While traveling with kids is rewarding and fun, you need to have strategies to keep the kids engaged. No one wants to go all the way to Europe (or your local museum) just to have the kids playing on their phones or whining about being bored. Visiting Munich recently reminded me of the tools I gathered for traveling with our kids when we lived in Europe in the early 2000s. Granted, they didn’t have mobile phones back then, but we did have to compete with Gameboy and the impatience of 3rd/4th and 5th/6th graders nevertheless. Here are some of the activities I came up with:
1. The Postcard Game
Usually you just want to avoid the gift shop, right? For this activity you have to hit the gift shop first! Explain to your kids that they get to pick out 4 or 5 postcards. Yes, this will likely cost you €2-5, but it’s worth it, trust me. If your kids are competitive with each other, buy each child 4 or 5 postcards of their own, but let them choose which ones. If they work well together, just purchase one set. The postcards have to be a picture of an item in the museum you are visiting. So, at an art museum, make sure the art is actually at that museum.
Then, use the postcards as a scavenger hunt. The kids need to find the item that is on their postcard and then show it to you.
I first tried this at the Cluny in Paris. While looking at the postcards we noticed that there were several with Madonna and Child images. The kids each picked one of those along with a combination of tapestries, statues, and paintings. We had so much fun trying to find the Madonna and Child on their postcards. There were literally hundreds of these statues and having to carefully examine the details in order to find the one on their postcard was a wonderful exercise in examining art. It generated great conversation and engaged the kids in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without the activity.
2. Language tally
During the course of your trip, have the kids count the number of times they here a popular word. In Germany, try “genau”. In France try “d’accord”. In Spain, tally the times you hear “listo” or “mira”. You’ll hear these typical expressions while standing in line, at the store, or visiting a site.
3. The Butt and Breast Game
While living in Germany, we visited the Schleissheim Schloss outside Munich several times. Apparently it was one time too many for our kids who complained when we visited with guests, “Why do we have to go here again?!” As my son was griping at me, I noticed a group of young women who were squatting down to have their photo taken in from of some flower beds. At the time, the fashion was low-slung jeans, which showed all the women’s butt cracks. Amused by how ridiculous this was, I issued my middle-school aged son the challenge of finding butt cracks in the art in the Schloss. I’ll admit, I sweetened the deal, offering 10 euro cents for every butt crack he found. That boy spent the next hour scouring every piece of art for butt cracks.
Of course, his little sister came to me to negotiate a money-making deal for herself. So, I gave her a new challenge – 5 euro cents for every breast she found (there’s often only one shown in the art and I wanted to give her partial credit).
So, for about 3 euros per kid I bought some peace and a little more art education for my kids. Nudity can be part of the European experience, and this was a fun way to make it educational.
(If you’d like to visit the Schleissheim Schloss, information in English can be found here.)
4. More appropriate: Find your 5 favorite
Walk into Weiskirche, known for all of the angel images. Ask your child to spend 20 minutes finding their 5 favorites angels. Then, when the have found them, they give you a tour and tell you why they picked each of them.
This works with all kinds of things: animals, columns, saints, etc.
5. Let them eat whatever they can ask for
It’s hard enough to travel as a group. Don’t add to it by enforcing balanced meals and whatever non-allergy related rules you have about food. If your kid can ask for straciatella gelato or dame blanche, then let them have that for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. Reward their navigation of a menu by letting them live on brie on a baguette for a week, if that’s what they can order in the local tongue. If they can ask for a “pain au chocolate s’il vous plaît”, then reward it. You are creating memories, not lessons about the four food groups.