These are all tested and guaranteed to keep your children somewhat happy while waiting for dinner (or anywhere else you are stuck). Yes, you can wait places with small children! No, you do not have to hand over your iphone!
1. Play ISpy. This is especially good at restaurants like Chili's and Cracker Barrel or any other eatery that covers the walls with architectural and domestic artifacts. In fact, this can lead to some really interesting conversations with older kids too.
2. Make up stories about the people you see. This might sound mean, but you can gently wonder about people, like why they are eating out, what their relationships are, etc. If you have very loud, talkative children, you might want to skip this one. I just read A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink and he even recommends this as a way to improve storytelling.
3. Use flashcards. No, I am not talking about Tiger Momming your kids! We have found really fun flashcards with animals, space, art, body parts and cars. They are fun to look at and great conversation starters. When we were preparing to go to Costa Rica, we would practice our Spanish words while waiting. When I was a younger and very ambitious mom, I even made my own arty cards out of index cards and magazine pictures, with things like food, and weird combination (a fish on a bike). For visually oriented kids, these can be consuming and enjoyable.
4. Bring pipe cleaners. For the kids who has to move his or her hands these are a life saver. You can mold them into little people, cars, monsters, etc. You can also make crowns, chains, and jewelry. I buy these at the dollar store and just keep a bunch in the glove box.
5. Taste test the condiments at the table. Well, this might be if you are really desperate. But, we have done this and it was fun, so I had to include it.
6. Bring or make a matchbox theatre. Inspired by the matchbox theatres we bought from Leaf Cutter Designs, we went on to make our own. Just an empty matchbox and some stickers on toothpicks and you are good to go. An alternative is to use the bigger matchbox and tiny toys. The key is the little window that directs attention to the "stage area." This is not high art, just silly stories that pass the time. Both kids and adults should tell the tales!
7. Read a book. This seems obvious but sometimes you just forget how simple it is to just read while you are waiting. I have a collection of small paperback story books that I keep in the passenger seat pocket of the car for times when we are stuck somewhere. Maybe print out some tiny books like this, this, or this.
8. Make some origami. Again, sounds so simple. I firmly believe that every person should have at least one origami design memorized. Why do I think this? Because I was once in an airport with a cranky 2.5 yo and 6 month old. We had been there a long time. An elderly man came up to us and speaking very little folded the most elegant little bird out of a piece of magazine paper. My daughter was mesmerized and her eye nearly popped out her head when he showed her how to pull at one bit to make the wings flap. Then he retreated, like a tiptoeing angel. So, your origami skills might be useful for your children, or any other children you come across in your adventures. Oh, and if you ever meet me in the airport, I will make you a box like this.
9. Tell knock knock jokes. Time to break out the horrible knock knocks from your childhood to unleash on your kids. I think most kids go through a knock knock phase; I especially love when kids make up their own jokes, that make no sense at all.
Shoe toe! hahahaha!
10. Play the question game. This is a game we made up and play at night, in the car or when bored waiting somewhere. It is really simple. The asker (me) quick fires simple questions to the kids.
Would you rather live underwater or in outer space?
What is your is favorite vegetable?
Would you rather be a gnome or fairy?
Peppermint or Berry toothpaste?
Top 3 ice cream toppings?
Which moon phase is the best?
How many kids do you want when you grow up?
If you could have any animal as a pet, what would it be?
Bike or Skateboard?
and so on. My kids love this game! I guess because they like to be heard and really like to share their opinions.
So, there you go. We have spend ALOT of time waiting around with kids over the last 10 years and this is my tried and true safety net of ideas. I would love to hear what other parents do to pass the time.
If you want to keep in touch - like the Mama Scout Facebook page where the party continues!
And if you want to really get creative and kick up your family fun and adventure, take a look at the e-lab I facilitate. It will transform your family!