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I read an article this week on Facebook about the need for kids to be bored at times and to have to find ways to entertain themselves and how our current parenting ways of hyper-scheduling kids and their activities has led to kids not knowing what to do when faced with unscheduled time. It got me reflecting to how our kids and their play have changed in the time we have lived aboard.
Back home in our big house, they had quite a lot of toys and although we tried not to over schedule, they participated in dance class and art class and swimming lessons, etc. Obviously moving onto a 40 foot sailboat would have to change things; we have very minimal storage space for toys and there would be no more scheduled extra-curriculars. Since we were flying to meet the boat, packing presented even more of a challenge because we really couldn’t bring that much. The kids each brought a backpack where they could bring some personal things. That included a few stuffies, hot wheels, and some small random items.
I brought lots of workbooks for homeschooling and a few craft supplies. We brought a few card games and travel size games. A bin of lego was probably the largest item we brought and they play with that bin of lego every day. At Easter, we added some K’nex and a new board game. Each kid got to pick 10 softcover books to bring down and I think we will all be glad to get home to our large and new to us book collection. Ella devours chapter books and we often trade with other cruising kids and try to check out libraries when we are somewhere for awhile. She has also progressed to reading on the Kindle – the Harry Potter series, which should last awhile. We brought lots of sand toys, which are used almost every day. We also have snorkel gear, goggles and dive sticks , which keep the kids entertained at a pool or beach for hours. Santa delivered boogie boards to the boat before we arrived, which have been a popular activity. We have an ipad that is used mostly for educational activities, but we may pull it out on a rainy day or if Paul and I need to do something. We have lots of movies on a hard drive, but we usually only watch 1-2 movies/week (except those rare rainy days where it could be on most of the day!)
That is literally all the toys we have on board for three kids aged 3-7. That might not sound so bad, but remember our kids are “home” a lot and have tons of down time. We generally only do school for about 1.5 hours/day and the rest of the time we are on the boat, sailing or out exploring. They also go long stretches without playing with other kids (most of the past month we haven’t seen other cruising families).
Although their play hasn’t drastically changed, if I really reflect on it, I recognize how good they have become at entertaining themselves. Some of their activities drive me crazy like this baby/mom/dad game that they play where every one talks in baby voices –so annoying! They can be really resourceful with what turns into a toy. The boys love to tie ropes all over the deck and play pirates. The Canadian flag has become a “tiebin” (Ella tells me this means back sail) that they adjust and furl and can entertain them for an hour. When it rains, the boys entertain themselves by collecting water in cups. They build forts in the cockpit and the salon. If I am baking, someone is always around to help stir.
We spend a lot of time on random deserted beaches and the kids are barely out of the dingy before they have made up some imaginative game. They can usually find an interesting tree or rock cave that turns into their house. Add some plastic rubbish and they can start preparing food for sale. Best of all, these games involve all three of them playing together. Don’t get me wrong, they are like all siblings and do fight, but given that there isn’t many other options, they have to work it out. Gavin found a stick months ago that has lived in our dingy since and is used as a dingy depth sounder, fish spear, sword, and poling stick. I have seen them play with plastic cups in all manners: for water fights, to collect rain water, to make pretend food, as miniature underwater viewing buckets. Coconuts become balls, pretend fires are made, shells are collected and sorted… I am so impressed with their ingenuity when it comes to turning any object into a toy. In fact it reminds me of what you see kids playing with in developing countries where they simply don’t have the means to purchase manufactured toys and they make due with every day objects as toys. At yesterday’s beach-of-the-day, they built a city with sand toys; played house by a fallen tree; Ella and I went for a walk along the beach; the boys swam and snorkeled looking for turtles and Ella read a bit while Paul and I did some exercising.
While the kids are looking forward and planning what activities they want to participate in next year and looking forward to being reunited with all their toys at home, I will miss their simple way of playing that has evolved in our time on the boat. Play is just another example of how our kids have grown from this cruising experience.