50 Ways to Keep Your Toddler or Preschooler Busy on a Plane {or Elsewhere}

Aloha! This morning, as you read this post, I will be boarding a plane with my family to spend two weeks in paradise! Hawaii here we come!

Last time we went to Hawaii, I had a 19 month old and was pregnant with my son. We also had my 14 month old nephew as a fellow traveler. This year, we will have my two kids, 3.5 and 1.5 and my two nephews, 3 and 13 months.

Four kids 3.5 and under.

So of course, I have been busy trying to think of things to keep them occupied on our 5 hour flight. I am sure they will all nap for at least part of the flight (we have to get up very early) but that still leaves us hours to keep the brood happy.

I decided to share with you ideas we used last time we went to Hawaii, along with many ideas I found during my online search. Whatever you choose to take with you, I do recommend that at least a few of your activities or toys be brand new for your little one.

  1. Are We There Yet? Little ones have a hard time understanding time. Therefore, you may hear this question quite a bit on your travels. I found this great idea at Moms Minivan.com to help littles understand how long they have left to travel: Travel Tickets. My daughter is really into “tickets” right now, so I think we will try this. You print out the tickets and give your child a bag of pre-counted tickets and have them give you one every 30 minutes (or whatever interval you decide on) and then when the tickets are all gone, you have arrived! This will help give them a tangible and visual representation of how much time you have left on the plane.
  2. Small nesting cups: These are perfect for stacking and playing! These can keep little ones busy for a long time.
  3. Open, Close, In and Out: I got this idea from Children Kingdom. They went on a long car trip and she brought along several different types of small containers (pill holders, contact holders, travel bottles, etc) that her little one could play with and practice opening and closing and filling with play doh. As soon as I saw this post, I thought it was brilliant. My 18 month old is constantly stealing my small containers (tubes of toothpaste, travel sized items, make up, my husbands contact holders). Give your little one a bag of containers and let them play! Give them play doh and let them fill the containers. Then, have them work on getting the play doh out.
  4. Crayons and paper: Simple drawing supplies for free drawing.
  5. Crayola Color Wonder Products are pretty cool markers and paper that do not make a mess! We took some of these on our trip two years ago for my then 19 month old, and they are great for those who like to draw/color.
  6. Play-Doh to build whatever!
  7. Play-doh activity mats: These are so cool…print them out on paper, and place them into a page protector. Have your littles use the play doh to do the various activities like make faces, count, etc. Looking for ideas and resources, check out this awesome blog post by Planet of the Apels.
  8. A couple toy cars and a piece of paper and crayon: Draw a small town (roads, houses, trees) on your paper that your little one can “drive” his car through. If he is old enough, let him help design the town with different types of buildings (firehouse, school, grocery store).
  9. Airplane magazine activity 1: Go on a scavenger hunt through the magazines in the plane! Have your child look for something red, blue, or purple. Look for something that is round. Can you find a car? An animal? (from Delicious Baby)
  10. Airplane magazine activity 2: Play “I Spy” with the magazine pages. Open a magazine up to a busy page and play this classic game. “I spy something blue.” “I spy something pointy.” Etc.
  11. Card games: Your preschooler is probably ready to start learning simple card games like Old Maid and Go Fish. Teach her on the plane!
  12. Songs and Fingerplays: You can teach your littles some new songs and fingerplays on the flight (just be sure you remind them to sing quietly!). Here is a great list for you from the Miami-Dade Public Library System and another great resource from Early Literacy Learning and yet another from The Rosemount-Apple Valley-EaganPublic Schools.
  13. Mr. Potato Head: Another fun toy that can entertain some kiddos for a while!
  14. SNACKS: Bring along your kids favorite snacks….especially ones he/she may not get too often. I personally like a small mini bag of M&Ms as a little reward for good behavior.
  15. Seat belt Fun! Your little one may get a kick out of the simple act of buckling and unbuckling the seat belts!
  16. Chopstick fun! Bring along a set of children’s chopsticks and have your little ones use them to eat their snack! Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, or raisins in a cup + chopsticks = fun times and great fine motor practice!
  17. BINGO: Your preschooler might enjoy a fun game of BINGO! Use small snacks or candies for markers. You can print out a few different bingo cards online. Check out my post HERE for links to free bingo boards as well as some different ways to use the game. Crayola offers a free bingo card with a travel theme you can find HERE.
  18. Preschool and Tot Learning Packs or Workbooks: if you have a preschooler who is into doing pen and paper activities, you are in luck! There are a TON of FREE printable preschool and Tot learning packs all over the internet! Here are a few sites I personally like: 2 Teaching Mommies, Homeschool Creations, Living Life Intentionally, 3 Dinosaurs, 1+1+1=1, Over The Big Moon, Mama’s Monkeys.
  19. Make a book! Right now my 3.5 year old is really into making”books.” Before you leave on your trip, you can take some paper, fold it in half, and staple it togther so your child can make his/her own books n the plane!
  20. Simple felt board activities: You can make your own “felt board” to take along on the trip, or buy a felt board set…rather than us a “board” just use a simple piece of felt (like the size of a piece of paper or slightly bigger) that you can buy at your local craft store. An example of this is the Snowman Building Set I made this last winter. You can also do a felt board faces, people (with clothes), animals on the farm, a sea life set (good for us on the way to Hawaii!) etc.
