I recently sat in an airport waiting area and watched an eight-year old girl play contentedly with her fingers, albeit in a slightly bored sort of way, for fifteen minutes. She may have gone even longer than that, but I was too busy entertaining my iPhone-addicted three-year old to notice. And a three-year old in full withdrawal ain’t pretty.
I always feel like a rotten parent when I hand my kid the iPhone. Yes, it’s so cute how the tiniest one-year old already knows how to swipe and tap. Mildly amusing when the two-year old accidentally calls the Philippines. Only a minor hassle when the three-year old deletes seven apps and all their data. Sort of embarrassing when the four-year old happens to find an indiscreet photo in the camera roll. Really embarrassing when the five-year old reads aloud from the iPhone screen, “Mom, what does l-i-c-k spell?” And a royal pain-in-the-ass when the six-year old throws a temper tantrum because you have to use the iPhone to, like, call someone, then spends the next thirty minutes in jittery, aggressive withdrawal from his favorite video game.
Yes, that’s what we used to call them—“video games.” “App” sounds so innocuous by comparison. I haven’t yet run across the slew of articles titled “Apps Increase Violent Behavior in Children!” Yet I feel uneasy with the amount of screen time my young kids get, when screens are so portable and absorbing. So I decided that for this flight to Grandma’s, we were going to try old-fashioned entertainment. Thumb-twiddling and looking out the window would do for a start, but I was insecure about traveling completely deviceless. So I put together an Airplane Entertainment Kit and decided to use the three-hour flight for beta testing.
Introducing the Kindertainment Kit—not just for flights! For about $40, you too can put together a Kindertainment Kit that can be used over and over again, keeping your children happily occupied (and quiet) in such tedious environments as airplanes, waiting rooms, backseats, lines, and restaurants where all that’s on the table so far are salt shakers and sharp knives.
Key features of the Kindertainment Kit: Everything fits into a quart-sized Ziploc bag (one of my favorite inventions), nothing rolls away to get lost under the seat, and NOTHING MAKES SOUND. I shopped at Target to put together the Kindertainment Kit featured here, but I’ve also made them by simply “shopping” through my children’s junk boxes for small, portable goodies. The secret to the Kindertainment Kit is its limited availability—whatever you put in it only comes out at certain, special times. Here’s the breakdown.
Top Ten Items for a Kindertainment Kit
Definitely old-fashioned, but still a good thing to have around. Good games for very young children that also happen to fit on an airplane tray table are:
I got the Jumbo pack so that the numbers and symbols would be extra visible for my emerging reader. $2.89 at Target.
This was a steal in the $1 section. An ABC puzzle was perfect for the Birthday Girl, and occupied her attention for a full 25 minutes!
It’s nice to pop a little surprise in the Kindertainment Kit, something new for each journey. My kids (ages 3+) love mini-figures. The LEGO mini-figure series consist of tiny, opaque packets that each contain all the pieces for a unique mini-figure, one of just twenty in a collectible set. Periodically they release a new series, playing right into the collector’s addiction (my Fictional Husband is particularly susceptible). Sanrio, Mega Bloks and Marvel have all come out with highly playable imitations. Whipping out a shiny foil-wrapped mystery mini-toy can improve the mood in the cabin very quickly. $3.99
It costs just $1 for two mini-composition books at Target right now during back-to-school. When I was in the classroom, I used to give one of these to each student every year to use as a Writer’s Notebook. Since my kids see me using one all the time, they feel pretty special having their own.
I love these color pencils for their triangular shape. Easy to grip for young fingers, and they won’t roll off the seatback tray table into the no-man’s land of airplane carpeting (trust me—you DON’T want to go there). I prefer these over crayons or pens because the Birthday Girl at three writes on everything, and I find that color pencils are more compatible with paper than any other surface. $3.49
This is a cheap extension of the notebook. When writing and drawing are exhausted, stickering will fill a few more pages and minutes. $4.99 for 156 stickers (cheaper sets available)
This is a Kindertainment superstar, worth 22 minutes of flight time, plus an additional 5 minutes after drinks arrive with straws, stirrers and other useful playdough implements. A Party Bag of Play-Doh comes with mini-tubs in many colors–simply replace as needed. $4.99 for 15.
3. Wikki Stix
The secret superstar. Better than playdough, because the uptight stewardess won’t come by and simper, “Make sure she doesn’t get it on the floor!” as if the spotlessness of the airplane floor were her own personal obsession and occupation. Wikki Stix are basically lengths of string covered with different color wax. They are easy to manipulate into beautiful shapes, stick to surfaces without being messy, and take up very little space. I used to give them to my Kindergarten students so they could practice making letter shapes. Right now a class pack is $29.99 at Lakeshore Learning, but I’ve found smaller, cheaper packs at Rite Aid. They are reusable and last a really long time, so the investment is very worthwhile.
Palm-sized books can be hard to find, but I snap them up whenever I can. They are great for travel, but also for diaper bags and purses. When kids are acting up in public, it’s usually because they need something, probably me. I can’t always be available to them, but having a book on hand creates an invitation to a lovely life-long habit: reading. As a pastime, nothing beats it, even in our digital world. And carrying a children’s book with me at all times also gives me a wonderful opportunity to connect with my children when we need it most. I’ve seen tiny Little Golden Books, and classics by Eric Carle, but my absolute favorite is the set of three books in the Bunny Planet Series–charming, poetic love stories, beautifully illustrated by the spectacular Rosemary Wells. Prices vary.
Dire times call for drastic measures. I first learned this trick on a road trip. Our hosts offered each of my children a Dum Dum lollipop from a basket they kept in the garage. I barely restrained myself from refusing the sugar, and made the discovery of a lifetime. Those lollipops were good for a full 35 minutes of silent, sucking bliss in the backseat. What a revelation! I have a friend who only lets her children drink soda when they’re flying, but the whole plastic-cup-full-of-ice-and-sticky-liquid thing wrecks my nerves. So for this flight, I went for the big ones: Tootsie Pops. Everyone was happy. $2.24 for a year’s supply.
And the Secret Secret Weapon…
The real key to keeping your little travelers entertained on a flight is to score the right seat-mate. This is where Southwest Airlines has it nailed. Southwest features unreserved seating–passengers board in groups A, B, and C and are free to choose any available seat. Families with young children board between groups A & B. I used to fume about this, thinking that those of us lugging strollers and carseats and diapers and security blankets AND babies should have top priority, but now I get it.
See, first all the type-A people you really don’t want to sit next to anyway get to stake out their territory. My kids and I then board and head to a free row toward the back of the plane. If possible, I make sure that the row in front of and behind our row are also still empty. That way, people boarding after us who might be inclined to “Tsk!” annoyingly at the slightest peep from the next generation can steer clear. And the person who comes across you and your young children and says, “Is this seat available?” is probably someone who LOVES kids, misses their grandkids, misses the diaper-and-sticky stage, and in every way will turn out to be better than a free babysitter.
Last but not least, don’t forget…
0. (Zero, In the beginning there was…) Chocolate
No explanation required. No need to show this to the children. Recommend separate, discreet pocket. This one’s for you.
- Meet Paddington! (travelswithpaddington.wordpress.com)
- Tips for Traveling with a Toddler (twohappymamas.com)
- Links embedded above post will direct you to other articles and research
Look for more articles in the Little Travelers series, coming soon to amomnextdoor.
How about you?
What are your best tips for keeping little travelers entertained on long flights? What do you always take with you when you travel with kids?