Category: travel

Quick, Fun & Free Road Trip Idea

By , June 12, 2010 8:58 am

License Plate Scavenger Hunt

  • Download and print a free, printable map of the US (or your country/region).
  • Give one to each of your children and see how many license plates they can spot while on the road.
  • They can color in the states as they spot them.
  • For US mainlanders, a special prize for Alaska or Hawaii makes it even more fun.

The map format (vs. just a list) gives them a real sense of geography.  On a recent road trip,  I found my kids saying things like:  “The farthest state we have seen from where we are now is New York” or “Look!  We have all the states that border Arizona!”

TIPS – For extra learning, choose one with state capitals*. Younger children will just enjoy coloring the map.

* For a printable PDF file of a US map with state capitals (free for personal or classroom use), go to this site, scroll down, and click on the link “United States: Capitals.”

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Licensing and author information here.)

Joy – The Letter “J” (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , September 28, 2009 2:28 pm

This isn’t our usual artsy/craftsy Weekly Unplugged Project, but that’s what’s fun about the Unplugged Project, it can be ANYTHING!  A last minute decision to spend the weekend in Phoenix (108 degrees by the way, ouch!) necessitated a change in our original plan.

Since the theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was simply The Letter J, our project became joy.

This water slide was joy, pure and simple.


If you did a Letter J Unplugged Project this week, then thank you and please link to your project post in the linky below.  If you did not join in but would like to learn how, then I invite you to read more here.  We’d love to have you!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:




Photograph: Hand-Colored Photos (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , August 9, 2009 9:39 pm



We’re back from France and finally over the jet lag. Time for the weekly Unplugged Project to resume!

The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project is photograph so we came up with a super-easy photo project using some of the many photos from our trip.

Inspired by a very old, hand-colored black and white photograph of my mother as a child, I thought it might be fun to turn some of our trip photos into old-fashioned, or maybe even funky-looking colored pictures.

First we each chose a few favorite trip photographs to play with. Since our pictures were all digital, it was easy to transform them into black and white using my photo editor (not exactly “unplugged,” but this is just the first step).

After experimenting a bit, I found that for darker pictures, or those with many dark colors, the result was improved by lightening the exposure slightly (any simple photo editor can do this also).

TIP: Before altering with your photos with the editor, make a duplicate of your photo and use that. You don’t want to permanently change your one and only copy of that favorite picture!

We printed the new black and white pictures onto plain white document paper. Regular paper is easier to color on than photo paper, and even if the picture appears a bit grainier on ordinary paper, that simply adds to the old/artsy effect.

Wait for the ink to dry completely before moving on to the next step. This might take a little while if the picture has lots of dark bits.

When everything is dry, you can start coloring. We used colored pencils since they allow the picture to show through the color.

  • You can try to reproduce the real colors (more or less – of course the cat wasn’t really yellow!), such as here:

  • Or have fun and do crazy colors for more of a modern art look:

  • Experiment with pressing hard, or lightly.
  • Keep the colors in the same family, or vary them.
  • Try coloring some areas and leaving others black and white.

Whatever you decide to do, the effect is really beautiful, almost luminescent sometimes!

The children and I found this fun and easy, even my 3 year-old. She wanted to color a baby picture of herself.  I love that green hair:

Use your pictures for a scrapbook or album, frame them, or make a collage out of them.  You could even turn them into cards or family gifts.


If you joined in this week’s Unplugged Project with your own photograph project, then please put a link to your project post (not just your blog) in Mr. Linky below.  Please leave a link in a comment too since Mr. Linky has been having problems lately.  If you didn’t do a photograph project, then please don’t link, but read more about how to join in here.  We’d love to have you!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Have fun!


Container – “Find It” Jar (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , July 5, 2009 5:17 pm


This post is a follow-up to last Sunday’s Tiny – Cool Colored Rice post.  The rice coloring was such a fun project in and of itself, that I decided just to focus on that.  I chose this week’s Unplugged Project theme of container because it fit nicely with our original reason for making colored rice in the first place:  A “Find It” Jar.

