We always pack a little bag of small toys, cards, and crayons for the plane trip - but once we arrive at our destination, our son barely ever opens this bag. That is because there are too many other wonderful things to do!
Once, while staying in the north part of Ambergris Caye, Belize, our son and the kids of the family we stayed with found a piece of styrofoam and a baggie that had washed ashore. They added a stick and turned the trash into a sailboat. They played with that boat for days, tweaking it here and there 'til it was balanced just right. There were no toy stores for those kids to buy toys at - or no stores at all, for that matter. They had to create their own fun. And they had a blast.
In Costa Rica, we met a family from Belgium who was on a year long, round-the-world trip with their 10 year old daughter. They did home swaps to be able to afford the trip. What an education that little girl got!
In the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica, we hung out with an ex pat family - they live in an area with very few inhabitants. But there are other ex pats nearby, so they have created their own little community of friends. Throughout the day, the kids convene at someone's house and balloon fights, games of tag, and bicycle races on the dirt walkways are bound to ensue. The kids can get dirty. They can be loud. They can run around in their underwear!
What I have noticed is that these kids stay KIDS longer. They don't grow up too fast. Sure, they have experiences that many adults don't even have. But, they can be 12, 13, 14 years old and still PLAY. I have taken home this knowledge as a souvenir from our trips, and I know it is one of the most valuable things I can give to my son.
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