Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
- Types of Activities
- What Makes a Great Airplane Activity
- Activities To Entertain a Toddler on an Airplane
- Final Thoughts
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Take it from me, long-haul travel with toddlers can be difficult. Luckily, the problem usually stems from a bored kid more than anything, which is something that can be helped.
When traveling by plane with toddlers, it’s important to have lots of snacks and activities to keep them entertained. The first of those must-haves is up to you and your discerning toddler’s palate.
But look no further, as we’ve gathered more than a dozen activities that little ones can enjoy during their next flight. Here are 16 ways to entertain a toddler on a plane.
Types of Activities
Before we get into the list of toddler-friendly activities, let’s talk a little bit about the different types of options available.
Unfortunately, anything that requires your child to be out of their seat can be both a safety hazard and an annoyance to other passengers. Frequent trips to explore the plane might be out of the question, but when possible, stretching your legs is always a nice way to break up the monotony of plane travel and change the scenery. Just keep in mind the status of the fasten seatbelt sign and the mood of other passengers and flight attendants.
Even though it may be hard to dispel restless energy while on a plane, there are lots of ways to keep toddlers entertained, including books, LEGOs, and stickers, as well as tablets or other devices.
The topic of too much screen time has been a hot debate for a few years, especially for young kids. However, when used in moderation, tablets and phones can be a great way to keep your kids entertained (and out of your hair) during long flights. When used sparingly, you can feel better about propping your child in front of a screen in an effort to discourage boredom.
Other items that can keep your kid engaged and don’t include a screen include coloring books, water books, and even Post-its.
The list of activities below should have at least a few options that you know your toddler will enjoy.
What Makes a Great Airplane Activity
You already know that young children don’t usually have the longest attention span. Keeping this in mind, you’ll want to have a few options on hand — and even more if you’ll be on a particularly long flight — in order to entertain a toddler on a plane.
Brand-new toys that you know your child will love are worth considering as the newness can add an extra layer of excitement — you could even wrap the toys in colorful wrapping paper.Hot Tip:
If you have children close in age, get 2 of each toy type even if you don’t think they’ll both like it. It will be easier to carry 2 of an item than referee bickering siblings 30,000 feet in the air.
Anything that your child can do comfortably in their seat, and preferably as independently as possible, is going to be best. For example, a coloring book or sticker activity will require less of your participation than a card game.
If you do elect to allow your toddler to have screen time, keep in mind that you’ll want to also have wireless Bluetooth headphones. Some airlines will provide headphones for use with their own inflight entertainment screens, or you can simply plug their Bluetooth headphones in with an auxiliary cord. Just as most people don’t take calls on speakerphone or listen to music without headphones, you’ll want to ensure that your kids’ devices are of minimal disturbance to other passengers.
Activities To Entertain a Toddler on an Airplane
Now without further adieu, here is a list of 16 ways to entertain a toddler on a plane.
1. Busy Books
Busy books are books that come with play mats and figurines that bring a story to life. They’re great for encouraging imagination and pretend play in your toddler.
They’re also a fun activity that you can do along with your child to help pass the time.
Busy books come designed around varying topics and characters, including Nickelodeon’s Paw Patrol and popular Disney characters.
Sometimes called “quiet books,” additional activities that you might find included in a busy book are matching games, basic puzzles, and counting.
2. Chunky LEGO DUPLO Sets
LEGOs give kids the chance to build just about anything. But little fingers have a hard time working the tiny pieces of traditional LEGO sets.
Thankfully, there are large, or chunky, LEGO DUPLO sets perfect for small hands. Their size also makes it easier to keep track of them when it’s time to pack up or move on to the next activity.
You can even find LEGO DUPLO sets with their own carrying case to make organization super easy.
3. Coloring Books
Coloring books are an oldie but goodie and can be something you do together to encourage screen-free time on the plane.
Some coloring books include other activities, including mazes, tracing, fill-in-the-blank pages, and more. Of course, some of these activities may be too advanced for little hands holding crayons, however, coloring books with more to do than just coloring might be nice for older toddlers.
