Five ways gadgets encourage school-age kids to participate in a road trip -- instead of tuning out
"When I was young, if I got bored on a road trip, I read a book."
"When I was young, I had to listen to whatever music my parents played on the radio."
"When I was young, we entertained ourselves on car trips by playing games, singing songs, and telling jokes."
Sound familiar? I can't be the only one who sounds hopelessly crotchety when fielding my kids' road trip complaints. I know, I know -- times and technology and kids' entertainment preferences have changed dramatically since we were young. The fact is I love how wireless Internet has changed how we travel. I love being able to look up local eateries and attractions, and to make reservations online, and to sack out in a hotel with a movie on Netflix Streaming.
What I don't love is how tech and gadgets tend to isolate us in our own personal entertainment bubbles. There have been times, on road trips, where all four of us were plugged into our own respective devices (the driver's device was plugged into the car stereo). Not a crime for short periods, but left unchecked we lose a precious opportunity to connect and to build memories together.
Banning gadgets is impractical (and hypocritical, as I generally have my laptop along). Instead, here are some ways the family can still get their gadget fix while remaining engaged with each other.
One could argue that reading a book can be as isolating as playing with an electronic gadget. And one would be right. But no one would argue that kids should read less. One of the beauties of the road trip are the long stretches of uninterrupted time with relatively little to do (same reason I love long plane flights). Giving kids the opportunity to experience three or four hours of contiguous reading is a gift.
I'm still partial to paper books, but I can see the appeal of the Kindle (or iPad, or other electronic book reader) for travel. You've got your whole library along for the ride! It's light and easy to handle! It's fun to use! If you're thinking of getting a Kindle for the family to share or for your kids to use, get it before your next road trip.
It's the classic way kids have always tuned out on road trip. But I maintain that listening to music stimulates the mind in a way that compliments the real world...and not by drowning it out. Armed with an iPod or other music player (no iPod video!), one can stare out the window while listening to a personal soundtrack. I remember doing as much when I was a kid with my little cassette player, and my imagination would take flight.
Learning about geography
Here's where a gadget really shines on a road trip. With a GPS device (or GPS-enabled smartphone), kids can interact with maps in real time. More than once, our kids have pointed out stuff on the GPS that was interesting enough to cause us to detour and explore. They become active participants in how the trip plays out...you don't get more engaged than that.
Playing multiplayer games
Some electronic gaming actually brings people together. I recently wrote about a new crop of multiplayer games for the iPad that in many ways emulate the experience of playing a traditional board game. Nice thing on a road trip...no pieces to drop on the floor. I'm a fan of magnetic travel versions of regular board games, but if you're already bringing your iPad, these are worth a look.
Another way to involve the kids in the trip is to let them research where you're going. Get out the laptop or smartphone and get on Yelp to find tonight's dinner (or anything else), check out official tourism sites, even "preview" a place on YouTube. The more kids can find what they find interesting about your destination, the more enthusiastic they'll be about the adventure.
This post is part of a series sponsored by Dodge Caravan.