12 Clever Toys For Flying with a PreSchooler
By Eileen P. Gunn
Being cooped up on a plane is hard for all of us, but flying is especially hard for toddlers and preschoolers, who have bundles of energy and short attention spans. Be prepared for most activities to last 15-to-30 minutes. Take advantage of trips to the bathroom to let them get up and roam around a little. Here are the items I’ve found most reliable for keeping under-5s occupied on even the longest flights.
2. Doodle Pro: This is especially good with very little kids. They can draw or watch you draw things for them. Use it to play games or tell stories around what you draw.
3. Play-Doh: I pack a plastic container or Ziplock bag with 3 or 4 party-favor size tubs, a small rolling pin and a handful of shape cutters. When my daughter was small this was the only toy that actually allowed me some reading time.
4. Dolls and action figures: If your child likes pretend play, mini play figures like Playmobil’s (above), Lego’s or Barbie with a handful of larger accessories can be ideal. Just leave the teeny tiny accessories at home (unless you want to be become well acquainted with the floor under your seat).
5. Art Supplies: Nothing thrills Tiny Traveler like a new sticker book, especially one related to a favorite character. She’ll while away 45 minutes putting them in a book, on paper, on herself, on me. Melissa & Doug, Peaceable Kingdom and Mudpuppy all have great sticker kits, but a good-size sticker book, box of crayons and a blank pad will go far.
6. Cars: Same as with the dolls. For kids who like them, these have the potential for lengthy playtime. Pack a few in a plastic container and remember that a new car or truck added to the mix will prolong playtime considerably.
7. Games: A flight attendant on British Airways once complimented me for playing Go Fish with Tiny Traveler instead of letting her bury her nose in videos. Games like Go Gish, Old Maid, Spot It or Uno are perfect for tray-table play. Slightly bulkier games like Zingo or travel checkers are worth carrying if you’re confident your child will play them. Kids will relish the one-on-one time with you and you’ll actually have fun, too.
8. Lollipops: They’re essential for take-off and landing when the kids really have to sit still and really don‘t want to.
9. Blocks: Not as crazy as it sounds. A small pack of blocks is handy for traytable play if you find a set that won’t slide around. Magna-Tiles or Tegu wooden blocks have magnets. I found these shapes that are meant for the bathtub. Surface tension keeps them from sliding off of each other or the tray table. Tiny Traveler stacked them, “baked” them, and fed them to her doll.
11. Naptime supplies: If the flight it more than 3 hours the excitement will wear toddlers out and they’ll probably nap at some point. A pacifier, a favorite blanket and a second-favorite cuddly toy will help this along (never travel with #1 unless it’s easily replaceable).
12. Snacks: Bring plenty of snacks. I like Annie’s Snack Mix or even Chex Mix because TT will sort them and stack them and sample and decide what order to eat them in and it turns snack-time into entertainment. I pack an empty sippy cup so I can get juice or fresh water from the flight attendants without having to worry about spills.
I also let her have whatever the flight attendants offer, even if it’s junkier than I would usually allow. And I always let her have a meal if one is offered. There will be something on the tray she likes. And being handed a miniature tray, plate and utensils that seem made for her is such a novelty she’s curious and has actually eaten things she wouldn’t at home.
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One Thing I Don’t Pack: Books. They’re heavy and bulky and don’t have engage small my child for enough time to make them worth carrying.
* This story originally ran in 2012. It was updated in 2015.