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I am taking four children ages 2,3,4, and 8 on a 4+ hour plane ride. Ideas for entertaining them WITHOUT plugging them in for the entire time would be much appreciated. We have the basics, crayons, coloring books, playdough, but what else can we do to keep the whining to a minimum?

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It would be nice to see answers that address the various age groups, as well as the younger children (babies - 2 year olds) –  Swati Apr 10 '12 at 20:06

7 Answers 7

I've done a lot of road trips and a few airplane trips with my now 6-year-old and often alone. I have NEVER needed to have a DS, video player or any other such thing and we've always been just fine.

There are TONS of travel games out there. My four year old enjoyed travel boggle last summer, not as a game to play with others, but simply because reading was newish to her and she relished in the fact that she could find words herself! Check out these two articles for more ideas:

I mention computer games in here because they are an option, especially if it is a super long flight, but there are other ideas too: http://pinchxeverything.blogspot.com/2012/06/toddlers-and-preschoolers-on-airplane.html

This one is how I pack our car with Travel Activities for long road trips. Obviously you won't want to bring as much, but hopefully it will give you ideas for everyone - including the 8 year old. http://pinchxeverything.blogspot.com/2012/04/my-travel-bucket.html

I think you are right for trying to help your kids balance their screen time with other entertainment right from the start. It will help them be more balanced as well as creative about how to spend their time when they are older. You might also consider it a time to connect by predicting what you will see and do, or by reviewing stories and memories from your fun trip together.

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I don't understand the general ire for electronics.

In this situation, it's really a matter of the macro-child-rearing value of avoiding screen addiction vs the quality of life for you and nearby passengers for 4 hours as the kids get bored of playing rock/paper/scissors and start noising.

Lets face it: middle class kids that age have no idea what it's like to be in a world without screens. a middle class 8 yo simply can't fathom a world without a zillion hd tv channels, dad's smartphone and wikipedia. My 6 yo will sit and read... whatever... on a vanilla Kindle for HOURS... but won't look at a paper copy of the same book. So if the 4yo want's to play his Leapfrog on the flight, then falls asleep, then wakes up and does it till you land... how is that bad?

Screens are as much a part of their being as a car is to us, their parents. I grew up with a car but my dad never really sat in a car till he was almost 10. Expecting that our kids sit and occupy themselves for an afternoon without screen time would be like you or I attempting to do Saturday errands on a bicycle. To that, I say "lol".

If I know you from your history here, you moderate their screen time anyway. Therefore, this 'special situation' (4 hr flight to a special destination) could benefit everyone from a 'special rule' for screen time.

I'm not saying you should jack them in for the whole time. What i'm saying is that i don't think you should go so hard out of your way to avoid it. In this sutation, it's a tool... and if it works, it works.

Something else i'll bet you didn't think about . . . by avoiding screen time, you'll be packing a big giant Felix the Cat "Bag of Tricks" that may force you to check your luggage. Cha-ching.


Mods: I know I know. . . I didn't really answer the question, I questioned the premise of the question... but I wanted to defend the perspective of kids and reasonable screen time.

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I have flown frequently with my children, now 7 and 4. We have traveled a lot-and on long flights-like to Europe or to Hawaii from the midwest. I do not like electronics for them, I prefer other things-I let them play/watch for 30 minutes per 4 or 5 hours of flight or per flight. However, if they get really fussy, I might allow an extra 30 minutes or so... it is a special circumstance-considering how close the other passengers who don't love my children no matter what are.

We color, read, play dot-to-dot, play with toys. I don't recommend cards, legos, or anything small.. playdough is a possibility for the oldest-but you aren't going to be able to keep them from grabbing onto the armrest or the walls or the chair or the... to keep them clean, so I personally would opt away from anything messy (paint or whathaveyou). Color wonder is great, magnadoodles are AWESOME for the 2-4yos, but also older ones... etch-a-sketch? I pack up little pony or littlest petshop things in a zippy bag-no SMALL items allowed and then they can play with that on their trays. There are magnetic puzzles out there that my oldest enjoys-the container is metal and all the pieces are magnets. Lace-up toys are good for on the plane for the 2-4 yo. I brought a pop-up toy (big but SOOO worthwhile) for our almost 2yo once.. it was the hit of the trip. I also brought one of those melissa and doug activity puzzles with the locks and things-again, big.. but a HUGE hit for the plane and it did fit in my carry on.

Think creatively... I always have 1 new toy, 1 new coloring thing, and 1 new book minimum for on the plane-at all ages for each child. And I ONLY pull out a new thing when ABsolutely necessary.

Also, going for a walk up and down the aisle can provide hours of entertainment for the younger set (with you following, of course).. just don't go up too close to the front-they frown on that.

Don't forget to check if any of the lavatories have a baby changing station-some airplanes have them, some don't and USUally only 1 has it, if at all.

Enjoy!

Edited to include more 0-2 info and then some!.....

I always brought a new Sassy toy that lit up and had music (or something similar). It kept my 6-12m olds intrigued when nothing else would. However, there are some in this set that are WONDerful fliers.. and others who just aren't. I used all of the same techniques with both of my children and one was a great flyer-whereas the others ears just never popped-no matter what I did... so, she wasn't the happiest flyer in those days. Do know that they get over that-and learn how to pop their ears eventually. At the younger age, I tried to time flights with naptime in there-or a little late for naptime (and then keep them up until we were on the plane)... there were flights that they fell asleep on the ascent and slept for 2-3 hours of the trip. Or they'd fall asleep once up. Early flights work well for this, too-because they end up waking up as you leave the house.. and then are up with all the commotion to the airport, at the airport, etc... and fall asleep on the plane (usually) at some point.

