One of the worst nightmares for a parent is travelling on an airplane with a restless, energetic toddler. Although screen time is part of computer learning, I always say to my little one, “I’d rather you learn how to program a game, than spend all your time playing it.”

So when your toddler is stuck and bored on an airplane, rather than cave in to a request for aimless iPad screen time or gaming, you can use the opportunity to engage your toddler in some other types of super fun STEM activities!

Although there are many things that you can use to create STEM activities on board a plane (for example, stacking plastic cups or building something using leftover cutlery after meal time), we always prefer to get some new toys as a backup. “New” is a keyword as your toddler is much more likely to stay engaged with the toy for longer if it’s new.

According to a social experiment conducted by Dr Winston in partnership with British Airways, toys that encourage creativity and imagination (aka STEM toys) are better at keeping toddlers occupied compared to static toys like soft toys or action figures.

This is good news for us parents who want our kids to gravitate towards STEM areas and ways of thinking. One thing to be aware of when it comes to STEM toys for toddlers is the risk of choking hazards. Since some toddlers still put things in their mouths, it is important to make sure that the STEM toy you choose can’t be swallowed and is made of non-toxic material or you may have to supervise play.

Bearing that in mind, here are the 5 best STEM toys for toddlers on airplanes!

  1. Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set
    (Weight: 1.1 pounds, 3.1 x 2.8 x 5.9 inches)

This Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set is perfect for entertaining toddlers on airplanes, especially if you have a window seat! This set is a good opportunity for you to discuss concepts like air pressure, elasticity and object-manipulation.

The Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set is made of multicolored suction cups in different sizes and shapes that you can build into different shapes or patterns. They can suction onto any smooth, level surface which means that your toddler can suction them onto the plane window, tray table, overhead ceiling, seat TV screen, hand rest…yeah, lots of options! They are made of BPA-free high-grade silicone so they are light and can be squeezed into the remaining space you have left in your hand carry without too much problem. This set comes with 24 pieces (although there is the option to double the amount of pieces with the Deluxe set).

To promote STEM thinking, you could guide your toddler’s Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set play in the following ways:

  • Create the longest suction string ever with matching shapes and colors and start from the overhead ceiling above your toddler’s seat (obviously, don’t do this when there is a turbulence going on!).
  • Create a house for aliens using this set.
  • How many suction cups would you need to be able to secure an in-flight magazine onto the plane’s window?
  1. Skoolzy Jumbo Primary Stringing Bead Set
    (Weight: 6.4 ounces, size: 8.5 x 8.2 x 3.4 inches)

The Skoolzy Jumbo Primary Stringing Bead Set will help your toddler to increase their motor skills as well as practice spatial-visual awareness, hand-eye coordination, counting and logical-thinking.

We love the Skoolzy Jumbo Primary Stringing Bead Set because it incorporates several play options- your toddler can string all the beads together or play with the beads by themselves. The beads are made of BPA-free, non-toxic plastic so that makes them lighter than some of the other wooden options on the market, which of course, makes it great for travel. Secondly, this Skoolzy set comes with a lot of beads so that will keep your toddler happy for a longer period of time. The Skoolzy set also comes with a handy bag that you will appreciate for travel.

This toy is an excellent STEM choice for toddlers but for travel needs, there are some downsides. The beads come in 6 shapes; circles, hexagons, squares, ovals, cylinders and triangles. 3 out of these 6 shapes can do a lot of “rolling away” if dropped on the ground. This could mean a lot of “exercise” for you if your toddler found it funny to drop them constantly on the floor of the plane. It could potentially also annoy some less-compassionate passengers too. The solution to this may simply be to leave those 3 shapes at home, which would then remove this problem.

To promote STEM thinking, you could guide your toddler’s Skoolzy set play in the following ways:

  • String all matching shapes/colors together.
  • Count the number of matching shapes and colors and introducing subtraction ideas.
  • Work out what the best building combination will be when all beads and strings have to be used to support the weight of a cup of water.

