My son likes to travel by train. He especially likes sleeper trains. They give him so much more freedom to move around, change his position and even talk to other passengers than he’d have if we were travelling by car or by plane. Of course they usually also take more time. Time which needs to be filled with something.
Sometimes we just give our children a phone or tablet and let them be entertained with games or videos. You may have a set them a daily limit of screen time that they’re not allowed to exceed, after which you need to find something else for them to do. Even if you’re not concerned by the idea of excessive screen time, electronic devices still have their limits. Perhaps the battery runs out (or even worse, it runs out And you forgot the charger), perhaps your child simply gets bored of the games after an hour or two, or you don’t want them using the tablet for a couple of hours before they sleep. On a long journey, you’ll likely need to fill several hours with non-screen related entertainment.
I’ve read quite a lot recently about the idea that children simply need to get bored sometimes. The theory goes that constant entertainment and engagement blocks the time needed to process what’s learned. Also that creativity thrives during that hour on the train when they don’t know what to do next. That might well be true, but in my experience a bored child’s “creative” energy while travelling often goes into whining and making a scene or otherwise pushing the boundaries of the socially acceptable. Things like that can easily ruin the whole trip. It’s always good if we as parents are prepared for this or similar situations.
Here are a few ideas that we can use to have fun with our kids without turning to the gadgets. This is far from being an exhaustive train game list. I’d love to hear what travel games you play with your kids. Tell us about them in the comments below.
UNO, Phase10 and other classic card and board games
You need: the cards or pieces required for your chosen game.
This one’s fairly self explanatory. I don’t need to say much. Classic games like UNO have a place on every one of our long train journeys. Don’t go choosing games with lots of fiddly pieces like Monopoly or Settlers of Catan or games where balance or accuracy are important like Jenga or Operation, the movement of the train will likely make them near impossible. Card games are perfect. In fact, you can often find travel versions of popular board games in card form.
Heads or tails
You need: a coin or two
I can see what you’re thinking.
“Seriously? Heads or tails? My child was born in the 21st century. He’s a smart kid and has the attention span of a goldfish. This isn’t even a game. How can it possibly keep him entertained for any period of time?”
I include it here to make a point. I wouldn’t have thought of it myself either. It’s not the sort of game we usually think of as an appropriate way for our children to pass the time. On our recent train journey though, my son struck up an impromptu friendship with another boy in our carriage and I was amazed to look on as the two of them spent over a quarter of an hour tossing a coin trying to win a contest of “who can throw 5 tails in a row”. Then after playing they even discussed probability and coincidence as related to their game. I felt strangely proud of them and was reminded that fun doesn’t need to be complicated or involve a lot of equipment or preparation.
Make a story
You need: a postcard or any other picture
Picking up where the last idea left off, it’s fun to let your imagination lead you and come up with stories together with your child. It usually helps to have some sort of inspirational starting point, though it’s not always necessary. I like to bring some postcards on long journeys so that we can use the pictures as the inspiration for our stories. “Why is that man doing that?”, “Well, it all started…” and so on. You could potentially use pictures from an advert, on a banknote or (if you feel like cheating on my original premise) using Google image search on your phone.
We also like to add extra rules and constraints to our stories, to make them a little more game like. E.g. we take it in turns to add the next sentence of the story. Or each sentence needs to start with the next letter of the alphabet.
Self-made train game
You need: your imagination and anything you have in your pockets or bags
Sometimes “being prepared” means knowing what to do when you didn’t prepare. At least, that’s what I tell myself. It’s not hard to come up with creative ways to keep a child amused as long as you’re willing to enter into it yourself too. That might mean counting something you see out of the window, or making some new rules for a train game you’ve already played.
I remember one example, when my son was about 3 years old. I used some paper and a pen I had with me to draw an ‘Animal and Food’ matching game. I drew a dozen or so domestic and farmyard animals on some small squares of paper along with something they might eat on some more. The drawings were very simple (I’m not an artist) but part of the fun was actually discussing my drawings. He pulled a card from the first deck with the name of an animal and then one from the food deck. If they matched he’d keep them. If not, we’d laugh at the mixed up combinations and play on.
Get creative. And have fun!