Category Archives: Travel Activities

Button Snakes

Back when I was pregnant, I put together a basket of go-to activities that I could quickly pull from to keep J focused when I was busy with his little brother.  When I saw the button snake here, I knew I wanted to include it.

It was so easy to make, taking maybe 5 minutes, even with my sad skills using a needle and thread.

You need: colorful felt, scissors, ribbon, a button, needle and thread

What you do: 

  1. Cut the felt into squares (or fun shapes)
  2. Cut a small slit into each square (to fit your button)
  3. Sew one felt square near the end of your ribbon
  4. Sew a button onto the other end of your ribbon
  5. Your done!

    This was great practice for J.  He had really never tried button until this.  I made a beginner level button snake (using an extra large button) but was surprised at how quickly he caught on.

I recently made another button snake with a smaller button to increase the difficulty.  This time I cut the felt pieces into different shapes so that the pieces could also be used to sort or create various patterns as he builds the snake.

We’ve also used this activity in our airplane travel and it works great, lightweight and keeps him occupied.

Toddler’s First Chart

This is another of my beloved sticker activities (gotta love cheap, easy and educational!).  J did this on one of our plane trips and it worked beautifully. 

Sorry the picture isn't very clear; I was using my iphone on a dark plane

Prep: I created a box chart for J to fill in with the number of columns corresponding to the number of colors I had on a sticker sheet.   Since he was charting colors and this was the first time he had ever charted anything, I outlined each box in the correct color.  Honestly I think I made it too easy for him with this.  I just didn’t want to be stuck on the plane with him getting frustrated by an activity that was too difficult.  Sadly I underestimated him!

I gave J the long sheet of smiley face stickers of all different colors and he was throughly focused on charting them.  The sticker sheet had different shades of each color, so it was also good practice combining the various shades of purple/green.  After he was finished, I had him point out the longest line and the shortest line and explained how this helped us gather information about the stickers (which had the most and the least).  We then counted and labeled each bar to see if our deductions were correct.  Of course, he didn’t understand it all completely.  That’s ok.  To me, it’s a matter of introducing words and concepts that we’ll build on as he gets older. 

Look through your sticker collection to see what you can chart!

Age Attempted: 32 months

Homemade Gift: Magnetic Foam Frames

J made these to give to some of our family as a Christmas gift.  This was a homemade gift he could feel completely responsible for and KNOW that he created it himself. 

Materials: Foam, Magnetic plastic frame (from dollar store), Stickers, Buttons, Googly Eyes, Post-It Notes, Glue

Prep: I cut out the foam frames and gathered materials for J to choose from to create his gifts. **You can also buy prepackaged foam frame crafts and just add the fridge photo magnet on the back yourself.**

We had 4 frames to complete as gifts, so J chose the color for each recipient and the materials to decorate it with.  This also meant that one set of materials weren’t used (he didn’t choose the googly eyes this time).  I helped make sure he was spelling his name correctly on frames (all except one, which he declared was for Grandpa and would hold a picture of Grandma since he loved her so much… hence no need for J’s name on the frame!).  The only other involvement I had in the process was some encouragement to practice creating a pattern with the buttons.  He’s all about patterns right now though so not much need to push with that!

He also didn’t complete all the frames at one time.  After he finished a couple and chose the materials for the others, I packed some up for him to complete on the plane.  This was a great activity to do on a plane, little packing, light-weight and kept him focused.

I was so surprised to see how symmetrical he designed the frame with bubble stickers, maybe he’s finally getting out of that stage where he wants to stack stickers on top of each other! 

After everything had dried, I glued a magnetic frame (bought at a dollar store) onto the back so the frames could be placed on a fridge and photos could be traded out easily. **Be sure you don’t glue the frame closed so that photos can be changed out later.**

Age attempted: 33 months

Flying with an Infant

Since we are often flying the friendly skies (between 6-8 trips per year which comes out to about 12-18 plane rides yearly), I thought I would share my thoughts on flying with J at each age. J’s first plane trip was at 6 weeks and he now has his own frequent flyer card.   I will certainly acknowledge that the frequency of our travelling really helps when it comes to his behavior both in the airport and on the plane.  He knows what to expect, he knows what we expect, and he knows what will happen if he breaks the rules.  Of course he wasn’t born this way.  It’s been a learning process for us all (and we’re still learning!).  So here’s a little that I have learned over the past couple years.

