How one family is crafting kid-friendly AvGeek adventures at home
Most commercial aircraft are temporarily grounded, but in one Chicago household a 4-year-old’s flights of imagination are taking off daily from the family’s dining room table.Oliver Reid-Bleitner, a budding AvGeek, folds and glues elaborate, detailed paper airplanes as part of his stay-at-home routine, which began when Chicago schools and day care centers closed in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ground support comes from his parents, Dave Bleitner (co-engineer for Oliver’s airplane construction project) and Casey Reid (communications expert). Like many families, they are now both working from home and coming up with ways to entertain and educate their kids while maintaining their work lives.
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TPG asked what life was like when normal scheduling grinds to a halt, and rounded up some suggestions for other activities for kids -- all about airports, airplanes and going places when you can't go anywhere yet.
Casey, director of alumni and advancement communications at a Chicago-area university, says she is becoming an expert air traffic controller for Oliver and his 2-year-old sister Bryce, who adds a little "chaos" to the household hub. Since she has been working from home, Casey says it's not unusual for airplanes made of Mega Bloks to fly overhead while she works -- but Oliver says the congestion at home is not a match for O'Hare yet. "It's not a very busy airport," says Oliver of the irregular flight patterns he generates in the family living room. Even busy pilots like a little downtime, so he eagerly anticipates the quiet part of his day -- his aircraft-ing project with his dad, a hands-on guy who is co-founder of award-winning Off-Color Brewing in Chicago. Although operations are partially shut down because of the pandemic, he still makes beer -- and paper airplanes.
When Chicago’s stay-at-home orders were put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus, the Reid-Bleitner family rebooked its day-to-day itinerary.Dave and Oliver set out to the craft store in search of projects to see the kids through a month or more at home. According to Casey, about $200 later, they were equipped with Kinetic Sand, finger paints, an Easter Egg dyeing kit, tons of craft paper, Lego cars, a Crayola coloring board -- and a paper airplane model book, “Planes: A Complete History.”
“Planes,” which is available at Amazon, Target, Barnes and Noble, Michaels and at the AirMuseumGuide website, is a two-part book with 50 press-out models of historic and contemporary aircraft and a detachable history book with information about aircraft technology.Oliver, a transportation fanatic, is also fascinated by trains, cars and boats. But his pandemic passion is airplanes. His favorite plane – just like Brian Kelly, The Points Guy himself – is the Airbus A380.
Watch: Flight Review: New Singapore A380 Suite with The Points Guy
Oliver’s own toy collection includes aircraft models with the liveries of Southwest, Jet Blue, Delta and American, as well as Air Force One and a fighter jet. His most recent arrivals are the paper airplanes he crafts every afternoon with his dad. The planes take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to assemble, according to Dave. After reading about the history of the planes they make, each one is tied to a string to soar on the ceiling of Oliver's bedroom.
The latest addition to the collection is The Spirit of St. Louis.
In addition to the paper airplane project, Dave spends his time on other paperwork: applying for small-business loans under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in anticipation of a post-pandemic reboot. Meanwhile, as the stay-at-home days stack up and the paper airplane models proliferate, Dave has relabeled the brewery's popular Zwicklebier-style lager “You Can’t Take Me Anywhere Nice” to just "You Can't Take Me Anywhere."
While your family is temporarily grounded, here are some TPG travel- and aviation-themed suggestions for your crew at home:
Books about planes, airports and places to go
- Rosie Revere Engineer
- Ultimate Book of Airplanes and Airports
- How Airports Work
- The Lonely Planet Kids Travel Book
- Richard Scarry's A Day at the Airport
Games and puzzles
Don't forget: You can also check out a virtual tour of the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.!