Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Hey, it’s peak airport season! The time of year when you spend a lot of time in lines waiting to be barked at by airport security, and waiting to take off your shoes, and then … sometimes waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more. This is not exactly ideal when you don’t have children, but for those of us with toddlers and little kids, it’s a special stretch of total hell. So the prepared parent plans enough activities to keep little Corian and Toto engaged — and most importantly not whining or screaming — for up to, oh, 11 hours.
Stymied? We’re here to help! I asked my very large Facebook parents’ group for their suggestions on what to pack for little kids — herein defined as ages 1 to 7 — for even the longest and dreariest of airport delays. Now there are always two things that come over and over again: iPads, books, and snacks. I’m going to assume you’ve already thought of these things and have your Magic Tree House, Cheerios and Paw Patrol already loaded. But since airport delays can be really long, you might need a few more options. So here are a few more strategies for keeping your kids chill and happy in that existential prison that is an airport waiting area on a holiday weekend.
1. “Busy bags”
These are sacks or ziplocks of things that keep little fingers busy: Stringing pipe cleaners with macaroni, for example, or making beaded necklaces. Need ideas? Pinterest to the rescue.
My four-year-old would be thrilled to thread felt discs onto bendy straws. He would do this for literally hours. Or a baggie of sponges cut up into stacking shapes? Cheap, weighs almost nothing, and if your kid doesn’t like them, sayonara. One friend said she assembles travel busy bags for her toddler during long and boring conference calls, so she always has a few on hand. (As always, take care not to give choking hazards to toddlers.)
My seven-year-old would be delighted to play a scavenger hunt in an airport. Make a list of random things — a magazine, a drinking straw, a person in a suit — and have your kids check items off as they find them. Guaranteed to kill time for at least a half-hour. I Spy is also good for four or five minutes (which is my outside limit for that game). My kids also like Memory.
3. An Empty Ziplock Bag
Bear with me here. Take your ziplock to the fast food joint and squeeze in a blob of ketchup and another blob of mustard. Seal. Give it to your young toddler/old baby. You will be surprised at how long squishing that stuff around will keep her entertained.
4. Uninflated Toys
Like a beach ball, in your carry-on. If you can find an uninhabited stretch of airport, you can kick it around with your kids.
5. Small, Cheap, Lightweight Toys
Pull a new one out just as kid tires of the last one: an Magna Doodle, a Mr. Potato Head, wikki stix, a small pot of playdough, sticker books, colouring and activity books, and crafts. (Small LEGO sets too, of course, though those are not super-cheap.)
If you’re carrying a blanket or a shawl, make a tent over a chair or over your carry-ons. If you’re lucky, kid will fall asleep.
7. Finger Knitting
Older little kids can do this on their own; littler ones will enjoy helping you thread the yarn through your fingers and make a scarf or something for a doll. Skip the scissors; just bring a pre-cut length of yarn or cut it when you get to your destination.
8. Airport Play Areas
If you’re lucky, you’re stuck in a airport with decent food and a kids’ playspace. Check out this list of playgrounds and things to do with kids in various airports — Denver and Dallas look particularly awesome. If there’s no playspace, you can always watch planes take off and land and, if you’ve got enough time, ride the Skytrain/Airtrain between terminals.
9. A Roll of Scotch Tape
My son is obsessed with Scotch tape, pulling out, tearing it off, making little Blair Witch-type installations all over the house. How much does Scotch tape cost? Whatever it is, it’s worth it.
What are your best non-tech ideas for keeping your kids entertained as you’re waiting to board? Leave ’em in the comments.