So you and your partner and now in charge of educating and entertaining your children for the next few months or maybe even foreseeable future. This is such a daunting thing! No doubt you will consider packing for this trip as an opportunity to leave behind all of the kids toys and non-essential possessions and be minimalistic in your tiny space.
I chose to allow my kids to have a certain amount of toys, games and activities because I work on the philosophy that ‘bored children can become mischievous children’. Yes, that is not true in every case, however I can tell you from my own experiences as a teacher that children thrive on some structure and really enjoy structured activities. It is during unstructured play that children get bored and annoy one another for attention. You absolutely want them to develop their imaginations and build their social skills by being outside and playing with sand, dirt and tree branches but I do still think that structured activities have their place. There are days when you won’t be able to go outside and play because you may be at a free camp for a quick overnight stop and it isn’t a safe playing spot or maybe the weather is unsafe. In fact we had an unexpected week at 1770 early in our trip when we got flooded in and couldn’t leave due to the only road being closed. It is those times that we appreciate our toys and extra activities that I could have left behind.
So what did we pack in our caravan?
- Lego – Our Lego gets used on a regular basis and not just on rainy days. The children love to use it at the end of a long day for a quiet activity. They love to use it to consolidate a new learning (for example making a Lego cave after visiting caves). They love to use it as an activity to share with friends. Truthfully it is quite an easy thing to find a spot for in our van and has definitely been worthwhile bringing.
- Hot Wheels car and track pieces – we packed some Hot Wheels cars and ended up buying some cheap track builder pieces along the way but honestly I wouldn’t bother next time. They just take up space and the kids don’t use them often enough to warrant having them.
- Games – We packed a few of the kids favourite board games from home and have even picked up a few along the way. My children play board games a lot. It teaches them counting skills like counting on and addition, money, sharing (turn taking), reading, comparing and negotiation. Our favourites have been Top Trumps (we have two variations), Zingo (any variety that suits the age of your children), Monopoly Junior, The Game of Life Junior, Guess Who, UNO, Bananagram (simplified Scrabble), Cadoo and Connect Four. As well as this we have a small tub of activities for the car trips that includes Magnetic Snakes and Ladders (which is $3 from Kmart), wooden puzzles (also from Kmart), magnetic fishing and an awesome game called Rush Hour (made by Think Fun and it is a strategy game).
- Play dough – Our playdough gets pulled out on a regular basis. I buy a few tubs of the good stuff and then have to try not to panic when the colours gets mixed (a mum’s nightmare). It is so cheap and we just throw it out and replace it if it gets sandy or dirty. Again the kids love pulling it out as a quiet activity to wind down or to play with friends.
- Craft – We have a stash of coloured paper, goggly eyes, pipe cleaners, pop sticks, glue and other bits for sticky fun. We do some structured activities with it (Pintrest is usually my inspiration) and other times the kids just go nuts for fun and creativity. Often I try to tie in some craft with something we have done. For example drawing an oil pastel picture of a lighthouse after visiting a lighthouse. Again, Kmart and Big W have some awesome and affordable packs of craft. I have met other families who have almost like a tackle box full of craft which is a great idea, it was given to their child as a farewell gift. I chose to pack some water colour paints (because they aren’t very messy) and some oil pastels (which are just a different media to draw with). My kids each also have their own blank scrap book for their art work (loose pieces of paper in a caravan are a nuisance). Along the way I have also picked up various craft kits here and there when I come across them. The kids have absolutely loved sand art, scratch art and stain glass window art.
- Other learning bits and pieces – I laminated a few sheets for practising writing the alphabet and made a laminated number bingo (from Sparklebox), I bought a small teaching clock for practising time, I bought a few pack of cards for practising word building and got a lacing activity from Kmart for my youngest to practice lacing.
- Tub of bits and pieces – each of my children have a small flexi tub with a few toys and teddies. They have a couple of Transformers and some superheroes.
- We have i-Pads for use and a laptop which are used less and less as we go. The more the kids adjust to this type of lifestyle, the less they ask for them and we are happy with that. We use the i-Pads for listening to audio books from Audible, we have a membership to Sunshine Online for access to reading books (levelled, subscription is $99 per year but you only need one membership for the family). We have a Mathletics subscription, Endless reader for sight words (You have to buy collections of sight words) and occasionally we watch a cheeky show on ABC i-View app.
- Books – we packed books to read at bed time. Books are one of those things we enjoy continuing to collect and read along our travels. We love visiting a second hand book store or checking out books from our favourite authors, the kids have enjoyed finding books and comics at local markets. I can’t encourage you enough to read to your children every day. It gives them a huge advantage when it comes to learning to read and write and expands their vocabulary immensely. I am a book lover and so are my kids. My husband and I read too which encourages them to also read.
- Car tables – We purchased some stable tables from Ikea for the kids to use while we are driving, plus they are handy for school work.
Now I realise that is a very long list – my advice would be that toys are negotiable and not necessary but board games, playdough/Lego and other learning activities and books are essential. Your children only have you to learn from. You are their parent and teacher. They need you to guide them and spend time with them. Board games are essential for family bonding and provide great learning opportunities. Lego, play dough and craft stimulate your children in other ways and promote imagination and creativity as well as requiring problem solving. They also offer you the opportunity to rest or have a break which you will need. Trust me, spending all day everyday with your children and being their educator is more challenging than going to work (in most cases). It will test your patience so you should set yourself up for success in the beginning. Taking nothing away with you for a year will create stress in your van/camper when your children are relying on you all day everyday to talk to, play with and learn from. You don’t need to pack much, but be prepared with a few basics.