Vacation is wonderful. Flying there is not so fun when you have kids. Keeping kids occupied on long airplane rides is difficult, to say the least. It’s even more challenging if you want to keep movies and video games to a minimum. As a frequent babysitter and onetime child flier, I’ve made a list of cheap, easy-to-pack activities that will help you entertain your kids on airplanes without relying on electronics.
1. Coloring Books and Crayons
These are both cheap (you can find them at the dollar store) and entertaining. If you feel like splurging, you can buy Crayola Color Wonder and completely avoid a mess. If you want to spend absolutely nothing, you can print coloring pages from the Internet. You can find some great ones at coloring-book.info. As long as your child hasn’t colored them before, you’re good to go.
2. Finger Puppets
I’ve found these to be incredibly simple and endlessly entertaining. You can stretch this activity even longer on the plane by making the puppets out of pipe cleaners (littlepageturners has a good set of directions). If you aren’t the crafty type, that’s okay. You can buy cute puppets on Amazon for under $3. For a surprise, bring them out on the plane when your child is getting bored. These changed the way I babysit. One little girl sat and listened to me tell The Three Little Pigs three times in a row just because I had finger puppets.
3. Telling Stories
There’s something about oral stories that kids love. Challenge your child to tell you a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end (these story prompts are fun). I love combining this idea with the two above ideas. Tell a story based on a picture your child colored, or encourage him or her to make up a story about their puppets. It’s okay if you don’t feel “good” at telling stories. Your child will love the interaction.
4. Reading Books
This is classic, but often overlooked. I rarely encounter a child who doesn’t want to have a book read to them. Find a book your child has never heard and start reading (or have them read to you!). You can often find children’s books at yard sales and thrift stores, and always at your local library. If your child has a favorite book, bring that along, too. Some of my favorites are Danny’s Duck, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Collection, and Amelia Bedelia.
I have a vivid memory of this from my childhood. My mom brought a new bag of little plastic lions, tigers, and giraffes on the airplane. I spread them out on the meal tray and played with them quietly for quite a while. A cute, cheap set of animals is available on windycitynovelties.com.
This is a low-mess, high-fun activity. Play-Doh makes little tubs that are easy to carry on planes. You can usually find them at Wal-mart in the party section. If you would rather make playdoh at home (a fun activity to do with your kids any time), you can find an easy set of directions on momswhothink.com.
I remember being fascinated with these as a child. I would wrap and wrap (then unwrap and unwrap) forever. This is a great activity to help with fine motor skills, and it’s simple and quiet. You can buy a large bag of rubber bands at Wal-Mart or an office supply store. Simple directions for constructing a rubber band ball are on kidspot.com.au.
8. Cat’s Cradle
This is a great activity for older or more dexterous children. Cat’s cradle can be played alone or with two people. I spent many hours playing this with my brother, and more time alone making other patterns. Klutz has a great book of directions for one and two people, or you can find two person directions online. This PDF by Cynthia von Buhler is helpful. All you need is a 58 inch piece of string tied together at the ends and your child is ready to roll.
The key in each of these airplane entertainment ideas is this: Make it new. A new coloring picture, unfamiliar book, unseen tub of Play Doh, or anything else your child hasn’t played with before will be exciting, fascinating, and entertaining. Try one, all, or any combination of these ideas on the airplane and watch the time fly by.
Have you found other great ways to occupy your kids in airplanes? Comment below—I’d love to add to my list!