I am a seasoned traveller - lived in Africa, used to travel 3 days on a train to boarding school, and 24 hours on a plane to visit family
Travelling by Air With Children
I've travelled with children of all ages. From journeying from England halfway around the world with both my children under the age of three on a 23-hour flight to visit my parents in South Africa (when neither of the children slept a wink) to travelling to Bulgaria with five young grandchildren and an additional two teenagers and their respective parents for what turned into a fabulous holiday. I've had many other air and sea trips with various children.
Along the way, I have learned quite a bit about how to keep kids calm and reasonably well-behaved on long journeys.
7 Ways to Keep Children Entertained for 10 Minutes at a Time
I use the word “entertained” in its widest possible sense—maybe “occupied” would be a better description.
There are often long delays at the airport, as you probably know. What with Coronavirus restrictions and post-Brexit arrangements, it can mean that passengers are queuing in the airport for several hours. How do you stop your little darlings from running wild in the queue, or disappearing?
#1 Count the Queues
The first ten minutes are the easiest—children will be excited and very restless after sitting for a long time on the plane. So you need to give them a bit of a runaround and exercise.
Now, remember to do each of the following stages separately—the underlying purpose is not to gather information but to occupy the children and enable them to let off steam.
- Ask them to run along the lines of people queuing, and check which is the shortest queue, whilst you stand in one of the queues, to book your place, so to speak.
- When they report back (it will be easy for them to find you, because the queue will barely have moved), ask them whether they just looked for the shortest queue or the queue with the fewest people in it. The relevance here is that the shortest queue is not necessarily the one with less people--because families and couples tend to stand in a row, thus taking up less room, even though there are more of them. So send the children back to re-count.
- When they return, point out that several of the queues are for specific flyers (maybe EU Members only), and the rest are for people resident outside that specific category--did they take that into account, as it is far quicker for Europeans to pass through Immigration Control? Get them to check.
Then follow their advice and move to the most appropriate queue to enable you to pass through Immigration Control as quickly as possible—it will make them feel successful.
This will take about 10 minutes.
#2 Bathroom Breaks
Ask who needs to go to the toilet. Send them off to look for a toilet and come back to tell you where it is. Then ask the people queuing in front and behind you to keep your place (it’s better to ask both, to avoid the situation of one lot denying you were ever there), and all go to the toilet together, or otherwise leave one person in the queue to keep your place.
This should fill another ten minutes whilst you walk at a leisurely pace, preen yourself in front of a mirror, fiddle about with the dryer, and chat a bit.
This will take about 10 minutes.
That's 20 minutes down!
#3 Breach New Conversation Topics
Then have a counting game. Take it in turns to count various types of people, things or activities.
- count how many people are wearing red. The winner is the person who counts the most.
- Then count how many male-presenting people have moustaches or beards.
- Then, maybe, how many women have blonde hair, which might lead to a time-consuming discussion (which is your aim, of course) about whether the hair is dyed or natural.
- Then count how many children there are in the area, and maybe how many languages are being spoken that your children can recognize.
- Then how many women are wearing make-up/long dresses/trousers/shorts, etc.
- Airports are diverse intersections of populations, so try to use the opportunity to distract your children by educating them about more complex topics like how to navigate discussing race. Be careful with your language if the topic is sensitive since it’s all in the way you say it. After you’ve managed to land safely, without air sickness or birds getting sucked into the engines, you don't want an angry passenger next to you!
This would take up another 10 minutes, or even 15 minutes, if you are creative with your suggestions and discussions.
Total: 35 minutes
The Game of I-Spy. I assume you know the rules of this alphabet game, but for the sake of completeness, I shall explain. The rules are that one person chooses an item, e.g. a clock, and says “I spy with my little eye something beginning with “C”. The other people have to guess what it is, and the winner then takes over and spies something for the others to guess. Even quite young children can play, just substituting the phonetic sound “K” instead of the letter C. Sometimes everyone just shouts out, and other times they take it in turns to guess, which is more orderly and gives the little ones a better chance of success.
Another 10 minutes or so.
Total: 45 minutes
#5 Alphabet Game
Another Alphabet game – I don’t know if this one has a name. One person decides whether it’s going to be an animal, a flower, a plant, a person’s name, or whatever, then you go round in a circle, thinking of all the items of that description beginning with “A”, or whatever letter of the alphabet the decision-maker suggests. The winner is the person who manages to give up last.
A variation of that game is for one person to choose whether it will be an animal, flower, name or whatever, and then everyone has to name one item with the appropriate letter of the alphabet, so if it is animals, the first person chooses “A for Antelope”, say, and the next person chooses “B for Bison”, and the next “C for Cat”. If they can’t think of anything, they are out, and the last one out is the winner.
That’s another 10 minutes gone.
Total: 55 minutes
You can download some game apps onto mobile devices.
Angry Birds is just one of the countless popular games in the world you can download from Google Play or the Apple Apple Store. Then there's Crazy Snowboard where you are a snowboarder and do jumps, flips and tricks. Then Fruit Ninja Classic vegetative slasher to test your speed and accuracy. How many fruits can you slash before losing three or being blown up?
There are word games like Words With Friends, Wordscapes and the New York Times crossword. And of course, there's Wordle!
This would be another 20 minutes or potentially much more
Total: about 75 minutes
#7 Note Pad and Pencils
Though they might seem more easily entertained with their smartphones or running around the airport, make sure you still have some paper and writing utensils for them. They can play Noughts and Crosses, Hangman and Battleship, and do some drawing or writing. If they enjoy writing, pitch a random writing idea to them. For example: you have ten minutes to write a simple story about a dragon, or to write a story incorporating a few words you've chosen. It's mentally stimulating and might just teach them some new vocabulary!
You could intersperse this time with the activities described above, in bursts of just 5 or 10 minutes.
So say 20 minutes in all
That should bring the total up to about 1 hour 35 minutes!
If your wait is longer than an hour and a half, repeat some of the activities with a slight variation to keep your children entertained even longer. Remember, keeping kids occupied will make travelling that much better for you as it does for them!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.