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6 Ways to Keep Your Kids Busy on a Flight (Without Screen Time)

Little boy play with toy plane flying to vacation
Written by Dhinesh Manuel

This blog post was updated on September 27, 2019.

Parents —  we feel you. You’ve rushed to catch last minute flights with your brood in tow and then you’ve got to sit through your journey probably having to avoid the rude glares from other passengers as your bored and fidgety kids kick up a storm mid-flight.

And while turbulent tantrums, seat kicking, and utensil throwing are all part and parcel of the joys of parenthood (and joys of traveling with your kids), we are sure that the option of giving your kids some screen time is a welcome reprieve.

BUT…and a big “but” here… what does this screen dependence actually do to kids?

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that children aged 2 to 5 years should be limited to just 1 hour of high-quality educational programs a day WITH parents co-watching in order to help kids understand what they are seeing.

For parents on long international flights this may pose a real catch-22 situation; do you give in to the screen for a few hours or endure the wrath of your irritated fellow passengers? Well, we’re here to say, neither!

Keeping your kids happy on a long flight doesn’t have to involve brain-numbing screen time. Follow these simple tips for your kids to be happy and occupied during your flight!

Pack some school or art supplies

 girl painting with color pencil on airplane

Make sure to stock up on some stationary items for your flight. You’d be surprised how kids can keep themselves occupied with some paper, crayons, glue, and child-safe scissors. You can up the ante by also packing in some stickers of their favorite cartoon characters or superheroes, so they can customize their creations with more pizzazz. if you’re traveling with toddlers, it’s worth investing in a water reveal pad, which allows kids to safely use a water-filled pen to reveal colors on a pad (less mess, and still lots of fun!). Of course, it’s always important that you constantly supervise little ones as they put these crafts together, because you wouldn’t want their handiwork stuck to the head of an unsuspecting fellow passenger!

Get them to play card games

It may sound rather old school, especially when you take into consideration the attention span of kids nowadays, who are more accustomed to the helter-skelter pace of most modern entertainment. But, you’d be surprised what a simple family game of Uno or any other game you can create with a standard 52-card deck can do for your kids’ minds on a long flight. It takes a fair bit of human interaction, math, and problem-solving skills to come out on top during a card game, and you’ll be happy to know that all that brain power is benefiting their development in the long run — what more could we parents ask for? Make sure to keep tabs on scores (so your kids can unleash their competitive nature) and encourage multiple rounds so that the kids will be occupied for longer…leaving mom and dad with some downtime to enjoy the flight as well!

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Gift them a new toy

Happy healthy child having fun with colorful wooden rainboy toy pyramid

Now which kid is going to say no to a new gift, right? Well if you can time your gift-giving to when you’re in the air, then you’ve got a great chance of keeping your child busy with his/her new toy for hours! It can be something as simple as Silly Putty or Play-Doh or something a bit more advanced like a model that needs assembly, but whatever toy(s) you gift, you can be assured that little ones will be all wrapped up in that “new toy” feeling for quite a while. If you’re on a long international flight, consider packing multiple toys with you, so that you can present them in intervals over the duration of your flight. You can build up the hype by dropping hints about the toy before you leave, and even hide it as a surprise in their little backpacks so they discover it by themselves.

Introduce your kids to the cabin crew

Cabin crews always have a soft spot for young families and kids. By introducing your kids to the crew, it immediately puts your child/children on their radar and they will make note to treat them to the occasional airline keepsake that will make them feel important. Once it looks like the crew is taking a break, try and visit the service area at the back of the aircraft and have a chat with them along with your kids. Children are often fascinated by learning something new, and maybe they can ask all the questions they want about being a pilot or flight attendant. At the end of the day, your kids are getting some face-to-face human interaction without wilting away with screen time.

You may also like: Single Parent Traveling with Kids? You’ll NEED These 6 Tips for Your Trip!

Bring along some healthy food and snacks

Man with little adorable boy on knees sitting near window in plane flying.

While we firmly believe that children shouldn’t just eat to pass the time, it’s a fact that most growing kids have a bottomless appetite. Throw in the fact that they may be watching other passengers chow down, they are certain to want something to snack on as well! Furthermore, a healthy snack can help calm and nourish fidgety little flyers. Make sure to pack some of their favorites that they usually enjoy at home. Healthy options could include yogurt, cheese, multi-grain crackers, and fruit (if you’ve got the ice packs to keep them fresh). If you’re worried that these may not be enough, you can always pack that one “cheat” item that is not necessarily healthy but will come to your aid in a last-ditch effort to calm a mid-air tantrum.

Read a book

An oldie, but a goodie! Even though nowadays, screen time has eaten into quality reading time with our kids, story time has survived as one of the best ways to bond with children. Make sure to pack your little ones’ favorites so that they flip through flight time with ease. If your children have just started reading themselves, have them read along with you to improve their skills. If they are in the pre-reading toddler age, then just find books that are more picture-based in nature and engage them with what they see on each page. Remember not to pull out too many books all at once, as kids may not be able to focus on just one at a time

As a parent, you always want to make sure your child’s development is a constant in whatever they’re doing, even when they’re stuck on long-haul last minute flights to a family vacation! By following these simple suggestions you can confidently ditch screen time and still know your kids are going to be busy, happy, and learning something new every time you jet-set together as a family.

Do you have any other tips for traveling screen-free with kids? Please share them with us in the comments.

About the author

Dhinesh Manuel

Socialite, philanthropist, costumed crime fighter by wait...that's bad ...

Musician, writer, travel junkie, dog lover, and database of useless information. I love to learn about new cultures, experience new cuisines, meet new people, and have a few laughs along the way!

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