Deirdre Homeschool Ink Slingers It Worked For Me Parenting

Traveling Technology-Free with Children

My husband and I have lived far away from our families and friends for almost our entire marriage, so we take a lot of road trips with our young children. I’m not a fan of playing movies for my children and don’t give them electronic toys, so keeping them entertained on long road trips takes a little bit more planning and creativity. Here are some of my tricks and tips for keeping young children entertained on long road trips, without turning to screen time.

One of my best car tricks I learned from a dear friend when we lived in student housing in Austin: set up a store in the car, filled with various types of prizes: stickers, matchbox cars, magic invisible markers, books, special snacks and lollipops, etc. I try to have a variety of car-friendly activities and snacks/special treats in the store. These don’t have to be expensive, I try to find things on clearance or dollar aisles. I also have a set of toy money. My children are paid $1 for each half-hour or 1 hour they behave in the car, depending on their age and the length of the road trip, etc. In addition to normal expected good behavior, behaving in the car includes not asking “are we there yet?”, “how much longer?”, “has it been an hour yet?” or “when can I have my dollar?” I try to start the time on the hour, so it is easier for the children (and me!) to keep track of. Once they have behaved for a full hour, they earn their dollar. They can choose to buy something small from the store, or they can choose to save their dollar so they can buy something bigger from the store once they have earned a few more dollars. Admittedly, this game takes some planning: buying varying prizes for the store, having enough prizes to last the entire trip, and enough desirable prizes that different children will want, coming up with their prices, keeping track of the time and money, etc. But it also teaches them so much: they are learning about time, the clock, money, adding and subtracting, the value of saving your money versus spending it immediately, the varying prices of commodities, and adding and subtracting. I am also reinforcing values of obedience and good-behavior: if a child does not behave, they don’t earn their dollar that hour. I’ve also added in other incentives at times, like when my oldest son was learning to read, he could earn an extra dollar for every book he joyfully read to his younger siblings. This game has worked very well for us on various road trips, especially as the children get older. It’s harder to implement with young children but I will usually just reward a young child with a small prize when the older children are buying their prizes. There are many ways you could adapt this game to work for your family.

Certain crafts can also be great for road trips. We’ve had great success with stringing beads on pipe cleaners, stickers on construction paper, and pre-packaged craft projects from craft stores like foam letters and numbers to write things or make a picture on construction paper, or foam nativity pieces to put on a foam stable at Christmas time. With children as young as mine, I avoid projects that require glue or glitter or anything excessively messy in the car, but stickers and pipe cleaner projects seem to work well.

Coloring is another favorite for my children. I try to get them a new coloring book or small activity book for a car trip. Melted crayons can make a huge mess in the car so I bring colored pencils instead. But my new favorite coloring tool for road trips is magic invisible markers! The ink in the marker is clear, but color appears when the marker touches the special paper sold with the makers. These are fantastic because they don’t leave a mess on your car seats, clothes, or fingers, and the young children love using them and seeing a beautiful picture appear. This is a little bit more expensive of a road trip prize, but I have been able to find a package of 10-20 special pictures that the magic markers work on, and just buy one package and all the kids share it. They really love this road trip treat!

Books can be another great activity on road trips. Older children can obviously read their own books, and I strongly encourage this (as long as they don’t get car sick!) but my children also enjoy being read to. Our home school curriculum usually has a chapter book that we’re supposed to be reading for family read-aloud anyway, so I’ll bring that in the car and read that to the children, which they really enjoy. Another educational option is to bring library books specific to the area you’re going to visit (we brought some great books about the Grand Canyon and the dessert when we took a road trip out west. The children loved having new books to look at and learned a lot in preparation for the sights they were about to see). We tried a book on tape for our children on our most recent road trip, and it was not a huge success, but that’s mostly because our children are still too young. The 6 year old was very into the story, but the younger children were not. It was still great for the 6 year old and I’m sure the other children will enjoy it more as they get older. Favorite picture books for the younger children or a new book older children can earn from the prize bag are always a hit.

Of course classic car games can still be a lot of fun, for children who are old enough: My Mother Packed a Bag and the License Plate Game are essential to any good road trip! Spot It is small and easy for children sitting next to each other to play in the car. The Magna Doodle is another favorite for long car trips. Children of all ages can use it to draw and practice writing, but it can also be used for tick-tack-toe, hang man, Pictionary, and other drawing games.

The car can also be the perfect place for some home schooling lessons, especially group history and geography lessons relating to the areas you’re visiting. My children enjoy school workbooks, so I bring those and encourage them to do a few pages of phonics and math throughout the trip.

Snacks can be a good distraction and special road trip reward. I try to buy special snacks that we don’t usually have, while also bringing snacks that are healthy, aren’t too loaded with sugar, and aren’t too messy.

For younger children, I rotate through several of their favorite toys and books, but this is by far the best road trip toy I have found for my babies and toddlers: the Manhattan Skwish. It is amazing, trust me.
Obviously, pulling off a successful technology-free road trip with several young children takes a bit of extra planning and packing, but I think it’s worth it. My husband might joke about how much extra stuff I bring in the car to entertain and educate the children on our trip, but I’d prefer that to the mind-numbing hum of electronics in the car any day.

