Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Riding on Trains with Children

on the train

Yesterday, the children and I went to York. Depending on which train service you take, it normally takes two to two and half hours to get there from London. Our train on the way out made some stops along the way, so it was a two and a half hour journey. Our train on the way back was supposed to be direct, and thus two hours, but there was a delay which resulted in the return journey taking four and a half hours. The children did brilliantly despite the delay, and I was both proud and a bit surprised. But I guess by now we've gotten pretty good at this.

One of the things I love most about living in London is that we can get so many places without the benefit of driving or riding in a car. Our trip to York was for an appointment, but we go lots of places for adventures. We fly places sometimes, but mostly we take trains. It's become something that seems pretty normal to our kids, and so I think that helps. They know what to expect, and they also know what is expected of them. But we also have some tricks, so I'll share a few of those with you.

First, it is to our great benefit that our children do not get a lot of screen time in their day to day lives and thus see it as a special treat. They get to watch whatever they like when we do hair, and Z has Minecraft night once a week with J, while E observes, but that's pretty much it. From time to time, we will watch something related to what we are studying in homeschool, but it's rare. So when I pull out the iPad and my phone, plus two sets of headphones, it's a sure thing that they will be occupied for at least two hours. They are fully engaged with whatever they are doing on the screens, and they know that they have to take turns well, or they won't get to use them for the remainder of the trip. This has not failed me yet.

If it's a long train journey, I don't like them to be on the screens for the whole time, so we set aside some periods of time to rest their eyes (and lovely little developing brains) and do other things, like reading or coloring. For trips longer than two hours, I print out activity pages and put them in binders, one per kid. They get to choose if they'd each like their own set of colored pencils or if they'll share. It's about 50/50 when it comes to that decision. They don't use the binders otherwise, so it's a special thing just for train travel. I've also sometimes gotten activity books, but the binders are more personalized and thus seem to work a bit better. We scour the internet for things they'll like to do, and into the binders they go.

Finally, there is food and drink. I overpack food every single time, just in case. I pack two packages of special cookies, a couple of full size bags of potato chips in the kids' favorite flavors, a big bunch of bananas, Nutella sandwiches, and a water bottle for each person. Before boarding, we each get a special drink at a coffee shop. If it's a super long trip, we also get pastries. Eating can break up the monotony of travel, and having some sweets we don't normally get keeps it exciting.

Beyond that, we just use our normal parenting tactics to keep things calm and help our kids remember to respect their fellow passengers. I think it's pretty standard for kids to get a little antsy, so I try to stay calm and redirect the kids when this happens. Our biggest challenges are sibling arguments and E's enthusiasm for train toilets, both of which seem to be getting less challenging over time. The more we ride, the better we get at it, and I think we'll keep riding until we are experts. 

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