Monday, August 27, 2012

When and Why to Ditch the Portable DVD Player

My fancy schmancy new-to-me mommyvan has a very interesting secret compartment that comes down from the ceiling with the push of a button.  Inside this very secret compartment is....a place to put a DVD player.  I keep extra sunglasses in it instead.

Don't get me wrong.  We have a portable DVD player.  Also a Leapster, as well as an iPOD loaded with Yo Gabba Gabba episodes.  We have a lot of electronics that can and do keep kids occupied in the car.  I love these electronics!  There have been times when I have believed with every fiber of my being that they are they greatest things ever invented.  But most of the time this stuff lives in the back of my closet in the "Road Trip Bin".  They come out when a trip is designated, by me, as a Road Trip.

My general rule of thumb is that a Road Trip is a trip longer than two hours.  I figure that on a two hour trip we can talk, play some games, sing along to the radio, and then take a nap so the grown ups can talk.  Does it always happen this way?  Not a chance!  Do I sometimes wish my children could be mindlessly entertained with the push of a button?  Absolutely!

As difficult as it may be at times, there are a lot of reasons to ditch the DVD!

  • Car rides are a great place for story-telling.  My children love classic stories like Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood.  We have listened to these stories together on audio book so many times that we know the stories by heart.  Now we spend time reenacting the stories.  We are each assigned parts and we then act out the story.  At first I was the narrator  as well as most of the characters, but we have gotten so good that the kids play most of the major roles and I stick to bit parts. 
  • Re-telling well known and loved stories is great fun, but I know that as a kindergartener, Zoe will also be expected to come up with her own stories.  To help her develop this skill we have started to play "Pass the Story".  I will start a story with a sentence or two, then she continues it by adding her own sentences.  We keep taking turns adding pieces until we have finished.  The stories always take a few unexpected twists and turns and it is really funny to listen to what others come up with.
  • Road signs and passing scenery are great tools for a child to practice their emergent literacy and numeracy skills.  
    • Play the ABC Game.  For pre-readers show them the letter they should look for and then find it as many times as you can.  For more advanced kids, look for the letters of the alphabet in order form A to Z.  See how far you can get before you reach your destination. 
    • Choose a type or color of vehicle to count.
    • Play Color I Spy.
    • Games such as these not only help your child practice basic skills necessary for school success, they help them to train their brain to recognize things rapidly which may help with future reading fluency.
  • We practice our critical thinking skills as well as our natural science knowledge when we play "I'm Thinking of an Animal".  We take turns giving clues about an animal so the others in the car can guess.  Older children can play 20 Questions to practice the same set of skills at a more advanced level.
  • Sometimes in the car, I don't interact with the kids.  I turn on NPR and tell them that they are on their own.  In life, kids are not always actively entertained.  Staring out the window of a moving car is a great way to practice amusing oneself calmly and quietly.  As a parent be prepared to weather some whining with this one.  It's important, though, so take some deep breaths, find your zen, and let your children be bored.
  • Finally, in the car, a child is truly a captive audience.  When else is our child strapped down and facing forward?  Car rides are a great time for proactive rather than reactive parenting.  Is your child doing something that bothers or worries you?  Create some scenarios that might happen and talk about possible choices that could be made.  I often will create a story and pose a poor solution so that my daughter can tell me the right thing to do.  She can use these practice situations to better know how to handle the real thing.
It's not always easy, but it is oh so important to ditch the DVD most of the time. 

What are some other ways you keep your kids happy, amused and engaged in the car?

    Hanna Andersson

    Wednesday, August 15, 2012

    North Conway with Kids: 5 Great Hikes

    Now that kid one is a big kid and kid two is two and a half with energy to spare, it is time for me to get back into the hiking game and bring the family along for the climb.  The trick is I want to hike, I want my kids to hike, I want my dog to hike, and I want us all to have fun.  I consider Zoe walking the whole way and Sammy walking at least half with minimal whining to be a success.

    We are so lucky to live up here in the beautiful Mt. Washington Valley with great hiking in all directions and we have found some great spots.  I thought I would share a few of our favorites!

    1. Boulder Loop

    Boulder Loop is off the Kancamagus Highway near the entrance to the Covered Bridge Campground.  We love this hike, but I do have to say that we never actually do the whole thing.  Just a short way up the trail are huge, glacial boulders to climb on, under, around and over.  We bring a picnic, hike on up to the big rocks, climb like crazy, find a little rock cave to eat in, then hike back down.  After fun on the trail, we walk over to a tiny little beach under the covered bridge to cool off!

    2. Diana's Bath

    Located just off West Side Road on the way to Bartlett, Diana's Bath has been a favorite for as long as I can remember.  It is a very short hike, a bit more than a half mile, ending at a series of waterfalls that you can climb around, swim in, or just plain relax at.  There are a few bridges to cross and lots of logs to balance walk on next to the trail.  Small diversions like this always keep my kids excitement up as they go.  The whole trail is smooth enough to push a stroller on so it is a perfect first hike for the "big kid" to walk.  This trail can get very busy on hot summer days so plan accordingly.

    3. The Red Bench

    This one is a recent discovery and we loved it!  We packed up our letterboxing kits and headed north to the AMC's Highland Center.  After a relatively easy hike around half of Amonoosuc Lake, you take a hilly spur that ends at...a RED BENCH!  You can find the letterbox, eat a lunch, and talk about what great hikers you are.  My kids felt very proud of themselves after the climb.  Head back down the spur and hike the rest of the way around the lake.  There are some cameras at different places on the trail to record wildflower growth which was a great conversation piece.  The total length of the trail is about 2 miles and the best part is that after a job well done you can all go play at the amazing natural playscape on the grounds of the Highland Center!

    4. Saco Lake Trail

    Another great trail leaving from just across the street from the Highland Center.  Crossing a series of plank bridges and several rock hop stream crossings kept this trail an adventure.  There was lots of wildlife to see up close too.  The trail passed right by a great beaver dam, we saw ducks at several points on the pond, and best of all, a great blue heron flew right past us.  Even the little one walked the entire way and it was so fun to watch her trepidation as she approached the bridges when we started and her sense of pride as she crossed easily towards the end of the trail.

    4. Black Cap Mountain

    Finally...a summit recommendation!  Black Cap is a great first summit for your little climbers.  The trailhead begins after driving a good way up Hurricane Mountain Road.  You have already done a lot of the elevation gain in the car befor the hike begins so the kids don't have as far to go to feel the thrill of a summit.  Black Cap has a rocky peak with views in all directions.  You'll love it!

    Happy Hiking!

    If you liked this North Conway With Kids post, try...
    Hanna Andersson