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Up, Up & Away! 25 Ways to Entertain Young Children While Flying

The advent of the iPad and other tablet devices means that flying with young children just got easier. But what should you do if your tablet is out of juice, your preschooler isn’t in the mood to watch or you want to mix it up and avoid hours of screen time? This list will keep your little one busy during the flight – or at least until your tablet is recharged.

Time together

Talk about your destination and what you will do when you arrive. Will your child get to see Grandma soon, explore a new playground or visit a special restaurant?

Locate the passenger information in your seat pocket and study a picture of the airplane together. If you’ve got a little shopper, browse the duty-free magazine.

Listen to music on an MP3 player or via the in-flight entertainment options. Pack a headphone ‘splitter’ in your carryon, which allows you and your child to listen to one device at the same time with two headsets.

Reward good behavior with small wrapped gifts your child can open and play with during the flight, such as die-cast cars, finger puppets or pint-sized dolls.

If the cabin of your aircraft is large enough, take a walk every 30 minutes or so with your child, to stretch everyone’s legs and get the sillies out.

Show your child videos of themselves stored on your smartphone. Or peruse the photo gallery for funny pictures of your child and siblings.

Before your trip, check out a finger-play book from the library, so you can practice some new rhymes during your flight.

When you’re in flight and the seat-belt sign is off, practice fastening and unfastening the seat-belt buckle.

Tell stories, using the finger puppets your child received as a gift.

If your aircraft offers in-flight video options, study the flight map featured on the seat- or wall-mounted TV screens – and track the progress to your destination.

Snacking fun

Hide a few raisins or cranberries in your fist and have your child guess which hand the fruit is in before they can eat them.

Surprise your little one with a new snack from the grocery store that you don’t regularly eat at home, such as fruit roll-ups or bite-sized crackers.

Thread ‘o-shaped’ cereal onto a straw. Remove each cereal piece one at a time from the straw, counting as you go, then eat.

Before munching on animal crackers or cookies, ask your child to identify each animal and make the corresponding animal sound. To extend snack time, make up a story about the animals as you eat.

Lollipops help little ears adjust during take-off and landing and are another option to reward good behavior. A small box of jelly beans also makes a special treat.

Sky-high play

Encourage your child to play peek-a-boo with any willing neighbors seated behind you or next to you.

Twist brightly colored craft pipe-cleaner into monsters, animals and shapes, or make bracelets and necklaces to wear.

Shine some light on things with a small travel flashlight. Be careful not to annoy fellow passengers.

Play the paper toss game. Wad strips of paper from a used newspaper or magazine into small balls and take turns tossing them into a plastic cup (ask the flight attendant for a cup or save one from the in-flight beverage service).

Practice colors, letters and numbers with flash cards and other educational travel games.

Make some high-flying art. Large, triangle-sized crayons are great for little hands, and won’t roll off the tray-table.

Dig into your portable First-Aid kit for a few band-aids printed with your child’s favorite cartoon character. Stick on hands, elbows, knees, wherever!

Don a sweater with buttons or a zipper and encourage your child to practice their fine motor skills.

Create an alternate universe with reusable stickers or colorforms, which stick easily to your window or tray-table.

The best part, you can pack them up and take them with you when you’re done.

A favorite toy does wonders, just make sure not to lose it during the journey!

Heather is a freelance writer who has logged thousands of miles flying with her two young sons.

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