One of the first adages of flying with children is give in to the screen. Allowing your kids more screen time during travel makes life easier for everyone, but what do we do now that governments are moving to ban laptops and iPads from some international flights? In my post a few years ago, I outlined our favorite electronic free activities for babies to pre-schoolers, but what about elementary aged children? This is the age group that is of particular concern for families who have gotten used to handing over the iPad for long flights, no longer bringing bags of stuff to entertain them.
You need a backup plan. Here are some tried and tested items to have on hand to entertain your kids while traveling. Sadly the loser in the whole thing is you. Gone are the days where you can enjoy your quiet time while your kid is happily engaged with the iPad for 12 hours!
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1. Activity Books
While activity books may not appeal to all ages, the younger elementary kids still find it fun to challenge themselves with different reading, math and mind activities including mazes and dot-to-dot. For the younger set, check out simple, short books loaded with code breakers and math activities like in the Write & Wipe Book. Lonely Planet’s Bordom Buster Book also looks super fun and filled with ideas for any type of trip.
Don’t forget our childhood favorite, MadLibs, which elementary kids (even the younger set) will enjoy playing with each other and you over and over again. And they do still sell coloring books believe it or not! If your kid is into coloring books, pick out a few that you can do together even!
Tip: If you don’t want to lug around books, make your own DIY activity folder filled with your child’s favorite activities. Print out coloring sheets, numbers and letter practice sheets, dot-to-dot’s, mazes, homemade postcards and other activities free online that your child enjoys. Look for items relating to your destination to get them excited about the trip. To make these worksheets reusable for the duration of your trip, put the printouts inside clear page protectors and bring dry erase markers.
There are a ton of great card games for kids. The only problem is most of them require two players..that means you mom! Simple card games are easy to travel with and very versatile. We love UNO, Go Fish, War and Spot It. These are great for number recognition for younger kids, greater/less than learning and observation. I’m always looking for learning opportunities even in play!
3. Travel Games
Travel games can start to weigh you down if you are trying to travel light. However, there are a few that are great for traveling and can easily tuck into your carry-on bag. We love these Magnetic Mini Travel games and our newest favorite is OK Play (available at Target in June 2017). OK Play is basically like connect 4 but in a small, easy to travel package. There are also other miniature games like the Grab and Go Battleship, Monopoly, Sorry and more.
4. Wikki Stix
Wikki Stix has to be one of the best inventions for kids. Long strips of moldable wax that are small, light and can keep kids of all ages busy for more than 2 minutes! Wikki Stix last forever, and do not mark or discolor surfaces. Make sunglasses, 3D figures or work on the alphabet and numbers.
5. String & Bead Sets
Boys and girls alike will have fun stringing bracelets, necklaces and more while traveling. You can purchase pre-sorted kits or make your own. Get some fun accessory items like key rings for them to make gifts for people while en route. These items can keep kids busy for many minutes. For younger kids, you can also use pipe cleaners and pony beads instead of string and small beads. This helps kids work on their fine motor skills all while having fun. For older kids, switch out the pipe cleaners for elastic cord or pre-made necklace cords and use smaller beads. If your kids really get into this activity, head over to a local fancy bead shop to pick out some nice ones to add into the projects.
6. Weaving Loom
A DIY cardboard weaving loom is a simple, easy to prepare and light activity for kids of all ages. Again, this works on fine motor skills, but it also produces a great gift! Check out this tutorial on how to make your own at home. You can make your boards as big or as little you would like. Make a square board to create cool woven coasters or make long and narrow boards for wall hangings. Cut up loads of cool yarn in different sizes before you leave home, pack it in a ziplock, get your plastic needles and you have a light project to keep kids busy throughout the trip. My son likes to come up with color themes for his different trips. For Africa, he had colors he thought he’d see in the bush!
7. Craft Bag
A miscellaneous craft bag is a must pack on all of our trips. Most kids can come up with plenty of things to do with a well stocked craft bag. Make sure to include kid scissors (non pointed tips with small blades are allowed on flights leaving the US, but may be confiscated on your way back home), a glue stick, elastic string, washi tape, regular tape, hole punch, popsicle sticks, stickers, crayons, markers and colored pencils with lots of paper in your bag. Add in any additional items your kid uses frequently like pipe cleaners, beads or stencils. On your return flight home, use these blank books and items collected during the trip to create a scrap book.
No one wants to bring a ton of toys along on an international trip, but there are a few toys that can help entertain kids for a while. These include lego sets and/or just a bag full of random legos that you grabbed from the bin and of course things like Polly Pockets or Shopkins. Whatever it is that your kid is super into (Pokemon anyone?) is a good bet to bring along for the ride. Want to flashback in time? Buy your kid a Rubix Cube! This is a great one for the older set as it provides a great challenge without being too horribly frustrating that they quit. Ok.. they may quit, I know I still do, but it’s good to break things up, and give fidgety fingers something to do for a while.
Bringing a multitude of books has become something of the past these days with e-readers, however with new bans being imposed, you just may not be able to take your reader with you. Think about bringing a fun (and long) chapter book with you. Even if your kids are not fully reading on their own yet, you can quietly read to them along the way. Reading on flights and while waiting for transportation is a great way to show your kids that reading books doesn’t have to happen just at home before bed, and that we can all put down the screens a little bit too!
10. Old iPhones
Ok, so not electronic free, but remember those old phones you were planning to sell, but never got around to? Well now they are going to come in handy. If that is all that you can take on international flights, then that will have to replace iPads for the time being. Use an old iPod Touch or phones to download favorite games, movies and some Netflix shows. If you are going this way, don’t forget to download some music and podcasts as well. Some of our favorite podcasts are: But Why?: A Podcast for Curious Kids, Brains On and Wow in the World.
Have several kids who will want to share? Get this awesome headphone splitter so everyone can listen together.
Whew. That’s all I have up my sleeve for our next electronic light international trip! I hope this list helps you think a bit more about how you can survive without the iPad on your next trip too. There is almost always some kid friendly entertainment on the in-flight entertainment as well, so never fear you won’t have to entertain your kids the entire time. Don’t forget to bring lots of snacks! This always helps break up activities and boredom on long flights. Most importantly, bring your bag of patience and sense of humor for those long travel days when everyone gets irritable!
Do you have more ideas on how to keep elementary aged kids entertained on long trips? Share them with us below!
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