Screen-free things to do with toddlers and preschoolers on a plane


I by no means consider myself an expert on traveling with children. In fact, I consider a trip to the grocery store with children to be a “long trip.” I have done extensive vetting of toys, though, and the below list consists of some of my kids’ favorite portable, time-consuming things to do.

  1. Melissa & Doug Puffy Sticker Play Sets: My boys sit at the kitchen table and play with these for up to an hour. They’re slim, inexpensive, reusable, and quiet. R (age 2) mostly just stacks them on top of each other, puts them all over his (or more typically, the dog’s) body, or rips off the ones that E has meticulously placed on his own scenes because that’s what rude little brothers do. E (age 4) makes up stories about them and moves them around the scenes. There are so many different options so you’re bound to find something within your child’s interests: farm, careers, mermaid, safari, horses, pet store, pirates, dress-up, glamour, chipmunk house.
  2. Spot it!: One of my favorite games to play with kids and also with drunk adults. Seriously, bring it to an adult party and prepare to be entertained. Fun, simple, portable, and engaging. The regular version works for both kids and adults, but now they have Spot It Junior! made specifically for kids. And actually I just checked Amazon and they have about 500 other versions now as well, including ones for early readers, counters, Disney fans, sports fans, and so many others. I’ll be purchasing Spot It! Splash since a few too many cocktails have been spilled on my regular Spot It! cards.
  3. Playing cards: E got into playing cards a few months ago. Playing cards aren’t usually something I hear talked about a lot for kids under 5 but in my opinion, once they are starting to learn their numbers they can start to play War! Shortly after (thinking Kindergarten) you can start to teach them card counting and gambling! Kidding. I think Go Fish would work with this younger set as well. Standard cards work but these are my favorite cards of all time. I also like this set from Melissa & Doug for specialty card games.
  4. I Spy books: Obviously you can bring books on a plane but once you read a book, there isn’t much else to do with it. E loves I Spy books and they take up more time than a regular picture book. Even after you find all the things they ask you to find on the page, you can challenge each other to try to find other things on the pages. Some of our favorites are: Animals, Numbers, and Letters.
  5. Wikki Stix: Moldable, colorful sticks. Like Play Doh without the “Doh.” They take up very little space and they have the potential to take up a whole lot of time depending on how crafty you and your kids are. For the unimaginative (like my family) they also have cards to use kind of as stencils: letters, numbers, shapes.
  6. Ring Pops: A friend told me about this one and I have to admit I’ve never tried Ring Pops specifically but I am (in)famous for giving my kids ice pops or lollipops every single morning so they will keep quiet in the stroller so I can give the dog his 20-minute walk. I use Dum-Dums in the park, but I can see how a Ring Pop could buy you a little more time since, as far as lollipops are concerned, it’s a bigass one. You should see the looks I get in the park with both my kids in the stroller in their pajamas, sucking away at ice pops at 8:30 in the morning. #zerofucksgiven

And once all this inevitably fails, take out the f’ing iPad, throw some headphones on them, and close your eyes for what will probably be the only 10 restful minutes of your entire vacation.

Godspeed, hopeful travelers.


Disclosure: The links above are affiliate links which means that if you purchase through the link, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. I was not paid to recommend these products and all opinions are my own.

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