Home Air Travel Five screen-free favorites to keep kids entertained during long flights

Five screen-free favorites to keep kids entertained during long flights

by Shelly Rivoli
Use tangrams to help keep kids entertained on flights and in airports

Tangram tiles travel easily, require no batteries, and can be used to make flat images or stacked for a 3-D effect.

In case you haven’t heard the buzz, it’s “Screen-Free Week,” and I have to say that, while I’m not above using videos to help keep kids entertained during travel, so far we’ve managed to keep it to a minimum–and I like it that way. But guess what? This screen-free week we’re setting out on a 5+ hour flight!

No, I’m not taking a vow to do the entire flight screen-free. The one time I find screens most helpful is on airplanes, where it’s not so easy to keep little ones entertained looking out the window and even I shy away from bellowing out those “easy songs to sing” I recommend for road trips.

Truth is, going screen-free on airplanes these days is hardly an option. There’s often a screen implanted in front of every single passenger on the airplane, and you’ll likely be instructed to stare at it at least during the flight safety instruction. Fortunately, children’s programming is available on these flights, though not all of it is great.

Nevertheless, 5+ hours straight of TV is too much sitting still and staring for any child. So here are some of our screen-free favorites for passing time in the airport and on the airplane, which help young kids use their hands and imaginations in constructive and travel-friendly ways.

Melissa and Doug wooden pattern blocks set1. Tangrams. These usually wooden tiles are available in so many sizes, shapes, and colors, with sets suitable from children 3 years old and up. While there are many kits or box sets available in travel-friendly sizes (Melissa & Doug pattern blocks shown here), my kids have most enjoyed having a baggie full of the pieces and a booklet of animals to make. They follow the patterns as well as create their own imaginary scenes, sometimes laying the design flat (like this fox) and other times stacking them for a 3-D effect. Click here to see some of the tangram puzzle sets available.

Wikki stix for travel2. Wikki Stix. If you haven’t yet added Wikki Stix (or similar product) to your travel toolbox, these can be a great activity with no mess or clean up required (just don’t let that cute Wikki Man melt into the dashboard of your rental car, ahem). They are bendable, reusable, and can be used to make simple flat designs, or rolled and wrapped to make 3-dimensional objects. Most sets include idea cards that show simple ways to make a design. This activity set is ideal for travel with a small board, set of wikki stix, and all pack into a travel pouch. Recommended for children 3 years and older. Click here to see more Wikki Stix sets.

The travel-size doodle pro tag-along for travel with toddlers3. Travel Doodle Pro (Tag Along). If you missed my ode to the travel-size Doodle Pro earlier this year, you can click here to read in detail (and rhyme) how it’s helped our family, saved my sanity, and yes, inspired poetry.  Just imagine what it might do for your family! As you can see, it’s handy for even the youngest scribblers and is always ready for more. Click here to see the line-up of travel-size Doodle Pro drawing boards.


4. Log cabin art with coffee stir sticks.

Make a 2-dimensional log cabin with wooden stir sticks from a cafe.

This one is free, reusable, compostable, and so much fun that you’ll have a hard time not building one on your own tray table. Don’t forget to swipe a handful of complimentary wooden stir sticks from the airport cafe before your flight (with plenty of extras for yourself). See more in your copy of Take-Along Travels with Baby or in this post.

Another screen-free alternative for travel with kids: Crayola no-mess, no-drip watercolors.5. Crayola No-Mess Watercolors. I first recommended these in this post, where you can read more about these brilliant paints. For best results, don’t let your child use them at home or until well into your flight, when the freedom to paint feels most unexpected–and appreciated! Pack along a spiral drawing pad or just use airline-issue napkins. Click here to see more Crayola No-Mess products you may like for travel.

Want more screen-free alternatives to help keep your kids busy during travel? There are dozens of tips, ideas, and inspiration in Take-Along Travels with Baby.

Wish us good luck on our next flight, and here’s wishing you the best on yours!

Previous Post: Photo Fave: Tree of Life at Arenal Lodge, Costa Rica

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli

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darngooddigs May 1, 2012 - 5:50 pm

Our last 5+ hr trip with our five year old (who is now 6) was from NYC to Helsinki.

Our first tip for screen-free is sleep! We try to make sure our son is super tired and going to pass out on the plane. Overnight flights are great for that. But if the trip is during the day, we’re fans of getting him tired by running around in the morning.

Our second go-to activity is mazes. He loves them.

And our third is stained glass books that he can color, and then put in the plane window. Dover sells them for about $1.50, and he loves them.

But we’re also not against watching some tv on the plane too. After all, we do too – it makes the trip go faster.

Darn Good Digs – guide to the world’s best independently owned accommodations for budget-minded travelers

Shelly Rivoli May 1, 2012 - 7:48 pm

My daughters LOVE those stained glass coloring books! Great idea – as long as they won’t fight over the window seat! (Baby brother will likely be there…) Thanks for the suggestions!

Shelly Rivoli May 1, 2012 - 5:30 pm

Yes, there is a BIG case for toys with fewer pieces during travel… and at our house! Once they are well into preschool, assigning a ziploc baggie of 10 pieces can work (they count and know when they lose one).

Wendy May 1, 2012 - 5:16 pm

We love Wikki Stix and the MagnaDoodles are great from older babies on up! With two very young children (1.5 and 3) we’re not quite at tangrams yet. (Or anything else with a zillion pieces – we don’t appreciate having to do yoga on the plane, picking them all up 😉 ). Since we have iPhones, there’s always a screen available. It’s nice to have it up your sleeve for when all else fails, but it wouldn’t be my choice to start out with, either. Heck – by somewhere around the zillionth hour on the plane, I’m desperate to just chill out with some screen time, too! 🙂

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