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Believe it or not, our children never rode on an airplane until they were all over the age of ten.
There were a few reasons for this:
- We’re lucky enough to live within driving distance from most relatives
- We’re lucky enough to live within driving distance to Walt Disney World
- We didn’t have the money for five airplane tickets, plus rental car, hotel, etc
So I’m hardly the expert on how to manage a baby, toddler, or preschooler on an airplane.
That’s why I asked my blogging buddy Samara at Tiny Fry to write a guest post about activities, toys, and general tips for flying with young children.
You’ve been waiting all year long to take a vacation to a tropical island with your family.
When it comes time to leave for the airport, you hit traffic and get there just minutes before the doors close. Finally, all of you are buckled in and ready to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.
And then your toddler starts fussing.
Luckily, you’ve planned for this very moment. You’ve already researched airplane games for kids and you know the best ways to occupy your little one during a flight. (In your mind, you’re congratulating yourself on anticipating this exact instant and thinking ahead of a solution.)
Like a pro, you reach down to your bag of tricks. Within minutes, your kiddo is quiet and thoroughly entertained. Now other moms want to know, what is the secret?
In this post I’ll cover ways to keep your toddlers and preschoolers happy and occupied on your plane ride.
Choosing the Best Travel Games for Toddlers
There are several different types of travel games for kids, but in general they are compact in size and they don’t include too many loose parts (that could get lost in the seats or roll into the aisles). The best toys for airplane travel for toddlers are simple to play and can be reused flight after flight.
When shopping for toys to take on the airplane, we think you’ll have the best luck with ones that are:
With all of the travel games for kids available today online and in stores, you’re bound to find a bunch of toys that fit the bill and are well-suited to your child.
In fact, your biggest problem might be narrowing down the choices!
Ride On Luggage for Toddlers
If you’re searching for travel games for toddlers or preschoolers, consider turning the chore of packing into a sport by using a cute ride-on suitcase.
Giving your toddler a bag of her own–whether it’s a suitcase with wheels or a tiny backpack–adds novelty and excitement to the journey (not to mention it boosts her confidence because she’s being trusted to care for her own belongings).
The Ultimate Disney World Packing List
In addition, when shopping for travel toys for toddlers on airplanes, keep an eye out for items that come with their own carry case, like “The Bag,” pictured below.
We all know how easy it is to lose small objects while traveling, so having a designated catch-all is one way to ensure toys stay together.
“The Bag” by Fun on the Fly is designed just for travel and contains 15 items, each packed in its own nylon drawstring backpack. Items include a coloring book and pack of crayons, sticker book, magnetic drawing board, card game, pullback race car, and more.
Amazon reviewer KiddieFondue said The Bag was a plane ride life-saver:
Absolutely adorable and full of fun things to keep my child busy on our trip! She loved pulling each new item out of the bag and literally played with each one.
The kids on the plan next to us were SO fussy and complained almost the whole flight, until we switched seats and they all played with the little fun stuff! There was so much that they could each play with several things, although there was a little fighting over some items, I gently reminded them it belonged to us.
I would never have had the time to go find each of these little item that are the perfect age, safe for my kid and put them all in this cute travel bag for her. Very convenient and fun! Thank you, it was a life-saver!!
Magnetic Toys for Toddlers
Magnetic travel toys are ideal for keeping toddlers busy on a plane. The beauty of these toys is that it’s actually difficult to lose the parts and pieces because most of them (if not all) are magnetically attached to a surface.
Can I Bring Magnetic Toys on a Plane?
The last thing you’d ever want is to purchase a brand-new, awesome toy to keep your toddler or preschooler happy during a 6-hour trip and then confiscate it before you even board the plane.
According to TSA, magnets are allowed on both carry-on and checked bags.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait, I heard somewhere that magnets were dangerous on airplanes,” then check out what Jock McTavish, retired avionics tech. and private pilot, says on Quora:
You needn’t worry about ordinary toys and gadgets. Magnets are a section in the “Dangerous Goods International Manuals” that airlines comply with. But as long as the strength of the magnet is low enough not to interfere with the aircraft compass systems they are OK. Ordinary magnets only have a navigationally disruptive field of a few meters. And aircraft compass systems are in the cockpit with sensors at the wing tips or fin, away from the passenger compartment.
