I think, “Who IS this kid?”  And then I hear him falling apart over the way the peanut butter looks on his toast and I am recalled to reality–but with a flavor of hope.

Sometimes when you have your nose to the grindstone and you’re around your kids day in and day out, it’s hard to see their progress.  You begin to wonder if they’ll ever outgrow their quirks or difficult phases, if they’ll ever gain self-control and turn into mature, empathetic human beings.  It’s so nice to have reassuring moments like these when the progress is apparent and you can convince yourself that this, too, shall pass.

printable activity pages for kids

If you’re headed on vacation and need something to fill the hours spent traveling–or if you’re merely trying to find something to fill a rainy day–there’s a wealth of fun to be had just a printer away.  Here are some of the options I found in a quick search.  (As of my search, these sites were functional and safe.)

Sudoku

  • Activity Village offers number or word sudoku at various levels of difficulty.
  • Science Kids has a page with a selection of sudoku puzzles from easy to hard.

Logic Puzzles

  • LoveToKnow has a page with a few different puzzle types: traditional logic puzzles, nonograms, and sudoku puzzles.
  • Printable Puzzles has free samples of their logic puzzles at four levels of difficulty.  You can access four of the easier types and two of the harder types for free; if you find yourself addicted, you can always pay a few dollars to access a few dozen more.

Connect-the-Dots

  • Coloring.ws has connect-the-dots sheets organized by theme or by difficulty.  You can connect the letters of the alphabet or numbers, and they range from 9 dots to 45.  You can even choose to increase the challenge by counting by twos, fives, or tens!
  • Raising Our Kids offers sixty free connect-the-dot pages.  The easiest have ten dots, while the hardest ones have more than one hundred.

Coloring Pages–for all ages!

  • Step ColorinG provides a searchable database of images, from very simple pictures for little ones to complex geometric designs for older kids (or adults!).
  • Super Coloring has images organized by theme.  Each animal kingdom is represented (plus dinosaurs), and there are also categories for flowers, fruit, and cartoons.

Hidden Pictures, Crossword Puzzles, Color-by-Number, Mazes

  • All Kids Network has all of the above and then some.  Drop in to find the right activity and difficulty level for your kid!
  • Raising Our Kids also features a wide variety of activity options, particularly if you have a preschooler (though they also have puzzles that are better suited to older kids).  Several of these activity pages are ones I’ve seen in the generic coloring books you can buy in most stores.

 

road trip tips: a survival guide for parents

Four years ago (!) I posted some of my road-trip tips for traveling with young kids. While some of those tips and tricks are ones I still use, I thought it was about time for an updated version including suggestions for older kids, especially since we’re anticipating a 20-hour drive back “home” to see ‘Love’s family again in a few weeks.

Goober has NEVER been a good car rider.  As an infant, she couldn’t even make it the five minutes to Grandma’s without screaming.  Last year we made it 30 minutes into our first day of driving when she announced, “I’m done sitting in the car.  How much longer until we get to the hotel?”  Knowing her personality, I always make extensive preparations for car entertainment.

Let me say right from the start that I have the world’s only children who do not sleep in the car.  Since that’s the #1 road-trip tip I hear, I figured I’d best include that one up front. If your kids are car sleepers, consider yourself lucky and take full advantage. For anyone whose children are odd like mine, here are some alternative suggestions.

There are some items no child-carrying car should be without on long trips.

  • Baby wipes.  No baby, you say?  No matter–take them anyway.  They come in handy if the gas station restroom is out of soap, if someone has greasy or sticky hands after a snack, if someone pukes in their lap…
  • Gallon Ziploc bags.  An odd one, perhaps, but handy.  Kid feeling queasy after eight hours in the car?  Hand him a bag.  If he uses it, you can conveniently seal the bag and contain the smell.  Toss his shorts in a second bag if his aim was off.  The bags are also handy for transporting wet swimsuits, containing opened snack packages, keeping the twelve hair-ties your daughter HAD to have in when you left and can no longer stand an hour later, and more!
  • Sunglasses for all!  You’d hate to get to a rest stop only to have the blinding sun prevent anyone from running off some energy.  Toss these in a Ziploc and keep them at-hand just in case.  Toss in sunscreen and hats if your skin is sensitive enough to burn in 15 minutes.  No one wants sunburn!
  • BandAids.  Hopefully you’ve got a stash of these in your car already, but if not, toss them in.  A reckless kid at a rest stop will often find a way to make them necessary.  Pull out the baby wipes to clean off the dirt, and slap a BandAid on top.
  • Your favorite pain reliever–for yourself and the kids.  What could be worse than driving through rush-hour traffic in the blinding sun at the end of a long day while your kids argue in the back seat?  Doing the above with an aching back or a searing headache.  And you know how cranky your kids get when they’re feverish or headachey?  Better throw in something for them, too.
  • Food, water, and entertainment–but you knew that.  See below for more tips on this particular category.
Road Trip

A good road-tripper is well-prepared.

