Hey, Let’s Take a Road Trip!

When you’re hitting the road with the family, comfortable and occupied kids are quiet. And quiet kids make for a far more peaceful experience for everyone. Here are some new road trip accessories for kids of all ages to help you keep on truckin’.

Junkie orgznizerJunkie and Sneck (BubbleBum)
Junkie is a car organizer/activity station combo that keeps kids’ stuff all in one place and your car cleaner. Just stock it with your children’s favorite toys, harness it into the backseat, and you’re ready to roll. There are two retractable trays, two cup holders, an insulated area for cold items, and plenty of storage for coloring books, snacks, crayons, and anything else you can think of. There’s also a removable tote bag so you can bring your finished (or in-progress) projects into the house, hotel, restaurant, or wherever you’re headed. Sneck is a travel pillow (microbeads on the inside, plush on the outside) that makes easy for kids to nap in the car. You can use the Velcro strap to attach it to almost any headrest and your child can then adjust it to the perfect spot. Sneck also has a small mesh pocket that can hold a small toy or electronic device. Junkie and Sneck are both available at https://www.bubblebum.co/us/  or most major retailers.

Necknapperz (Necknapperz)
Like Sneck, Necknappers are microbeads-inside-plush-outside neck pillows. But they’re also adorable, cuddly stuffies that your kids will love to play with while they’re waiting to board the plane or entertaining themselves in their car seat. When they get tired, a few zips and shakes and they’ve got a supportive U-shaped pillow that will minimize the stiff shoulders and necks caused by sleeping with your head flopping around. All 22 Necknapperz have snaps and are easy to attach to your (or your child’s) luggage so they won’t get lost. Retail for $19.99 at http://www.necknapperz.com/

EquiptBaby (EquiptBaby)
This portable bassinet is so small, you can fold it up and put it into your diaper bag. The outside is fine, see-through mesh that lets you keep an eye on your baby from any angle. Besides keeping bugs away, the mesh has an SPF 50 rating to protect your baby from the sun. The padded insert is machine washable, so post-diaper-blowout cleanup is easy. Setup takes literally three seconds (folding it back up takes maybe 10). For ages 0-6 months. $69.95 at www.equiptbaby.com

If you’ve ever run out of sleeping space on a camping trip, grandma’s house, or even a kids’ sleep over at your own house, you really need to check out Kid-O-Bunk portable bunkbeds. They look a little like army cots, but they’re smaller, come in far more attractive colors, and are much more portable. Setup takes just minutes, no tools, mattresses, or ladders required. You can also configure Kid-O-Bunks as a bench for daytime use, or as two single beds if you’ve got the space or the kids can’t decide who gets the top bunk. Regardless of the configuration, they come with plenty of pockets that are ideal for holding books, glasses, pens, and—if you’re allowing it—electronic devices. The material is machine washable, which is always nice. And they come in a zippered bag which makes storage and schlepping really easy. Recommended for kids up to age 12, each cot can hold up to 200 pounds, so weight (hopefully) won’t be an issue. Tall kids, however, may have a little trouble fitting. Comes with two bunks, adapters for stacking, two carry bags, two organizers, and a set of footpads (to minimize ground sinking outdoors or floor damage indoors). $289 at http://www.kidobunk.com or http://www.cabelas.com/

Long Commute Makes Parenting Tough

long commute

long commuteDear Mr. Dad: I work pretty far away from my home and typically spend nearly two hours in the car each way. I also travel a lot for business. I know it’s not a perfect situation, but I’m not in a position to make a change right now. The biggest problem is that I feel like I don’t have a role in my children’s life anymore. They’re 7 and 10. When I head out for work in the morning, they’re still sleeping, when I come home they’re usually getting ready for bed or are already asleep. And on the weekends, it seems like all I do is run errands and take care of household repairs. What can I do to stay connected with my kids?

Reconnecting with your children after a long day at the office is tough enough. Your brutal commute just makes it tougher. As you said, your situation isn’t ideal. But fortunately, there are ways to stay actively involved.

  • Start with the weekends. I’m betting that the kids miss you as much as you miss them. And I’m sure they’d be thrilled to go with you on your errands or give you a hand while you’re fixing things. If you need to go to the bank, take them along. Same with the grocery store, the car wash, or anything else. Always make a point of asking their advice and including them in any decisions or choices you have to make. What you do isn’t important; the point is that you’re spending time together. Plus, with a little planning, you can turn almost any errand into an adventure or a learning experience.
  • Try to set aside at least one evening per week for a family dinner. No fancy restaurants, no elaborate five-course meals. Pizza is just fine. Again, the goal is to spend time together. That’s great for keeping relationships strong and may help your kids in other ways. Several studies have found that there’s an inverse correlation between family meals and children’s risk of abusing drugs (meaning that as the number of dinners goes up, the risk goes down). If possible, play a game together or even Netflix a couple of movies.
  • You can also make better use of all that time in the car. If you’re not going to make it home in time to read the kids a book and put them to bed, call them (using hands-free, of course). Ask them about their day and tell them about yours, help them with their homework, make up a story, or sing a song.
  • Even if you’re not able to see your children as much as you’d like to face to face, you can still let them know that you love them and care about them. One of the nicest ways to do this is by making their lunch for them and including a special note (I used to write notes to my daughters on the shells of their hardboiled eggs).
  • Finally, although you didn’t mention her, don’t forget about your wife. First, make sure you tell her that you appreciate all the extra labor she puts into managing the household and taking care of the kids while you’re at work or on the road. Second, while family time is important, it’s just as important to carve out some special adult time. If possible, get a sitter to keep an eye on the kids while you and your wife go out and enjoy a romantic evening.

