One of the most common questions I hear from parents is "how can I keep the kids busy while I cook dinner?"
You don't want to plop the kids in front of a screen but getting food on the table seems impossible. The end of the day is so exhausting. All you (and I) want to do is toss a box of cereal at the kids and get them to leave you alone.
Okay, so perhaps I exaggerate (or not).
I have to be honest.
I don't have a magic solution that will allow you to cook dinner in peace. You have kids, it is the end of the day... let's be real.
All the usual advice says, "have the kids help you make dinner!"
But if you are reading this right now, having your kids help in the kitchen is not the solution you seek.
Sadly, these are also not ideas that will get your kids to leave you alone. (I have a few links at the end that will help you with that.) I am realistic about kids' inability to leave parents to their own devices without getting in to trouble.
As an added encouragement, remember that these ideas will help you connect with your kids which has long term benefits. Even though you are tired, I know you can do it! (Hip hip hooray!)
P.S. Get the printable list at the bottom of the post. Tack up on your fridge to for a visual reminder of how to keep your kids busy while you cook dinner! (Note: this post contains affiliate links.)
14 Ideas to Keep Kids Busy While You Make Dinner
Have a freeze-a-funny-face contest. Who can hold a funny face for the longest without laughing? Kids can never resist a challenge so be sure to sneak in the question, "I bet you can't you keep that face frozen while you set the table!" or "I bet I can keep my face frozen for longer than it takes you to set the table!" <-- See what I did there?
Mad Libs. If your kids can read and write, Mad Libs will keep kids busy, improve literacy skills and induce laughter. I don't have to remind you that giggling is more fun than nagging. Beginning readers can even do Junior Mad Libs!
Play Simon Says. This is a great way to keep kids active while you stay in one place! Be sure to give them tasks according to whether or not you want them to settle down, "Simon says close your eyes and count to ten silently;" or burn off some energy, "Simon says do 10 jumping jacks."
Tell knock-knock jokes. Kids love to make up jokes. Your job is to make sure they believe you think their jokes are hilarious. Knock-knock jokes tend to be easy to make up on the spot because they have a specific format. They don't have to be good jokes and kids gain a lot of confidence when they believe they have "fooled" mom or dad. Alternatively, you can have a joke book on hand in the kitchen so kids who can read can tell you jokes. My kids love this joke book.
Balance a lemon or a potato on a spoon. Siblings can see who can hold it the longest. Can they hold it still for as long as it takes you to cook dinner? No time like the present to find out!
Have the kids design and write a menu. Keep a stack of paper and a tub of markers in the kitchen. Describe how you are cooking the meal and they can even incorporate that into a menu. "I'm chopping up tomatoes to toss in a salad. " Then the dinner menu might read, "chopped tomato tossed salad" instead of "salad". Think of the vocabulary opportunities! Pre-writers can scribble or draw pictures for a creative way to keep busy while you finish up in the kitchen.
Use dinner conversation starters. Hey, why not use dinner conversation questions while you are prepping instead of waiting until you sit down? My friend Jodie at Growing Book by Book has a whole year's worth of table topics for you! Print and download them here. In addition, The Family Dinner Project has tons of conversations starters for different ages.
Collaborate on a wish list. Kids LOVE to talk about things they want, but this is not a wish list about acquiring more stuff. Instead ask your kids to discuss things they'd like to do. You might even find inspiration for future family time. Young writers can keep a written list. Ideas for wish lists include the following:
- Family weekend trips
- Stay at home vacation days
- Science experiments you'd like to do together
- Dream vacations
- A week's worth of school lunch treats
- Books you'd like to read together again
- Famous people you'd like to meet
- Ways you would beautify the neighborhood
- Nice things kids can do for their teachers/friends/neighbors
- Hobbies you'd like to try
Practice talking to each other in Pig Latin. Atwhay isay ouryay avoriteay ookbay?
Invent a family theme song. Ask your kids to come up with a series of words that describe your family and put it to music. Make it easy on yourself by co-opting the tune of a song everyone already knows.
Sing a call and response song or a round. "John the Rabbit" is an example of a popular call and response song. "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is a popular round. The benefit to this type of singing is that the kids need to put their focus on the other participants. This can help them feel connected and they are getting the attention they need and want!
Make ooblek. This requires a tolerance for mess but since it only requires cornstarch and water there is little prep and it is non-toxic.* (Here's why I think you should cultivate a high tolerance for mess.) You will need to set out a bowl and the ingredients, but kids can mix it up themselves at the dinner table or at the kitchen counter.
Quick start ooblek: Hand kids a box of cornstarch and a pitcher of water, ask them to slowly mix the ingredients in a bowl. Encourage them to explore this non-Newtonian fluid with their hands. Babble Dabble Do has a great video to watch to see how it works. (Tip: if you eliminate the food coloring, you will reduce the clean-up) *Use common sense when supervising young children; do not leave young kids unattended.
Do you still really want ideas that will keep your kids quietly busy? I highly, highly recommend these single player logic games.
More helpful tips to keep kids busy!
- Why You Should Ban Dinner Conversation (And What To Do Instead
- Easy indoor activities for babies (with printable list)
- 10 Quick and Easy Activities for 2-4 Year Olds (with printable list)
- Indoor ideas for 5-10 year olds (with printable list)