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Parenting Advice

How To Entertain Your Preschooler On A Plane

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photographed by Nicki Sebastian

Traveling with your preschooler kid this holiday season? The good news is, thanks to exiting the unpredictable baby stage, those anxiety-inducing random crying fits and feeding and changing conundrums are (most likely) behind you. Sure, hitting the road and the sky with your 3-5 year old poses its own set of challenges, but they are minimal enough that you might even enjoy your journey together. To make your trip as smooth as possible, take a look at our tried-and-true entertainment tips below.

Download Apps Early. Instead of waiting right before you board to download apps for your kids, do so at home, in the airport, or anywhere with a strong wi-fi connection. Also, look into your flight’s entertainment options beforehand, so you know what type of situation you’ll be dealing with. For example, United Airlines requires you download their app in order to watch movies (for free!) while in the sky. Other airlines might include behind-the-seat screens or no entertainment options at all.

Apps We Love. For the preschool age set, we swear by Toca Boca apps. The characters are fun (and gender neutral), open-ended, and non-competitive (which will help curb any tantrums for littles who hate to lose). Our favorites are Hair Salon 1, 2, 3, and Santa’s Salon, which let kids cut, comb, grow, color, wash, blow-dry, etc. a host of characters’ manes. We also love Toca Life: Town, which has endless options for playing around a miniature town (grocery shopping, going to the park, locking people up in jail, etc.). And for app beginners and younger toddlers, Sego Mini is the way to go. There are over 20 Sego Mini apps catering specifically to the preschool set and they are all wonderful and easy for tiny fingers to navigate (we especially love Friends and Babies Dress Up). For kids with an affinity for a specific character (superheroes, Daniel Tiger, etc.), think about downloading a special app featuring his or her faves for extra excitement.

Coloring Books and Crayons. They’re a classic for a reason! Debuting a fresh coloring/activity book and brand-new set of crayons (or used versions), can help gobble up some of the time in your flight. If you can find a version with stickers, bonus!

Books. Perhaps another no-brainer: books! Bring along some at-home favorites, brand-new options, or new versions checked out from the library. The more “new” things you can surprise your kid with while en route, the more exciting your journey will be. Naturally, books are a not-so-light thing to pack. So, we say the longer book, the better when it comes to packing wisely and the ability to entertain for longer stretches of time.

Play-Doh. Letting your kid unload a little Play-Doh on the plane’s tray table and rolling the ball back and forth to make simple “snakes” (long skinny ropes) can be a great screen-free entertainment option. We suggest buying a couple mini buckets of Play-Doh to minimize the mess and keep the entire activity simple. If you stick with the “snake” theme, you can get creative by making a family of snakes and using the mini bucket as a home or bowl for them to “eat” out of. You might be surprised how long this activity can go on!

Bead and Pipe Cleaners. Another tech-free option is letting your little “big” kid design some pipe-cleaner bracelets and rings by stringing them with colored beads. Make sure that you bring a small jar with a cap on it to keep the beads in place (and only bring as many beads as you think you’ll need). Also, make sure that the beads can easily be strung on the pipe cleaners at home, before you import a possibly frustrating activity onto a flight. If you have the time, think of (or Google!) a host of other things you can do with pipe cleaners that won’t require a bunch of extra materials.

Magnetic Doodle Board. There are a numerous ways you can use a magnetic doodling board (we like this one!) to entertain your kid in-transit. You could draw letters and have them trace over them, use magnetic stamps to make shapes, draw their favorite characters, or have them create their own masterpiece. Having a board with an attached pen is your best bet.

Snacks. Obviously! Figure out a mix of healthy and special eats for your kid, and options that won’t be too messy. Make sure you pack some napkins or paper towels for inevitable spills, too. If your kid loves straws, think about packing a few of those, too.

Accident Bag. Speaking of spills…even though your preschooler is likely out of diapers and into “big kid” undies, it’s wise to pack a plastic bag with an extra pair of pants and underwear inside (and a few more paper towels) for any on-board accidents.

Toys. Letting your kid unwrap a new toy while on the plane might be extravagant to some parents, and a survival technique for others. If you fall into the latter camp, make sure the new toy doesn’t have too many parts that could be dropped and lost on the plane. Those (somewhat annoying, somewhat overpriced) “mystery bag” toys can also be ideal for flights and long layovers.

Flash Cards. A great deck of age-appropriate flash cards can be a nice learning tool, plus the activity typically lasts much longer than a book.

Movies. This is the obvious and easy course of action for your flight. However, if your flight is more than two hours long, the in-flight options aren’t your jam, or your device is acting up and not playing your kids’ favorite, it’s good to have the other ideas above in your back pocket. If having your kid watch a movie (or three!) is in the cards for you, make sure you’ve vetted your options pre-flight, either downloading your own flicks ahead of time (and making sure they work when you press play) or understanding what’ll be provided in flight. Also, think about bringing your own kid-sized headphones for finicky little ears—and a pair for yourself if you’re able to watch your own adult-worthy movie on your own screen. Win-win!

Got a younger child on-board? Check out our articles on Flying With An Infant, Flying With A Baby Alone, and Entertaining A Toddler On A Plane. Safe travels!

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