  21. Pom poms and Tongs: Bring along some pom poms and a small set of plastic tongs. Ask the flight attendant for two plastic cups and have your littles practice transferring the pom poms from one cup to another, sort by size or color, count them, etc.
  22. Pom poms stuffing: Bring along a small margarine container, cut an X in the top, and have your littles stuff the pom poms in the cup!
  23. Pom Pom Printable Sheets: Print these out, place in a page protector, and use the pom poms for some learning FUN! Check out these freebies from Money Saving Mom , and a TON here from DLTK-Kids.
  24. Peg Boards: Another great fine motor activity…you can bring along a Foam Pegboard Set to keep your little ones busy.
  25. Foam Puzzles: Foam is light weight, which makes it good for traveling. You can buy a commercial set, OR you can make your OWN foam puzzles by purchasing some foam sheets at your local craft store. You can buy sheets and cut our shapes for a shape puzzle, or buy pre cut shapes and cut them into a few pieces and have your kids put the puzzle together.
  26. Foam Shape Sorter: My nephew used to have one of THESE and loved it…so I just ordered one for us to take along to Hawaii for all the kids to play with!
  27. Popsicle Sticks Puzzles: These are fantastic, light weight, easy to make, and don’t take up too much room. Learn how to make your own at Motherhood on a Dime.
  28. Barf Bag Puppets: yup…use those bags and make some puppets with those crayons you packed and maybe even use the pipe cleaners!
  29. Paper dolls: YES they still exist! I actually picked up a set for my daughter for this trip at the grocery store book aisle. Weird, right??
  30. Magnetic or Reusable Sticker picture scenes: These are always a blast! The sticker scenes may weigh a bit less than the magnetic ones, possibly making them a better choice for airplane travel. Mudpuppy makes a bunch of sets.
  31. Pipe cleaner people: Pipe cleaners are pretty cool…you can bend them and shape them into just about anything. Bring along a pack of multi-colored pipe cleaners and build people, or houses (oooohhh how about a garage for a toy car??) or whatever you think of!
  32. Lacing Cards: You can buy or make some lacing Cards and have your little ones practice lacing the string through the holes. Check out THIS BLOG for how to make your own out of foam (which would be light weight) or check out Amazon for some commercial ones.
  33. Make a Cheerio Necklace: Have your little ones string some Cheerios or similar cereal on string…then they can eat it when they are done!
  34. Ants in the Pants (or other flying creatures): You know the game Ants in the Pants? You can bring along a few of the “ants” with you, or pick up some hopping frogs or bunnies (check out the party aisle at Target or the dollar section), and have your littles try to get the ants/frogs into a plastic cup.
  35. Connect Four Travel Size: This is a great game and prefect for preschool aged kids..but don’t worry your toddler can enjoy this one too…dropping the coins in can be a blast for little guys!
  36. Paint with water books: I used to LOVE THESE!! Bring these, a little paintbrush, and ask the flight attendant for a small cup of water.
  37. Mini dry erase boards: Yup. hours of entertainment. Want something a little smaller/light weight? Put paper in a page protector…bring a few along with dry erase markers!
  38. Finger Puppets: You can make your own (check out my post on how to make owl finger puppets) or buy a set of commercial ones (these ones at Amazon are under $4 for 10!). These can provide hours of fun!
  39. Mini or travel sized magnadoodle boards: again…great for drawing, hangman, etc.
  40. Memory: you know this classic game, right? You can bring along a set of commercial memory cards, or you can make your own using two sets of stickers of whatever your kid is interested in (princesses, Thomas the Train, etc). Just attach the stickers to small pieces of paper or cardstock and cut out.
  41. Stickers: Bring a pack of little stickers and some paper and let your kids do whatever. You can also draw large letters on the paper and have your little ones place the stickers along the lines to work on fine motor, visual motor,  and letter ID skills
  42. Legos: you can buy a mini back of legos for building.
  43. Flashlight Fun: Little ones love flashlights! Use the flashlight to make hand puppets on the seat in front of you!
  44. Peg Games: Simple peg games can be found in dollar stores, the dollar section at Target, etc. You can also pick up a whole set of peg games at Amazon.
  45. Wooly Willy: Remember this fully little guy? You can get a set of travel sized ones at Target in the party aisle!
  46. Make (or buy) a busy book: We have one of these that a friend gave us…a fabric busy book! You can also make your own. Check out this blog  Homemade By Jill for ideas or check This One Out at Amazon that you can buy.
  47. Books: bring along favorite books and new ones too!
  48. Books on tape: Yes they still have these too…you can put the MP3 on your iPod or iPhone and let your kiddos “read” books to themselves!
  49. There is an App for that: Ok, lets face it…sometimes you gotta bring out the big guns: iPad/iTouch/Phone with Apps. I prefer to try to avoid these for the most part but there is a time and a place for these and a cranky toddler on a plane=perfect time and place. I’d download a few new apps before you leave!
  50. DVD Player: Yup…another big gun. If you have one of these bring it along with some favorite movies and maybe a new one too.

So there it is…50 ways to keep your littles occupied on a plane…or elsewhere! Headed on a road trip? Maybe you just need your kiddos to occupy themselves while you get some laundry done? This list should give you plenty of ideas!

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