First off is babyhood.  This age group is by far the easiest to fly with (at least in my experience so far).  You don’t need anything to entertain them.  They entertain themselves (just see how J is fully engrossed in his fists!).  They will most likely sleep for the majority of the trip which is just beautiful.  Enjoy it!  They grow out of this stage and you will soon be working the whole flight! 

What to Bring (this is not an all-inclusive list; I’m trying to remember back a few years ago!):

  • Extra clothes for baby and for parent - It’s amazing how a child with no prior blow-outs can suddenly surprise you in mid-air.  I always dressed J in the footed pjs so I wasn’t worried about him losing socks.  It was just easy for us.  If you choose to dress your little one in shoes, security does require you to remove their shoes too.  Save a step and leave the shoes in the luggage. 
  • Antibacterial wipes – I wipe down EVERYTHING when we first sit down; who knows who sat there before you and the cleaning crew does NOT clean windows, trays and arm rests thoroughly
  • Diapers and wipes - of course, right?  Pack even more than you would normally need for the duration of travel.  Layovers happen. Blowouts happen.
  • Carrier -this is the easiest way to travel through airports. Most security lines do NOT require you to remove your baby from a wrap/carrier.  **Of course, if they ask you to remove them, don’t ask questions.  It will do no good.  Just comply and move on through.**  Definitely keep them attached to you unless directed otherwise.  This provides one less step while going through security.  I have traveled alone with my infant J in a stroller.  You are left trying to close the stroller, hold your baby (who of course just fell asleep so now you’re waking him up with all the joggling), get that stroller up on the security belt while of course dealing with your other belongings too.  Even if you need a stroller for your trip, I would still recommend wearing baby through the airport.  It’s just easier.
  • Changing mat or burp cloth - I had a small bag that fit inside my larger diaper bag with a changing mat that carried a few diapers, wipes, and a change of clothes.  I liked having this so I didn’t have to carry the big diaper bag down the aisles to that tiny restroom. **Oh and some planes do not have a changing table in the restroom(albiet the smaller ones; honestly we’ve only been on one in all our travels) .  One more reason it’s nice to have that changing mat/cloth just in case. A burp cloth works well since you could potentially use it for other things if needed.
  • Feeding supplies - I nursed J even on the plane, at first using a nursing cover but later I found a zip-up sweater worked even better.  It was one less thing I needed to bring on the plane and honestly I always felt conspicuous with that huge nursing cover whereas I could easily tuck J’s head behind one side of the sweater to nurse and no one even knew.  Nursing works great on a plane.  If you bottle feed, I personally suggest the Drop-Ins for travel.  You only have to bring one actual bottle and then just toss the insert when finished and refill a new insert when needed.  Less bulk to pack, no worries about cleaning out the bottle before the next feeding.  I have used these before during travel and they worked well.  For long flights I dried some dishsoap on a sponge, cut them up into small squares and then used one to clean out the nipple (or later sippy cup) for later use. 
  • Bib- J rarely needed bibs on a normal basis, but I always had one on him during flights.  It saved us from having to change clothes if he were to suddenly spit up or drool excessively. 
  • Small Pillow - this may seem excessive, but it was worth it for me.  I happened to own a small sponge contour pillow that worked perfectly.  It wasn’t bulky, it curved up around the edges to keep J centered.  I could simply lay the pillow on my lap and then J on the pillow which kept us both cooler and more comfortable.  It also worked well as a temporary nursing pillow. 

General Tips:

Stay relaxed and remember this too shall pass. Yes, you will of course hit turbulence RIGHT when you’re in the bathroom, beginning to peel that blow out diaper off your infant.  Yes the pilot will come over the announcement to warn everyone to get back in their seats at that moment.  Just stay relaxed, try and see the humor in the situation.   Yes, your baby might decide to scream through security, even if they’ve never shed a tear prior.  Just keep calm. This too shall pass.  Yes, your infant will fill their diaper to overflowing RIGHT when the plane leaves the gate and you aren’t allowed up to change them while waiting in that 30 minute line for takeoff.  Just stay calm.  This too shall pass. Getting annoyed or stressed does nothing to help you or your little one.  I fully believe our little ones excel in reading body language.  They will read into your stress and become more easily agitated themselves.  That will do no one any good.

