Playing with my kids at home is not something I do.
Playing with my kids while on a trip is something I love to do! That’s because when we travel we do things that are actually fun – like visit Glenwood Caverns Amusement Park and ride the Alpine Coaster or go for hikes in Yellowstone to peer over the edge of Lower Falls or spend the day looking at exotic animals (like beavers! or ferrets! or snow leopards!) at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
At home I have an expectation that my kids will play imaginary games, board games, do art, jump on the trampoline, play with the neighbor kids – all of it independently. On the road my expectations are completely different for a few reasons: it’s for a shorter amount of time (days or weeks rather than months or years), it’s my idea to travel in the first place, and they don’t have all the activities of home I’ve invested in over the years. So while we’re on the road, I expect that I have to engage in some manner of entertaining my children. I also expect that it should be fun for me, too (because as hard as I try at home playing Barbies just isn’t fun for me).
So when we are on the road, I actually play with my kids by choosing activities that are fun for all of us. On this trip, we went to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. They have an alpine coaster and numerous other fun rides that we could all go on. As I ran around the park with my kids, I showed that Mom having fun is important, too. It’s not easy to find activities that are fun for all of us, but with a little research and a spirit of adventure we can play together. Below is a list of the ways that I played with my kids on our road trip.
1. Craters of the Moon National Park
National parks naturally lend themselves to hiking, but it’s possible to turn an ordinary hike into an opportunity to play. Depending on the ages of your kids, some easy hikes can feel long and difficult. Playing along the way keeps the fun. At this particular park there is a large hill to climb in the middle of the park. The best way to have fun with a hill is to run down it! Risky? Yes. Crazy? Maybe. Not fun? Nope! My 8 year old and I held hands while we ran down the hill and yelled that we were going to die, then laughed for a good 5 minutes when we reached the bottom breathless and exhilarated.
Stargazing was another fun activity that we did at Craters of the Moon. Staying up a late while camping, watching the stars come out, and looking for the Milky Way is a great activity for kids and adults alike. Plus there is something deeply spiritual about looking up at the stars that forms a connection between parent and child.
2. Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
Amusement parks are a great way to play with my kids. I love roller coasters and it’s always fun to watch the kids having fun. At this park there is a variety of thrill rides for adults and kids – including an alpine coaster that has hand brakes so you can control your own speed. Kids under 48″ inches have to ride with an adult and woo-hooing your way down the mountain makes it a whole lot more fun.
The other fun activities we did included a tour of the Fairy Cave and the Canyon Swing. Since we went on a Monday, the lines were either very short or non-existent. I wish now that I had kept count of how many times we did the Canyon Swing but I’d guess we did it at least 12 times – each ride was just as exciting as the last. The swing was set on the edge of a cliff so you felt like you were soaring into the sky or falling into the canyon.
Laser tag is another fun activity that we played together. It was only 5 minutes (although we played 3 games in a row) and the kids had a ton of fun shooting me, almost as much fun as I had shooting them. Sneaking around and trying to hide from one another added an element of play to it that was fun for us all.
3. Throwing rocks
This sounds immature but sometimes (always!) being immature is the best way to play together. Throwing rocks into a pond, lake, or river can be a surprisingly fun activity. Kids love to see a splash and as an adult I get the fun of throwing bigger rocks than my kids, thus making bigger splashes. Not every activity has to cost money and this is a great one that is free.
Kids love animals and it only takes a small spirit of adventure to have fun with your kids and animals. We visited several zoos/animal parks throughout our trip. We started with Bear World in Idaho, then went to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana, and lastly visited Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado. Each time we saw wild animals up close it was fun. I had hoped to do horseback riding but the drawback to travelling in the shoulder season is that many activities are closed.
5. Take the Road Less-travelled
Sure it’s fun to do the tried and true, reviewed and proven activities while travelling, but we often forget how much fun it can be to experience the unexpected. As a mom, I spend so much time managing schedules, planning, and following through that I overlook how much value there is in being free. By setting my GPS to fastest route, I was surprised how much of our trip took place on rural roads. Getting from Yellowstone to Glenwood Springs, CO, took us south through Wyoming for hundreds of miles. I expected at some point to get on a freeway but instead we ended up on a dirt road for over 20 miles. Who knew that Irish Canyon was even a place, much less a beautiful scenic place?! Pulling over on the side of the road gave us the opportunity to explore together and see something new. It was a cool chance to play together in an unexpected way.
This wasn’t the only time that we took a dirt road to get somewhere. I find that being in crowds with my kids is stressful, so I look for experiences that don’t involve a lot of other people. Sometimes this means missing a major attraction in a national park (like when we tried to see The Windows in Arches National Park but couldn’t find a parking space) but mostly it means seeing things that not everyone gets to see. Rather than seeing windshield sights, we went out to Tower Arch and got to sit under the arch all by ourselves. By getting off the beaten path, we are able to talk more freely, climb and run more freely, and, most of all, melt-down without fear of judgment!
6. Waiting Games
While preparing for our trip, I found a lot of great games to play while waiting. When we were in Yellowstone watching Old Faithful erupt (or rather waiting for it to erupt), I forgot about playing with my kids. Instead they pushed, shoved, stumbled, whacked each other, and generally horsed around while I hissed at them to hold still (until I gave up and just told them not to bump into other people). After the eruption, we joined a line to use the bathroom and I knew that I couldn’t endure another 20 minutes of horseplay from my kids. That’s when I remembered about Waiting Games. We started playing a game where one person stands in front of the others, the others take a good look then close their eyes. While eyes are closed the person in front changes something about themselves then announces to open eyes. The object of the game is to guess what was changed. Taking turns turned a long, annoying wait into a fun time to play together.
Another way to play is while waiting in restaurants. I downloaded this great list of waiting games from What Do We Do All Day (https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/pen-and-paper-games/), printed it out, and kept in my purse along with a couple pens. Playing one or two of these games made a long wait for food in a busy restaurant a lot more bearable – for all of us.
7. My Final Piece of Advice
Don’t feel bad about not playing with your kids on a regular basis. The fact that I don’t play with my kids at home makes it that much sweeter when I do play with them on the road. Some parents like to play and some don’t, but the fact is that playing can build relationships and strengthen bonds. Playing doesn’t have to be child-led or boring for adults. Look for ways into include your kids in things you enjoy and show them that you can have fun, too.
Silly pictures can also be a lot of fun!