Going to restaurants can be quite daunting for parents with small children. If it is not fast food, then having to make the kids wait for food at the table can be a little nerve-racking!
It’s no wonder that many parents resort to whipping out the iPads or smartphones for the kids. I can totally relate to this, especially if we are out for dinner after a really long and tiring day and I am out of energy to battle their ‘hangry’ tantrums.
However, most of the time, if we are out at restaurants, it’s mostly to enjoy quality family time and bond with the kids (without having to deal with a pile dishes to wash afterwards). So going gadget-free at the table can be really fun for the whole family!
Gadget-free and happy
If you are looking beyond bringing the usual colouring books or toys, here are some ideas to keep the kids entertained at the table:
The key here is to give an element of novelty for the kids, so it cannot be the same Play-Doh that they are used to playing at home. What I do is usually keep a different colour Play-Doh and pick out a few moulds and put them away, so that the kids don’t access them when playing at home. That way, when we whip out the Play-Doh at the restaurant, it will feel like a new toy to them, and they will get excited to play with it.
However, be realistic – don’t expect them to self-entertain with Play-Doh for the entire time, while you enjoy some adult conversation with your partner. Little toddlers get bored easily, so both parents will need to play together, make shapes, and engage them in the activity.
Playing ‘I-Spy’ with toddlers can be a whole lot of fun. They already know their colours, shapes or alphabets, so “I spy with my little eye …” is bound to get them excited. We usually start with colours, taking turns around the table to ask ‘Can you find something blue/red/green?’ Then, we progress to shapes. For older children who know their alphabets and phonics, it gets more exciting, finding something beginning with a certain alphabet. It even works with my nieces who are 7 and 9.
Win, Lose or Draw
That drawing game – where one person draws and the others guess – is a favourite with kids because they love playing any guessing game! The best part is that you just need a pen (which you can borrow from the restaurant), and paper. You can put a small notebook in the diaper bag so you always have it ready. This works best with toddlers aged 4 and above as they can participate in drawing too, but my 2-year-old enjoys guessing just as much.
With older children, adding an element of competition would make it more appealing. Splitting into two teams, and having a time limit of say 15 seconds to draw and guess would be more challenging for those aged 7 and older.
You can get your own set of ice-cream sticks from craft shops, and they can be an endless source of fun. Kids’ imagination can soar when they are given just a few sticks to play with. They last a long time, and you can bunch them together with a rubber band with no fuss! Toddlers can take turns to make alphabets or shapes, or best of all, play architect and constructor. By stacking ice-cream sticks, anyone can build a simple house or structure. Kids can also try to go as high as they can without the structure falling down. If you paint the sticks beforehand, you can also play sorting games. You can also give a stick to the winner of games like Scissors, Paper and Stone or Tic-Tac-Toe. It’s a great incentive for kids to keep collecting more each round!
Watch with them
Sometimes however, the best of us can be caught in a scenario where there are no resources. You are done with ‘I Spy’ and all you can think of is giving them the phone. Fret not, you can turn that into an activity too. Just don’t give them the phone and put on those egg surprise YouTube videos. Instead, open up your photo gallery and show them pictures from their past holiday or outings. Have a conversation about those photos. The idea here is to engage them in conversations rather than them tuning out on YouTube videos.
Remember that trying different ideas like those above can be entertaining for both the parents and kids. With elements of learning and development for the kids, think of it as killing two birds with one stone!
By Farah Bashir
Farah Bashir used to drive the National Transformation Programme as a management consultant, but has since put away her power suits to be a stay-at-home-mum to two lovely girls. Some days, she wonders why she traded intelligent problem-solving debates for negotiations with a toddler about changing diapers.