Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Vacation From Toys

Of course, we started out with the plan of having very few toys- just a select, manageable number of well-chosen, handmade toys, preferably from natural materials. That plan started to fall apart before our first baby was even born, when from all directions came the well-intentioned gifts.

birthday party
Ah, presents. We try to encourage experience gifts, but rarely does anyone take us up on that ;)
Babies don't need a lot of stuff, but in our culture, having a baby is a massive consumer event. It doesn't stop as they grow, either. Kids are fun to buy presents for, and giving gifts is a nice way to connect with family & friends. Plus, kids like to collect stuff. My youngest has had collections ranging from broken bits of safety glass, to hazelnuts found under his grandma's tree, to brightly colored plastic pellets collected in just about every park we've ever been to. He is unstoppable. He loves anything small and shiny.

orange and black caterpillar
Odin finds all the tiny, beautiful things wherever we go.
Wherever it all comes from, however it's collected or amassed, it's good to get away from it. Here is where vacations come in. On trips, no matter how long, we never pack a single toy. From short trips like an overnight visit to their great grandparents' house, to several days at the ocean, we only bring the essentials to keep ourselves comfortable, plus a camera for capturing memories. Bringing our own entertainment would seem redundant.

dominoes on the lake
Playing dominoes with grandma: This is how Loki wants to spend every vacation. It's really about connecting with each other.
The point, when traveling, is to experience a new place, and connect with people. Toys are a distraction and get in the way, but more specifically, they make it feel like you haven't gone anywhere. It would be like Nik & me bringing our computer. We can waste our time on it at home; vacations are sacred. It's good to get away from all our toys, and really experience our surroundings.

campfire
The boys help chop up invasive scotch broom to burn. Without things like electronic handheld distractions, kids can be useful! Plus, they really experience their surroundings.
For the actual travel time, we don't need a portable dvd player. We have a car radio for a change of mood or lulls in the conversation. We have several sheets of song lyrics printed out, so Nik & I can annoy our kids with our favorite songs. We have all kinds of family car games in our arsenal, and we often make up new ones on the spot. 

Some car games involve looking for letters of the alphabet on signs and license plates. We go through in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order, finding every letter. A lot of miles pass before we get through every letter in order! On our last trip we made a game of finding all the colors of the rainbow in the scenery, adding several more that we thought should be included in our search, like metallics, and brown. My seven year old loves answering math questions, so we've spent a lot of car time coming up with different math problems for him. We also play a lot of "20 questions", though we never actually keep track of how many questions get asked. My kids love counting how many taxis of each color we see on every car ride- I can never believe how excited they are to see yet another taxi ;)

road trip
Yes, it's a long drive, but we can make it! Look out the window, talk, sing, fall asleep...
The car is a great time to just talk. The kids have each other to chat with. We talk about memories and things we are excited about, and Nik & I answer their questions about anything and everything. 

Now, every family probably does these things sometimes, but I know a lot of kids come to expect a dvd every time they get in the car, and don't know how to handle a car trip without some Disney movie to watch. What starts out as a luxury soon becomes a need. I see car rides together as valuable time to connect with the kids, and it's so often squandered. Some important conversations happen in the car, and they will never have a chance if everyone is absorbed in a movie. 

Also, don't undervalue the joy of simply staring out at the surroundings. A view of an old farm, an open landscape, a forested road, or watching a mountain getting closer: these help to build excitement about the trip, appreciation for nature, and geographical knowledge as well.

watching clouds
Finding shapes in the clouds.

Once at our destination, more often than not, there are things for kids to play with. Most likely any toys there are different than what we have at home, which in itself makes them interesting to my kids. If there are no toys, even better. As ubiquitous as toys are in our culture today, I often think of how kids played in past generations, where they might have only one doll during their entire childhood, or in other cultures even today, where the idea of marketing to children would be absurd because of extreme poverty.

These kids still play. They might play with songs or stories, or they might wrestle or play hopscotch, or they might make use of other materials around the house or village, such as fabric or rocks or leaves. In fact, it has been argued that supplying our kids with tons of toys reduces their own power of imagination. They let the toys direct their play, rather than utilizing their own creativity.

sharpening a spear
Odin learns to use a knife while camping.
On camping trips, the boys spend a lot of time whittling sticks or throwing rocks into rivers. It may sound dull, but it's amazing how many ways you can challenge yourself at rock throwing. There is the classic skipping stones, a pastime you could spend many hours at, finding the perfect stones and perfecting your throw. Also, a new game of ours is to send a leaf floating down the current, and then try to sink it with a well-aimed rock. It's challenging, and fun!

