5 Game-Changing Ways to Entertain Preschoolers on a Plane

Take it from a mom who’s done it more than two dozen times: Keeping little ones happily occupied after takeoff is totally possible.
By Megan Zander
Jun 25, 2019

Ages

3-5

kids plane activities
istock.com / Sasiistock

Jun 25, 2019

Before I became a mom, I looked forward to plane rides as a time to settle in with a good read and some tasty snacks. But now that my flights include two pint-sized companions, I spend all of that time in the sky trying to keep my twins happy and occupied — while crossing my fingers that they don’t need to use the potty while the “fasten seatbelt” light is still on.

The bathroom thing is still hit or miss, but after nearly 30 takeoffs and landings with little ones in tow, here are some of my tried-and-true ways to help entertain preschoolers on an airplane (no screens required!).

Let Them Carry on Their Own Entertainment

If preschoolers had an official motto, it would be: “I wanna do it myself!” They want to help and be part of everything, and that includes hauling the luggage through the airport. But while I’ll forever love the photo I have of my then-toddler pulling a mini suitcase through the terminal, most bags are of course too big and heavy for preschoolers to handle.

Instead, let them feel like a big kid by giving them a carry-on item that doubles as in-flight fun. This will also help them be more invested in it after takeoff — after all, they brought that activity with! Interactive toys like finger puppets, a write and wipe book that comes with a built-in handle, or an easy-to-carry magnetic wipe board case filled with alphabet tiles put the fun right at your kid’s fingertips rather than getting forgotten in an overhead compartment. Plus it’s so nice to see kids playing with brain-boosting toys, rather than just zoning out to the movie screen on the seat in front of them. 

Portable Activities Kids Can Carry Themselves

Encourage Them to Get Up When Possible

No matter how much entertainment you pack, sooner or later a preschooler’s bound to get frustrated with having to sit in a confined space for so long. Pacing the aisles can buy a few minutes of respite (and a few high fives, if you’re super friendly like my son Remy), but an even easier option is to use that “no seatbelt” sign time as a chance to spread out a little. Let them use their seat and tray table as play spaces — my son Lolo once spent almost all of a three-hour flight happily “flying” a toy dragon alongside the window! It was the best.

Travel-friendly stick puzzles are the perfect size for putting together on a tray table or seat cushion. Meanwhile, small plastic dinos can explore armrest “mountain ranges” and seatback pocket “valleys,” and a magnetic construction site set lets your kid's imagination run wild without any lost pieces.  

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Use the Trip to Get Excited About the Destination

Often when we board a plane, my kids are so excited to be heading out on a trip that all they want to do is ask, “Are we there yet?” over and over from takeoff until landing. Rather than try to distract them from our upcoming adventure, sometimes leaning into their excitement about what we’re doing and where we’re going works best to help them have an easy, tear-free flight.

They can use the passport stickers and postcards in this Pretend Play World Travelers set to daydream about the sights they’ll see, or play with tiny versions of iconic landmarks. Or, if you’re headed to the shore, pass the time with a great read about the beach!

Travel-Themed Toys for an Easy Flight

Think Beyond the Coloring Book

After the kind person behind you returns your child’s dropped crayon for the fifth time in less than 10 minutes, you might realize that coloring on a tray table is actually a bit tricky. If being creative helps your preschooler pass the time, consider options that require fewer pieces, like an I Spy book filled with stickers and riddles, a book of fun mazes, or the glittery Beanie Boos: Scratch and Sketch book. These artistic activities will keep young kids (and your nearby seatmates) perfectly content.

Crayon-Free Options for Creative Kids

Turn Flight Time Into Quality Time Together

So often when planning for ways to keep our kids occupied on a plane ride, we forget that traveling with them is supposed to be family bonding time, not a task we have to endure. Solo activities like crafts and small toys are a good way to pass some of the time for young kids, but for longer flights, I love to plan a few special games and activities designed for me and my kids to do together.

Help them get geared up for the new school year by exploring fun, colorful preschool flashcards, or make travel journals on the way home with the Create Your Own 3 Bitty Books set. You could even use this dry erase board with step-by-step drawing instructions to learn how to finally doodle a truck your preschooler will approve of. As a bonus, these activities will help you pass the time faster, too. 

Need more options? Check out our favorite activities for long car rides and 30+ ideas to fight boredom at home!

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