The other day, I was thinking about the fact that I have been taking at least a pair of long-haul flights every year since I was one year old. And, it made me wonder what some of the best ways to entertain a toddler on a plane are.
To provide you with the a resource as useful as possible, I decided to ask the people that likely know the answer to this question the best – some of the well-traveled mom bloggers and writers – to share their advice about what their favorite travel activities and toys to keep their children entertained on a plane are.
Things mentioned range from simple activities you can play with your toddler while waiting at gate for boarding or onboard a plane all the way to travel toys such as gel window clings andBoogie Board Magic Sketch.
Enough of me talking though, now, let’s take a look at the actual tips provided by Melissa, Shannon, Courtney, Rebecca, and Marcie!
5 Mom Bloggers’ Favorite Toddler Travel Activities
Melissa’s Packing List and Activities for Traveling with Kids
Melissa Mayer is a contributing writer and editor for WhyNotLetsGo.com, a website focused on family travel. More importantly, she is a mother of three boys aged six and under each of whom got his first stamp in passports before turning two.
She traveled extensively both within the US and around Europe with her children since her oldest son was six weeks old. As such, she says she has “perfected the art of entertaining [her] busy, curious little ones on flights anywhere from one to twelve hours.”
To keep her boys entertained on long (and short) flights, she uses a combination of toys that “keep little hands happy for great lengths of time, but are also lightweight, small, and difficult to lose,” and “technology-free activities that keep [her kids] entertained and happy during long hauls.”
Let’s start with Melissa’s list of toys she suggests are great for keeping toddlers entertained onboard aircraft and her comments on each of them:
- Favorite books: “When traveling from home, your child will want some comfort items and books are a great way to provide that comfort. To help him adjust to his new sleeping arrangements, these books will give him the security of familiarity when it comes to his bedtime routine. Pack two or three favorites to keep your little one happy while away from home.”
- Wikki Stix: “Small and nearly weightless, these waxy strips that come in a variety of colors can be molded and remolded into all sorts of fun shapes and designs. Similar to Wikki Stix, pipe cleaners can be used to make all sorts of fun shapes and designs. They’re great for art projects and just creating. Poke holes in old spice container lids and use them for play and storage.”
- Travel Magna Doodle: “The original Magna Doodle is a favorite toy at our house, but it is way too big to bring along. Thankfully they make a travel-sized one as well, so drawing with a magnetic pen is still possible, even on the road.”
- Hand-made felt toys: “[Companies like] Melissa & Doug have no shortage of felt characters and toys, but they’re one of the easiest toys to make. Buy a couple different color sheets of felt and cut out themed shapes like pizza, hamburger or a doll with clothes. Felt weighs next to nothing and the pieces cling to one another making them easy to transport and play with on the go.”
- Melissa & Doug On the Go Water Wow!: “[Since the pens are filled with water,] these are perfect for mess-free fun and are even better because they’re reusable! With a refillable pen, kids can color and play over and over with these activity pads. There’s no risk of coloring on surfaces that shouldn’t be colored on. The activity pads are educational, entertaining and fun.”
- No-roll crayons: “What an invention! With a no-roll crayons (such as these) in your bag, you will no longer have to crawl under sticky restaurant tables or search under airplane seats for a crayon that rolled off to the floor.”
- Reusable stickers books: “Reusable anything is genius, but we especially love reusable stickers. These stickers can’t be used on regular paper, but stick to the colorful scenes they come with so your little one can create and edit her picture over and over again. If we have the room, we’ll pack this reusable sticker set too because they’re our absolute favorite!”
- Audiobooks: “Now I know this is technology and requires the use of a device and headphones, but your child will not be staring at a screen or playing a game. Audiobooks always save me; even when I have a car full of boys under the age of five, an audiobook casts a spell over them and silence follows. It’s magical. No need to purchase expensive audiobooks or juggle CDs either. You can find them on YouTube or even borrow them through your library’s website using the OverDrive app. [You can also get two free audiobooks for your kids or yourself from Audible through this link.]”
While the above toys will in many cases keep your toddlers busy allowing you to relax a bit, you should also take advantage of the time you will have with them on the plane and on the trip in general to do some fun activities together.
Below are three activities Melissa regularly plays with her kids onboard aircraft and during their travels in general (with her comments and instructions):
- What’s Missing: “This is a favorite at the dinner table, but can also be played on an airplane or train or really anywhere. Place a bunch of items on a tray, table or somewhere large enough to hold several items. Everybody closes their eyes while one player takes one item off the table. Once everyone opens their eyes, they take turns guessing what item is missing.”
