Getting on an airplane is a novel and interesting experience to most children. There's tons to do -- explore their new environment not limited to the seat, seat belts, screen, window, headset, ear phones, snack packs etc, hear the pilots' announcements, listen to the rumbling take-off noises of the plane, sightsee outside the window, as well as observe the fascinating antics of people in the cabin as they busy about -- air stewards, stewardesses and fellow passengers. It is refreshing to see from a different angle how children enjoy and experience plane flights.
I must admit plane flights do feel stressful to some extent. They take me out of my comfort zone, and I feel like I'm contending with the need to "fill all the long flight hours with something engaging for my toddler to do".
That is when I remind myself to avoid over-scheduling the flight hours. It is crucial to set aside blocks of time for my toddler to take in her new surroundings, make observations, be at ease with herself and basically experience the 'gift of boredom'. With 'boredom' comes imagination as a child figures out how to use her time and available resources to engage herself.
I watch for moments when my toddler is perhaps done with finding work around her to do / needs extension of the materials she had been exploring / requires stimulation of other forms / desires to do activities with others in a collaborative manner. At that point, I introduce my pre-packed "invitations to play" to support her need for new stimulation.
The purpose of these "invitations to play" is to provide some form of choice, familiarity and play structure for children in a new and foreign (plane) environment, who might otherwise experience some degree of discomfort or intimidation. These activities are mostly open-ended, spark curiosity and provide opportunities for children to play imaginatively and independently, when the interest in the surroundings has waned.
10+ Invitations to Play for Toddlers on Long Plane Flights
"Invitations to Play" preparation tips:
- When booking your flight, consider getting older toddlers their own seat. Having their own tray table enables them to engage in independent activities.
- Store the activities in reusable bags. You can label the bags to facilitate keeping the right items in the right bags. It helps to choose bags which are easy to open and access (e.g. drawstring or ziploc), so children can help themselves to the activities without having to get your help all the time.
- Hide the bags prior to the travel. Toddlers love anything novel and tend to stay engaged for the longest time when exploring toys and activities they had never tried before.
I categorised the "invitations to play" into low-prep (minimal time and effort), mid level of prep (some crafting involved) and high-prep (most time and effort intensive). Based on the time and resources you have on hand, you can decide which activities work best for you!
Low-prep invitations to play:
1. Balloon Feelings
Put a few differently colored balloons into a ziploc bag. You can add a small hand-held pump if you don't feel like blowing them up yourself.
Include a black permanent marker in the bag and draw feelings on the balloons. Here's some activity inspiration from Mom Trusted.
This activity is great for learning about basic science (properties of solids and air) as well as feelings. Use of rich vocabulary in your play also boosts language development for little ones.
2. Play Dough
Play dough never gets old! I packed along some homemade play dough for Miss 22 months to knead, roll and shape. It was a good fine motor workout!
I extended play by introducing a dough manipulation tool one at a time as well as challenging Miss 22 months to shape many items/characters from play dough e.g. snowman.
If you don't have time to make your own play dough, you can purchase small play dough tubs from Dollar Tree.
For those interested to DIY your own non-toxic, taste-safe homemade play dough, here's my no-cook play dough recipe, made without cream of tartar (which I can't find other uses for and therefore don't stock in my kitchen pantry!)
3. Rubber Stamping
I ordered a Melissa and Dough farm animal stamp set off Amazon a few days before my trip and it arrived promptly. I love that this rubber stamp set has 8 wooden stamps and a 4-color stamp pad for a reasonable <$10 price tag!
I packed along some white paper as well. Don't fret if you forgot the paper, your toddler may enjoy stamping plane napkins!
4. Waterwow Coloring
Many parents swear by Melissa and Dough reusable Waterwow books in keeping their little painters engaged and I must say these durable and versatile books were really amazing!
The coloring pens just need to be filled with water and colors in the drawings are revealed when water comes into contact with the book. There is a storage area for the water pen in the cover too, which Miss 22 months spent a long time figuring out how to use. The pages dry up fast too! By the time Miss 22 months gets to the last page, the first page is ready for coloring again.