Keep a sense of humor about the trip.  I know I mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating.

 Show your little one off to the other passengers when you are waiting to leave the gate (don’t force your baby on them, but let them admire them all they want).  Be friendly with them.  Tell them how old your little one is, even be honest about your nerves but also mention you will do your best to keep your guy calm and content throughout the flight. This serves multiple purposes.  It helps you remain calm.  It helps them remember you are a fellow human, not just some mother who dared bring their child on a plane just to annoy them!  It helps them hold their patience a little longer if that adorable baby decides to cry for awhile…. or stinks up the plane momentarily.

Don’t worry about routines.  On a normal basis, I am a proponent of schedules and routines for J.  On planes, I am just fine with getting off the routine.  If J wanted to sleep longer while flying, fine.  If he wanted to eat more often, no problem.  My goal was keep him content, which has great side benefits:  mom/dad is kept content and of course the other passengers on the plane remain content too. 

Feed baby just before entering airport.  This honestly always worked best for us when J was an infant and young baby.  J would often get a catnap on the way to the airport and I would feed him in the car upon arrival.  This meant he was well-rested and well-fed BEFORE either of us had to deal with the craziness inside.  You don’t want a hungry baby in the security line or while heading onto the plane.  They will also likely be at least hungry enough to feed a little (though not necessary, see next tip for more) upon departure if you want them to suck on something during take-off.

Don’t worry about ear pressure.  That’s seems to be a very common question I get about flying with little ones.  J has never had an issue with his ears while flying.  In talking with other moms, they’ve told me the same thing.  To be safe, I would be sure there is no ear infection prior to your trip and then don’t worry about it.  **I should note that there was one instance where J’s pediatrician found an ear infection in one ear eventhough J had NO symptoms at all.  I had just taken him to the doctor pre-travel as a precaution.  I’m so glad we did.  I wouldn’t want to get on the plane only to realize then that his ears were a problem. **

It’s true that drinking or sucking on something helps to relieve pressure in the ear, so be prepared just in case. But if your little one is sleeping, my suggestion is let them sleep.  Don’t worry about their ears. I see parents on planes waking their sleeping baby up for takeoff/landing to feed them fearful that their little one will be in pain.  Usually they end up with a fussy baby that didn’t want to wake up and doesn’t want to eat.  With the pressurization on planes today, cabin pressure is not a big problem at all.  If you notice anything it would most likely be during the initial descent (about 30 minutes prior to landing), but even then a problem is unlikely.  They are way better with this today than 20 or 30 years ago when we were flying as kids.  Again, J has never had a problem.

Most importantly, flying gets you to where you need to be… and does so quickly (comparitively speaking).  You will make it and your little one will make it.  I would not let fear of travelling with an infant keep me from flying.   Go and have fun!

And you might just make it with ease. Actually while flying with an infant, this is entirely likely!

I’ll be posting my thoughts, experiences and helpful activities for flying with older babies, pretoddlers and toddlers soon.

Stringing Buttons

Iphone photo from plane trip

This is an activity J has done both at home and on airplanes.  I found a big bag of colorful buttons, in different sizes.  Set out some string and he was focused threading them for 30 minutes at least.  This is a good fine motor skill activity.  J is a very organized little boy so he typically wants to sort the buttons by color, matching each with the corresponding color string…. which meant mom had to track down string to match each button :) 

We’ve also tried stringing the buttons by size but this hasn’t been J’s favorite activity.  He’d much rather sort colors.  It’s still a great practice activity to try.  I’ll bring it out again after awhile.  If you do plan on sorting by size, I would start with a just a few buttons and as your little one excels increase the number of buttons to sort and/or decrease the difference in sizes. 

Traveling:  We started using this activity on planes when J was old enough to keep track of the buttons.  We keep them in a ziploc and he takes out one at a time.  I only bring the larger buttons with us and he strings them on  pipe cleaners instead of string.  I like multiple uses for travel toys and pipe cleaners offer lots of other uses.

Lesson learned: Using pipe cleaners to thread is much easier than using string.  This makes activities like this (or stringing beads, stringing sponges ) possible for younger ones. You can bend down the sharp ends of the pipe cleaners.