When it comes to what to color with, there are plenty of options. Crayons come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Triangle-shaped crayons are great for keeping the traditionally cylindrical tool from rolling under your seat or off of the tray table. Washable markers and colored pencils are also an option.
Lastly, if you don’t have a traditional coloring book, you can always improvise and have your kids draw on blank pieces of paper, the back of receipts, etc. You could even draw them something yourself for them to color in. It’s all about getting creative and making the most of what you have.
4. Crayola Color Wonder
Crayola Color Wonder uses “magic” markers that only write on the provided paper.
The paper often comes with characters or other objects to color and sometimes includes stickers as well. The beauty of it is that there’s no damage to clothing or the table when your child eventually colors outside of the lines.
I can attest to the convenience of Crayola Color Wonder. I thankfully found 2 sets at the airport in Liberia, Costa Rica, when we were delayed on our return flight home by several hours. My then 2- and 4-year-olds passed the time by coloring and placing stickers on their artwork. The set conveniently came with a case to hold the paper, pens, and stickers in one place.
5. Fidget Toys
Fidget spinners are probably the most common, but these sensory toys also come in the form of squishy toys and poppers in all shapes and sizes.
Fidget toys come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and types. In fact, a simple search on Amazon for toys that help cope with anxiety will bring back dozens of these options. Some sellers even send packs with 100 different toys, so there’s no shortage of ideas.
6. Finger Puppets
Another fun idea to keep your toddler entertained while on a plane could be finger puppets. You could even build excitement by making the puppets at home before you travel or getting puppets that are relevant to your destination.
Whether you play this activity with your child or not, it will be fun to see what story your little one comes up with for their puppets.
Finger puppets also don’t take up much room in a carry-on.
7. Flash Cards
Flash cards can be a fun way to practice learning things like sight words, shapes, colors, the alphabet, animals, etc. And with ample time to idle away while traveling by plane, it’s an ideal time to practice new skills.
You can elect to purchase flash cards from places like Amazon, education stores, or even the dollar store, or you can make them yourself with index cards. Pinterest is a great place to get inspiration for making your own flash cards for toddlers, as well as other activities to keep them busy.
8. I-Spy Books
According to Scholastic, I-Spy books help kids develop a working memory and teach children to pay attention to details. This latter trait will help them later when they start to read and begin learning letters.
I-Spy books are also entertaining thanks to the silly scenes that can often be found in books like “Where’s Waldo?” But the beloved red and white-striped shirt-wearing character isn’t the only object you can look for nowadays. I-Spy books come in various themes such as zoo animals, transportation, letters, and more.
9. Magnetic Playboards
Perfect for both pretend play and keeping small pieces from rolling away while traveling, magnetic boards let your toddler create scenes with toys that stick to a board.
Similar to stickers mentioned later on this list, the magnets give tiny fingers a chance to lift, peel and move pieces all around the board. The provided board will have a scene where your child can place the objects, likely animals or other characters to tell a story.
Alternatively, you can also get magnetic boards like Etch A Sketch that have pens for writing or drawing.
10. Picture Books
Try to find especially colorful books that tell exciting stories — perhaps of where you’re going or travel-related topics. Maybe there is a series of books with a beloved character that your toddler doesn’t have yet. A book like that would be great to gift-wrap and present as a surprise that your child will love.
Pop-up books are also age-appropriate entertainment for a toddler, as they’re usually more interactive than picture books and often ask a question that prompts your child to think.
Playdough is easy because it travels well, has close to zero clean-up time, and little hands love the tactile, sensory feel. Plus, you can make your own playdough at home and bring it with you.
Tools like cookie cutters and other shape-makers can be brought along as well. Your toddler can make shapes and use their imagination with playdough, either independently or with your help, just like they would with other toys.
Playdough also helps toddlers develop fine motor skills by strengthening their grip and dexterity. For even more of a challenge, therapy putty can also improve grip.
You may need to help your toddler complete puzzles at first, but the activity can be a fun way to play together.
With lots of images to choose from, you’re sure to find a puzzle that your child will want to put together.