What are some of your road trip essentials for children?

Confessions of The Original Online Junkie Ink Slingers Martina Series

Confessions of The Original Online Junkie: Calming Cyberspace Cravings

You know the drill. You sit down at the computer {or tablet, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, Android, laptop, etc.} with a hot cup of joe in hand – to check your e-mail. You tell yourself calmly & firmly what is about to happen.

I will check my e-mail. I will do nothing else. I own the Internet, it does not own me. I will not get sucked in…

::enter social media vortex::


BLAMMY! That’s the sound of you losing the interwebs battle, yet again, you well-intentioned cyberspace user! Before you know it, you are headlong into an online game of Chutes and Ladders – and, no, I’m not talking about the actual online game – you climb the ladder from e-mail to check your Facebook  account, by clicking on the perpetually open browser tab {don’t lie, you know you do this!}. You hop on over to Twitter to see what the haps are before sliding down to grab your smart phone – OOOOOH, I haven’t updated my Instagram in a while – let me see what’s going on there…check out the photo-a-day challenge, look around the house frantically to find something to snap, gussy up picture, write snazzy caption and #lotsofcoolhashtags, exit. Take a sip of your now cold coffee.

Wait. What was I supposed to do? Oh, yeah. Pinterest!!

::an HOUR later…if you’re lucky::

Wait. What was I supposed to do? Eeeeee-mail.

Is this you? Do you do what I like to call social media dominoes where you start off with an honest-to-goodness task that involves productivity, such as responding to an e-mail or sending out a few messages you’ve been meaning to only to find yourself moving around from one social media platform to another to another to another – oh, you get the point! Or maybe you’re like me and you run your apostolate on a platform. Apart from the actual blog, all communication is housed on one social media platform, which is good and bad. Good because everything is in one spot. Bad because EVERYTHING is in one spot – uh hem, Facebook, I’m looking at YOU! I get constant notifications regarding the blog along with my personal notifications and, also like a domino affect, my laptop dings, my web browser pulls up the notification with a ding, my phone buzzes {because I NEVER have the ringer on, thankyouverymuch}, and my new iPad mini dings, too.

Even though my apostolates force me to prioritize my time more efficiently, I have to constantly exercise restraint and self-control while online lest my day be wasted playing Candy Crush or MahJong {and, great, I played a game of MahJong just looking up the link – I had to make sure it was a good link, dontchaknow!}. This is not a perfect process, some days I do a good job and other days I fail before I get out of bed.

Temptations will always be in the background of the things that are truly worth our time. When the time suck wins, noteworthy and even spiritually beneficial projects, communications, and ideas lose. How can we conquer the temptation to play on platforms all day instead of doing what we need to do? Here are some tips I’ve come up with for you – and me – to tuck away, print up and stick on the fridge, or maybe glue to your forehead – ermm, your computer screen to help you allocate your online time just a weeeee bit better.

Your Handy Dandy Guide to Getting the Most Out of Your Online Time – or YHDGTGTMOOYOT
  1. Start your day with prayer. This one seems obvious, but how often do we start our day in prayer, whether it be rote prayers, thanks and praise for God’s blessings on a new day, Lectio Divina, Scripture reading, meditation, contemplative prayer, rosary, Diving Mercy Chaplet, or take your pick? Father Uche made an excellent point last week in our Adult Faith Formation class while teaching about Lectio Divina. What stood out to me was his simple assessment of how we treat our spouses and related it to our time spent with God. Would you ignore your spouse all day? Likely not, if you know what’s good for you! And, yet, can we be really surprised that our day is already off kilter when we don’t start our day with a daily dose of God the way we do {or should} with our spouse, someone whom we have committed to love and who loves us despite our shortcomings? Is it hard for you to carve out time to pray? Make a pact with yourself that before you get out of bed, you will, at minimum, say a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, sharing with God all the abundant blessings He’s given you. The petitions and begging can wait for later.
  2. Use paper notepads and planners. I think it would surprise people to know that most of my planning, brainstorming and general storing of ideas is on good, old-fashioned paper. Why? For me, it’s because I prefer paper in some situations to always storing my thoughts and ideas in my phone, or in a Word document on the laptop. Don’t get me wrong, though. My notes section of my iPhone is pretty dang “full up.” The idea behind jotting down notes on memo pads is to minimize the distractions. It’s hard to pull up your e-mail, check FB, “Instagram,” pin, or tweet if you’re scribbling away on actual paper. You may find your stream of consciousness is actually more of a purposeful stream vs. a hose gone wild when you don’t stop eleventy billion times due to all of the notifications popping up on your phone or computer.

