Surviving a flight with young children is no small feat. Of course, you’ve got to keep your cool and exhibit bottomless patience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan for and pack some distractions to keep little ones busy and content. Here are some sanity-saving ideas for toys and tricks that keep babies and toddlers entertained on planes … and parents one step closer to that in-flight glass of vino.
Top Toys and Tricks to Keep Young Kids Busy on Flights
There are likely as many rattle varieties out there as there are babies. That said, the Haba Kringelring was one of our daughter’s and then our son’s favorites. It’s colorful, it’s bendable, it’s relatively quiet (read: not annoying) and it’s great for teething. And it’s made in Germany of beechwood. We have taken this rattle from Montreal to Hawaii to India, and it has survived countless drops and endless wipes and washes. Those Haba folks know what they’re doing; trust them.
Links such as these are often an afterthought, but they can sometimes serve as the star of the show, especially when in transit. They attach and detach to and from lots of surfaces and other toys and can stand in for teethers in a pinch. We’ve attached other rattles and toys to them on planes so our son wouldn’t drop everything over and over again. We’ve hung them from the side of the tray table. We’ve hid and shaken them inside paper cups passed out by the flight attendant. They are cheap, versatile and quite the multitasker. Don’t leave home without them.
I used to shy away from board books for plane rides; they can be bulky and heavy, and it was anyone’s guess if our fidgety baby would really care about them. I’ve since revised my theory, as I’ve seen both our kids enjoy them while traveling, especially the touch-and-feel kind.
Since plane travel renders everyone a bit stuck in their seat, it’s a nice opportunity to talk to your baby as you look at shapes or touch pictures of animal tails and ears. Plus, the board books double as a comforting reminder of home when it’s time for bed in a new place. Some of our favorites including the Jellycat touch-and-feel animal series, Usborne’s collection of That’s Not My … and Leslie Patricelli’s Quiet Loud.
For Toddlers and Up
Blocks might seem an unlikely choice for a plane, but Tegu’s magnetic ones will keep little hands busy. Whether you have a larger set at home and just grab a few or opt for their on-the-go pocket pouches with eight pieces, these are worth stashing away for a plane ride. (You might need a two travel sets; eight pieces isn’t quite enough to build too much). We are die-hard block lovers around here since they offer lots of open-ended play and imagination possibilities, and it’s lovely to have an extension of that during a trip. Tegu makes all its blocks from sustainable wood from Honduras and uses safe, water-based lacquers.
Arts and crafts abound in our home. Glue sticks, glitter, oil pastels, colored pencils, a variety of paper and scissors all seem to cover dozens of surfaces. Needless to say, we bring some of these supplies with us when we hit the road, as our preschooler can’t seem to part with them and they’re a lifesaver when we need to keep her busy on a plane or in a hotel room.
Enter this 25-page watercolor postcard book from Kikkerland. It’s basically a portable watercolor kit, with postcards, brush and watercolor paint included; all you need on a plane is a cup of water and a tray table. Open to a clean postcard-sized page and use the six watercolor squares at the bottom to paint. Just as on regular paper, the postcard page can get a bit soggy if oversaturated, but if it keeps your child busy and sitting down, it’s a win-win.
Felt boards are very popular these days and, most of the time, quite portable. There’s a refreshing old-school (and slllooowww) quality about them. And they’re also pretty easy to DIY if you like. Whether you opt for a farm or ocean scene, trucks, standard shapes or the three little pigs, you really can’t go wrong with these versions from Lakeshore Learning.
Speaking of classic, old-school toys, remember the Etch A Sketch? That magical glass screen that uses aluminum powder to makes lines and shapes is seeing a revival. It can be a bit bulky for a plane, but if keeps your artist/budding architect entertained, it’s likely worth it. Buy a pocket version to keep size to a minimum.
Kids’ coloring and activity books have come a long way lately. You’ll still find lots of licensed characters, but companies such as Usborne, Roger Priddy and DK do a great job of offering more engaging and educational choices. Parents of 3- to 5-year-olds will adore this simple and sweet Preschool Color and Activity book, which offers pages to color, scenes and faces to put stickers on, small matching games and puzzles. Our daughter has since graduated to Usborne’s Lots of Things to Find and Color book, which prompts her to seek and solve, but also to use her own creativity and imagination.
Dinosaur lovers will be wild for the Dover Dinosaur coloring books, simple and easy enough for even a 3-year-old. We loved that it has short facts about each dinosaur, like the long-necked sea reptile Elasmosaurus and Iguanodon, which had a big spike for a thumb. Bigger kids and pre-teens will enjoy DK’s Dinosaur Doodlepedia.
Play Dough and Modeling Clay
When it comes to keeping toddlers content, it’s hard to beat play dough. It’s such a tactile experience, promoting fine motor skills — and it’s quiet! It doesn’t have to be fancy; just fill a resealable plastic bag with a few balls of various colors for making figures, animals, houses, rainbows, anything at all.
It’s also very simple to make your own play dough with inexpensive ingredients like flour, salt, oil, cream of tartar and food coloring. Invite your toddler to make some with you before your next plane ride. Older children might like modeling clay, which requires some more focus and dexterity to mold (choose a non-hardening version).
The Perfect Carry-on for Kids’ Toys
Of course, your little jetsetter will need a place to stash all these goodies. The So Young backpack comes in two sizes, one for toddlers and one for grade-schoolers (age 6-11). The exterior is coated linen and the interior is nylon, which can be wiped and handwashed; there are two side bottle pockets and even a chest clip if all those blocks, play dough and coloring books get too heavy. Best of all, both kids and parents will love the modern, simple aesthetic, with beautifully illustrated motifs like dandelions, foxes or dinosaurs … nary a cartoon character in sight.
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