x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

How to train childrens' eyes

Travelling with kids I've found the only way to make children stay still and cast their eyes over the scenery is to give them something to do at the same time.

We have rooms with a view. We're in a cottage on an island off the west coast of Ireland, with nothing between us and America other than the Atlantic Ocean. From where I'm sitting now, I can see across the bay to the mountains, mist-topped like a Japanese watercolour. It's just been raining - it's always just been or is raining in Ireland - so there's the magnificent arch of a rainbow framing the crooked summit. It's so windy outside that the squalls of seagulls are flapping their wings furiously but flying backwards. I could sit here for hours, just looking.

But the kids couldn't. They don't like to sit and stare. Views don't seem to do much for anyone under the age of 30, not even when it's as beautiful as this one. Not even in New York, staying in the Hotel on Rivington in beds suspended in rooms like glass boxes over the city, did the seven-year-old twins spend more than a few moments counting the yellow taxis, like toys, ground to a halt in the gridlocked traffic below. I've learnt not to bother to pay extra for a sea view when we're on holiday. The only thing my kids want to do with the sea is jump into it.

So how do I get them to enjoy just looking when they always want to be doing something? I've found the only way to make them stay still and cast their eyes over the scenery is to give them something to do at the same time. The most obvious activity is painting, using my cotton wool buds as brushes. They can paint the fierce waves and the broad beach, backed by piles of stones. They could even paint the porpoises frolicking in the surf. They can count the porpoises as they paint them, seeing who spots the most. That keeps them quiet for a while, while I continue to just sit and stare.

The very aspect of the view that comforts and holds me - the fact that it's always there - is the very thing the kids seem to find so charmless. Soon, painting something that doesn't do anything bores them, and they start to paint imaginary aliens and fairies instead. So I suggest they make models of the mountains. This holds them longer. Especially since they can top them with cotton wool, to represent the clouds. I've found cotton wool is a very useful item to take on holiday - it weighs practically nothing, and can mop up small wounds as well as make clouds and sheep. There are lots and lots of sheep in the stone-fenced fields around the cottage.

Now the cottage is decorated with paintings and models of the view. We will burn most of them on the turf fire before we leave. But a couple of paintings we come back home with us, souvenirs of our time here. And when the twins are grown up, they can take them out and admire them, and wonder at the view. Just like I am now. Dea stayed at Minaun Cliff Cottage on Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland (www.minauncliffcottages.com). Do you have family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at dbirkett@thenational.ae