Flying with Children: Activities to Help Keep the Wiggles and Whining at Bay

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Plane rides can be very exciting for little kids but the initial entertainment of flying on an airplane wears off pretty soon after taking off. Being prepared with a bag of surprises and treats can make or break that flying adventure for parents.

While I was recently preparing our family of four for a rather long series of flights across the country to Alaska, I came to the realization pretty early on that my energetic, talkative and always-hungry preschooler son would need a non-stop supply of goodies while on board. My seven-year-old daughter is pretty easily entertained and simple in her needs. She also recently prefers to embrace and revel in her older-child status participating in activities that are special for her age bracket, beaming in independence. I have to admit, this is awesome. However, that too wears off after the first 6-hour flight and a nearly 2-hour layover. Neither child, let alone their parents, really felt like enduring yet another 4 1/2 hour flight north.

flying with baby
Babies can be entertained simply by being able to look out the window, watching the bright sun and clouds. Narrate to them what they are seeing.

Snacks

I am someone who believes in balance with everything in life; children also seem to appreciate and thrive with this practice. Our family eats very healthily at home which I believe keeps our immune systems strong, especially before being stuck in a pressurized germ-filled capsule for an entire day. While I do pack healthy snacks for the flight, I also bring special treats that are not given at home. I always pack something in my bag with a high vitamin-C content, such as oranges. In addition, all-fruit gummy snacks, single-serve olive packets, fruit leather, salty nuts mixed with dried cranberries, rice cakes, and cheese sticks are popular choices for my kids when traveling. A purchased snack box offered in-flight by the airline is also really fun for kids! When our first flight lands they get a small piece of pure delicious bubble-gum. It is when they start to really freak out toward the end of the last flight that I pull out the lollipops, and smiles and joy take over, hopefully lasting at least until we land…

Consider offering something your own children would be hugely surprised by and that brings them joy. It can work magic in a time of struggles.

sticker activity for flying
We read a story about firefighters and drew a fire station on a blank piece of paper for our son. He then had fun for about 30 minutes decorating the fire station with stickers. 

Activities

Nowadays, we all know the easiest way to keep a child entertained while flying is to use a tablet (personal or airline-supplied). With two long flights, I reserve the tablet usage for the second flight when I do not want to deal with my over-tired and impatient children. Let’s face it, at this point, I am pretty exhausted as well. We made it through the first 6 hours of flying screen-free. How did I do this? Let’s get talking about that bag of tricks. I pack some of the following, and rotate toys as needed with each child:

One new book or magazine to read per child

Pad of plain paper

Stickers (perhaps themed to go along with their new book so they can draw and use stickers after reading)

Plastic toddler scissors (an older child can get by with these with some patience)

Scotch tape

Coloring books

New packages of crayons, colored pencils, or markers.

Activity books (there are so many varieties available right in your local grocery store or pharmacy)

Simple craft projects (such as a beaded bracelet project)

Spirograph

Travel-sized games

Window clings

Cheap set of legos or mini lego figurines

Audio stories

We checked out audio stories from our local library the week before flying, downloaded them onto an old iPhone and saved the treat of listening to them until on the plane. Some libraries hold subscriptions to apps that are packed with audiobooks and you can access them for free via your member card. Affordable kid-specific headphones with safe volume control are easily packed in your child’s backpack. These work so much better than the ones handed out on the flight anyway! You can also download many free, kid-friendly podcasts like Sparkle Stories or StoryNory.

flying activity
Audio stories help children get lost in a world of imagination for awhile.

What about mom or dad?

Why not take the well-earned quiet time you achieve with your little ones watching a movie to dust off that book you’ve been setting aside for years and get lost in a good story? It is so relaxing and satisfying as well as a breath of fresh air from normal everyday life with kids to be able to snuggle up, uninterrupted with a good read. Or consider sketching or journaling in your long-forgotten blank book with some new special colored pens. You get a treat too. What about closing your eyes and taking a little nap? Yes, it can be done.

We’d love to hear what you do to keep your kids occupied during long car rides or on airplanes!

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I live in South Duxbury with my husband, Matt and our two super energetic kids, Lucy (7) and Sander (4). We moved here from Fairbanks, Alaska four years ago to build our home near family and we are still working on finishing it! My husband is a carpenter and I am an artist. I have an MFA from Arizona State University and lived in the southwest for seven years. I have taught printmaking at the college level most of my adult life, though I am currently on a long break due to homeschooling and enjoying my children. I enjoy gardening, cooking, skiing, hiking, and find any excuse to be outdoors. Our family has a very loved Alaskan husky named Canute and an old Maine Coon cat, Oliver, who add so much love to our home. We recently added guinea hens and chickens to our little farm where we enjoy growing fruit trees, berries, and lots of memories. Vermont has been a beautiful place so far to raise our children and build new friendships.

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