Use rest stops to play, NOT to eat.  I start feeding my kids about 45 min-1 hour before we plan to stop.  (I bring sandwich fixings or crackers, fruit, veggies, cheese sticks, or even Lunchables for meals.  Snacks consist of non-crumbly granola bars, Teddy Grahams, mini pretzel twists, Nilla Wafers, Goldfish–anything that can’t melt and either doesn’t crumble or can be eaten in one bite.)  A small cooler crowded by my feet in the front comes in handy, or I’ve used the cooler as a footrest for someone sitting in the center of the row behind me.)  Usually this is the point at which the kids are getting restless and food helps stretch their “sit” by a little.  By the time we stop, liquids have made their way through the kids’ systems (or will before the stop is over).

We try to find rest stations with lots of open space or a playground or a fast food joint with a play area (and the adults have a snack).  I even research rest stops along the route to find out which ones are closed for renovations, which have a reputation for cleanliness, which have space for kids to roam.  I often list several top choices so we can shorten or lengthen our time between stops as needed.  We spend 15-20 minutes playing hard (with adults chasing kids if necessary to make sure kids use maximum energy) and using the bathroom.

On a related note…non-melting candies (especially things that go slowly, like DumDums) are good distractions between snack and meal times.  I’m not usually one to load my kids up on junk food and candy, but road trips are my once-a-year exception.

Stop as few times as possible. We fill up on gas each time we stop–whether we need it or not–so we don’t have to make an extra stop for gas later.  Even a quick gas stop or potty break will likely add at least 15 minutes to your trip, and on a long trip, no one wants extra time in the car.  Remind those with suspiciously wimpy bladders that every stop will take away from evening pool time (see below) or at the very least add to the length of the drive time.  If nothing else, maybe the groans of their siblings will help to delay their demands to stop RIGHT NOW.  If you do stop, require everyone to try using the bathroom lest you get back on the road and have someone else claim a bathroom emergency twenty minutes later.

Make sure each day ends with a pool.  I reserve a hotel with an indoor pool because I remember as a kid being heartbroken when we drove all day and then it was too cold or stormy to swim.  Swimming even for an hour uses tons of energy and helps everyone sleep better, as well as giving everyone something to look forward to all day long.  On the plus side, most hotels with indoor pools also include a hot breakfast, so while you may be paying more for the night, considering that extra $25 bought everyone some pool time and as much breakfast food as they can fit (not to mention something to look forward to all day and enough exercise to sleep well), it’s not a bad deal.

Long car trips are a time to make exceptions about tech use.  We have a tablet that we let everyone have a 20-minute turn on–sometimes once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Last year I also played a DVD on my laptop toward the end of each afternoon when everyone was getting really restless. (Sadly, my DVD-ROM drive seems to have died.)  Those prolonged distractions were lifesavers!

Contain your paper clutter while providing ample activity options.  I make each kid a binder (built-in hard writing surface) with coloring pages (cool geometric designs for older kids), mazes, blank paper, logic puzzles, sudoku, crosswords, dot-to-dots (everything from simple to extreme)–anything I can find that they might like–and include colored pencils plus a little sharpener (with a securely-attached case to catch shavings) in a zipper pencil pouch at the front.  (Why colored pencils?  Crayons melt in a hot car and markers tend to accidentally bleed or have their caps left off or get dropped and leave marks or “accidentally” form designs on children’s skin.)  Though I looked at various books available for purchase, I ultimately searched online for free sample pages and was able to print off and put together a book with more variety than I could have purchased.  I put together a list of activities and where I found them, if you want me to save you some legwork.

Magnetic trays work well for lots of activities.  We have jelly roll pans (cookie sheets with a lip around) that are magnetic (not all are–test before buying!).

