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Travel Distractions for Toddlers

Lots of tricks needed to keep tots amused

Alas, parents of toddlers can no longer rely on the baby stage when a rattle, a stuffed bunny and a peekaboo blanket could amuse for hours. Toddlers require constant stimulation and entertainment, a fact compounded by short attention spans, possessive streaks, fickle demeanors and loud voices.

The trick is to have an arsenal of fresh distractions up your sleeve, ready to wow your little one at the first sign of boredom, frustration or fussiness. Pulling out a new book or long-forgotten toy at an opportune moment can save the day – or at least buy you a few minutes of peaceful engagement. You’ll need a variety of toys for both active play and mellow moments, plus small items that will occupy your toddler when confined in transit or at restaurants. For your own sake, don’t opt for anything too noisy or squeaky, as you’ll be listening to it incessantly.

Of course when you’re traveling you’re restricted by how much you can comfortably tote with you – what diversions you can bring depend on where you are going, how much luggage space you have and what mode of transportation will get you there.

Here are some toddler-pleasing options to consider.

  • Manipulatives like nesting cups, snap-together blocks and puzzles
  • Wheeled toys like trains and trucks
  • Small dolls or animal figures for budding make-believe skills
  • Magnetic scene boards
  • Puppets for communicative pretend play (try making a puppet from an air sickness bag!)
  • Inflatable ball (handy to kick around an airport gate, park or beach)
  • One or two soft toys to cuddle (keep close tabs on any “special friends”)
  • Books, especially interactive ones that encourage pointing to pictures and lifting flaps
  • Audio books (great for long car rides or plane flights)
  • Washable crayons and markers (note wax crayons can melt in the heat so plastic coated twist-ups are best in hot climates)
  • Coloring books and blank paper for scribbling
  • Small MagnaDoodle or similar drawing tablet (no mess or paper required!)
  • Sticker books, but only if your toddlers’ fingers are nimble enough to pry them off or you are prepared to assist
  • Buckets, spades and sand toys if visiting a beach
  • Portable music player and kid-friendly CDs for sing-a-longs or to soothe before bedtime (bring extra batteries and headphones if you don’t always want to tune in yourself)
  • Portable DVD player or laptop computer (even if you’re not big on passive entertainment, an hour or two of videodistraction can be a godsend on a long journey or occasional restaurant outing)
  • Try having a few small tidbits wrapped up in paper as rewards for good behavior (the unwrapping process adds an element of anticipation and buys you an extra minute or two of manual occupation)
  • Brush up on old standby games like Hide and Seek and I Spy
  • Make a game out of snack time (eg: hide a cracker under one of three paper cups and have your child guess where it is, or thread cheerios on a string to make an edible necklace)

NOTE: Possessive toddlers aren’t often game to share their booty with siblings or friends, so be prepared for some battles.


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