Overall, I find that it's a great compact take-along activity book for travel.
5. Quiet Activity Books
Search and find books were a hit with my toddler.
I'm using Balloon Search (Highlights™ My First Hidden Pictures®) book with Miss 22 months. If you have sufficient carry-on space, I also recommend My First Search & Find Animal Friends book which provided just the right level of challenge for Miss 22 months (but the drawback is that it is a pretty big and bulky hardcover book).
Talkabout books like The Zoo (Usborne Talkabouts) that got my toddler to identify and count animals and actions happening in the pictures also captured her attention for a long time.
6. Open-ended Construction Toys
I'm a fan of open-ended toys and a friend recommended me the Fat Brain Toys Squigz, which are suction cup builders that connect to one another and to any non-porous surface.
I love that the Squigz have such interesting textures, shapes, colors and properties - basically, they flex and stick and can be constructed into many things.
Their suction cups definitely adhered well to plane windows, the plane screen and the tray table!
7. Books about Airplanes
Plane rides (especially when you're seated near the jet engines) can be loud, rough and bumpy to little ones who can't quite understand what's going on.
The same can be said of airport custom clearance and security screening when everything has to be done in an efficient, no-nonsense manner and toddlers are notorious for wanting to take their time.
What did I do to encourage cooperation? I read Amazing Airplanes and Maisy Goes on a Plane to Miss 22 months on the way to the airport and at the boarding gate whenever there were idle waiting periods.
That got her really excited to board the plane and knowing what to expect ahead when we were standing in line, getting our belongings scanned, passing through the security scanners etc kept her calm, stable and prepared.
When she resisted having the seat belt on when it was necessary, I also referenced the book and talked through why seat belts were important on a plane ride. Miss 22 months instantly complied without further fuss. Education makes a whole world of difference to a child's rational thinking and reasoning.
Mid level of prep invitations to play:
8. Magnetic Fishing Game
4 months on, Miss 22 months is still hooked on this magnetic fishing game I made her. Details on how to DIY this magnetic fishing set in an earlier post.
It's great fine motor workout and a fun activity for little ones to learn about sea animals and basic science (introduction to magnetism!)
9. Doctor and Dentist Pretend Play Kit
Tired of being plane passengers or world travellers? Packing along doctor and dentist pretend play kits take your little ones into a whole new world of imagination.
Tip: Pack a small lovey along so you won't be the only patient ;P
High-prep invitations to play:
10. Shoebox-sized Imaginary Small Worlds
I made these 5 shoebox-sized small worlds that were portable and fitted well in my hand-carry baggage. Miss 22 months could immerse in imaginative play of different themes while we were on the go.
The sweet part was that these nifty shoebox-sized small worlds were made with zero cost from upcycled materials. The downside however is that these small worlds couldn't be made without time and effort. Would I make them again? Definitely! I do feel the payoff was more than the investment!
The themes I chose for the shoebox-sized small worlds were:
- Practical Home Life Simulation
So relatable to Miss 22 months! We talked about apparels she was wearing and how laundry works. Funny how such a mundane topic (to me) can be so interesting to her. I guess household chores are only chores when you think of them that way! To little ones, it's fascinating sequences of events that they desperately want to master!
Miss 22 months cooked up a few delicious, imaginary hot meals for me! Beats the cold sandwiches and snacks on board!
- Miniature Doll Play
Miss 22 months cracked up a huge smile when she found the inbuilt openable windows and door. I love hearing her solo conversation as she moved the dolls about in the house.
- Vehicle Play
The entrance and exit were a hit with Miss 22 months!
- Barnyard Animal Play
Lots of pretend feeding and dialogue about animals for this activity!
I hope these invitations to play help to support a positive and enjoyable flight! Happy and safe travels with your little ones!
To follow our play adventures, check out @miraculove_sg (Instagram), save our pins or join A Toddler Activity A Day Facebook Group.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.