Spring Break. By Mom.

Traveling with kids can be overwhelming, but a quick trip to the drugstore (you need swimmies, snacks and travel size items anyway) and a sweep of your crafts supplies can keep kids exceptionally busy and quiet, earning you the very coveted “Your children were so well-behaved” praise at the baggage carousel from the very folks who dreaded sitting next to you at the boarding gate.

On a recent flight, a little girl in the row ahead of us spent a third of the flight watching Toy Story on top volume on her DVD player and the remainder ogling our crafting through the space between two seats and then while standing in the aisle next to me.  Ever enjoying my popularity, I offered to share our supplies, even for her to sit in the extra seat in our row/painting and collage studio. Her mom immediately declined, “Glue is the last thing we need. She can just watch.”

So she watched Noah and me make this:

In the mother’s defense, she was flying alone with said two-year old girl and a nine-month old son.  Still, I disagree. Ninety-nine cents worth of washable, non-toxic Elmer’s glue is exactly what she needed.  And I’m pretty sure I could have gotten black market prices for the googly eyes we brought with us. I doled out two to my Toy Story friend and two to the girl a few rows back, whose mom ended up crawling on the floor looking for a lost one. (As I talk about these parents, they’re probably still cursing me and all my messy crafts and rolling googlies).

Even though my kids don’t always go for paper crafts at home, there’s a few things going for art at 20,000 feet: (1) there are few other things to do (especially if I leave the digital items at home or stowed in the overhead bins), and (2) the kids have my complete and utter attention, without competition from my cell phone, the dishwasher or kitchen counter.  Although I bring my computer, kindle, magazines and un-dealt with mail along, I generally count on getting nothing accomplished except arriving at my destination with decently happy children who haven’t made anyone else’s flight more difficult.

A blank journal, the basic ten pack case of oval watercolors (may want to bring an extra brush for siblings or replacements), a tape dispenser, kids’ scissors and a thin permanent marker/Sharpie – and you’ve got yourself a moving art station few kids can resist.  We are not big on workbooks, but during our travels, Noah loved working on a new ABC dot-to-dot book (with some help) and Ryan nearly finished an adding and subtraction workbook. For our last trip, I also made a quick pass through our crafts baskets and brought some 4 by 6 canvas boards, stickers leftover from Disney, strips of glossy colorful paper from a paper chain project, wire, buttons and beads, foam stickers and paint chips with the little square windows. New supplies are fun for everyone; we used watercolor pencils (color than wash over with water) for the first time on board:

I’ll add pictures in here when I take some of the kids’ journals, but here are some activities we’ve used on the fly once the kids run out of ideas with their blank pages:

  • With a Sharpie, I drew some very basic and silly characters from favorites songs and stories (Old MacDonald, Five Little Monkeys, Goldilocks & the Three Bears,  The Three Little Pigs). As we sang and told stories, Noah painted with watercolors. The permanent marker doesn’t run, but looks beautiful and crisp with the paint. Kind of like this:
  • Cut the map of the US (or World) out of the airline’s magazine. Trace it with a Sharpie and star your home base and destination. Then let the kids use watercolors to paint the country and surrounding waters. Ryan liked this one, though I couldn’t get him to try this “Map of My Heart” exercise from Playful Learning:

Leftover plane activities can be enjoyed throughout your vacation. In Kansas City, we got our kids through an upscale French bistro dinner with pomme frites AND foam beads they strung into necklaces and swords (its almost ALWAYS a sword) with craft wire.  Tape and glue are perfect for found treasures.

