As any parent knows, if there’s an ideal time for your toddler to be quiet and entertained, it’s during travel. We’re constantly searching for fun activities and engaging toys that will hold our children’s attention long enough to get us from place to place, whether it’s on an airplane ride or long car trip to Grandma’s house. Even better if the toy has educational value and helps practice or reinforce new skills! Here are 10 of my favorite travel toys for keeping little ones busy and learning, even when you’re stuck together in your seats at 30,000 feet.
Sometimes it’s important to look at the world from a child’s point of view. Recommended for ages 5 and up, this instant camera is a major upgrade from the Polaroid cameras I adored as a child, and empowers kids to tell the story of their trips through their own lens. With this adorable panda-shaped model, you can either print photos immediately after you take them, or connect them to your phone and save them for later. The bundle comes with two refill packs (each refill will take 300 images) so you won’t run out! When you get home, you could compile all the photos in a scrapbook so you’ll always have memories of your time together. Note that there is a small learning curve with figuring out how to use the buttons, but a little bit of practice will have your junior photographer on their way in no time.
Magna-Tiles have been a favorite in my house since my kiddos were old enough to play with them. Because they’re magnetic and the set isn’t super big, these are a much more portable option than regular blocks or LEGOs, making them ideal for travel when small pieces are likely to get lost. Not to mention, the opportunities for creativity and open-ended play are endless. This particular set comes with four safari figurines, so your child can easily create their own story and build a fun savannah-themed environment no matter where you are.
Tiny Tales Boutique – Alphabet Flash Cards
Flash cards are an easy, space-efficient way of taking learning with you wherever you go. I have a pack of these I stick in my carry-on bag or purse for my kindergartener so I’m always prepared if we have unexpected down time or delays. Sometimes I even make a fun game out of them to review phonics. Ideal for preschool age and up, these are a great addition to workbooks, worksheets, and study lessons. I also love that they’re divided into uppercase and lowercase letters, so you can help teach your kids to clearly differentiate between the two.
Help your kids grow their imaginations with these absolutely precious and brightly-colored hand puppets. My kids love to make up their own stories and fairytales and these puppets are the perfect inspiration for interactive play when they are strapped into car seats next to each other. These come in a variety of colors and animals, are hand-knit with GOTS certified organic cotton yarn, don’t have any harmful and detachable parts, and can be used from 6 months on.
A perfect alternative to a hand puppet, but with the same guaranteed quality, portability, and attention to detail, these cute finger puppets are a one-stop shop for creativity and imaginative play. Each set has four fuzzy friends—a bee, an owl, a ladybug, and a butterfly. And if fluttering creatures aren’t your child’s cup of tea, you can also choose from other animal themes like Splashers or Explorers. I can only imagine the stories my kids would make up and the hours of play they would get out of these sweet creatures.
Manhattan Toy – Making Faces Memory Game
Not only are these fun face cards visually stimulating, they’re high-quality, durable, and incredibly versatile for use for all ages. With older kids, they work perfectly for matching or memory games, but they can also encourage emotional intelligence in younger children—my kids wanted to examine every face and make up a story to match each emotion they identified. I envision bringing these to the airport and using them for entertainment at the gate while we wait to board our flight.
Manhattan Toy – Wimmer-Ferguson Car Seat Gallery
Want to keep your baby calm and happy in their car seat while simultaneously fostering visual development? This is the perfect solution for a car ride with the tiniest tot! An adjustable strap allows you to easily hang the gallery at the back of a car seat and includes 10 interchangeable graphic cards that offer a range of simple, high-contrast images to more complex-colored patterns. The cards are all labeled by age to guide you with recommended graphics to use as your baby's vision develops. If you wanted to extend the use, you could consider eventually swapping out the images with pictures of family members or familiar items or places.
Manhattan Toy – On-The-Go Making Faces
This fun magnetic set comes in a travel-sized box with a lid that can be propped up to be used virtually anywhere. Kids age 3 and up can use the moon, star, and sun shapes as backdrops to create artistic facial expressions, which encourages social-emotional skills and teaches them how to identify and navigate feelings.
How fun are these? This set of lacing cards come in six different designs and help encourage hand-eye coordination, motor skills, color identification, and dexterity in children 3 and up! Printed on thick, sturdy board, they are perfect for little hands who are antsy for something to do while on the go. As the mom of a kindergartener, I also immediately thought they’d be great preparation for learning how to tie shoelaces!
Wee Gallery – VROOM, ZOOM! HERE COMES THE FIRE TRUCK! - A PRESS AND LISTEN BOOK
I don’t know about your kids, but my son is absolutely obsessed with any kind of truck or emergency or utility vehicle. He spends hours on his bedroom floor pouring over books about fire engines and police cars, and he always gravitates to the ones that have realistic sound effects. This book is the perfect size for small hands and fits easily in a backpack, carry-on, or that pouch on the back of the driver’s seat that always comes in handy. It features five sound clips and adorable illustrations carefully created to help children's awareness development. Perfect for keeping a busy toddler occupied long enough to get from here to there.
Emily Solberg is a soldier, military spouse, mom of two, and fierce advocate of women supporting women. The goal of her writing is to help others feel less alone in their parenting journeys, and she isn’t afraid to share the hard parts of her own. You can find more from her over on Facebook and Instagram at Shower Arguments with Emily Solberg.