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'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' toward family time


Remember the Brady Bunch driving off to the Grand Canyon in a station wagon singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in a round?

It is one of those images that has stuck in the back of my mind over the years. It suggests the kind of joyful, connected moments a family can have. It is a snapshot of cheer and enthusiasm, and the simple, unadulterated joy of living and being with the people around you.

Now imagine a different picture. What if all six of the Brady kids had appeared to be in a catatonic stupor as they gazed at a new release on a glaring portable DVD screen? Or what if each of them had been clutching a handheld video game, frantically thrusting their thumbs amid the dizzying clamor of synthesized sound samples?

To put it in a sound sample - WAW, Waaw, waaaaawThe Grand Canyon road trip would undoubtedly have lost some of its appeal to me.


There was a time not long ago when most people had never heard of the term "unplugged." Those who had knew of it in terms of acoustic music. Today, getting "unplugged" entails consideration of not only portable DVD players and video games, but all manner of technology from cell phones and text messaging to iPods, laptops and more.

My children have a worn out Nintendo DS that they like to play during road trips. The device is on its last legs, they tell me. They're hoping to trade it in for an upgrade on their own dime, and I might go along with that.

I don't, however, see the point in spending money - often sizeable sums - on devices to use during travel that will isolate family members from one another. Doing so robs people of valuable time and memories, and cheats the bank account out of money that could be saved or better spent elsewhere.

As the summer travel season approaches, I'm aiming for an old-fashioned approach to the family vacation. I don't think I am overly idealistic in believing that we can talk to each other; tell some stories and jokes; play some simple games; sing together; and when we need some quiet, read some books.

I've asked around for some of people's favorite ways to pass the time while traveling, keeping in mind the concept of limiting technology and expense. Here is some of what's turned up:

o Count cows.

o See who can find license plates from the most different states.

o Do "Mad Libs."

o Pick up Cracker Barrel's travel bingo cards with covers to pull over as landmarks are identified.

o Play "Banana" by being the first to say the word after spotting a yellow vehicle.

o Belt a passionate rendering of "Ninety-nine Bottles of Coke on the Wall."

o Ask young children "What makes the animal sound," "What starts with the letter ," or "What rhymes with ..." questions.

o Strike up a game of 20 Questions, Guess Who I'm Thinking Of, or The Picnic Game. If you are unfamiliar, find instructions ahead of time online.

o Have each child bring a book, preferably a large, hardcover one that can double as a portable desktop. Pack a resealable sandwich bag with crayons, pencil and paper and encourage children to draw or write about things they see or experience during the trip.

o Choose something like Frisbees, a ball and mitts, blowing bubbles or sidewalk chalk for a game of hopscotch at rest stops.

o When you hop back in the car, remember to strike up rounds of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in free, unplugged, Brady style.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is"> .

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