Magnetic Toy Cars for Toddlers
In my experience, little boys can never get enough of cars, planes, and trains. This toy contains 55 magnets in a thin and compact carry case.
One Amazon reviewer said this toy was “great on a plane”:
This kept my 3 year old completely occupied for a 2.5 hour period on a flight, and an hour on the way back. I left it completely intact and he had fun taking all the magnets out of the sheet, lining them up, separating the planes, trains, people, and other groups.
There are a lot of little pieces, but it was 100% worth the peace and quiet on those flights!
Magnetic Maze Puzzles
This number maze toy has a magnetic pen that lets children match colorful balls with the corresponding animals and numbers.
Since the entire maze is self-contained behind thick clear plastic, there are not pieces to keep track of or worry about getting lost. Not only does that make it great for travel, but it also means that there are no potential choking hazards.
Many reviewers liked this toy because it was:
(working fine motor skills, colors, counting, logic, and planning)
For Amazon reviewer Carol, this toy was a hit not only with the toddler, but also with the older kids and the parents:
We got this toy for our 2 yr. old, expecting that she would mostly have fun moving the beads around. She really loves this toy and plays with it frequently.
We have also noticed that our 3, 5, and 7 yr. old children also enjoy playing with it. Obviously the older ones understand the objective of the maze better than the younger ones. Even the adults in the family play with it a bit, it can be oddly relaxing. Clearly this toy has appeal for a wide age range.
This town maze magnetic game is also made by HABA and has a similar concept — but this time, instead of using animals and numbers, it uses cars, garages, and roundabouts.
While this toy currently has a 4.4 out of 5.0 rating on Amazon, and 74% percent of the ratings are 5-star, Amazon reviewer I used 2B Cool explains in detail why this toy isn’t perfect:
-Super cute graphics. Bright and cheerful.
-Very strong magnets. They balls are actually plastic on the outside, which sounds bad except we’ve used some mazes in the past where all of the paint was flecking off and the whole board was full of loose chips. So that won’t be happening to this one, and they are still very magnetic even with the plastic shell.
-A whole lot smaller than it looks online. I didn’t think to look at the dimensions because the picture shows a toddler playing with it, and it takes up their whole lap. In truth it is about size of my kindle …
Click here to read the rest of I Used 2B Cool’s review.
Magnetic Puzzles for Toddlers
This magnetic game bundle is Amazon’s Choice in the category of “Magnetic Puzzles for Toddlers & 2 Year Olds.”
The fishing game features puzzle pieces of aquatic animals, including dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles. Each puzzle piece has a magnetic tab on the top, so kids can use the magnetic fishing pole to ‘catch’ the sea animals from the game board, then enjoy the challenge of returning them back to their place in the sea.
The bug-catching puzzle game has a similar concept. Kids use the magnetic butterfly net to “capture” bugs and insects from the garden game board.
Amazon reviewer Nicole Jaime discusses what she loves about these puzzles, as well as their one flaw:
This puzzle keeps my 20 month old daughter entertained for up to 45 minutes. (Which is forever, in toddler minutes). It is our favorite puzzle so far. Very simple to use. I actually did not show her how to use it. She figured it out on her own, which is part of the learning process. Relatively safe. The magnet on the poles cannot be easily swallowed. However, I would still caution to supervise kids around magnetic toys.
I agree with those who say, it would have been nice to have a picture under each puzzle piece. However, this toy was worth it regardless. My solution was to trace each puzzle piece on a piece of paper and add my own sketch of each animal. It works for us. In the future, I plan on adding the color words on the inside, so she has to match the pieces to the words.
This toy is Amazon’s Choice in the category of “developmental toys for 2 year olds.”
This has a similar concept to the toy above, except that the puzzle pieces are all fish-shaped and the toy teaches both letter and color recognition.
The toys comes with two magnetic fishing poles and the pieces can easily be stored right inside the wooden game board.
Magnetic Matching Games
If you have two young children, a game they can play together is a great idea.
Melissa & Doug’s Wooden Magnetic Matching Picture Game has 119 Magnets that kids use to recreate different scenes on a game board.
(BONUS: The board is detachable and can also be used as a dry erase board!)
