Entertaining children without technology is almost unheard of in today’s day and age as flying on a plane with little ones typically goes one of two ways. On one side the flight can be a huge success. The kids are thrilled to be up in the air. They are busy, polite, and behaved. The journey is complete with a quick peek in the cockpit and pilot high-fives on the way out. A deep sigh of relief. Your kids were born to fly! Or, the complete opposite might rain down on you sitting back in Row 25. It all starts with the tray table. Your child moves on to pushing or kicking the seat in front of them. “I’m boreds!” and “Are we there yets?” can quickly turn to uncomfortable whining, screaming, and eventually, unstoppable crying. By the time you exit the aircraft, your head hangs low with hopes that you will never (ever) have to see anyone from your flight who had to witness this madness again. One bad flight with babies, toddlers or small children might in fact wreck you from ever wanting to do it again.
Many travelers fear flying with a baby under the age of one. Fortunately, for the most part, if there is a bottle, a clean diaper, and the hum of the plane engine, hopefully your baby will sleep the majority of the way. Once that baby is mobile and more aware of his or her surroundings, you definitely need to create an in-flight entertainment strategy. While many strategy plans involve iPads, movies, and other technology, entertaining little ones without a screen is totally possible.
Have Your Kids Pack a Backpack a Week Early
If your little one is old enough to carry a small backpack, have them pack their favorite toys, books, and any crafts they would like to do on the plane. This strategy gives your kids a bit of control. Most importantly, have them pack a week or two early. This way they are extra excited to remember what they packed once they are on the plane. Once the plane takes off they are free to browse through their backpack and play (and you are free to read the in-flight magazine in peace!)
Once the novelty of their backpack entertainment wears off, make sure you have back-ups packed in your own carry-on.
Wrap Up Some Gifts
This is where the ‘back-ups’ come into play. The dollar bin at your favorite local store is perfect for this. Purchase a few small items such as coloring books, small games, and toys. Wrap them up. The more tape and ribbon the better. Even double or triple wrapping will give you a few more minutes of entertainment. When your little one is being good, present one of the gifts and say that you have a few more to give them when they are behaving in a positive way.
Pick Snacks that Take Forever to Eat
Boxes of yogurt raisins, pretzels and hummus, and strawberries are all food choices that can take more than a few minutes to finish. Try to avoid candy and foods packed with sugar. Yes, your little traveler might be so excited to eat an adult sized Snickers bar, but then the sugar highs kick in, followed by the inescapable sugar lows. Then you (and your cabinmates) are doomed.
If you are flying with a lap child (under the age of two) this is a perfect strategy. Rolling Play-Doh into balls and building airplanes, suitcases, and runways are fun, creative ways to use Play-Doh on a flight. Boom! Entertaining children without technology is easier than you thought.
Avoiding other sugary snacks on flights helps reduce the risk of a post-sugar meltdown, but lollipops are a must on your next flight. First, a lollipop can aid in take offs and landings when your little one needs to unplug their ears. If they aren’t using a bottle or water bottle, a lollipop is fantastic at helping ears equalize. Second, lollipops take a long time to savor.
Bring a Small Pillow and Blanket
If you have a long flight during nap time or an evening flight, consider bringing a small pillow and blanket. Your child will feel more comforted having these sleep items from home. Closing the window shade and wrapping them up in a cozy blanket can help them take an in-flight nap.
Stickers and sticker books are good, but window clings are amazing on planes. Especially if your small child has never used them before. You can find these in your local craft stores or order them online. Window clings are jelly-feeling, stick-on and removable art. If it’s Halloween, get pumpkins, ghosts, and candy corns to decorate the airplane window. Or summertime, get beach balls, goggles, and sunblock to stick away. Or simply get the alphabet and numbers. Your child will be busy for a while decorating the window with colorful holiday themed décor. “Look I’m all done!” they shout proudly. Tell them great job, and to now take them off and try all over again.
YouTube is now inundated with videos of parents opening eggs filled with toy surprises. And small children are crazy about these videos! Instead of bringing the iPad for them to watch, why not bring the videos to life at 35,000 feet. Put small toys such as Wiki Sticks, erasers, Shopkins, cars, and stickers (even toys your kids already have at home) inside several plastic Easter eggs. Place the multi-colored eggs on the tray table and your child will be busy opening them and playing.
Gum is great not only to keep busy but also to help with the descent of the aircraft. As long as your child doesn’t swallow it, sugarless gum can provide entertainment. Ask them if they can blow a bubble!
Airplane Fairies and Airplane Watchdogs
If you’ve exhausted all of these ideas, and boredom and whining begin to strike, here is a last resort idea before handing over the iPad in defeat. Before you sit down, ask the flight attendant if they have any surprises for kids, like coloring books. Put it away where your child can’t see it.
“Have you heard of the airplane fairy?” you ask your child. Ok, you’ve got their attention. Now continue…“Airplane fairies are watching all the airplane flyers and they tell the pilot who is being really, really good.” “When the plane lands there is a special surprise for all the kids who were extra good on the flight.” Hopefully, the bait is taken, and you’ll find your small flyer entertaining themselves with one of the activities you brought.
If fairies don’t work, call the game “Airplane Watchdogs,” “Pilot Patrol,” or the “Winged Warriors.”
Cheers to a Stress Free Flight with Little Ones!
Your mini flyer may already love everything about being inside an airplane. But babies, toddlers, and small children all experience different days, different moods, and different interests. Sure, iPads and technology can provide entertainment on a plane, but if your flight doesn’t offer WiFi, or if you are looking for non-screen ways, hopefully one or more of these ideas can help bring a bit of enjoyment, creativity, and peace and quiet on your next flight with little ones. Do you have a great non-tech strategy for flying with kids? We would love to hear what works for you!