Snacks are wonderful distractions for the toddler and younger set, too. I always brought more than they would need-some of their favorite-but healthy ones.

I should think the older set (possibly the 8yo?) might enjoy doing a trip journal of some sort... draw pictures of interesting things in the airport, on the plane, etc... write about it if they feel like it. You can take some lined or unlined paper, fold it in half, put construction paper folded around it for a cover-and you've got a journal. Or maybe have them draw pictures of what/who they hope to see/do once they get there.

A dry-erase board that fits in a locker and some markers and a cloth would be good.. they can color to their hearts content or play hangman or tic tac toe or whatever and then erase it and do something different.

Also, I would give the older ones something to do... draw a pictures to give to people you may be visiting, write postcards on the way home to family and friends, write a story about traveling in 100 words or less.. or more? Play some games with them-there are lots of travel games out there... backgammon, chess, sorry, settlers of catan, etc... that are perfect for plane trips with older children. And then there are always books and/or magazines for older children, too.

I second the idea of a sippy bottle... nursing, bottle, juice-all are good for on the way up and down... keeps those ears open. I always ask the flight attendant if I could have a little juice in the sippy bottle when they come around pre-flight.. I have never been denied that. Usually they want to help the wee ones have a good flight, if they can. Also, some airlines (southwest and international flights, minimumally) have items they give to kids.. and some even have wings, if you ask. (we have recently gotten delta wings, I think?)

Also, I only got an extra seat for my under 2yo once-and otherwise never needed it. They love having the snuggle time on your lap... That one time, I was traveling alone with her-and wanted to be able to put her in her carseat for her nap-and give my arms a rest... as long as you have someone else who is willing to help hold the infant/toddler, an extra seat is not usually necessary.

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+1 for everything except the not needing a seat for your under 2-year-old. This is entirely up to the personality of your child. When we flew with our daughter at Christmas (who was only 16 months old at the time), she HATED sitting in our laps and was much happier when she had her own seat. If she had been younger and essentially immobile, I would agree with you 100%. –  Meg Coates Apr 13 '12 at 1:00

I would suggest small, portable board games such as Zombie Dice, or a more PC version of the same: Martian Dice.

A personal favorite of mine is Hive.

Other suggestions: Puzzles, the kind where you have to figure out how to release the horseshoe or ring or whatever. Something they won't be able to figure out without at least an hour of trying.

Any mental effort they consume will make them drowsy and, eventually, sleepy - bonus.

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Though I always start with non-electronic activities, I make sure to keep a few tucked into my bag as a backup. There is nothing more miserable than realizing they've run through everything you packed them, and that there are three hours left in this stupid flight. Also, don't forget, you could have your flight delayed, and that one hour space before the flight could turn into four.

As for non-electronic toys, I've found keeping things as multipurpose as possible works well. I take paper pads rather than coloring books, books that can be read or just looked at (like Where's Waldo). Specifically, here's some things I've packed that have worked really well:

  • Where's Waldo (big, but perfect for more than one kid to look over)
  • Paper tablets (one per kid) and a box of 24 crayons (one per kid)
  • Snacks (no, they're not a toy, but they take time to consume)
  • Magazines that are age appropriate
  • Playing cards (best game to teach the kids for a plane trip: Blackjack. It's easier to hide your cards)

Once I'm at the airport, each kiddo gets to pick out one thing from the airport shop to add to their pile of goodies.

Also, please consider giving every child their own seat, even if they technically could be in your lap. A woman did this on a three hour flight with her two year old, and it was miserable on her, the child, and her seat-mates.

// mother of a ten and four year old

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I don't know how into books your oldest one is, but it might be time to start a new book or book series ;-) if he/she is into that sort of thing.

Also...if your kids are at all prone to motion sickness, make sure you take some dramamine or something to help with that. As an added benefit, dramamine makes most people drowsy. I'm not advocating drugging your kids to survive the trip, but if motion sickness is an issue anyway, it's a nice side effect to have in this case.

We have traveled on a planee twice with our son (shortish flights--about an hour and ahalf--when he was 2 and 3), and once with our daughter (at around 16 months). We have found that the younger the child, the more "stuff" you need to keep them entertained. If they've never flown before (or even if they have), looking out the window alone is pretty good entertainment for a little while (I wouldn't count on more than 10 minutes or so though and if it's dark outside then that's pretty well shot, too).

I know you don't want to plug them in the whole time, but certainly throw a dvd or video game or something in there in case you are absolutely at your wits end. Especially if you get stuck out on a tarmac or in a holding pattern or your flight gets delayed or any of those other annoying contingencies that seem to happen when traveling by air. Last time we flew (Christmas), our flight out of Atlanta was delayed for 3(!) hours. Hartsfield may be the busiest airport in the world, but it's still just an airport and the concourse gets boring after about an hour.

I did find this website that I wish I'd found earlier when we traveled called DeliciousBaby and they've got some good lists of toys/games/activities for kids on planes broken down into age groups, fortunately there are several items on the lists that can cross-over between age groups.

And I agree with Rachel. Give the kids a small bag and let them pick some of the stuff to take with them--well, certainly your oldest. You never know what a 2-year-old is going to pack...

Hope all goes well for you!

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I would say that snacks are a must. I would also definitely recommend gum (for the older one) and a sippy cup for the younger ones to help their ears adjust during takeoff and landing.

If they have any favorite animals or blankets, those might be obvious choices.

I would also let them help with the packing. Give them a small bag (or whatever amount of stuff is reasonably carried) and let them decide what to put in it.

Another suggestion is to have a few brand new items in your bag to take out mid flight. They could be as simple as happy meal toys, but the newness will keep their attention for a while. This might be too much trouble, but you could wrap the new things up fancy, just to eat up a few extra minutes with the guessing what it is and unwrapping.

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