Keep your child happily occupied on a long flight or road trip to the beach? While it may sound daunting, having some versatile playthings and unique activity ideas can make the time pass more smoothly. At times, traveling can even present opportunities for learning and bonding through stretches of focused playtime together.
Best travel toys for babies
Photo holder with black-and-white images or familiar faces
Few things fascinate new babies more than high-contrast black-and-white images. Tuck several into a small photo album to flip for your baby or use the Standing Card Holder.
As your child grows and their vision improves, swap the images for printed photos of special people (maybe even those you’re going to visit 😊) Research shows babies focus on faces long before they begin recognizing objects.
Cups for previewing nesting and stacking
Your baby can explore the Nesting Stacking Dripdrop Cups on an airplane table tray and in the bath or pool once you reach your destination. To keep the cups nestled together, tie them up in a colorful scarf that can be used for a lesson in object permanence: hide the cups under the scarf and then reveal them. Warning—your baby may want you to do this again and again 🙃
Nesting and stacking skills may emerge as early as 12 to 13 months. Count aloud or provide explanations with phrases such as, “Mama’s putting the small cup into the large cup” or “Dada stacks the small cup on top of the large cup.” Your baby will likely want to reach out to give it a try, and you’ll be right there to help guide them.
Soft books and board books
Even newborns make brain connections through books and reading. Some Lovevery family travel favorites include: the Soft Book with its many textures (The Charmer), “How I Feel” Board Book with interesting photos of emotions (The Explorer), “Animals I See” Mini Book for small hands (The Thinker), “I Love You All the Time” Board Book with rhyming text and baby faces (The Inspector Book Bundle), and “Plant a Seed, Watch it Grow” Fabric Book with flaps (The Explorer Book Bundle).
Rattle to practice sound tracking
A small wooden rattle is easy to slip into your diaper bag and can be used for sound tracking and mouthing play. Shake the rattle near your baby’s face until they notice and start following the sound with their eyes. You might also shake it in a rhythm such as shake, shake, pause; shake, shake, pause. This helps your baby recognize patterns, a foundational math skill.
Baby-safe keys for feeling like a grown-up
Keys are magical to babies—they open mailboxes and literally open doors. Having a baby-safe set on hand, such as the Stainless Steel Jingle Keys, will keep your baby occupied for a while thanks to the easy-to-grip metal ring that also feels good on gums, plus the rounded keys with their bright jingle.
Don’t be surprised if your baby is even more excited when they see you with your keys, too. Ask, “Where are [Liam’s] keys?” as you two jingle your keys together to hear the different sounds.
Best travel toys for toddlers
Practicing bilateral coordination with buckles
Buckling up is probably not your toddler’s favorite part of going on a trip, but playing with the no-pinch Buckle Barrel might be. A hands-down favorite travel item for Lovevery families, it works many skills at once—“bilateral coordination” (using both hands together), hand-eye coordination, finger dexterity, and pincer grasping. It also doubles as a (slightly bumpy) child-size travel pillow.
To start, unbuckle the buckles and show your toddler how they fit together. Then unbuckle everything again and encourage them to give it a try or take turns. As your child’s fine motor strength develops, they’ll eventually do the unbuckling themselves.
A custom snack box to practice pincer grasp
Practicing the pincer grasp isn’t just for babies. Toddlers also need time to work on this crucial fine motor skill, which they need for eating with utensils and learning to write. Try filling a bento box or pill container with snacks and encourage your toddler to use child-friendly tweezers to eat their snacks and transfer items from one compartment to another.
Set a goal, such as transferring a total of five to 10 pieces before taking a bite. Count aloud each time your child drops a piece of food into a compartment.
Container with lid for building finger strength and dexterity
Opening and closing containers with lids takes coordination, and it’s especially fun when something is inside. The Fuzzy Bug Shrub has peel-and-stick bugs to motivate your toddler to build bilateral hand coordination and finger strength.
If your child isn’t ready to hold the canister with one hand and open the lid with the other, start by opening it for them and having them practice closing the top. They can turn the open canister upside-down to dump out the Velcro critters. Next, take turns naming the bugs and sticking them on the bush. Sing a clean up song when it’s time to put the bugs back in the canister.
Stringing beads for working with two hands
Challenge your toddler to practice using both hands with this fine motor activity. Threading beads takes concentration, requiring your child to focus on sliding the bead onto the string one at a time. Long road trips and layovers give plenty of uninterrupted time to work on this skill.
The chunky beads in the Threadable Bead Kit do double duty as play pieces that can be used for matching and sorting by shape and color, or creating patterns. Once the beads are in order, slowly demonstrate how to thread the beads on the string. Then let your toddler practice with the thin rings first, which are easier to thread than the thicker, rounder pieces.
Matching games to begin classifying
As your toddler approaches 2, they may be ready to start connecting the 2-dimensional world to the 3-dimensional by matching pictures to animal figurines. They may also be able to make animal sounds, line up the toys in a row, identify them by touch when hidden in a bag, and more. The take-along Montessori Animal Match & Drawstring Bag includes six tiles and six matching figurines for lots of matching fun.
