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.


Pink for a Girl

Thirty-odd years ago, I was born into a world where a woman ran the country and that simple fact made me feel that one day I could do the same if I wanted. My daughter has been born into a world where there is now a pink version of Lego just for girls and Paris Hilton is somehow a role model.

I have a rule that Squeak is not allowed pink – not on clothes, not on toys, not on bags or plates or, well… anything. I have no problem with her having things which are feminine, but I do have a problem with the pinkification of being a girl. Some of my friends think it is ridiculous. They tell me that Squeak will rebel and want to be like her peers and have nothing but pink as soon as she is old enough to have an opinion and that may be true. They say that I’m the one being sexist because I let Quibble wear blue, but that is where difference lies.

Quibble has some blue clothes, but he also has orange, red, green, brown and yellow. His toys are a variety of bright primary shades. If you ask him his favourite colour, it changes every time. But it is almost impossible to buy anything for Squeak which doesn’t have at least some pink in it and there are pink versions of toys which aren’t even particularly gendered; tricycles, pianos, trampoline, shape sorter, art table, sandpit, ballpool… In many ways, the fact that I have to actively seek out non-pink items makes me even more determined, because it really shouldn’t be this difficult to want your child to know more than one colour.

I need Squeak to know that just because there is a pink version, doesn’t mean that if things aren’t pink they are only suitable for boys. And for me, taking pink out of the equation makes things much more gender neutral. Because yes, she’s a girl, but she’s also so much more than just a gender.

She will be a person in her own right. She will be the product of her upbringing. She will be influenced by her age, by the media and by her friends. She may become an engineer, like her father, or a teacher, like her mother. She might be very into crafts or cooking or reading or dolls and I would accept any of those (Quibble has tried all these). But I need her to know that if she wants to watch racing cars or kick a football or climb trees, she can. There’s more than one way to be a girl.

Most importantly, at the moment she’s a baby who has no concept of gender – hers or anyone else’s. She loves making things move; cars, balls, the pages of a book. She loves cuddles and tickles and being thrown up in the air by Stanchion. She just doesn’t wear pink.