Monday, June 20, 2011

Traveling with kids: 5 ways to prepare for travel

It's less than two weeks until I leave for Sweden with the kids, and as I've mentioned before, travel fever is definitely spreading in my house. This upcoming week I'm going into serious preparation-mode, meaning lots of lists and checking of clothes, bags, and other supplies. It also means prepping the kids for the trip.

Long flights can be tough on kids (and adults), and even just a little bit of preparation can help make things go more smoothly. Here are 5 strategies I use to help prepare my own kids for our trips: 

Visual Supports for People with Autism: A Guide for Parents and Professionals (Topics in Autism)Activity Schedules for Children With Autism, Second Edition: Teaching Independent Behavior (Topics in Autism)

1. Step by step explanations and visual schedules
My kids are quite the seasoned air-travelers by now, and pretty much know what the deal is going to be when we go away. Still, every now and then before our travel date, I talk to them about what will happen during the various stage of the trip: at the airport, at the gate, on the plane, at the luggage carousel, and so on.

This kind of preparation is especially important if you have a child who is anxious about flying or about being away from home. For example, my 8-year old son, who has some special needs, is a lot more anxious about the trip than my daughter is. His way to deal with that anxiety is to ask for constant repetition of our travel details as a form of reassurance: what day are we going? from what airport? will we check our bags? will we sit down and put our seat belts on? and so on.

One way to help a child with special needs reduce the stress and anxiety of any activity, whether it's an everyday activity (such as getting ready in the morning) or something less familiar (like a trip), is to use a visual schedule. If your child has an autism spectrum disorder, or speech delay, you're probably familiar with this kind of schedule.

A visual schedule uses images to represent different tasks or activities, in order to structure what is going to happen, or what your child needs to do. They work very well for my son at school, and I am considering making my own visual schedule for him for this upcoming trip. It will require some doodling on my part, but I think it might be worth it.

There are several places online that offer visual schedule supplies, for example:

2. The old-fashioned countdown 
Crossing off the days on a calendar is an old-school, excellent way to help your kids deal with all that waiting for the travel-day to actually arrive. Just like the visual schedule, it also helps kids visualize and structure something that's hard for them to grasp: time, in this case. Plus, a countdown also helps build excitement for your trip (not that that's really needed in most cases!).

The Noisy Airplane RideRichard Scarry's A Day at the Airport (Pictureback(R))

3. Read books about planes & airports
Reading books to prepare never goes out of style. I try to find books not just about airplanes, but also about airports, since the kids are always fascinated by stuff like x-ray machines, luggage conveyor belts, and all the various vehicles driving around on the tarmac. 

4. Keep the kids involved in travel preparations
Talking about what toys they want to bring along, what snacks they'd like to have on board, and getting their bags out of the closet also helps my kids prepare for travel. If your child has been able to think through which toys they want to pack, and which ones they're prepared to leave behind it can also help avoid meltdowns on the day of travel.

Another thing you can do is let your kids look at their own passports and your passport (usually good for a laugh), and your tickets (though e-tickets are really not much to look at). This lets you talk to them about some of the things that will happen on your trip, like checking in at the airport, and going through immigration.

All those lineups at the airport where you have to stand around and wait can be very frustrating for kids, but knowing more about why it's happening can help them deal with that frustration.

National Geographic World Atlas for Young Explorers, Third EditionPioneer Globe
5. Where are we going?
To make the actual process of traveling more real and easy to grasp for your kids, look at maps with them, tracing your travel route and pointing out where you live and where you're going to. A globe is especially good for this, and I really need to get me one of those.

Also, if you're going to visit family or friends that you haven't seen for a while, it can be good for your kids to look at old photos of when you last met.

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