When working out the 12 month sabbatical the topic of toys was one of the top priorities to pack for the kids. I couldn’t work out what to pack given my space restrictions and their current interests. Fortunately I had my Playcentre level one education to help me decide. Here’s a guide to help you decide what toys to pack for your children for any trip. If you’re in a rush jump to the end to get a summary, otherwise read on for great inform on how to keep your little ones stimulated while on the go.
When I first began planning my toy list I assumed I’d be taking Paw Patrol toys and their favourite games and books. Plus both the 2yo and 4yo had had their birthdays which meant a whole heap of new presents (in spite of telling everyone not to purchase anything for them 🙂 But after ordering my one 80L backpack that was supposed to fit my belongings as well as those of my two youngest, I realised their favourites weren’t going to make it.
Coincidentally, at TPoA Playcentre we were analysing our resources and considering what needs to be purchased. To do that we had to understand our values so that we knew how to prioritise the purchases and ensure we weren’t wasting money. The suggested values and the discussions with members really helped to change my mindset about how I packed.
The first step for me was realising how small my bag was after squeezing in winter and summer clothes plus toiletries for us three. There was about two 2Litre ice cream containers left for superfluous items including toys.
In my head I thought that I needed to work out where we were going and what we would be doing there. We had outlined that in some places we would hop around quickly so most likely there would be more activities out of the house, whereas in other places we would stay long term and get some homeschooling done, so that meant more at home time. I had assumed that short term stays would be tourist locations therefore hardly a need for toys and long term stays would require a lot of home play time so a lot of toys. For the short term stays I didn’t want to pull anything out of my bag that wasn’t needed. This included toys. For the long term stays I planned to unpack everything. This thinking was all wrong. It didn’t matter how long we were staying, the kids pulled all their toys out. Living out of a backpack is not easy so I unpacked my whole bag at every stop.
The things I did analyse was what play schemas are my boys interested in and what skills would I like them to develop. Based on these two factors combined with space limits I worked out what I could pack.
You may be asking, what are play schemas? Play schemas are categories for the ways a child likes to play. By knowing about these styles of play that they prefer, we can help their learning and development. It also helps us to understand why a child is determined to do something when we think they are “just being difficult”. At those times, if we recognise the play schemas then we can redirect their energy to something appropriate. For example, my son had the trajectory schema. This means he enjoys throwing and dropping things (including food) as well as climbing and jumping (even if it’s too high for him). By understanding this we can ensure we take him to playgrounds where he can climb and jump off where we can catch him. We can also ensure he’s throwing appropriate toys at appropriate times. It is also something that can change with the stage they are at.
When I looked at my two youngest ones, at the time I was packing, I saw:
Rotation– things that go round and round like wheels or propellors, drawing circles, rolly-polly’s, orbiting, spinning things around, etc.
Enveloping– hugs, colouring in so that everything is covered completely,
Positioning– putting things in lines, tidying up, organising
Connecting & Disconnecting– puzzles, lego, construction, block towers, destroying,
This helped me to identify what I might need to create environments that allowed for:
The next area I looked at was what are the skills they are still developing or that I would like them to develop while we are away. This first required me assessing what was working well. I could see music in the form of dance and singing was coming to them naturally. Role playing was something that had been enhanced by Playcentre and they were thriving in this area. They loved reading books, counting and naming symbols. Using blocks for construction came naturally to them. They loved playing with balls so I knew they would naturally develop that skill. One of them loved climbing and jumping and he loved painting while the other one didn’t so much. They also enjoyed puzzles. Because their older siblings and dad loves drawing, they loved drawing too.
This helped me to see that some of my gaps were collage and crafts, messy play, play dough, and junk play. I could see that developing fine motor skills and strategy was important. It also meant that I would need to create environments that allowed for:
At this point I looked at all the toys and materials we already owned and wondered what would facilitate play, what I could make along the way and what could I pick up later if required.
On a side note, I’m very attached to repairing things so I decided I’d bring my computer tool kit. I filed this under necessary tools for junk play because it had pliers and screw drivers (wish I’d packed screws and nails).
In the lead up to our final pack we had been gifted some toys for the young boy’s birthdays so I decide to use some of these. Plus I had been gifted a Jenga set that friends had written quotes or messages on and some had drawn pictures. I decided these were small enough to be able to put in a tote bag and pack for the trip plus there were enough of them to be able to create some cool buildings. As a bonus they could be used as a board game.
When I was packing up my daughters art section which was huge, I put aside wool, scissors (kid friendly and adult ones), felts, crayons, colouring pencils, pens, markers, sharpener and rubber. I packed a container of water paints but this accidentally ended up in the long term storage boxes 🙁
I had books my two loved but they were heavier board books which would take up weight and space allowance. We were gifted some Hairy Maclairy books which were super thin so I decided this set would work. They also had dogs and cats which my kids love and could role play the story line.
I decided no instruments were worth packing and I hoped that we would pick up souvenir type instruments small enough to pack that were made local to the place we were in.
The only other point that is important to factor is how much down time you will have at your destination. If you are doing a short holiday most likely you will be out and about visiting sites and eating out so you may not have “home time” where your child will play indoors. In this case you just want some small key items to keep them occupied for in-between time or when you are eating out or on a plane.
On sabbatical you can assume you will find more down time since your kids get sick of constantly travelling and eventually want time to do “normal stuff”. It’s the long periods of down time that require greater stimulation – the type that helps them to learn and grow so that they don’t end up pushing, snatching, hurling, screaming, etc 😉
If your accomodation is by some outdoor feature that is useable, for example a beach or a playground with moderate climates, then outdoor play helps to keep your child stimulated, fulfilled and content. However, if it rains or if you have to keep your child indoors because you have older kids homeschooling, for example, then you definitely want to be prepared with well thought out activities.
Use these questions to help you prioritise what toys to pack:
Based on the above choose the most common toys and materials that pop up as suitable for these questions.