With lots of time to practice, your toddler will begin to pick up on the similarities and differences needed to classify, or organize objects into groups. Start by giving your child two tiles and then present them with one matching animal figurine. Ask them which one looks like a match and then give them a new tile and one matching figurine for the next round. Gradually increase the number of tiles and animals as their skills grow.
Board books for transitions or any time
Traveling in close quarters offers many chances for children to read books with you and on their own. Pack some lightweight favorites to bring familiarity to bedtime and diaper changes in a new place and one or two new ones to whip out when a surprise is needed.
Some favorite Lovevery books for toddlers include: “Bedtime for Zoe” (The Babbler), “Max and Nana Go to the Park” (The Adventurer), “Bea Gets a Checkup” (The Realist), “Making Muffins” (The Helper), “Ready to Go Pee” (The Realist Book Bundle), “A Visit with Captain Shelby” (The Enthusiast Book Bundle), and “A Day at the Beach” (The Free Spirit Book Bundle). The books feature photography instead of illustrations because research suggests that babies and toddlers learn the most from books with photos as they’re fascinated by the real world.
Washable paintsticks for practicing fine motor skills
Crayons and paper are a classic travel pastime that encourages self-expression and builds hand strength needed for writing. For toddlers, paintsticks are ideal as they easily make a mark.
Lovevery’s Anywhere Art Kit comes with five non-toxic paintsticks and color-coordinated pockets to practice matching. When not coloring, the kit offers a range of practice with fine motor skills: clicking the caps onto the paintsticks, sliding them into the pockets and zipping and unzipping the case (with your help).
Play dough busy box for when they want to make a scene
Open-ended crafting on the road may be easier than it sounds with a simple craft supply box and some odds and ends. Plus, it’s a fun way to encourage creativity, help your child develop their fine motor skills, and broaden their understanding of spatial relations through trial and error as they figure out what fits where.
Fill a craft supply box with goodies that are easily replenished or that you (mostly) don’t mind losing, such as mini containers of play dough, figurines, stickers, scraps of construction or wrapping paper, pipe cleaners, stick-on googly eyes, and the like. You can create themed kits, such as vet clinic or under the sea, or go with an open-ended busy box.
Matching and sorting for cognitive development
Memory and matching games are a perfect way for 2-year-olds to practice early math skills. Both the Things That Move Memory Game and the Reach for the Stars Matching Cards come in small square boxes for easy travel, too.
At first, your toddler can practice matching identical images with the Things That Move cards. Next, they might be ready for more complex sorting and matching by multiple attributes like shape and color.
During your travels, encourage your child to go on a shape scavenger hunt. Model identifying circles, squares, and triangles you see on your adventures. You might even mention more complex shapes, such as an octagon (STOP signs) knowing that anything beyond the most common shapes may be a challenge for your child.
Best travel toys for 3-year-olds
Measuring tape for comparing big and small items
Need a few minutes to manage some travel logistics? Ask your child to measure each piece of luggage with the Size It Up Measuring Tape. It functions like a standard measuring tape with centimeters, inches, and a button to retract but also has a soft pull tab and colorful tape.
To practice math concepts, point out the numbers and compare measurements of items. For example, ask your toddler to measure their hand and then measure yours. Which one is bigger? Which one is smaller?
Playing with cars to develop coordination and language skills
The best toys for travel can sometimes involve a toy car full of people. The Two-Seater Speedster with its adult and baby peg people lends itself to long stretches of imaginative play, where the back of car seats, airport handrails, and placemats serve as roads and family members’ arms make good ramps.
Toy cars can also be vehicles for practicing speech, so be sure to ask your 3-year-old questions that encourage storytelling, such as “Who’s in the car?” and “Where are they going?” Or do your own rendition of “Wheels on the Bus” by singing it as “Wheels on the Car” and making up your own lyrics based on what riders in the car are doing.
Easy sewing for confidence
Children love it when toys are as close to the real thing as possible. Indulge your child by bringing along their First Sewing Kit, a Montessori-inspired activity for building fine motor skills and concentration.
First demonstrate how to use the realistic, child-safe needle by threading string through the large eye. The needle is blunted and can be easily passed through the pre-perforated holes for sewing, helping your 3-year-old feel confident about trying this new skill.
Finger puppets for storytelling, math, and fine motor coordination
Lovevery families like to travel with some of the Number Sense Nature Counters since they take up little space and are sure bets for busting boredom. Here are a few ways to play: slide some on for a fresh take on thumb wrestling or singing “Where Is Thumbkin?”; encourage your child to see how high they can stack the Counters, noticing which shapes stack more easily and why; make up stories using the Counters as characters (try using a range of voices and emotions for each); practice adding and subtracting—”The foxes ate a mushroom, how many are left?”
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