    My paper planner
  3. Be mindful of where you spend your online time. Ask yourself through the day, is this the best use of my time? Sometimes we need to be in work mode and other times we are in play mode and there is nothing wrong with that! The reason to be mindful is to make sure the time you designate for work is allocated for…dun dun DUN!!! work! The same goes with down time. If you need to unwind with some MahJong, by all means, unwind! But, if you are truly off the clock for work, then avoid e-mail after a designated “off” time – 7 p.m., for example and stick to it. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you have to answer work e-mail while in your jammies and brushing your teeth. If you need help with this, pretend it’s Lent and you are enforcing these rules, by golly!
  4. Avoid fruitless confrontations. I will be exploring this particular point in more detail in an upcoming post, but suffice it to say, if a conversation, topic, person, hot button issue, or news article gets your dander up, walk away. I know, I know, easier said than done, but if it’s something that causes you to waste your day slaving away in comboxes at the expense of your vocation, or rents too much space in your brain, or, worse, makes you a nasty growly person to your family and you try to bite off your spouse’s head, it’s good to know trigger points and how to walk away to save yours and everyone else’s sanity. More on that later, friends.
  5. Get your rest! This one also seems a bit obvious, but it’s amazing to me how many people stay up online WELL into the wee hours of the morning surfing the interwebs. Well, by amazing, I mean, I remember doing that, too, back in the day. Staying up all night chatting online with strangers seems so foreign to me now, but that’s what I did as a teenager and young adult. These days, and maybe it’s because I recently celebrated a birthday that tips me into the closer to 40 than 30 age range that helps me with this? I am such a crank pot if I don’t get enough sleep and because of that, I am more committed resolved anxious desperate to get myself to bed at a decent hour. If that doesn’t happen one night {for one life reason or another}, I make sure to get to bed earlier the next evening to reset so I can function. You know the phrase, if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy? Yeah, that’s me. A nasty little spitfire of fun when I’m tired.
  6. Your bedroom is your sanctuary. Store electronic devices in rooms that are NOT your bedroom. This one might be a bit trickier since some people do work from home and double their bedroom as their work space…or, there are other reasons they might have them stored in the bedroom. The point of this is to create a space for yourself – away from…mind clutter. Reduce the temptation to check e-mail and the inevitable social media dominoes that comes with the one task you really meant to do. When in doubt, ask yourself Can this wait until later/tomorrow/after my chores? you’ll find the answer is usually yes – the world won’t spin off its axis if you can’t do whatever at that precise moment. My own downfall was bringing the laptop into the bedroom to work on email, projects, lining up posts, writing posts, etc. Why not? It’s portable, I was comfortable under my covers, I was productive…wasn’t that supposed to be the point of having a laptop? Not being tethered to a stationary setting? The problem was it overtook the one daggone place in the home that should have been my sanctuary, my refuge. About six months ago, I made the decision to only work on the laptop at the dining room table or on the sofa with my feet kicked up. It works because when I put it away, it’s PUT AWAY. The only caveat to this has been my phone {which doubles as my alarm clock}, which sits on my night stand. I justify its location by doing #1 first.

So, there you go! I’ve solved all your online problems. Or not, lol. Sound off in the combox and tell me what you’d add to the list. What’s worked for you? Let’s talk! Until next time, friends!

Crafts Domestic Church Homeschool Parenting Rachel M Sacred Scripture

Fishers of Men: The Board Game

In our little “School of Joseph”, named by my oldest preschooler, we try to focus on a Bible story a week. During letter ‘F’ week, I decided that we would talk about Jesus calling the apostles and asking them to be “fishers of men”.

I must say it’s one of my favorite passages, and I just love that analogy. It paints such a beautiful picture of what Jesus is calling us to do. But, I wasn’t sure that my 4, 3, and 2 year old would quite understand what it meant. So, I devised a game.

First, we read the passage straight from The Bible: “As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20). We talked about what it meant to be fishers of men, and what kind of sacrifices Peter and Andrew must have made in their lives to leave their nets, “at once”.

Then, we played our own “Fishers of Men” game. I used blue yarn to create the outline of a sea, and cut fish out of construction paper. I used a butterfly net for catching the fish to make it as close to the Bible story as possible, but you could also use a magnetic fishing pole and put paper clips on the fish to catch them.

On each fish, I wrote a place that the children and I go, where they may have the opportunity to be fishers of men. In other words, a place outside of our home where they have the chance to interact with other children in a Godly way. Some of these were the library, playdates, the neighborhood, McDonald’s play area, Lowe’s, grandma’s house, etc., and I left one blank so that if they got that fish they could come up with a place on their own.

Then, we took turns fishing. Each child would get a turn with the net, and choose a fish from the sea. We would read the place name and together try to come up with ways to act Christ-like towards other people. I tried to let the kids come up with some ideas on their own, but of course if they were struggling, I helped them come up with answers. For example, at our local library, they have a train table for the kids. My son said that if there were lots of younger children playing at the table, he would give his train to one of them so that they could play. We talked about how him making this small sacrifice was similar to what Peter and Andrew must have gone through to follow Christ.

The kids really had a great time playing. It reinforced the ideas in our original discussion of the Bible story, and they had a lot of insight to share when we made it personal to their lives. The kids had such a great time playing the game, that when we were done, they decided to use the props to reenact the passage as well, which is another great way to scaffold learning.

Try the game and let us know what great things your children come up with!