low tide
Exploring what lives under the rocks at low tide.
We do bring a kite with us to the ocean. It's one of the few times we use it and unlike a lot of toys, a kite requires being out in the world and experiencing the weather and surroundings. We'd bring kayaks too if we had them! I do question whether the kite is even necessary though, since we can happily spend hours combing the beach, examining critters, shaping the sand, and following bird footprints in wild pointless loops. 

flying our monster kite

What if the weather's bad, or you're stuck for some other reason inside a motel room? I always bring a book for myself to read when I need some downtime, as well as a notebook to write in. For the kids, it's easy to bring a small stack of books, either favorites or ones they haven't read for a while, or a mix of both. Beyond books, we always find something to do, and it does not involve turning on the tv.

making words with scrabble tiles
Loki came up with this solo game of word making with a bag of letter tiles he found during some downtime at the cabin.
I think often when people pack for trips they worry too much about preventing boredom, so they pack so many things into their bags and into their itinerary, that there is barely room for the real adventure of experiencing the trip, being flexible, and taking things as they come. A fully planned out itinerary may be fun to create, but when it comes down to it I think all that running around leaves people feeling more drained than before their vacation.

floating in the pool
Relax.
I did a lot of backpacking when I was younger, and one of my favorite things about it was how exhilarating it felt to be able to carry everything I needed on my back. Perhaps the mark of a minimalist, it was liberating to discover I didn't need all that stuff back home. I loved that feeling and wanted to travel all the time.

I think there is a little minimalist in all of us, discontent with consumerism and our culture of too-much. When we vacation with less, we give our kids the space they need to become a little less attached to those things that normally fill their days, and realize life is still full. Maybe they can experience it a little more when they're not surrounded by stuff.

flying seagul

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30 comments

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October 11, 2012 at 1:05 AM

Ah, lovely post! This is all so refreshing! I will admit I am nowhere near you in terms of (not) toy packing, though I do strive more and more for minimalism, and can see it working well as my girls get older. The thought of three toddlers/preschoolers getting restless/bored/crazy while on the road did (and still does) send a wave of panic through me, I must admit! I do really dislike electronics in the car (or on the go) and am glad we have not succumbed to that, for the most part. What great pictures & what fun your vacations look like! Thank you!

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October 11, 2012 at 9:59 AM

Great post! I agree that experiences are more important than gifts or toys. I hope to instill this in my children someday :)

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Anonymous
October 13, 2012 at 7:50 PM

Beautifully written. Thanks for posting.

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October 15, 2012 at 6:16 PM

Hi, Im struggling with the same thing at the moment. What to give children for birthdays and Christmas. Well meaning people not understanding that sometimes we don't want our children to have so much technology and stuff". I don't remember the Stuff i got over the years as a child but I sure do remember the experiences, you cant put a price on that. Im sure it will be worth it in the end when the children grow up feeling loved and are more well rounded.

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October 15, 2012 at 6:28 PM

We have relatives who just love getting the kids toys for presents- fortunately, the majority of these toys come from Nik's mom, who lives close by. The kids keep their larger toys at her house, and stay every other Saturday night with her, where they play elaborately with grandma and their huge toy collection!
This isn't to say that we don't have toys here, we definitely do- but we have a very small house and so limit our toys to the very useful and multi-purpose things that take up less space. Also, I can't stand battery-operated toys; these go to grandma's house as well ;) Their grandma gives them the amazing experience gift of playing with them and all these toys regularly.
We don't want our kids feeling deprived, but we do want them to know how much more important other things in life are than "stuff".

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Veronica
October 24, 2012 at 5:34 PM

Thank you! I am going on vacation tomorrow with my best friend and our toddlers...and I definitely just left the "toy bag." We're going on vacation to the beach and to spend time with each other, we don't need all the extra stuff! Great post just in time...I feel more relaxed already!

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October 24, 2012 at 8:08 PM

I'm so glad to hear it! Have a great trip, Veronica. It IS more relaxing when you don't have to bring all those toys, isn't it?

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November 10, 2012 at 7:12 AM

The picture of domino's with Grandma was just too sweet for words, wonderful to bond so closely, games, fresh air, beauty in nature all around- just gorgeous, thank you for sharing! We need the simple things in life- each other! Blessings to your family from http://fourfarming.blogspot.com/

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November 29, 2012 at 7:35 AM

What a nice article. I particularly like this ~ "but more specifically, they make it feel like you haven't gone anywhere." that is so true. These days, my grandkids in their parents' car with Nintendo in their hands and movies in the DVD player. I do understand how hard it can be to travel with young children, but I think you make very good points.

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November 29, 2012 at 12:22 PM

Thank you! I'm glad you appreciate it.

