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Traveling With Kids Can Be Fun, Rewarding
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- When some parents think of vacations with kids, they get an instant headache as pictures pop in their minds of crowded cars, unending "are we there yet?" questions and cranky children.
Dr. Louise Davis, Mississippi State University extension child and family development specialist, said traveling with children can be restful and fun for everyone. It just takes some preparation.
"Good trips are more than just hopping in the car and taking off," Davis said. "It is fun traveling with kids when everybody is prepared for the ride, is rested and knows what they're going to see."
Key to making a family vacation work is planning the trip around the children.
"Keep in mind their ages and make sure the time you spend and where you're going is appropriate for that age," Davis said.
This not only includes the final destination, but stops along the way. Preschoolers may need to walk around and use the bathroom every hour to hour and a half. School age children may last two hours and older children can tell their parents when they need a break.
The destination should be age appropriate and something the children want to see. While the children should not rule the trip, family vacations should center on their interests. Still, activities for the parents can be included, but some should wait until the kids are old enough to appreciate them.
Davis said amusement and theme parks are inappropriate for children under 3. Educational trips should wait until the children are at least 8 or 9 years old. Zoos, beaches and parks are good choices for small children.
"Adults always have a great time doing kids' activities, much more so than children trying to participate in adults' interests," Davis said.
As children get older, parents should include them in vacation planning. But there is a limit to their decision-making.
"Always give a child a choice of activities rather than asking an open-ended question, and never give a child more than two options," Davis said.
The Daily Parent offered several tips on the Internet for traveling with kids. Among these were not expecting to cover as much ground as parents would without children.
If the family is staying at one place for several days, parents should consider mailing a box of books and toys ahead. This saves suitcase space and gives the children lots to do to fill their time.
Some parents like to travel through the night as it cuts down on stops and keeps the children rested. While great for some families, others find it a hardship.
Since children lack the attention span of adults, packing an activity bag for the car gives them a way to fill the hours. This bag should be stuffed with books; art supplies such as paper, stickers and crayons; cards or magnetic travel games; a favorite small stuffed animal; and small toys.
To keep it interesting, the Daily Parent recommended buying a few small items, wrapping them in newspaper and doling them out to the kids along the way. The trick is to remember to save some for the ride home.
With careful planning and preparation, a family vacation can become a treasured memory for parents and children.
"Making a good memory has to do with how everybody is working together and has input on what they're going to do and what they're going to see," Davis said.