Have you ever really thought about how long 16 hours is on a plane? Sixteen. Six.Teen. That’s enough time to watch two movies, eat dinner, take a sleeping pill to knock yourself out for 8 hours, wake up and have breakfast, then watch another two movies. Pretty crazy, right?
Oh. You have kids under 5? Let me rephrase. So that’s enough time to watch 1/8th of a cartoon, spend 49 minutes on diaper changes in a tiny bathroom (only achieved by miracle of yoga), drag your fingers along the sticky floor 14 times blindly groping for a dropped toy, reposition headphones on a toddler 73 times, climb up to the overhead bins 16 times, and go through the turbulence/seat belt game 5 times. Then you notice there’s still eleven hours to go.
I’ve been making the Abu Dhabi-California flight in one form or another since 1983. The only way it’s comfortable is in business class…without kids. Not gonna lie, getting bumped up with kids is a lot better than sardine class, but I still wouldn’t call it comfortable or even remotely pleasurable.
So, as you can imagine, desperate times call for throwing smug parenting rules out of the window. Forbid sugar? Control gluten? Refuse airplane toys that aren’t BPA-free? Screen time limits? HAHAHAHA. Sure. OK. You can move along now and pass me a chocolate muffin.
I know there are many blogs/tip lists out there that recommend a load of new toys and clever activities, but for young kids there’s honestly little you can do that will distract them from the fact that they’re being restrained in one spot for over 20 consecutive minutes. And most toys end up on the (sticky) floor. I even tried triangular crayons in hopes of having less roll off the table, but no, I still end up playing the “no, YOU go touch the floor” game with my husband. What works is a loaded iPad/tablet, and the ability to use headphones.
Passive Entertainment (staring blankly at a screen without interaction)
I always start with in-flight entertainment. It’s easiest and their attention span is at the highest. It’s best if your kid has been acclimated to headphones, which is something I found out the hard way. I was pretty strict with the electronic gadgets and she had never even seen a pair – but I figured once she realized she needed to wear them to hear the movie, she’d accept it. Oh. I can be dumb sometimes. Or naïve new parent. Pick one.
That said, I did figure out that if they won’t wear the headphones, just turn the volume up to almost max and place them in their lap. Can hear it just fine but not enough to annoy other passengers.
For entertainment on the iPad, I swear by Pixar Shorts. These are quick, 5-minute animations that are usually shown in the theatres at the beginning of every Pixar movie, you can buy them for $2-3 each on iTunes. Our daughter is obsessed and so are we. They’re beautifully animated, and the majority are without dialogue so the stories are quite interpretative, especially to a toddler. Her favorites: Boundin’, The Blue Umbrella, La Luna, Day & Night.
Active Entertainment (playing games, edutainment, etc.)
Note: Some of the apps below are free to try but most need a few $ to get full functionality. I have easily tried over 20 free apps and have since deleted all as they compromise quality in some way. Either privacy (requires registration and personal information), or advertisements (which is frustrating to have your child constantly rerouted to a promotional page), or they’re just terrible, glitchy, and have no learning value whatsoever. If you disagree, PLEASE let me know of your faves in the comments. I love discovering new apps.
Forest Flyer was our daughter’s first app and it’s brilliant in its simplicity and the rest of SagoMini’s apps follow suit. There are no instructions, you just open it up and start touching the screen, unearthing little goodies along the way. No ads. No obnoxious music. No words. Just some delightful discovery. About $3 per app.
I cannot say enough good things about the Endless series. Our daughter first identified letters phonetically at 14 months old and I can safely say that was mainly due to Endless Alphabet. They’re simple, have no distracting ads, clean interface without a lot of clutter to constantly pull their attention away, and engaging enough to come back. She just turned three and STILL plays them. Easily worth the $5-$7 and you’ll be going for the expansion packs. Trust me.
Not only teaching shapes and colors, but also spatial sizes, matching, stacking, sorting. They start out pretty simple with the “1+” apps and have follow-on downloads for up to “3+” levels. They’re all free to try and paid to unlock additional games in each level, which I’ve only ever done at the request of my daughter when she’s finished the freebie levels.
Ages 3-8: Thinkrolls
Fantastic logic puzzle that kids can start playing around 2.5-3. Guiding little rolling characters through mazes and obstacles. Again, it’s simple, clean, but highly addictive. If they get stuck, just a quick tap resets them to the same screen so there isn’t the stress of a big loss of progress (something I personally hated in games). You just keep trying. $3 for the basic app.
Oh – and just before I step off my soapbox – please don’t prepare “apology bags“. Do I get one for the lady in my aisle who just HAS to have natural light and keeps her window open? Do I get one for the guy four rows back whose snoring penetrates noise-cancelling headphones? No. So it’s my job to keep my kids from acting like animals and tearing up and down the aisle, but if they start to fuss a little because they’ve been stuck in a seat for 12 hours and their patience has run out, then I ain’t apologizing for it. I might even join them.
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