The best part is that it also includes a wooden travel case with a lid, making it perfect for a airplane trip.
**NOTE: This toy has small pieces and is for children ages 3 and up.
Reusable Sticker Play Sets for Toddlers
Activities with stickers for toddlers are always a hit. You can definitely find reusable sticker activity sets (save them for the return flight), but some creative sticker activities are one-time use only. (However, they’re still worth it, because they definitely help to pass the time on any flight).
These play sets from Melissa & Doug have three different cards with different themes: Pirate, Safari, and Farm.
Each card folds and has a double-sided, glossy background and 40-50 puffy stickers that go with it.
One Amazon reviewer with a toddler and a preschooler says this toy is “genius”:
Bought this as a way to keep my 2 & 4 year-olds busy on the airplane. Perfect for the carry on: not at all bulky, diverse ways to play, didn’t have to worry about dropping anything and it rolling around the plane because obviously it was all sticky. Kids were excited to play with them again on the return flight.
Stranger behind me said “those stickers are genius.” If I could go back I’d do it again exactly the same.
And while we’re talking about stickers … if you’re wondering how to entertain a one year old on a plane, the simple act of peeling and posting a sticker is a safe and straightforward form of distraction.
Trust us when we tell you that even a roll of star stickers and piece of paper can keep your youngest traveler amused for quite some time!
Travel Puzzle Ganes for Toddlers
Travel-friendly puzzles are a good choice because not only do they keep little hands busy, they engage young minds as well.
Whether they involve connecting, matching, sticking, or lacing pieces together, puzzles are excellent at honing fine-motor skills and promoting problem solving skills.
This mini-puzzle pack has four puzzle trays, each with a different theme (farm, sea, jungle, and pets.) The different trays have color-coded tabs, and the entire toy is in a compact travel case.
One thing that is particular clever about this travel case is that is has a short string that wraps around the outside to keep it shut. Click here to see a photo of how that works.
Depending on your child, I would say these mini-puzzles are best for a child who is around 15-30 months old. If your child is preschool or kindergarten age, consider these similar Melissa & Doug puzzle boxes instead.
This wooden apple is “made with non-toxic water paint” and weighs less than a pound, making it perfect for toddler hands.
The apple has 13 holes that your child can thread a “munching” caterpillar through. (Very reminiscent, of course, of this popular children’s book.)
Even though I think this toy is super-cute and I would have loved it as a child, I do have to point out that the string for the caterpillar is over two feet long and could possibly be dangerous for a very small child. Use your best judgement and consider having this be a toy that is used only with close supervision.
Minnie Mouse Toys for Toddlers
Airplane Busy Bag Ideas for Toddlers
A final idea is to create a “mystery bag” with a handful of small individually
wrapped toys for each child.
Once the kids are settled in their airplane seats,
present them with their own grab bag of airplane games. Chances are they’ll
enjoy guessing what’s inside and opening up each item as much as they’ll
enjoy playing with them.
Possible items for your child’s Busy Bag include:
- Board Books
(this is one of our favorites!)
- Healthy snacks
- Activity Pads
- Plastic links
- Finger puppets
Of course, an alternative to buying toys and books and putting them in a bag is to create your own Busy Bag of activities and keep them together in pencil pouches:
Video — DIY Busy Bags
A Final Thought on Travel Toys
A successful family vacation requires more than money and a thirst for adventure.
To ensure that everyone has a safe, memorable, and amusing time, you’re going to
need to research more than just the destination. Knowing how to distract your
youngest tourist is key to minimizing stress during the hours of travel.
If you ask other parents to list their favorite travel toys, we bet you’ll get quite a range, including magnetic toys, travel puzzles, and sticker sets.
Do yourself a favor and don’t wait until the last minute to make your choices and purchases. The sooner you cross this task off of your list, the better!
Now it’s your turn to share.
Have you tried any of these toys or ideas? Do you any favorite ways to keep your toddler happy and occupied on an airplane ride?
Let us know below in the comments!
More Toys for Toddlers & Preschoolers
Samara Kamenecka is a VA specializing in content creation and SEO. When she’s not hanging out with her boyfriend and their two kids, she blogs about everything from toddler toys to family travel over at www.tinyfry.com.
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