Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Sensory Smart Travel

"How long will it take us to drive there?"  I asked.

"Google says it will take about 26 hours."  Jon replied.

"You're kidding me, right?"  I asked, the panic setting in.  "Trapped in a car for 26 hours with our three monsters?!?  There is no way they can sit for that long.  It won't happen.  Maybe we should re-think this."
Relaxed and Sleepy Little Girl

I knew there was no way that we would cancel the trip since the deposit was already paid and I had three bright little faces staring at pictures of palm trees and sandy beaches.  We have all been longing for a taste of summer.  And we all really needed a break.  I could not let my anxiety take over.  So I set out to make the best of it, and  I was not disappointed in the end result.  With a little bit of planning and a trip to the dollar store, our travel time was an incredibly enjoyable experience.  Sure, there were bumps along the way, like motion sickness and feeding difficulties, but we coped.  No, wait.  We didn't just cope, we thrived!

First things first.  How would I keep things calm but exciting enough that I won't hear the dreaded phrase "I'm B-O-R-E-D?"  All of our kids have sensory issues.  There is not a single "normal" one in the bunch.  Here is where balance becomes important.  We don't want over-stimulation, but we don't want under- stimulation either.  Both situations can easily lead to all three kids being in meltdown mode.  As a Mom I have also come to understand the risk of the trickle down effect!

I started by scouring the local dollar store for three hanging shoe organizers.  They are way less expensive than purchasing the organizers that are made specifically for vans.  They also have great pocket sizes and I figured that I could re-use them when I got home for organizing the hats and mittens for the kids.  Hung on the back of the chair in front of them they kept everything needed in arms reach, which definitely made my life a little easier.  I packed a separate box in the back of the van with a small selection of toys from home, and one surprise toy for each day of the drive.  The must-have choices for our kids were: an MP3 player loaded with their favourite songs and kid-safe headphones (I can only listen to "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz so many times before wanting to stab my eyeballs out with a dull fork), a puppet, sunglasses, Lego, and a sensory challenging toy.   One pocket held a drink, another pocket had a piece of fruit, and there was always one pocket with a bland snack like soda crackers.  At the end of each day I would rotate the toys and puppets and put fresh snacks in the pockets so that it appeared fresh and new the next day.

Toys to go!

One of the most important parts of our journey was remembering to incorporate sensory regulating activities whenever we made a pit stop.  We did not plan our trip around where or when we would stop- there were no deadlines other than making it to the vacation rental by Sunday evening.  The unpredictable nature of our family makes flying by the seat of your pants the only way to do anything.  We stopped regularly for potty breaks and quick play sessions.  I think that the smartest sensory regulating things that I packed were the bubbles.  Five minutes of blowing bubbles (very sensory regulating) and watching them running around trying to catch them was a memory I will cherish forever.  We had so much fun during the play session that we put the camera down and as a result we only have a few shots.  We also managed to find a number of pit stops that were surrounded by lovely hills- so we encouraged all of the kids to run up and down them as many times as they could.  It made for great "heavy work" and was a great sensory challenge for Owen.

Bubbles Bubbles and MORE Bubbles!
 As soon as we hit weather that was above freezing we aimed for lunch in the great outdoors!  Another great stop that won't soon be forgotten.  It's not every year that we get to picnic in the month of February!

Have you travelled great distances by car with little ones in tow?  How did you manage?  What worked for you?

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