For a while now I have eyed these “Find It” games, thinking they would be fun for the car, travel or restaurants.  But the the potential fun factor never seemed to justify the price, so I have never bought one.

With a long plane ride to Europe in our near future, I found myself once again considering buying one for the trip (would they let this through security?).  But then it occurred to me that this could be fun and easy to make, so we decided to give it a try!

You’ll need a jar (a container!), preferably fairly tall and with a wide mouth.  I used a glass spaghetti sauce jar, but I would recommend something plastic for travel or young children (a mayonnaise jar perhaps?).

You’ll also need some colored rice and many small objects to hide.  I found that light, flat objects (like Legos) did not work very well since they seemed to stay on the surface of the rice.  Another idea would be to choose objects according to a theme: nature objects (pebbles, acorns, twigs, shells), or animals (little toy animals), etc.

Tip:  Consider the colors of your rice and how choice of color can increase the level of difficulty.  You could hide all green objects in green rice for example, or do as I did and hide a variety of different-colored objects in multicolored rice.

Normally you could just make a list of the hidden objects, but since I wanted my non-reading 3 year-old to be able to play too, I decided to make a picture card instead.

I laid out all the objects on a plain white piece of paper (for clarity) and took a photo of them.  Next I printed out the photo so my 3 year-old would know what to find:

The final step is to drop the objects into the jar and pour in the colored rice.

Don’t fill the jar completely, otherwise the rice and the objects won’t be able to move around very well.

Put the lid on (tightly!) and shake it up.

If you are worried about your children opening the jar and making a mess, you could glue the lid on.  If you don’t glue the lid on however, you can easily change out the hidden treasures for others to keep it interesting.

I glued a bit of ribbon around the lid to make it prettier, but that’s just me being an over-the-top perfectionist and is absolutely not necessary.

Give the jar and list or photo to your children and let them see how many objects they can find.  This is my 3 year-old giving it a go:

For older children,you could even give them a timer to race each other.  For solitary play, they can try to top their own best time!

NOTE – Storing the Colored Rice:  I finally found a use for the lovely, old-fashioned style French soda bottles that I had packratted away in the back of the pantry for years.  I keep them on the kitchen counter now because they look so pretty!  What do you think?


If you did a container-themed Unplugged Project this week then please link to your post below (not just your blog, we always want to be able to find your container post).  If you didn’t do a container project, then don’t link, but please read more about how to join in the Unplugged Project here.  We’d love to have you!


The theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Be creative and enjoy!


Summer Travel Unplugged

By , June 24, 2008 11:22 pm

Now is the time of year when most families embark on an overly-ambitious trip or two. Our main goal as traveling parents is to preserve our sanity and that of our fellow captive travelers by avoiding at all costs the inevitable “are we there yets,” whining, squabbling, seat kicking…well, you get the idea.

Of course you could plug the kids into a DVD player or video game. Personally I believe that when traveling: if it works, then go for it! Forget your principles and opt for The Easy Way Out (Dramamine anyone? Just kidding!).

If you are of a more solid constitution however, and wish to travel in an unplugged (and unmedicated) fashion – or if the battery runs out, what should you do?

Well as the proud Mama of two great unplugged travelers and one terrible one, I wrote this post (Traveling Unplugged) last summer after surviving a four hour plane trip.

I am not trying to “cheat” by republishing a portion of it, but just like in my kids’ rooms, stuff gets buried in the blog after a while, you know what I mean? Hopefully it might give you some good ideas:


Originally written June 18th, 2007:

“My two oldest are now 5 and 6. They each pull their own little rolling suitcase packed with their activities, as well as a favorite stuffed animal or two. Note: I supervise the packing of the suitcase, or better yet, pack it for them when they are not there. This avoids us finding a suitcase full of rocks, scraps of paper, bits of string, and other “toys” that simply could not be left behind. I always try to include a few new “surprises.”