If you have an aversion to plastic toys in general and wouldn’t mind carrying the extra weight, the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Lacing Beads are a great alternative. These are heavier at 1.1 pounds and come with less beads but these beads have the advantage of being multicolored, with numbers and dice-like shapes printed on them.

  1. Play-Doh 10-Pack of Colors (Amazon Exclusive)
    (Weight: 1.7 ounces, size: 4.2 x 10 x 2.2 inches)

In Dr Winston’s social experiment in partnership with British Airways, they named Play-Doh as one of the top ten most effective toys for kids aged between 2 to 10 on airplanes.

Why are we not surprised? Play-Doh is an extremely versatile and tactile toy. It promotes creativity, develops gross motor skills and challenges toddlers to use their imagination to create something out of a colorful lump of dough. It is especially engaging for younger toddlers as it so squishable.

To promote STEM thinking, you could guide your toddler’s Play-Doh play in the following ways:

  • Encourage your toddler to use the Play-Doh to create a solution for common problems in airplanes, such as noise from the engines, snoring passengers, bright lights from windows, uncomfortable seats etc.
  • When your toddler is tired of the Play-Doh, you can stack the tubs together and talk about balance and weight.
  • Fill the tubs up with tissue paper, cotton balls or water (skip the last one if your toddler is likely to spill it!) and talk about how volume fills up space.

In terms of portability, Play-Doh may not be as light as some other STEM toys but it’s still small and portable and doesn’t take up much space. Each tub of Play-Doh weighs about 2 ounces.

  1. Wikki Stix Art and Craft Wikki Stix, Assorted Package
    (Weight: 2.9 ounces, 0.1 x 6 x 13 inches)

Wikki Stix are a particularly suitable STEM toy for toddlers on flights. It doesn’t take up much space, is very light and yet also so versatile that you could get a lot of STEM play out of them.

Wikki Stix is made by combining yarn and food-grade, non-toxic wax that creates a sticky, string-like, flexible stick that you can bend, mold and shape into all sorts of things. Not only can you create objects out of it but since Wikki Stix also sticks to paper, you can build on paper cups or ordinary paper that you can source on board the airplane. As a bonus, if your toddler is at a window seat, the Wikki Stix also sticks to the window to form shapes, words or objects. There is one downside to Wikki Stix. Since it is made of wax, it can melt and become slightly sticky in a heated environment so you just need to beware of this.

To promote STEM thinking, you could guide your toddler’s Wikki Stix play in the following ways:

  • Sort and count the amount and different colors of Wikki Stix.
  • Ask your toddler to create the tallest structure possible using only Wikki Stix.
  • Get your toddler to guess what Wikki Stix is made of and describe how each component binds together to create the end result (you will have to do some research for this in advance).
  1. All-New Fire HD 8 Kids Edition Tablet, 8″ HD Display, 32 GB
    (Weight: 17.6 ounces, 9.6″ x 6.1″ x 1″ inches)

We can’t forget about the “T” in STEM so we had to include one of the best tablets on the market in this list, the All-New Fire HD 8 Kids Edition Tablet, 8″ HD Display, 32 GB.

In terms of longevity, this tablet will probably be one of your best investments. It can be used for kids aged from 3 to 12 but it has an array of parental controls that you can use to control and customize the content that your toddler will have access to. It is the most expensive toy on this list but it is great value for money.

Compared to some other tablets on the market, this tablet comes with a robust kid-proof case so that you don’t have to worry about your toddler dropping it on the ground. Not only that but Amazon provides a 2 year guarantee so that if your toddler breaks the tablet, they will replace it for free, no questions asked. It comes with a year’s subscription of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited which gives your toddler access to 15,000 educational apps, games, books, movies and TV shows. Thereafter, the monthly subscription is only a few dollars.

To promote STEM thinking, you could make sure that you choose STEM-type apps for your toddler.

We hope that you found this list useful in guiding your decision on what STEM toy to purchase for your toddler.

Bon voyage!