When you head off with the kids to one of our gorgeous family-friendly villas there are some things you’ll want to take with you and some things you can’t wait to see the back of. Stress, chores and work emails you’ll almost certainly want to leave back at home, and barring the essentials (passport, plane tickets, swimming cozzie) one thing that’ll definitely make it into your hand luggage is a phone or tablet – partly because they’re a handy way of navigating when you get to your destination, partly because they’re a foolproof way to distract the kids and keep them quiet with minimal fuss.
But there’s recently been a lot of talk and worry about how much time kids are spending staring at screens, and never more so than when they’re on holiday. To you, a trip away to sunnier climes might represent the perfect opportunity to broaden the kids’ horizons – to them, it’s more like the perfect opportunity to spend entire days faffing about on the internet or playing games. We’ve talked before on our blog about how useful (or not) an iPad really is on a family holiday, and it’s definitely worth taking one along for practical reasons alone – the difficulty is getting kids off the screens and engaged with the outside world. But what can you do to make sure the kids are getting the most out of travel?
Of course, much of the difficulty parents face is breaking that link with the screen in the first place – we’ve all been faced with the annoyance of (at best) perpetual whining or (at worst) an out-and-out tantrum if the toys are taken away.
You may well already have rules in place to regulate screen time, but it’s probably worth enforcing or even changing them in the run up to the holiday. If the kids are allowed, say, an hour of screen time after dinner, you could try reducing that for the two weeks prior to everyone jetting off. Another idea is to stop using tablet or phone access as a reward for good behaviour. That way, the kids won’t have a vested interest in towing the line just to spend the next four hours with their heads buried in Candy Crush. Alternatively, you could use the promise of screen time as a treat, but then only let them watch black and white YouTube documentaries on the history of injection moulding in the 1970s. After three minutes they’ll be desperate for something else to do.
The big difficulty, of course, is finding something the kids will genuinely find more interesting than gadgets that will hold their attention. Pre-planning can help here too, but you might have to be a bit sneaky about it. Generally kids will be hyped at the prospect of a holiday, so it won’t be difficult getting them interested in finding out a bit more about your destination – and you can always nudge this towards your child’s individual interests.
If they’re into sports you could get them thinking about local teams, or if stories are more their thing you could see if there’s any local myths or legends that might spark their imaginations. It might even be a case of making them intrigued by the little differences they’ll be coming across – different animals, food or even cars might be enough get them interested. And if you’re booking one of our great family villas you might already have an advantage – some of our holiday homes are pretty spectacular, and telling the kids they’ll be staying in a genuine castle or a countryside retreat with its own swimming pool is a great way to get them on board with minimal fuss.
If they approach the holiday already interested in your destination that’s half the battle won – and then you capitalise on that interest and make sure they dedicate their time to something more rewarding than digital pursuits. And that’s where the holiday scrapbook comes in.
Investing in a simple notebook and some art supplies can help keep the kids quiet, engaged and away from zombifying screens. Simply provide them with the notebook and carte blanche to fill it however they like and watch them go! You might want to mark out the book with the days of the holiday so they can create a kind of diary – pictures and descriptions of new things they’ve seen, a story about something that’s inspired them or mementos that they’ve found. You could glue leaves or postcards into the pages, and it’s a great place to keep tickets from journeys you’ve been on or places you’ve visited. If they get into the routine of filling their scrapbook in with something everything every day, you might find them asking after the phone or tablet less and less – and at the end of the holiday they’ll have a wonderful memento to take home with them and remind them of their adventure!
One of the other benefits of getting the kids away from screens is getting them to re-engage with nature and enjoy the fresh air. One of the best ways to do that, of course, is just to get out there and do it! Many of our villas, chateaux and holiday homes are found in the heart of the countryside, making getting out there as easy as stepping out of your front door in some cases! Pack a pair of sturdy boots and go for a nice long nature walk, taking in the some of the amazing views of the landscape and seeing what you can spot on the way – you could even make a note of what’s the same as home and what’s completely different.
Or there’s plenty of opportunities to get even more active. Some of our holiday homes actually provide bikes for their guests, so a nice long bike ride is easy enough to sort out (and even if you accommodation doesn’t provide bikes there are plenty of hire firms to choose from, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere in the South of France!) But why stop at bikes? If the kids are old and adventurous enough, a holiday is the perfect time to introduce them to new and exciting activities. Depending on where you’re staying you’ll have a plethora of things to choose from – head out onto the water with some sailing, kayaking or fishing, explore the nursery slopes with a little skiing or even head underground and try your hand at some family spelunking. With loads of activities to choose from and professional guides to make sure everything is safe and fun, the kids will soon be choosing real life over digital thrills.
And there’s one other option you can go for, though it’s not (shall we say) the most ethical tack you can take – but it is damn effective. We’re talking, of course, about lying your pants off.
Because let’s face it – a lot of kids are pretty darn credulous and have absolutely no idea on the ultimate nature of wifi magic or an iPad’s internal workings. So the first time your little darling asks to play with the iPad, it’s time to wheel out some absolute codswallop about how the software doesn’t work in another country, or that it only understands English wifi signals and now they’re all in French. Okay, so it might be slightly underhand, but what price giving your child a set of holiday memories they’ll never forget? For the sake of a couple of porkies, it’s worth it to get them away from the screen and falling in love with the joy of travel. And don’t forget to read our top tips for family travel!