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January 14, 2013 at 11:01 PM

My sister and I always enjoyed hearing the kids say, "I'm bored," to which we replied, "great, let's get the house cleaned up." We had many days when all the electronics were off and the kids had each other for entertainment. Actually, my blog started when my kids started complaining about not doing anything all summer. I took a picture of them each day to show all the fun they were having- "Another summer of fun." We, too, did not have dvd players and such when traveling. The whole point of traveling was to see new stuff. Now they do the driving, and you better believe husband and I have our eyes on the road while they are at the wheel. Tee-hee! Thanks for sharing.

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February 17, 2013 at 11:03 AM

I enjoyed reading this post. It certainly looks like your kids had lots of fun! Taking a break from our toys can definitely make us appreciate them more when we get back, as well as appreciating our surrounds and other people.

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February 25, 2013 at 2:46 AM

This is how we raised our boys, who are all three teens now. We still love to travel together and even though they all have iphones, they are usually pocketed in the car. We still talk and listen to radio, oftentimes NPR which is an awesome conversation/debate starter. I never understood the need to watch movies on a long ride when there are so many other fun things to do!

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February 25, 2013 at 8:02 AM

Nice! I've got to get NPR programmed into the car radio...

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May 8, 2013 at 1:04 PM

Nice article! When my son was 3, we took a 10-hour train trip on which we did not bring a single toy, only a few chapter books for reading aloud. None of us even noticed we had not brought toys until our second day staying with my childless brother, when my son asked for something to play with. My brother's Slinky and two stuffed animals were adequate.

My son is 8 now and often packs some toys for himself when we're traveling by car, but if we're taking a bus, train, or plane he has to carry them himself--so he usually chooses not to! We don't do DVDs in the car, although we let him play iPad games (for a limited amount of time) and we listen to CDs. Mostly our entertainment is looking at the scenery and reading. It works out fine!

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May 10, 2013 at 11:50 AM

I enjoyed this so much! I feel the same way. I love it when my kids just get creative with stuff in the backyard and make up their own games. Toys that show up around here that require batteries, complicated parts, that make noises, etc. soon find themselves lost or given away. Oh my! ;-)

We love giving our children the gift of experiences, too. Those things will last them a lifetime!

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May 13, 2013 at 6:04 PM

Great post - we are faced with so many of the same issues - too many toys! Thanks for sharing.

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May 14, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Wow...this is great inspiration to leave my electronic "toys" behind when I go on vacation!
Also, we end up mostly doing without toys when our grandson comes to our house. We can't keep up with having age-appropriate toys as he grows, but this now 20-month-old loves to play with our phone handset, remote controls, doorknobs, plastic storage containers, and more. He hardly needs the few toys his parents send.

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June 12, 2013 at 8:09 AM

We're past the 'too many toys' phase and in the 'too much video gaming phase' here, lol! Thanks for sharing on Wildcrafting Wednesday! Hope to see you again today at:
http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/06/wildcrafting-wednesday-24.html

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June 16, 2013 at 7:28 AM

What a great mom you are :) We were never financially able to give our daughter all the bells and whistles that the other kids in her school had, and it's funny how she seems to be the happiest kid of all! Thanks for a really inspiring reminder, I'm going to pin this onto my words of wisdom board. Thanks too for linking up at the Creative HomeAcre Hop, the link is up again this week if you would like to join in!
Cheers, Andrea

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June 27, 2013 at 10:36 PM

There are a lot of ways to allow kids to experience a relaxing and enjoyable break nowadays, without spending too much. And you are right, taking them to short trips, savouring and appreciating the beauty of nature while taking a few of their favourite toys just to divert their attention once bored can really help.

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July 10, 2013 at 6:24 PM

I like the way you think! Thank you for sharing & taking us on your wonderful journey of keeping it real & honest to our inner being! :) Michelle

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July 15, 2013 at 6:12 PM

Yep, you've got it. I'm seriously thinking of ways to tell family members to stop buying junk at birthdays and Christmas. I am so sick of it. Kids don't want your money or your presents.

They want YOU! They want and need to connect, not just to be amused.

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July 24, 2013 at 5:17 AM

Lovely post!! Thanks for sharing this with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday. If you haven't already, I invite you to come link up with us again! http://likemamalikedaughter.blogspot.com/2013/07/eco-kids-tuesday_23.html

NanaKerri

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August 16, 2013 at 7:06 PM

I really loved your post ~ it's all so true. When I think back to the times in my life I remember and treasure they were the times of just 'being' ~ either around those I love or by myself. Thanks for the eloquent and lovely reminder!

Thanks also for sharing at this week's Project Inspire{d} ~ pinning.

Hugs,
Mary Beth

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September 12, 2013 at 4:30 AM

This was just a wonderful post all around! :)

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October 5, 2013 at 6:08 PM

I just said to my mom today how we do not want any stuff for the holidays. I love the idea of bringing no toys on a trip though. We love those simple car games. Thanks for sharing on Tuesday Greens!

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