Airline Travel Learn and Play

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Guest post by Julia Simens, educator, consultant and presenter, who helps children and families adjust to their global lifestyle.

I currently work with families in the international setting with a focus on child, adolescent and family therapy. Because we live in such a global world now, I love playing airline travel when I work with a whole class.

pretend play airplane

pretend play airplane

When I asked a few five year olds why they think airline travel is important, I was told:

  • If you can’t fly, you can’t see grandma and grandma has gifts.
  • We need to stand in long lines so Mommy can get mad at my little brother.
  • You can use money to buy food that is not what you want to eat.

We take an old white king size sheet and make rows and chairs assignments with marker. (1A, 1B and etc). It is important to make the area unique or children might just get up and move off the chairs. Most children are very careful to stay on the sheet as the move around the airplane. We make sure that windows and aisles are clearly marked. This helps the children talk about their project or play with accurate information. Decision-making is a nice skill to build in young children. “Do you want a window or an aisle seat?”

pretend play airplane

They make up tickets to make sure that things are fair and that everyone who wants to play can play. Then we take all of the passengers and draw out of a hat the unique positions. We look for the pilot, and the co-pilot. We need the head flight attendant and the ticket agent. The key positions can be made from the areas that the children are most interested in that relate to airline hubs.

I have the children write the location they want to travel from and where they want to go.  This builds up writing skills and geography. We have all passengers make up a flight plan and then we draw one of them out of a hat. The ticket agent can then ask for a certain amount of tokens from each passenger before they get on the plane.

Depending on where the play or the plane is to take them, sometimes they get involved in the pretend food part of the airline trip or the luggage part. It is a great way to make sure things are fair and making sure you have enough drinks for everyone on the plane. Counting and making one-to-one correspondence can help some children understand numbers in a fun way. Is it a long trip where we need three drinks each or a short trip where we only need one drink per person during the trip?

pretend play airplane

Sometimes we have the co-pilot using conflict resolution with the other play members because the pilot has to keep focused on his job.  It is important that everyone does his or her job and teamwork is evident. This is a nice way to help children learn that others are capable of doing a good job and they have to just sit back and wait for their job.

Kids love to organize and plan so playing airplane travel is a great pretend theme. It can be extended in unlimited ways. It is amazing to see how they show empathy while they try to get the stuffed animals on the plane. Once I had a student talk to each of the passengers to get their permission so that she could sit in her seat with her stuffed cat.

I love this because it can involve as many children as the plane can hold and each child can have a very active role or a very passive role and yet still be part of the plan.


Bio: Julia Simens is an educator, consultant and presenter with a focus on international relocation, Julia has been coming and going from the USA for over 20 years. She has worked on four continents with families who are relocating all over the world. With a focus on family therapy and early childhood education she has helped many children and families adjust to their global lifestyle. She also offers parents in cyberspace on-going support. Recently Julia has been working with families on building ‘emotion stories’ from their moves around the world. Julia can be found at and on Twitter.

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