Admit it. Before you had kids you shook your head at “those parents.” You know, the ones who couldn’t “control” their kids at restaurants?
Ha ha ha ha ha.
You know better now.
And the free box of crayons and paper restaurant activity placemat just aren’t cutting it anymore, right?
But you don’t want to drag along the entire toy chest when all you want is a mean you don’t have to make yourself.
Never fear! I’ve got some super easy and inexpensive restaurant activities to take with you when you are feeling brave enough to take your kids, whether they be toddlers or preschoolers, out to eat. All the pieces and parts are easily contained so you won’t be cleaning up too much when it is time to go. Pack a few of these and you will be prepared for (almost) anything.
Good luck out there. Try to eat a few bites, yourself.
(Note: these busy bag ideas require adult supervision, and may not be appropriate for kids who still put small items in their mouth. Do not leave your child alone with these activities. This post contains affiliate links.)
Tips for restaurant activities busy bags:
Pack items for each busy bag in a zipper-type baggie so you can easily spot it inside your purse for those quick distraction moments. A small bag is fine. You want each restaurant busy bag to have just enough to keep your toddler or preschooler busy, but not enough stuff to clutter the table.
Bring several bags, you never know which one is going to be the one to catch your child’s attention that day.
Side note: order an appetizer for your child while you are sitting down. Toddlers and preschoolers should not be expected to wait as long as grown ups for their food. No amount of busy bags will keep them happy if their tummies are grumbling!
What you need:
The trick to keeping beads from going all over the place is to not pack too many. You don’t need the entire bag of 1000 from your craft closet. You can also put each kind of bead in its own bag if you like.The pipe cleaners are made from chenille so they “grabb” the beads and keeps them from falling off. That way they won’t all suddenly slide off onto the floor!
Kids can simply thread beads onto the pipe cleaners however they want, or try one of the following ideas to encourage math and literacy skills:
- Create patterns using colored beads.
- Create words with alphabet beads, or simply practice sounds as kids thread the letter.
- Match colored beads to the corresponding colored pipe cleaner.
- Create sequences: 1 blue bead, 2 yellow, 3 pink and so on.
What you need:
- Stickers of any kind. I love using office supply dots
- Paper and pen
Toddlers can easily be entertained just by transferring stickers to paper, but to keep things interesting for my 3 year old sometimes I quickly draw a few shapes on a piece of paper and then direct him to put the stickers on certain shapes. You can also show kids how to turn stickers into their own toddler connect the dots activity.
SENSORY I SPY JAR
Before going to a restaurant, fill a plastic water bottle with rice and small objects like beads, letters, small toy animals. Be sure to seal the bottle cap with glue. Kids can turn the bottle around looking for objects. Engage your child by asking, “What do you spy? Can you find a blue bead?”
Alternatively, these I SPY printables are fantastic.
What you need:
- Colored clothespins (alternatively, you can use plain clothespins and use a marker to color them)
- A piece of cardboard in which you have made colored squares around the edges in colors that match the clothespins.
Kids pin clothespins to the matching colored section on the cardboard.
What you need:
Apply sticky dots to at least 2 sides of each block. Voilà! A block set that won’t clatter all over the table!
Bring several books. These are my favorite toddler board books. You might not get to socialize as much, but then you’ve given up on that by now, right?
This is similar to threading (see above) and uses even fewer pieces. You can make your own by punching holes in a paper place and using a shoelace or string. Or you can purchase cards ready made in a variety of designs from simple to fancy, or even from the MOMA.
All of these activities are great for developing fine motor skills, which are crucial for handwriting so you can pat yourself on the back that not only did you keep your kid busy, you are helping him succeed at life!