Travel with kids: The joy of balloon games
My 2-year-old daughter can hardly contain her excitement for balloons. Orange ones, preferably, but any round rubber contraption into which you blow air (or helium) will have her attention for hours.
We picked up our latest balloon from the doctor’s office and when we went for our afternoon stroller walk, she didn’t want to let it go. So I tied a string to the blow-up valve and made a loop in the end. This for reasons known only to her, thoroughly infuriated my daughter. After we cleaned up the snotty nose mess this seemingly insignificant act of treason ignited, we headed out the door.
Since I don’t belong to a gym, these walks are my exercise. I typically keep the toddler and her 6-month-old sister strapped down in the stroller until we reach a playground on the way home. But I decided to let my daughter wander around the walking trails amongst the farms.
What came of that little adventure was a realization of how versatile a toy these balloons can actually be.
Since they’re, as my daughter says, “teeny tiny,” and reusable (to an extent) they make a welcome part of your on-the-road entertainment. Or, for that matter, any-time entertainment.
Tip: Instead of tying a knot, use a rubber band or hair tie to seal off the balloon. When time’s up on your road trip pit stop/lunch break or stupid-long airline layover, just loosen the rubber band, deflate, repack, and you’re golden until the next play time when you can re-inflate the balloon. After a while, balloons wear down and don’t hold air as long, but with this method, you’re good for a few blow-ups.
Alternative: You can play these games with small beach balls as well, just tie a knot around the air valve and away you go.
Fun with balloons
- Chase: Tie a string to the balloon a couple of feet long and then to your wrist or stroller and let your toddler burn off some steam trying to catch the balloon while you walk. You have to let them catch it a few times otherwise it’s no fun. Best to do this on quiet sidewalks or places where they are less likely to run into things, i.e. people, trains, buildings. If they like this game they will plow ahead like wild banshees, horses with blinders, zig-zagging all over the place with eyes for only the balloon. Fun for them, hilarious spectator sport.
- Kick: Tie the string and balloon to your little one’s wrist and have them kick it like a soccer ball. No matter how hard or soft they kick, how all-over-the-place their aim, the balloon can’t escape. It’s right there within their reach for the next kick.
- Ball: Take off the string and use it like a ball in an open field. Balloons are great for those still mastering the coordination to kick and catch. Balloons are slow-moving so the kids have time to get their hands or feet ready.
- Piñata: If you’re lucky enough to land a helium balloon, say from an amusement park or party, wrap the string around a couple of pages in a cardboard book or something heavy so that the balloon floats about your child’s chest height. Now it’s a punching bag. If you happen to travel with or have on hand a cardboard roll from paper towels, now you have a piñata (minus the treats) or batting practice. (If you’re rolling your eyes at the paper towel tube, I’ve actually heard of families bringing these cardboard “toys” on trips to make impromptu car tunnels, or other crafts, so it’s not totally crazy.)
- Bounce: Balloons are surprisingly resilient, especially if a little deflated. If you don’t care if the thing dies, and the balloon is large enough for your kid’s bottom, let her bounce on it like the aptly named Sit and Bounce Balls. You can even tie your own “handle” to the valve. It may pop, but you’d be surprised how long they last under this treatment. We’ve yet to have a balloon pop beneath our toddler’s butt.
This may incite Toddler Threat Level 2 when it’s time to put the balloon away. By the way, this is something I never expected about parenthood — “The game that works too well.” When it’s time to say goodbye, best be prepared with a subtle, yet equally effective distraction. Chocolate, for instance. If not for your kid, then you can have some satisfaction in the midst of a tantrum. In my opinion, a square of Lindt is better than earplugs.
Deflated or popped balloons can create a choking hazard. So with my Mom’s caution ringing in my ear: Watch your kid while they play with the balloon. Don’t let them chew on the balloon. Don’t let them suck on any part of the balloon. If the balloon breaks, throw it away. If you’re too worried about balloons, try the little, ehem,”teeny tiny,” beach balls. They’re just as good, in my opinion, as balloons, and the valve never collapses while your cheeks are cramping from too much huffing and puffing.