- Scavenger Hunt: “This requires paper and crayons and can even be done in advance. I usually prepare a notebook in advance, but sometimes make one on the fly. Toddlers can’t read, but they can identify drawings, even bad ones. Draw anywhere from ten to thirty items you’re sure to see during your travels and place checkboxes next to each drawing. You want to make it challenging enough to eat up time, think items like blue suitcase or green shoes, but not too long or challenging for your toddlers to lose interest in the game or get frustrated. Be sure to discuss what each drawing represents prior to playing in case you’re not quite the Picasso you believe you may be.”
- Eat the Rainbow: “Have your child choose a color and then take turns saying all the food items that are that color. Similarly, for a phonologically aware child, you can choose a letter and then say all the foods that begin with that letter.”
Shannon’s Screen Free and Fun Travel Activities
While we’re at activities that you can enjoy together with your kids on the road, let’s take a look at the next mom writer in this post, Shannon Philpott-Sanders. She is a mother of two and has been featured in a variety of newspapers and magazines on the topic of parenting.
Primarily, she thinks that it’s important to make traveling fun with simple games that discourage your toddlers or children from saying “I’m bored” or even “Are we there yet?”
She is also a believer in screen-free games as they give the entire family a chance to laugh and bond together in the confined space of an aircraft or a car. Another advantage of these activities is that they “help detach your children from electronics for a bit,” she says.
With that in mind, she recently wrote a book titled Screen-Free Fun: 400 Activities for the Whole Family from which she decided to share five of her favorite activities that you can easily do with your kids while traveling, even in the confined space of an aircraft seat:
- Play ‘I Spy’ on the Plane: “Teach your toddler how to identify objects and colors while traveling by plane with a game of ‘I Spy.’ Start by saying something like ‘I Spy something red’ and have your toddler look around to identify red objects. You can even say ‘I Spy a mommy,’ and see if he or she can locate other parents on the plane.”
- Play a Guessing Game: “With a little preparation and a few odd objects gathered before you leave, you can keep your toddlers guessing for house while playing this game. All you need is a few paper bags and some interesting objects to pack up before hitting the road. Stuff the bags with toys, cotton balls, straws, pens, and plastic utensils. Pack the bags in your carry-on bag and break them out to have your toddlers try and guess the objects in each bag while traveling.”
- Play Connect the Dots: “When boredom sets in, show your toddlers how just a few dots can keep them entertained. Pack a few pieces of white paper and pens for the trip and help your little one create 10 rows of 10 dots. The end result forms a square of dots on the page. Next, have each child create a drawing on the page by connecting the dots. For instance, the pen must travel from one dot to another to form a triangle or an octagon.”
- Create Secret Handshakes: “Keep the kids busy while traveling by plane and keep their hands from getting fidgety with this activity. Pair up your toddlers or join in the fun. Have the pair create a secret handshake. The handshake may consist of clapping their hands together, fist bumping, bashing their forearms together, or a combination of all three. They can even add dance moves or a hip shake to the choreography while sitting in their seats on the plane.”
- Play the Humming Game: “A sing-along is always fun when traveling. If you want to keep the music alive, yet at a lower tone, then this activity is the perfect one for your toddlers. Start by humming one note and then ask your children to hum the same note. Keep humming until everyone is humming the right tone in unison. Then, choose another note and start all over again. You can designate a leader for each round, too, and escalate the notes to extremely high tones or low tones to prompt some giggles.”
For more activities, continue reading this article, and also make sure to check Shannon’s book.
Courtney’s Activity Bag for Toddlers on the Road
Courtney Carrera, the blogger behind They Really Live! is a mom to a six-year-old that logged 100,000 miles by the age of two. As such, there is no doubt that along the way she has learned how to keep children entertained on a plane.
To keep your toddler busy on a plane, she suggests preparing an activity bag filled with low cost but fun items. She suggests using a cosmetic bag (such as this one) to house all of the items. As for the items to carry in the bag, Courtney “strongly suggests against anything with a lot of pieces such as building blocks, alphabet pieces, and cards.”
Some of the items Courtney recommends as things to potentially put in your activity bag include the below:
- Gel window clings (such as these) are one of Courtney’s most favorite items in the bag. They are widely available and kids love sticking (and unsticking) them to airplane windows.
- Scribble pads (such as these) that your toddlers will writing writing in. Pick small ones such as these to save space in the activity bag.
