A young girl with black hair and a pink t-shirt sits at a light wood desk and points to a globeSummertime, for many of us, means travel time! Summer is an opportunity to get out there and explore, from day trips to the local beach, weekends at Grandma’s house, and long vacations in different parts of the world.

But travel time can also mean being stuck in a car, train, airplane (or airport!) for hours on end. For families with younger children, it’s hard to know what to do to pass the time in these situations – and handing your child an iPad, Kindle, or phone is incredibly tempting. And we get it – sometimes, to preserve everyone’s sanity – even Montessorians give their own children a device. 

But, while the screen can buy you quiet as you wait for a plane or start hour six of that long car ride, it’s essential to consider the extent to which you are using them and whether they are providing value – are they optimizing your child’s vacation experience? As Montessorians, we believe that children must view the world “out there,” the real world of people, places, and objects, as a remarkable opportunity for discovery. This attitude is achieved through engagement with a caring adult who illuminates all the things to be encountered and explored. So while we as parents may occasionally call upon select apps for help (more on good and bad choices in this blog post), our view is that we should also prioritize the value of finding ways to share experiences that are unique to the trip, or that we’re otherwise unlikely to share with our children.

By thinking ahead, we can plan for many fun (and educational) experiences, most of which don’t require us to add time to our travel. Here are just a few ideas as you prepare your preschooler’s “travel environment”:

Give a lesson on simplified map reading. Many Montessori preschool children have worked with maps in the classroom. While they can’t read normal maps, you can quickly sketch them on paper. Draw in a few highlights: a tunnel, a refinery along the way, a big farm, some mountains, an airport, and a planned lunch stop. Ask your child to find these places for you as you drive. Label highways, and you can practice numbers.

Explore the world you travel through. Identify some unique features you’ll encounter, whether outside the train window or in your car. Provide your child with the language: “See that lake over there?”, “look, there’s an oil derrick” “They are growing oranges on that farm!” Especially on car trips, there is much to see. On one recent trip, we noticed lots of trucks loaded with tomatoes and had an impromptu discussion about farming, the many ways we use tomatoes, and transportation.

People watch together. Airports are great for this: watch the people with your child. Discuss where they might be going and why we think that. Notice people in different moods and discuss their feelings: this child is really upset, this couple is hugging and happy to see each other again, and so on.

Read together. For airplanes, bring books instead of video games. Scour the library for topics related to your trip – Hello Ocean makes a great introduction to the beach; for example, About Habitats: Mountains is an excellent springboard for discussion on a hiking trip. 

Play anywhere games. Some can be educational: ask your child to count white cars or add together three raisins plus five raisins before you give them as a snack. For ideas on games for any situation, try Fun on the Run, a pocket-sized little book full of easy ideas that require just you, your preschooler, and maybe a few things like crayons you have with you anyway.

Sing songs together. Music Together, a company that organizes top-rated preschool music programs, offers a free download of eight of their wonderful sing-aloud songs. The best thing? These songs are fun to listen to for adults, too! Or make up your own songs as you go along to any familiar tune.

Read and memorize poems. A long car ride can be a good opportunity for slightly older children to learn some poems. Jack Prelutsky has a fun collection of silly rhymes. Ride a Purple Pelican is one of our favorites: it’s a great travel book, as many of the poems relate to places in the US and Canada. The Random House Book of Poetry for Children is a great collection of children’s poems from many authors, several of which are short enough to commit to memory.

Bring simple arts & crafts supplies. Your Montessori child may delight in fun activities like tracing & coloring simple animal shapes (this book is a fun source of ideas), making art with stencils (my 5-year-old loves Mandalas), threading beads (bring a little tray to keep them together in the plane), or cutting up and gluing together colorful paper mosaics. For Small Hands, a Montessori-oriented online store, has many ready-made crafts supplies, many of which can quickly be done at an airport or on a plane.

So back to the initial question: should you bring your iPad or other devices? Our answer is yes; go right ahead. Just use it sparingly so it doesn’t take over the precious hours you can spend engaged with your child. This is your chance to make memories together—it’s worth the extra effort!