How to keep kids entertained at the table

I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say I love my children more when they’re quiet, but I’m certainly a happier Mum when my kids behave well. A friend recently confided that she was dreading her cousin’s wedding and when I offered to pass her a bag of tricks to help entertain the kids she jumped at the chance. ‘But where did you get these ideas from?’ she asked and I had to admit that every idea was stolen from other parents – either in real life or via their blogs. Lots of the suggestions that I came across were a bit ambitious for me – I’m always short on time and rarely have a laminator to hand, so I thought I would share some of my  more realistic suggestions for ways to keep kids happy even when they can’t run around.

There are too many ideas for just one post, so first up – quiet at the table. Whether it’s a meal at a restaurant, someone else’s house or a wedding breakfast, kids are generally not good at waiting at a table for food to be served or for other people to finish eating. I’m all for teaching my kids patience, but sometimes just a little bit of preparation can make it so much easier.nive found that taking out at least two of the following distracts and calms:

Busy bags for the table

Cards – At 6, Quibble is old enough for Top Trumps or snap cards, but even Squeak enjoys looking through a set of cards sorting, organising and making up her own games with them (the only consistent rule seems to be that she has to win).
Colouring – Quibble has just discovered colouring-by-numbers books, while Squeak is often happier with just plain sheets of paper. Often, for a specific occasion, I try to print off some pictures from the internet to colour – the novelty of images they haven’t seen before keeps their interest.
Stickers – I’ve never met a child who didn’t like stickers. They don’t last long – my two seem to want to get all the stickers stuck on a sheet of paper or into a notebook as quickly as possible – but it is an instant distraction when they need settling down.
Wallets – I bought a couple of cheap wallets at a charity shop (and have since acquired more from gift shops and freebies from magazines) and filled them with unwanted business cards, a couple of small photographs, fake money and credit cards. I thought the novelty would wear off pretty quickly, but these have lasted over a year now.
Beads – I have a small tin with beads, blutac, a shoelace and some little wooden sticks. This is more popular with Squeak than Quibble, but both have enjoyed threading the beads.
Activity books – Puzzles, dot-to-dot, spot the difference, mazes, wordsearch more colouring and stickers. Ideally, smaller than A4 (so they fit on a table) these can be picked up at pound shops, supermarkets or charity shops in advance and hidden until needed.
Lego – A small bag or tin of Lego with or without instructions (such as these)  Squeak mainly builds towers and Quibble usually makes spaceships but both do it sat quietly at the table.

Next time I’ve got ideas to stop boredom meltdowns for those times you’re just hanging around waiting.

 

5 things I’ve learnt about long car journeys with small children…

Thirteen hours in a car with two small children does not sound like fun. Unfortunately, (or possibly very fortunately) I didn’t think about this before I booked our holiday in the Vendee… a thirteen hour drive away. I spent a long time researching ways to entertain a two year old and a five year old (and had two willing volunteers to test them) and here’s five things I learnt:

1. It is important to know where you’re going – printing off a map of the journey with the route on seemed to give Quibble a sense of ownership because he could see where we were. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ was replaced with the slightly less annoying ‘where are we on the map?’
2. Busy hands make for quiet mouths – Both kids love play-doh, so to make it child friendly I put it in balloons making a stress-ball that could be squashed into simple shapes (although Squeak’s bananas bore little resemblance to the actual fruit). Another favourite was fiddling with pipe cleaners – Quibble made me a crown, a bracelet and a snowman and Squeak, well, she mostly just squashed them.
3. I Spy gets old very quickly – we were bored of it before we left Derbyshire, but we got a lot of mileage from a ‘Who can see..?’ variation and the kids excelled at ‘What am I?’ where we tried to guess the object, person or animal from a noise (Squeak always roared, even after Quibble tried to explain the rules to her). As Quibble loves counting, we tried counting how many of a certain thing (e.g. cow or tractor) we saw in a given time, sometimes trying to predict the answer first. I brought a couple of EyeSpy books with us, and although the kids are too young to start ticking them off and working out their point score, they quite liked going through them and announcing what they had seen.
4. Bags of toys rock – I gathered up all of their smallest toys (many were freebies from magazines) and found two little homemade cloth bags (previously given to them as party bags) to give out special treats whenever they really were bored. Lots of parents recommended wrapping toys, but putting them just a couple at a time in the little bags to pass back required less forward planning, created less mess and meant the same toys could be re-‘presented’. Their favourites were finger puppets, toy phones (they liked to phone each other) and old wallets filled with pretend money and out of date business cards.
5. If all else fails, snacks can save you – We had bottles of water, breadsticks, snack bars, boxes of raisins, biscuits and kinder treats, but the most popular snack by a long way was the fresh baguette we’d bought for lunch eaten Lady and the Tramp-style.

French bread is the best snack!
Baguette babies!