  • When my kids were little, I printed a picture of one of those rugs with the roads on it (sized to fit my tray) and laminated it for the kids to use while playing with cars. I even hot-glued magnets to the bottom of the cars so they would stay where they were driven. My 4-year-old still loves this, and even the older two will play around with it for a while.
  • I take a baggie of magnetic letters for the little guy and a baggie of magnetic poetry for the older two.  They enjoy trying to outdo each other by making ridiculous, nonsensical stories or sentences.
  • Have some tangrams or magnetic puzzles?  The tray is handy for spreading out pieces and keeping spare parts from getting lost between the seats.
  • I pack each kid a small container of Lego pieces (with a base piece hot-glued to the lid).  The tray offers plenty of space to place the small tote on one side and use the remaining space to build.

Ponder favorite game options that would work well for travel.  Many games offer specific travel versions, but games like Guess Who?, Rush Hour, Rory’s Story Cubes, Mad Libs, and others can easily be enjoyed on the go.  And don’t forget the classic Road-Trip Bingo cards!  I picked up a few in Target’s dollar section recently.

Use your ever-changing location to spark interest!

  • As soon as my kids started reading, I always printed a map of where we were going and highlighted our route.  Now my kids have their own atlases, and Peatie spends most of the trip simply looking for each town as we go and telling us how far away things are and what we’re passing.
  • Having the kids look for needed signs (exits, interchanges) is great even for littles who just know a few letters (“We’re looking for a sign with a word that starts with S!”)–except if they get too competitive.
  • If you’re driving past or stopping at any points of interest, part of each day could be spent talking or reading aloud about what you’re going to see and why it’s important/exciting.  My kids always enjoy destinations more when they’re primed.
  • Classic activities like the alphabet game (you know–where you find your ABCs in order as you drive) are always good bets.
  • When I was a kid, my siblings and I would keep statistics on various things.  We’d note which state license plates we’d seen and how many of each, or we’d track vehicle types or colors throughout the day.  I suspect my kids may be old enough to start enjoying this now.

Use your stereo system to the fullest. 

  • Audiobooks can entertain many a child for hours at a time, whether they’re following along in a book or simply enjoying the story.
  • My kids don’t like audiobooks, but they do like to sing along to favorite songs.  If I can get them doing motions, they work off some energy at the same time.
  • I’m hoping to snag some good educational songs on CD or MP3.  If we can memorize the state capitols, books of the Bible, elements of the Periodic Table, multiplication tables, or some other glorious facts whilst we pass the miles, all the better.
  • Classical music can work magic.  When everyone is angsty from too long in the car, someone is always unhappy about the CD we’re listening to.  For some reason, no one complains when I pop in classical music.  The kids talk about the instruments they hear, what the music makes them think of, which songs are their favorites, or simply sit and mellow out while looking out the window.  Daddy sighs with relief that he doesn’t have to listen to kid-safe, peppy music.  I love it!

Books hold a multitude of possibilities.

  • While my kids balk at audiobooks, they love to listen to me read aloud for long stretches of time.  (Go figure!)
  • A few new books can be special treats.  Especially engaging are books with detailed pictures (anyone’s littles LOVE Richard Scarry?) or new books from a favorite series.
  • Search-and-find books are good for whiling away the hours.  ‘Love still had his old Where’s Waldo? books and we’ve picked up a few I Spy books, as well.  Even if they’re not searching for the items, the kids enjoy looking at all the details in the pictures.

Sometimes they just need to fidget.

  • Our pin art toy is a perpetual favorite for car trips–though my sister-in-law tells me that her plastic version is quieter and thus less irritating to fellow passengers.
  • I keep a couple squishy balls or animals from the dollar store on hand for trips.  Even if you can’t really DO anything with them, they’re fun to squish through your fingers while looking out the window.
  • My cousin said for road trips she always buys each of her kids a roll of masking tape.  Apparently it keeps everyone busy for quite a long time, from the preschooler sticking it all over himself to the older kids attempting to create clothing, jewelry, or other items by sticking pieces together.  I may try this!

the myth of “vacation” with young children

Splattered across the internet this summer are the remnants of everyone’s family vacations.  Having just returned from one myself, I’m here to give you a dose of reality.