All of these things may seem small, but believe me, they’ll make a huge difference to your kids and your wife. .

Effects of Deployment on Children + Deadly Math Problems

Jill Biden, author of Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops.
Topic: The Second Lady of the US talks about being the mother of a deployed soldier and the effects of deployment on children.

Sean Connolly, author of The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math.
Topic: Death-defying challenges for young mathematicians.
Issues: How to defeat vampires using algebraic equations; destroy and out-of-control asteroid using geometry; escape an enemy spy using ratios and proportions; plus killer tornadoes, deadly spiders, zombies, and more.

Children and Deployment + Perilous Math + Bratproofing + Raising Geeks

Jill Biden, author of Don’t Forget, God Bless Our Troops.
Topic: The Second Lady of the US talks about being the mother of a deployed soldier and the effects of deployment on children.

Sean Connolly, author of The Book of Perfectly Perilous Math.
Topic: Death-defying challenges for young mathematicians.
Issues: How to defeat vampires using algebraic equations; destroy and out-of-control asteroid using geometry; escape an enemy spy using ratios and proportions; plus killer tornadoes, deadly spiders, zombies, and more.

Lewis Solomon and Janet Stern Solomon, coauthors of Bratproofing Your Children.
Topic: How to raise socially and financially responsible kids.
Issues: Protecting children from potentially negative influences of parents’ wealth; protecting your wealth from being destroyed by children and grandchildren.

Marybeth Hicks, author of Bringing Up Geeks.
Topic: How to protect your kid’s childhood in a grow-up-too-fast world.
Issues: Redefining “geek” in positive terms (Genuine, Enthusiastic, Empowered Kids); freeing children from cultural conditioning while instilling important values; pursuing passions instead of fashions; resisting peer pressure and destructive behavior; supporting the love of learning that helps kids excel in school.

Excuse Me, Have You Got a Match?

There’s something almost primal about matching games. We can imagine a caveman teaching his kids to hunt, hiding in the bushes and pointing at animals: “You want to throw your spear at the ones that look like this (perhaps a deer), but run away from ones that look like that (perhaps a tiger).” Matching games also appeal to all ages. Small babies flip over cards looking for matches while their parents play other games, hoping to get pairs, three of a kind, and flushes. Here are a handful of matching-type games that everyone in your family will enjoy.

Face Chase (R&R Games)

face chaseImagine that you got mugged and you’re trying to describe the perpetrator to a police sketch artist. In a way, that’s what this game is. Face Chase consists of 64 double-sided cards, each with a different face. Put one card in the middle and distribute the rest evenly among the players. Then the madness begins and everyone tries to play cards from their hand on which at least one feature (eyes, hair, mouth, or nose) matches the card in the middle. When all four have been played, do another round. The game requires sharp eyes and fast hands, and takes only 8-10 minutes. 2-5 players, age 7+. www.RnRgames.com

Flipping Flags (R&R Games)

Flipping flagsThis is a slight twist on the traditional flip-the-cards-and-find-the-matches. Here, each card has images of three flags along with the name of its country. Spread all the cards face down on the table and players take turns flipping them. Find a match and collect the cards. The twist is that rather than turn the unmatched cards back over, they stay face up. That makes matches easier, but adds an element of speed as players have to be the first to shout out the name of the country or countries that matche. A family-friendly way to learn to identify international flags. Takes 8-10 minutes. 2-5 players, age 7+. www.RnRgames.com

Panda Head (R&R Games)

Panda HeadIt all starts with a deck of 63 cards. Fifty-five are emblazoned with a grinning panda head and a number from 1 to 11. There are also a two types of wild cards. Players get seven cards and one player puts a card in the center of the table. The next player has to either play a card with an equal or higher value. Absent that, he or she plays the lowest value card. The first six times, the player with the high card takes the trick. But on the seventh, high card loses. That switcheroo ads an interesting element of strategy to the game as players jockey to save their lowest cards for the last trick. Takes 10-20 minutes. 2-5 players, age 7+. www.RnRgames.com

Thumbs Up (Blue Orange Games)

Thumbs UpTired of card games? You’ll love this one. Like some others, Thumbs Up requires sharp eyes and fast hands; but it also takes dexterity. The game consists of 48 colored rings (12 blue, 12 red, 12 yellow, 12 green) and a deck of challenge cards, each with an image of four rings stacked. Flip over a card and players race to be the first to stack the rings on his or her thumb in the order shown on the card. Win five rounds and you win the game. 2-6 players age 6+ www.BlueOrangeGames.com  .

Ravensburger puzzles (Ravensburger)

Ravensburger - DinosPut these 100-piece puzzles together the regular way, to match the image on the box. Then fire up the matching app to unlock three smile-inducing games that take you into a hidden world within the puzzle and bring it to life. Ages 6+. www.ravensburger.com