Sunday, September 26, 2010

Toddler on a plane - how to keep them entertained

The title of this post could have easily been changed to that of a popular movie title that struck fear and chaos into the hearts of passengers. Likewise, a toddler on a plane can and does cause parents to avoid travel all together until JR is a bit older, like on their way to college.
I had the ‘pleasure’ of traveling with my Love Bug (age 1.5) this week, and after my last traumatic experience with her in which she basically screamed/cried for 6 hours straight, I found myself wondering why I was glutton for punishment and putting myself through it all over again. But 7 months had passed and surly at 19 months, she could handle a plane ride again.
I scoured the Internet for new ideas and found a few tips that I hadn’t thought of or read before. After traveling countless times with seven other children over the years, the bag of tricks becomes pretty familiar.

I found some things that were helpful and thought I’d pass them along. I decided to do this in a series, so as not to have one gigantic post.

Part One- How to keep them entertained:
The "rule of thumb" for Toddler travel is pretty simple- lots of little activities, and lots of little snacks. The idea is to have enough short activities to add up to the length of your flight. Most activities can be stretched out with a bit of creative thinking, and most things can be repeated if you don't allow them to become too boring the first time around. Don't do all the really fun stuff first. You need to have some tricks for the end of the flight when the patience (on both parts) is long gone and there is still a bit of time left.

Inspired by my bento box lunch craze:


I used a craft box with dividers (like a tackle box) and filled it with different snacks. It was absolutely fabulous. Love Bug had a blast nibbling on her little buffet and did so for almost the entire flight. She took them out and put them on her tray table, then sorted them back into the box. The crackers “walked” along the edge of the container, then hopped into her mouth. She placed fishes in my hand, and they would “disappear” until my hand opened back up and she would eat it quick. I liked that everything was separate so the Craisins which are moist didn’t slime up the yogurt space chips, etc. I folded a small piece of paper towel and put it under the grapes to catch juice and moisture. It was perfect. The flight attendants on every flight loved her “food tray” and I heard one of them telling another passenger traveling with little ones about it. The one warning: If your child is small like mine is, don’t let the container get too far away from you. We had a near tragedy on multiple occasions when she jerked it upward or pulled it away quickly. (ours was filled with goldfish pretzels, grapes, dehydrated strawberries & bananas, cheese crackers, chocolate and and graham cracker cookies, Craisins, and dehydrated yogurt)

We also used a large weekly pill keeper that has push button release to put extra special treats in, like yogos, dehydrated fruit, and fruit snacks. You could put small candy in it as well, but I was avoiding adding large quantities of sugar to the airplane experience.

In addition to my little snack trays, I had a few fruit snack packages, toddler fruit leather, and smarties (for emergencies near the end of the flight).

From this post I found a very original idea: Tape. Blue painters tape to be exact. Although I did try to find purple and green as well but ran out of time. Love Bug LOVED taking the pieces I tore off and sticking them to her shirt, her hands, the chair, the table, me, everything. She also loved unrolling it and trying to tear it. An older child would have this added experience, but her little hands weren’t strong enough. There is a book that is a tape book but I read comments that the tape was too hard for kids to tear, and why not just buy a roll?? Painters tape (a bit different than masking tape) doesn’t leave a sticky residue and it comes off super easy. We covered the DVD screen with tape and then pulled the pieces off one by one to see what was underneath. We covered the animals in her board book with tape. We used tape to make a road for her wheel pal toys to drive on. We covered pictures in the Skymall magazine with it. The possibilities are endless. Several passengers were very entertained watching her play with the tape, and were surprised at how long it held her interest. Who knew??

Retractable sewing measuring tape. Love Bug loves to play with it at home, so I thought it would be great on a plane- and it was! She pulled it out, measured something, and retracted: repeat 100 times.

Mini flashlight. Held her interest for a good 15 minutes each flight. I take what I can get.
Mini slinky. I bought a pack of party Slinky's. They were plastic and since she has had limited experience with slinky, it was a big hit.
Children’s bead necklaces. I picked some up from the dollar store. They look like Mardi Gras beads only they are actually meant for dress up. Love Bug put them on, took them off, put them in the seat pocket, snaked them around the chair, put them on her dolly, etc.

Disney Plug: Baby Einstein DVD’s. Love Bug just got some of these, unlike the rest of the gang at my house who were apparently deprived. She loves them! We watched Baby Neptune over and over. It was her favorite because she loves water. We talked about the fishes, the whales, the beach balls, etc. I would leave it going until she seemed board with it, then turn it off to save the battery. Then I would pull it out again later and it was all brand new to her! I'm sure whatever your little one is into will work too. What I liked about the movies I brought was that it allowed me to sit and discuss it with her, and it was really simple for her to understand since there is no storyline, which she's too young for.
 I found that she didn't need to have headphones on, because the volume turned up all the way on our DVD player was loud enough for her to hear, but didn't disrupt other passengers. She doesn't like headphones.

Digital Camera- Love Bug took pictures (turn the flash off so you don't disrupt those around you) and looked at pictures. She loved it!
Bubbles- I had leftover wedding bubbles, the tall slender containers. No problem with security. Love Bug was THRILLED that there were bubbles on the plane, and a few passengers were entertained as well.
New books. I had some mini board books I picked up at the $ store that she loved.

Buckle Bear- I saw a bear online at Amazon that has buckles attached. Love Bug LOVES buckles. I purchase an inexpensive bear and sewed my own ribbon and buckles on him. She had great time buckling and unbuckling her bear.
Craft items:
Pipe cleaners and pom poms were a hit with her as well. She loves bending pipe cleaners and pom poms disappear nicely into pockets, between seats, in hands, etc.
Ribbon on colorful beverage stirring wands. Lots of swirling goes on with these. Resist the temptation to add fun things like beads to the end of the ribbon. Its too close quarters for whips!

I also had some of her favorite toys with us. We brought her doll, wheel pals and a foam book that has a piece on each page you can take out like a puzzle.

I put the small items (wheel pals, necklaces, measuring tape, etc) in a lingerie bag to keep them in one place. Using more than one bag and separating items will allow you to pull out a bag now, and keep one new for later in the flight or your next leg.
Pulling out one item at a time helps keep things from getting too cluttered or rolling too far away, and picking a few items to have stashed in the seat pocket make it easy to get to something quick.

That was our entertainment!


  1. I think I'm going to make a buckle bear for Charlotte for Christmas.

    This is awesome. I will be referring back to this when we fly home next year.


  2. please can you add pics