12 Best Airplane Activities for Toddlers
It’s no secret that entertaining toddlers on an airplane can be challenging. A confined space + high energy levels + high volume levels + other passengers who aren’t particularly enthused to be sitting near a toddler is not exactly a recipe for success.
We recently took a trip to Disneyland with our three kids. My youngest is a just-turned-two-year-old, and I knew it was going to take some serious pre-planning to keep her entertained on the flight. It’s been a few years since I’ve flown with a toddler, so I spent a LOT of time brainstorming toddler airplane activities in the weeks leading up to the trip. Here are our top picks for toys and activities to entertain a toddler on an airplane.
Our Favourite Toddler Airplane Activities
Colouring supplies are a must-have in any toddler airplane kit. Color wonder markers seem like the obvious choice – they’re mess-free, so you don’t need to worry about your child colouring on the tray table and seat. However, the downside is that the colour doesn’t show up instantaneously. This was a great source of frustration for my daughter. I would only recommend color wonder markers if your child has used and enjoyed them pre-trip.
Instead, I recommend these triangle crayons, which are perfectly shaped to not roll off the tray table. Pair them with a colouring book featuring your child’s favourite character.
Continuing the arts and crafts theme, the Melissa & Doug Water Wow! books are a favourite of all three of my kids. These are a variation on paint with water books, featuring a brush that you fill with water. They’re mess-free and reusable, making them a perfect travel activity. They’re also one of those rare toys with great longevity – my toddler enjoys them, and my 6-year-old still plays with them.
There are a few variations on the sticker theme worth mentioning. First, these Melissa & Doug reusable sticker books deserve a spot on this list. They were a favourite of my oldest when he was a toddler, and were our go-to travel and restaurant activity. The downside of these is they’re quite large, and the pages end up separating from the book, which can make it unwieldy in confined spaces.
For sticker lovers who can’t be constrained to sticker books (ahem, my daughter), regular stickers are a must. My daughter’s a big fan of decorating herself in stickers, and on our most recent flight, she was able to entertain herself for a good 15+ minutes doing so.
Finally, window clings are another sticker variation that we’ve had some success with. They were the coveted item on a flight we took to Hawaii when our oldest was 17 months. The drawback is that you need a window seat, and the gel clings in particular tend to fall apart and get covered in dirt pretty quickly.
Our recent trip was our first time adding lacing beads to our toddler airplane activity bag of tricks, and they were a runaway success. I picked up a set similar to this, figuring that it would give my daughter more options for play. She happily lined up the animals, named them, and placed them on the string, over and over. I highly recommend lacing beads if you have a toddler who enjoys fine motor activities.
My daughter is obsessed with the buckles on her highchair, so as soon as I stumbled upon this toy, I knew it would be a hit. I pulled it out on the airplane, and my daughter played with it for about 30 minutes – an eternity in toddler time! She needed some help to get the buckles unbuckled, but for the most part was able to play independently. If you have a child that’s similarly obsessed with buckles, this is a must-have airplane activity.
I made Lego kits for my older boys for our last trip, and knew my daughter would want something similar. I threw together a small container that held a few of her favourite Duplo figurines, as well as some simple Duplo bricks for her to stack. The basic bricks were her favourite.
I also threw in a couple of Lego figures, since my daughter LOVES taking apart her older brothers’ Lego guys. This is probably specific to my child and her role as the youngest of three kids, but she loved taking these apart and putting them back together again. If you decide to include Lego watch your child closely – they are very much a choking hazard at this age, and there’s a significant chance that you’ll end up searching for them on the floor under your seats.
DoodlePro or Boogie Board
The DoodlePro and Boogie Board are two similar mess-free art activities that are perfect for airplanes. The Boogie Board is a new toy for us, and of the two it’s what I’d recommend. My only hesitation is that I worried about the screen getting damaged while travelling. For that reason we left it at home on our last trip. If you’re not travelling with an overstuffed carry-on (unlike us!), it would be a great option for an airplane activity.
I’m a big fan of these animal tubes, for everyday play, and for travel. They’re compact, and give your child endless opportunities for creative play. A word of warning: some of the smaller animals can be choking hazards for younger children, so give them a look over before handing them to your toddler
We always bring our toddler’s current favourite book, since they’re more than happy to sit and listen to it over and over (and over and over). This is perfect for those times when nothing else is helping to calm them down.
Favourite Stuffed Animal
Similarly, our child’s favourite stuffed animal or lovey always makes the trip with us, and always travels via carry-on (not only do we want them on board, there’s no way we’d risk them getting lost in checked luggage!).
iPad and Headphones
I would be remiss (and, quite frankly, a liar!) if I didn’t mention the iPad. My husband always loads the iPad up with a selection of their favourite shows, while I handle researching and downloading toddler apps (my favourite is Endless Alphabet, my boys also enjoyed Video Touch – Animals at this age). I try to keep the iPad hidden away in my bag of tricks until absolutely necessary, but I have no qualms about unlimited screen time during travel days.
Last, but definitely not least, snacks are a vital part of any airplane trip with toddlers. In fact, snacks are so crucial to travelling with kids that I wrote an entire post about it. Check out my ultimate list of snack ideas for travelling with kids in this post.
What are your favourite toddler airplane activities? Have you tried anything that did NOT work?