Here are some ideas that have worked for us:


An obvious choice. Try to pack lightweight, paperback books.


– A French knitter (easy for ages 5-6+ to do on their own – makes yarn “snakes” that can be coiled and sewn into various projects)

– Modeling clay (I squish one stick into a plastic Easter Egg which makes a great travel container)

– Wikki Stix (strings coated with wax, like candle wicks, can be bent into many different shapes)

Art Toys:

– Travel-sized erasable drawing board (Magna Doodle for example)

– Pocket Etch-A-Sketch

– Don’t forget the plain old pad of paper and crayons.

Travel Games:

Are We There Yet

– Haba Story Telling Tin (children make up stories based on the picture cards they choose-very creative!)

– Also look for travel-sized editions of other favorite board games, there are many out there, you just have to search for them. Beware of games with too many small pieces to lose if you have young (or unreliable) children.

Magnetic Playsets:

– Melissa & Doug Magnetic Farm Hide & Seek

– Smethport Magnetic Playboards (some examples are below, but search for “Smethport” at Amazon toys to see all the possibilities).


Choose toys that are small, light, and don’t have a lot of pieces to get lost.

– Lacing block

– Zip-lock bag full of hot wheels cars

– Peace Ring

– Piece of string or yarn (for Cat’s Cradle)

Creative Coloring Books:

I like to find coloring books that are not your typical stay within the lines type of activity.

– The Anti-Coloring Book series is wonderful with suggestions for all kinds of imaginative possibilities.

– The Taro Gomi books are also very original but have a lot of pages so may be too big to pack easily.

– Here are also a few other suggestions for coloring books featuring abstract patterns that can be colored in many, many different ways.

Wipe Clean Board Books:

Tip: Stash away an airline cocktail napkin or two for wiping these off.

Find-It Books:

– Our favorite is the Look-Alikes series of books by Joan Steiner. These feature amazing, realistic photos in which the objects are almost always something else (sidewalks made of crackers or wheels made of buttons, etc.). Kids (and grown-ups too) enjoy looking through these books over and over as there is always something new to notice. It is also a fun activity to say to kids “I see a penny” and have them find it. You will tire of that game before they do! Of course there are also the well-known Where’s Waldo and I Spy books, but here are also some additional ones we like that are not so common:

Scholarly Pursuits:

Not fun for all kids, but my oldest loves this stuff!

– Workbooks

– Flash cards

– Brain Quest

Learn Some Games Yourself!:

If you are really desperate, buy a book such as Car Games: 100 Games to Avoid “Are We There Yet?”. This book offers suggestions for over 100 fun games to play in the car, airplane, or even while camping or waiting in line for example (not all games rely on spotting license plates or signs). A fun book. Parents could learn a few of these games in order to provide timely distractions at critical moments!

As for traveling by air with 18 month-olds: my best piece of advice is grit your teeth and remember that you will never see any of those people again!”


Plus here are a few additional ideas from the comments to this post:

  • a zip pencil case filled with canning ring lids for little ones, a disposable camera for use during the flight, a preflight gift of colored pencils and a little travel diary in a zippered pouch (from Wishy the Writer)
  • a small wrapped present to be given hourly and a small snack surprise on the off half hour (Andamom)
  • A bag of magnet shapes from the dollar store and a metal tin lid as a magnet board (“girlcarew”-sorry I can’t find your link!)
  • A new toy for a new trip – pick one that is easy to transport but whose discovery will occupy for a while (Whymommy)


BONUS!!: an extra special Pilot Trick (since I am a pilot) –

When you have a screechy kind of child that you must take on a commercial airplane full of other people, sit as close to the engine as possible since that is the noisiest part of the plane. Screechy child=bad, lots of ambient noise to help drown it out=good.


What works for you? Good luck and happy travels!

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