Fun things to do with your grandchildren while traveling

 In Europe

While many of you know that we traveled to Spain in the fall of 2013, you may not know that my parents came with us. This was their first trip to Europe, and my mother’s first trip out of North America. I speak a lot about our experiences as parents traveling with our boys, but I wanted to hear from my parents (AKA the grandparents) who were traveling with us. My mother happily agreed to tackle a few topics so that other grandparents can feel confident exploring the world with their kids and grandkids. First on my mother’s list is the all important  topic of things to do with your grandchildren when you are on the road. It’s not always easy trying to see historic sights, but also keep the grandkids entertained. 

While touring the Andalusia region of Spain with my daughter and her family, we were exploring nonstop most days. This was a bit different from having her family visit us at our home where there is plenty of downtime and lots of toys. Instead of having all day to explore my house and find the toys I have stashed away, the boys and I played with the few toys we had while we waited for their parents to get showered or prepare a backpack for the day.  And, of course, there were occasions when my husband and I would let my daughter and her husband go out for a quiet dinner, so we could have the kids all to ourselves. Without the boys usual room filled with toys, I had to get creative when it came to entertaining them so we weren’t relying on the TV each time their parents stepped out or needed to focus their attentions elsewhere.


Pack a small shoebox of toys

To prepare for these moments, I packed a small shoebox of all-purpose toys. Though my daughter assured me she had packed plenty of toys for the boys, I brought a few surprises as well because that’s what grandmothers do. We were all glad I did and had loads of fun. Here’s what I brought along and how you can use the contents:

A few marble maze pieces and three marbles: This toy, leftover from my daughter’s childhood, was our special toy for 4-year-old Dek as it was too dangerous for 18-month old Ty to play with. Having so few pieces, I could work on helping Dek learn how to assemble it on his own. He was thrilled with his accomplishment by the end of the trip.

Silly Putty in its egg: grab a newspaper and make funny impressions; use it while standing in one of the long lines that naturally drive kids crazy. Just give your grandchild a small piece and show him or her how to stretch it out and squish it, with warnings not to drop it (or it will bounce away!). Dek was fascinated! If it got lost or dirty, there was still more remaining in the egg.

Small “nerf” type ball: We rolled the ball on the floor and played “soccer” using our outstretched legs as goals, but there were no worries if it got accidentally thrown. Fun for both the four-year and 18-month old.

Three plastic stacking cups with imprints on their tops: The baby loved to watch me stack and then he knocked down the tower. These also made great bath toys and were perfect for playing with Playdough (see below).

Playdough: Pack a small portion of Playdough in a small plastic container. We made the usual objects, but also created “coins” using the stacking cups to cut the Playdough and then imprinted them with the tops. We set up an imaginary store with toys and household items and kept ourselves busy for quite a while.

Grandparents naturally have to spoil their “grands,” so we did stop during our travels at a local toy store to reward them for their being such amazing travelers. I pointed out three toys that fit in my budget and that I knew Dek would enjoy. Then, I let him choose one. I made sure it was small enough to fit in his backpack for the trip home. I consulted with my daughter on a toys for his brother. Everyone happily played with their new toys the rest of the trip.

Madrid Playground

Local playgrounds

The other place to play with your grandkids is local playgrounds. Fortunately, my daughter’s first vacation rental in Madrid was an apartment right across the street from one. In addition, she located a few playgrounds in the various cities we visited so that Dek and his brother could take a break from the more serious adult travel sights during the day.

The playgrounds were actually one of the high points of my travels because it was there that I felt most “at home” in Spain. Families of all sorts gather around playgrounds, and it was here that I got to interact with other Spanish “abuelas” and practice my high school Spanish. While my husband horsed around with the boys, the other grandmothers and I would swap gossip and laugh together as we told stories about our children and our grandchildren and quizzed each other about our hometowns. The ladies patiently waited while I pulled out my little English-to-Spanish dictionary when I fumbled for a word.  Meanwhile, my daughter and her husband could wander off for a stroll alone or a quick coffee in the café.

Playing with my grandchildren always rejuvenates and energizes me. Doing so in another land, surrounded by the beauty and stimulation of another culture heightens what is already one of my most pleasurable activities.

Many thanks to my mother for sharing her insight on traveling as a grandmother with her daughter and grandsons. 

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  • charu

    Agree about local playgrounds…this is so key esp. with grandparents. My mom used to take Erika to the tot lot almost daily when she was here and it saves them having to hunt for toys. Books always work with Erika, she loves a great story! Nice perspective from your folks

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