When we first moved overseas on military orders, it took a month for our household goods (i.e. furniture and everything we owned) to be delivered. All we had with us were our suitcases and whatever clothes and cooking supplies we had sent in our Express shipment. At the time, we had three children, ages four and under. None of them were in school. All of them were home with me all day, in an empty house, with few toys. The house had tile floors and walls, so every sound echoed. The noise level was physically painful. And there were times I had to get them out of the house just to keep myself sane. It was not an easy month.
Entertaining kids while waiting for household goods
I learned a lot during that military move, including some tips and strategies for entertaining a military kid when you don’t have all their toys. Hint: it doesn’t involve buying more toys. If you are facing an overseas PCS or any military move that will keep you separated from your belongings for a long time, then try these sanity-saving ideas.
What to pack in your Express shipment
Success begins before you leave your old house when you choose what to send in your Express shipment. This is a separate shipment for overseas duty stations, and you’ll also get it when returning to the States from overseas. You can select a few items up to an allocated weight limit that will be flown overseas and arrive the same time you do. This is important since your other household goods will be shipped on a boat and take weeks to arrive. If you are moving within the United States, you won’t get an Express shipment, but you could pack most of these items in your car:
- Bikes: Use them for getting around on base while waiting for your other vehicle to ship.
- Baby gear: You can include a pack and play, high chair, stroller, bouncer, or any other necessity.
- Box of toys: Include your kids’ favorite books, toys, puzzles, dress-ups, games, movies, etc.
- Swimsuits and beach items: you can visit the base swimming pool, or beach of there is one
- TV: Check with your moving company. Some will allow it to go express.
- Laptop computer: Not just for you, you can also play movies for the kids
- PlayStation or Xbox: Netflix won’t work overseas until you set up a VPN router, but you can keep the family happy with games and DVDs.
- Headphones with a splitter: Have more than one military child? You need this in your life if you have more kids than electronic devices. You’re welcome.
What to do on base after you arrive
Once you arrive at your new base/post, you will be in temporary housing for up to 30 days while you go house-hunting or wait for a house on base. Sometimes this is a base hotel, while other times it will be an empty home in the base housing area. Either way, there won’t be much to do, so you need to get the kids out to explore! Try these activities to keep them busy:
- Register for school, if your kids are old enough. Some foreign bases allow Americans to attend off-base, so research your options.
- Register at the base CDC: Even if you won’t use it regularly, complete the paperwork or get them on the waiting list, so you have the option if you need it.
- Sign up for cultural education classes: Most foreign bases offer a free class to incoming families to help them adjust to base. Since it is required for the service member, the classes include free childcare.
- Check out the bowling alley: Most bases have a bowling alley, and many offer dollar days or discounts for families. During the summer, you can enroll your military kid for free bowling at numerous overseas bases.
More fun stuff for military kids
- Go to library story time: The base library probably has a kid-friendly hour of reading, songs, and crafts. If you miss it, just visit the kid’s section for some fresh reading material.
- Visit parks and playgrounds: The kids need some time to run. And this is the best place to meet other moms and make new friends.
- Sign up for MWR classes or activities: Find out what your new base offers for youth or family programs. Enrolling your child in a sport or dance class they love will help them adjust.
- Go to the beach or swimming pool: Whether your base has an indoor swimming pool at the gym, an outdoor pool in base housing, or a year-round beach, check it out and let the kids cool off and play.
What are your best tips for entertaining your military child during a military move?
Lizann Lightfoot, the “Seasoned Spouse” is a professional writer and speaker for the military community. After two decades with her service member, she has completed 7 deployments, 6 PCS moves, raised 5 children, and published several books for military families. Her most recent book is “Open When: Letters of Encouragement for Military Spouses” published Sept 2021 by Elva Resa. You can find Lizann’s articles and resources at SeasonedSpouse.com