- Washable markers (such as these) to be used in combination with the scribble pads above. If you don’t have the space to take a whole pack with you, just take two or three. And, don’t worry about your kid scribbling on the tray table. Luckily, the washable markers are easy to clean with baby wipes.
- Mini storybooks to read with your toddler. Courtney recommends getting this set of 24 books, and picking one or two of them for each trip.
- Sensory balls which are fun, squishy, stretchy, and hairy toys that help entertain your toddlers busy hands.
- Mini Play-Doh is great as well. Just one of these mini cans is enough to keep your toddler busy for quite a while.
Finally, besides fun activities for your kids, Courtney also recommends throwing in a pack of disposable placemats that you can cover the aircraft’s tray table with. After all, as she says, the tray tables are “some of the germiest places on an airplane.”
Rebecca’s Hourly Gifts to Keep Toddlers Distracted on Flights
Rebecca Cafiero writes about wellness, growth, and abundance, and is a mom to a 26-month-old toddler that has been on more than 28 flights and to four countries. Those stats will grow to 34 flights and ten countries by the time her son will be 30-months-old.
With that much travel with her little son, she has figured out that one of the best ways to keep her son entertained during a long flight are small gifts given to the kid regularly throughout the flight. Before leaving for the airport, she prepares individually wrapped inexpensive gifts and she gives her toddler one of them after each hour on the flight.
As she says, “even if [the gift is] a dollar store toy you’ll later recycle, the excitement of a new toy works with a little one!”
She also mentioned that she uses BedBox by Jet Kids the rolling feature of which keeps toddlers distracted and happy at the airport. And, once onboard, she pulls the little presents out of its stowage space until her son is “adequately tired and ready to sleep in the world’s greatest white noise machine (a plane).”
While airlines started banning the BedBox’s bed function recently due to lacking certification, you can still use it as a suitcase without any issues. However, with that in mind, you might also want to consider its cheaper alternative, Trunki which comes in many designs.
Marcie’s Favorite Toys to Bring on an Airplane
The fifth mom on this list is Marcie Cheung. She’s a stay-at-home mom to her two sons aged four and one. She has traveled with them extensively and she shares her experiences about that on Marcie in Mommyland.
For this article, she shared two of her favorite toys to take on an airplane to keep her sons entertained.
The first of those is Fat Brain Toys MiniSpinny, a simple mechanical toy for toddlers, and here’s what Marcie has to say about it:
It’s the smaller version of the popular Fat Brain Toys Kids Spinagain Toy. It’s a simple and durable travel toy that fits easily in a carry-on bag, so you can take it practically anywhere. Toddlers love to watch the colorful gears corkscrew down the pole again and again. It’s surprisingly entertaining! Parents appreciate that it’s not very noisy. It’s also easy for little hands to hold and it makes for a great teething toy. It’s a toy that also works well for older kids and even adults! If you are looking for a toy that will stand the test of time, the Fat Brain Toys MiniSpinny is it!
The second one is Boogie Board Magic Sketch, a learning tablet for children.
Here’s what she has to say about it:
If you are looking for an art activity with zero mess, the Boogie Board Magic Sketch is amazing. Toddlers love to hold the crayon sized stylus as they scribble on the board. When they are done drawing, simply press a button to clear the screen. As toddlers get older, parents can slip pictures behind the screen for kids to trace. And preschoolers can trace worksheets with letters and numbers. It works great for airplane rides because it is lightweight, quiet and has a 7-year battery life. It’s also a great way to keep toddlers entertained while sitting at the gate.
Best Travel Activities and Toys for Toddlers on Aircraft
As you can see above, there are many ways to keep your children entertained on flights, long and short. And, each child has their own preferences. Overall, however, below are some of the themes that seem to be recurring throughout the five bloggers’ advice:
- Get to the airport prepared, learn your activities and get your travel toys before getting on the road to save yourself stress later
- Have a mix of activities that you can enjoy as a family (for some inspiration check Shannon’s book Screen-Free Fun: 400 Activities for the Whole Family) as well as toys that can keep your toddler entertained and give you some time to relax
- One travel toy is likely not enough, instead come equipped with several items that are fairly compact, and aim for items that your kid can reuse play with for a long time such as Wikki Stix or Boogie Board Magic Sketch
- Pack a toy, such as a favorite book, that will remind your kid of the comfort and safety of home
- Have either a cosmetic bag or something else to put the toys in, or even get something like Trunki that your kid can store the toys in and ride around on in the airport
If you have any favorite travel activities or toys that help your kids entertained on long flights, let us know in the comments below.