A Few Age-Specific Favorites:
Under Age 2: Bring a favorite toy and book from home, plus some new ones your child hasn’t seen before. “Make” special toys like an repurposed old wallet stuffed with pretend credit cards and money and a photo album of baby’s friends and family. Be prepared to pull out every nursery rhyme and lap song you know or learn some new ones. When you run out of toys, remember that you are the entertainment: whisper secrets, crumble pieces of paper from the in-flight magazine for baby to play with, take walks down the aisle, look out the window, get to know some other passengers. Gypsy Momma offers 100 minutes of parent-led entertainment for babies, like using a barfbag as a puppet, banging on paper cups with coffee stirrers, etc. If you can get a water bottle from the beverage service, you can also bring a few items to stuff in there and make baby an interesting shaker toy.
Ages 2-4: New books and art supplies can keep this crowd very busy. Don’t be afraid of mildly messy activities like glue and play dough.  Make a Happy Baby Puffs or Cheerios necklace (use a sturdy string, wire or lanyard as yarn can be frustrating for little fingers).
New toys from the dollar store or bins can be good diversions; try a magnifying glass or a measuring tape for exploring. You may be surprised (I was!) that your little ones are ready for simple card games like this Go Fish game that irresistibly teaches kids new names for colors (chartreuse, indigo and jade are now normal vocabulary for Noah’s two-year old friend Frances).
Ages 4-7: This is an antsy crowd once DVD player batteries run out. Their brains need stimulation and its up to you! Play I Spy, 20 Questions,  Police Sketch Artist, have an airplane scavenger hunt or try these cute tray-top games. You may need to allow something a tad physical like thumb wrestling or this handheld GyroWheel that my five year old loved on our trip to Kansas.

What Else: If this list becomes a checklist for anyone, I must be sure to add: pack lots of extra clothes, maybe even for Mom or Dad, and tons of ziploc bags (in your carry-on and in checked luggage), and of course, plenty of your usual supplies.  On my last trip, I also saw for the first time, a pacifier stamped with the words “Mute Button,” which had to make all passengers smile a bit.  We use Mute Buttons too; we call them iPAD, iPHONE, LeapPad and candy.

Not Traveling this Week?  Make your own fruit roll-ups with Love U Madly with the kids or                                                                  have a Spring Break BBQ and sport some jello shots (for the adults) to honor days gone by, today on Love U Madly

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  1. Lori S. says:

    I’ve been hesitant to take play-dough on the the plane, unsure if it would make it through the security checkpoint w/o being confiscated. Have you run into any problems @ security w/ it?

  2. leah says:

    jodes, tell me why you aren’t big on workbooks. just curious for later on. xoxo

    • So, numero 1, my oldest son just does not like to practice for the sake of practicing. I have to make the learning fun…find something in the room that starts with R, looks for letters in road signs. He’s so smart and has great focus, but he just doesn’t want to sit and practice letters/reading etc. I also subscribe to his preschool’s theory on developing readers & writers – you want them to get familiar with sounds and letter recognition, but what’s most important is developing their fine motor skills in any way, which does not require a pencil and writing/tracing letters and nurturing their curiosity in the world around them. No rush on reading and writing, just on exploring and using their fingers. You can check out http://www.playfullearning.com and http://thewritestart.typepad.com/ (websites and books) for more on developing readers and writers and explorers.

  3. bonnie says:

    I was just on a flight near a child whose parents brought nothing on board to keep her busy. Wish I sat next to you!

  4. stacey says:

    Great ideas! In response to Lori S., we had our play dough confiscated at security before a flight last February. A brand-new, still-in-the-plastic multipack containing several containers of play dough. Not even the tears and sobs of my then 4-year old and 1-year old could sway the TSA worker, who callously tossed the whole thing in the trash right in front of them. And they looked soooo sad and pathetic.

    • Hi Stacey & Lori. I have successfully travelled with both play dough (not even close to a liquid – I can’t understand what TSA could find objectionable) and glue (arguably a liquid, but just completed 5 legs with Elmers), though TSA did seize our Happy Baby Food Fruit/Veggie Squeezers (over 3 ounces, though totally considered baby food)! I’ll check TSA’s website. Guess my advice is don’t bring too much (maybe split part in your carry-on, part in your checked luggage) so you/your wallet won’t be too devastated by the seizure (even if your kids are)!

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