Age attempted: 27 months

Homemade Toy: Audio Books

When I was little my grandmother used to record stories on tape for us.  We still have some of them!  She also sent some to my cousins who were overseas at the time.  I think this is an awesome gift for little ones that live far away.  They get to hear your voice on a consistent basis, acting out your love from thousands of miles away by reading stories to them!

A few years ago I took the same concept and made a set of books on CD for my nephews (age 2 and 3 at the time).  I chose some favorite books from childhood and recorded myself (and my husband) reading them using my computer. 

I used a free recording software called Audacity.  It worked well.  Their software was easy to use and easy to edit.  I later went in and added a little chime sound for when the page should be turned.  The software made it easy to dub the chime to my saved recording.  Just Google “free sound effects” to find a wide array of choices.  Finally I burned all the stories onto a cd, made a cute little cover for it and packaged cd and books together for my nephews. 

We also recorded some fun family stories and songs and I added a few stories from my grandma and grandpa (using the tapes they gave us as kids).  

I should add that I am not a technological expert by any means.  I have trouble with Facebook! :)  I guarantee that if I could do this, anyone could. 

It really wasn’t a difficult project to complete and I think it’s a great gift.  I recently burned all those same stories onto a cd for J so it’s become a gift that keeps on giving!  It’s been great to use on road trips and plane trips.  It also works great while cooking dinner.

If you’re still deciding on a Christmas gift for a little one in your family, you should try this out! 

Age attempted: 2 and 3 (for nephews and for J)

Homemade Game: What’s In the Stocking?

We played this fun and simple game and ever since J has been bringing me the stocking and asking to play again. 

How to Play:  Gather a group of items from around the house with different shapes, textures, and purpose.  Older children could handle more suddle differences in the objects.  Keep them hidden from sight.  Place one item in a Christmas stocking and have your little one feel inside and make a guess at what the item is.  I encouraged J to describe the item as he felt it to help him make an educated guess. 

This is so simple, no reason not to try it!  With older kids you could even make this a game you play on Christmas morning.  Younger ones might have a hard time with guessing items they’ve haven’t seen yet. 

This is great for exploring textures, using simple deductive reasoning, and practicing descriptive words.

Last night we reversed rolls.  He hid things inside and brought me the stocking to make a guess.  It actually worked great while I was cooking.  It kept him well occupied.  Every few minutes I heard, “Mommy no peeking! Just look!”  (What he meant was, “no peeking, just feel”).  Of course it took him awhile to realize he should let me make a guess before he told me what it was.  He was just so excited!

Age attempted: 31 months (certainly can be done earlier!)

**I’m even categorizing this as a good travel activity since a similar version could easily be done in the car or on a plane.  Just use a bag or the seat-back pocket on the plane.

Homemade Toy: Magnetic Pompoms

When I was writing the Apple Picking post, I realized I never actually introduced our magnetic pompoms.  This has been a great homemade toy for J.  I saw it multiple places online when J was much younger and just waited until I was confident he would be safe with the small magnets.  We’ve never had one fall off, but you never know. I wouldn’t leave little ones alone with this toy until you were 100% confident they wouldn’t try a taste test.

This is a great addition to a busy box gift for older toddlers/preschoolers.  Include the pompoms, a small cookie sheet (found at dollar stores) and some blank templates and/or patterns to follow.  A great and unique toy on a budget. It would even be a good homemade Christmas gift.

To Make: All you do is hot glue magnets onto the back of pompom balls.  Use the free magnets you get in the mail to save money or buy roll of magnets from the craft store.  You won’t need an entire roll, so it can be used for other things as well.  Be sure to include a variety of color pompoms and a large number of each color.  The more you have, the more your little one can create.  You can also use multiple sizes of pompoms if you want (I’ve only made one size).  Add a cookie sheet and you have a great toy.   Something about pompoms intrigues kids.

1. They can design pictures freely. 

No my toddler did not create this picture :)  This is one I made for him as he called out things to create.  I forgot to snap pictures of his creations, though he makes a pretty good sun!

This homemade toy can be as simple as this and it will be worth the effort.

2. Black and white templates can be printed for them to fill in creatively.

I made this blank pompom template  for J to use.  You can also check out the links at the bottom of this post for sites I’ve found with printables.