Not sure about finding a puzzle small enough to pack in your carry-on? You could print a photo or image and glue it to a large index card. Cut the index card up into different-sized pieces and store the pieces in a baggy. Your child can dump the pieces onto a tray table and put the “puzzle” back together.
13. Stickers or Post-its
You might be surprised at how entertained your toddler can be by playing with stickers or Post-it notes. Kids love stickers and peeling them from the paper — it gives their tiny fingers a chance to practice their fine motor skills.
They can also place Post-its anywhere they like and it will be easy to remove them when you land.
Or, if you’re not into your child decorating the back of the seat in front of them, you can pick up sticker scenes from your local dollar store. These are compact packs of stickers and folded cardboard pictures that follow a specific theme such as trucks, dinosaurs, or even Disney movies.Hot Tip:
A way to add an educational element to this activity would be to put a number on each Post-it and ask your child to arrange them in a certain order. Or you could play a matching game with different colored shapes drawn on Post-its and ask them to match them to colors on a book page, etc.
When all else fails, you can always have your toddler play with a tablet or similar device.
Remember that onboard Wi-Fi will probably be too spotty to stream anything from apps like YouTube Kids. In this case, you’ll want to prepare before you leave home by downloading some of their favorite shows and movies from apps such as Netflix and Disney+.
Educational apps that your kids might enjoy include ABC Mouse and Khan Academy Kids. App stores also have numerous toddler-friendly learning games that you can download before you travel and don’t require the internet to enjoy.
When using a tablet or similar tech, remember to bring wireless Bluetooth headphones. Wireless headphones eliminate the concern that your toddler could wrap the cord around themselves. Keep an eye on your little one to ensure that they aren’t getting tangled in the cord from the airline-provided headphones when using the aircraft’s inflight entertainment system.
15. Travel Busy Board
A busy board is a board with lots of little things to keep young minds entertained. Snaps, zippers, ties, etc. surround the board and your child can simply move from one activity to the next.
Busy boards are similar to buckle toys and also come in the form of backpacks which you can use to store the other activities your toddler might bring along.
16. Water Coloring Books
Water coloring books are some of my favorite toys for young toddlers.
Found at the dollar store or Water WOW! from Melissa and Doug, a water book is a cardboard book that comes with a paintbrush that you fill with water. Inside, the books’ pages are empty until your child brushes the water onto the page.
Depending on the book topic, the page will come alive with letters, numbers, fairytales, etc.
The true magic of these books — besides the fact that they come to life with water — is that when they dry, the color disappears while leaving the board intact. This allows your toddler to get multiple uses and lots of fun out of just 1 water coloring book.
It’s important to plan for as many what-ifs as possible when traveling with young children. Two things that you can bet will happen on travel days are that your kids will get hungry (make sure to always bring snacks) and they will eventually get bored. Fortunately, you can prepare for the latter by bringing a few activities from the list above.
Featured Image Credit: yAOinLoVE via Adobe Stock
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I entertain my 2-year-old on a long flight?
Water coloring books, little figures, and lift-flap books are just the beginning of the list of things that can entertain your 2-year-old on a long flight. Stickers, Post-its, tablets, and coloring books are also great options.
How do you survive a 15-hour flight with a toddler?
Traveling 15 hours with a toddler can be difficult. Some tips to make it easier include packing the right toys and snacks for your toddler, walking the aisle when it’s safe to do so, and not boarding too early to minimize time spent on the plane.
What is the best time of day to fly with a toddler?
Although you may be tempted to book a red-eye flight with the goal of letting your toddler sleep through the flight, that doesn’t always work out as planned. Instead, fly in the morning since you can count on your toddler having had a good night’s sleep and hopefully being in the best mood at that time of day.
How can I keep my toddler calm on a plane?
There are a few ways to keep your toddler calm on a plane. You can let your child know about your travel plans in advance and have them burn off any extra energy before boarding the plane. And lastly, be sure to pack things to entertain them with for the duration of the flight.
How do I keep my toddler busy at the airport?
There are plenty of ways to keep your toddler busy at the airport before you board your flight. Find a play area designed for young children, watch planes take off, or explore the airport’s art displays.
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