What people share about their family vacations:'Love and the kids enjoy the beach

  • Mobile updates regarding travel status
  • Photographs of smiling children in exotic (or not-so-exotic) locales
  • Photographs of parents hugging or otherwise posing with their smiling children
  • Progress updates to inform folks about what landmark or restaurant is currently being enjoyed
  • Quotable quotes from said smiling children
  • Lamentation about returning home

What people don’t share about their family vacations:

  • The amount of snack food passed out to small children to keep them from whining incessantly during travel
  • The brief amount of time that any toy actually captures a traveling (or trapped-indoors-due-to-weather) child’s attention
  • The insane amount of STUFF required to travel with small children (Pack ‘n’ Play? Check. Bed rail for toddler? Check. Special blanket and stuffed animal for each child? Nightlights? Twelve dozen diapers? 800 gazillion toys to hand them in the car or on the plane?)
  • The fact that your baby who is old enough that he’s too nosy to doze off in his infant seat during errands is also old enough to notice that he is most definitely NOT at his own house in his own crib, and will thus be next-to-impossible to get to sleep at nap and night
  • The fact that vacationing makes small children feel a bit insecure, since their little worlds have been turned upside down, and thus they are prone to being rather cranky or, at the very least, not especially calm and easy to manage
  • The number of television shows small children are allowed to watch while their parents to pack all that gear and get it back in the car
  • The fact that expending so much energy planning activities to keep children busy (and thus less likely to utterly destroy their temporary lodgings) for every waking moment leaves little time for parental enjoyment

Sounds like I had a terrible time, doesn’t it?  (To be honest, it WAS worse than last year—but it did also follow eight straight weeks of visiting relatives coming and going.)  And yet, despite all that work, there are all those pictures of smiling children…  And somehow, we did manage to have a decent enough time that we will repeat the whole procedure next year—and hope that each year will be better than the last, as our children grow older.

What’s your experience vacationing with little ones?

the agony and ecstasy of family

Let me just start by saying that I love my family.  I like and respect my parents, and I get along well with my siblings and their spouses.  There’s only one problem: I was the only child who managed to remain near our parents (a glorious benefit).  My nearest sibling lives 10 hours away by car.  The others are 19 and 23 hours away in different directions.  We’re all in the country, just very spread out.

Combine the two elements, and you have a family that gets along well but has a nearly-impossible time getting together.  Since my siblings all stop in to see my parents periodically, I got lucky and saw everyone once a year or so, but the rest of my siblings were going years between sightings.  My parents decided to intervene to try to improve things: enter the family vacation, all grown up.

Extended family photo

Last year’s sweaty group photo in the aptly-named HOT Springs, Arkansas. We spent most of our time indoors. (Faces obscured to protect privacy. My family obscured just because we don’t look so great.)

The first time we got together as a family, there was only one grandchild, a portable two-month-old.  Originally we were thinking of gathering every three years.  That seemed too long, so we suggested every-other year…but we just couldn’t stay away that long.  This will be our fourth summer get-together in a row, and we have added more children each year; now we’re up to eight-and-a-half.  Obviously, we all look forward to these get-togethers all year long…but at the same time, we dread them.

When we get together, it’s pretty intense.  Because we have lots of small kids (the oldest is six), in order to spend any time together, we have to share housing—that way, the adults can hang out even when little ones are napping or asleep for the evening.  In the past, we have rented large vacation homes, and each family gets one bedroom.  Thus, the entire week of togetherness is spent with no alone time (rough for a family of mostly introverted folks) and some pretty poor sleep as overwhelmed kids wake often at night.

This year, two of the three families were planning on spending some time at my parents’ house, so we’re meeting here, allowing us to divide ourselves between two homes.   This is both lovely and horrible, all at the same time.  Lovely: My family will remain in our own home, in our own beds.  Horrible: The get-together will be happening at my parents’ house, but I will be at my house.  In addition, one or the other of my siblings will be here for almost the entire summer.  That’s a lot of disruption for little ones—and their parents—who like routine and predictability.

Our Summer of Insanity began with the first weeklong drive-through by my brother, his wife, and their kids last week.  Tonight my sister and her girls arrive in town for three weeks; her husband will follow this weekend.  My brother and his family will return two weeks from now and stay for three weeks (and then leave for a week and then be back for one more), and my other brother and his wife will fly in for a long weekend.

How is it that we can so look forward to an event—and also eagerly anticipate its conclusion?  I dearly wish my family lived closer so we could enjoy more day-to-day moments instead of trying to cram a year’s worth of togetherness into one week (or one summer).  I suppose I should just count myself fortunate that I have a family that I like and am able to see annually, since some do not even get that.