3. Color printouts encourage them to match the correct colors.

 Here he is matching the pompoms to the corresponding colored circle in the gumball machine.  This type of activity is especially good for younger toddlers that are still working on their colors and fine motor skills.

It’s really easy to create your own, just copy and paste from Google images and add some colorful circles.

4. Patterns, sorting, counting, and colors

  I started the patterns and he found the right pompoms to continue it.  You could also show them a picture of a pattern and ask them to copy it on their own.  Preschoolers could work on much more intricate patterns or designs.

This shows some color sorting as well as our intro to bar graphs where he compared the different bars to decide which had the most/the least, which were equal,…  We finished by counting each bar to see we were right.

6. Shapes, Location

 As of now we create them together, he copies my examples (or tries to),  or he gives me instructions on what to create and where (good directional practice for them).

For older ones you can give them instructions to create a certain color/size shape, include location of the shape to increase the difficulty (ex: make a purple triangle inside the circle).

6. Letters and Numbers  

Have your little one trace letters and numbers or “write” them on their own using the pompoms.  You can draw large block letters or numbers for them to fill in with the pompoms.  They can match the correct number of pompoms next to the correct number.  Or check out the list of online templates I found. 

I’ve seen activity books for Dot Markers that would work well with magnetic pompoms.  Of course any of the templates for magnetic pompoms could also be used with Dot Markers or circles stickers too.

Other Printable Templates: 

Shapes  and Colors (from Home Grown Hearts)

Number cards (from 1+1+1=1)

Numbers (from Making Learning Fun)

Upper Case Letters and Lower Case letters (from Making Learning Fun)

B&W Pictures (From Making Learning Fun)

Color Pictures (From Making Learning Fun)

(For the Making Learning Fun templates, I had to copy the templates and paste it onto ppt to expand each picture.  When I printed these straight from the website, the circles were much smaller than I wanted.)

If you find any other great templates let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

More Sticker Sorting for Travel (or anytime)

This is an activity we’ve done on an airplane that works really well.  

Prep: I printed out pictures of a road, the water and the sky. You could definitely just draw these as part of the activity on the plane.  I then cut out stickers of things that were found in each location.  I placed the stickers in a zip-up pencil bag.  J pulled out one sticker at a time and decided which setting it should be placed in.  This worked really well and kept him occupied for awhile (he had a lot of stickers to place). 

We’ve also done a similar activity in a hotel room.  I drew a train track, road and lake on some paper and he found stickers to place on each.  He was then quite content to drive his cars around the tiny road for quite awhile!

Finally we’ve done something similar at a restaurant.  I have a random assortment of items in my purse at any given moment.  In this case stickers and index cards.  We drew a setting on each one and he sorted the stickers. 

These type of activities would also work well for long doctor appointments and car rides

We do lots of sticker sorting around here since it is a great way for J to practice categories and also helps him with fine motor skills (getting the stickers off really works those pincher muscles).  It also requires little prep on my part and the only supplies necessary are paper and stickers! 

Here are a couple other examples I’ve posted on in the past:

Sorting Colors with Stickers

Counting with Stickers  

We’ve also done shapes, seasons, letters and animal homes.  The possibilities are limited only by your sticker collection.

Great Products: Vinyl Sticker Books

SOLD OUT! RUSH HOUR MINI PLAY SCENE               This is a GREAT travel toy.  I bought one about a year ago and have brought it on every flight we’ve taken since.  It is always a winner.  It’s light weight (a must for a travel toy IMO).  We have the Rush Hour version shown here.  There are a TON of choices out there.  Here’s a quick list, though it’s really only showing one particular brand. They are a little more expensive but we have more than gotten our money out of this toy! I’ve found other examples at Ross, Marshall’s and TJ Maxx too.  I just bought a couple new ones and am excited to show them to J.

This would also be great to take on a road trip, to the doctor’s office, and to restaurants. 

TIP:  Don’t toss the empty sticker sheets!  J spends just as much time returning the pieces to the correct spot as he does putting them on the actual board.  And it’s great matching practice since he really has to focus on the outline shape of each piece to find where they go. 

Age attempted: started between 16 and 18 months (if your little one can handle stickers, they can handle this toy), still a winner at 2.5 years