This week, Apple reminded us that the iPhone is *only* 10 years old. Sometimes it seems hard to remember how we functioned without a smart phone in our lives – especially when it comes to entertaining small children. My first child was born in the ‘90s, which means her childhood predates the smart phone.

Even though I like to cook, I like having someone else cook for me even more, which means I spent years going to restaurants with my daughter and her younger siblings armed only with my wit and whatever was in my purse to keep them in their chairs at a restaurant. We tried many things, and I want to share with you the ones that they liked the most. Some days we could fill all our time with only one activity; other days we would rapidly cycle through many as nothing would hold their interest for long. Best of all, the activities are interactive, and would give us a chance to reconnect after a busy day/week/month.

 1. Coloring

This is about as old school as it gets. It’s great for even the youngest children – at least once you can trust that they won’t eat the crayons! Carry a baggie of crayons and some folded up paper in your purse (or in your car during cooler months) and you’re set even if the restaurant doesn’t have a paper children’s menu and crayons for you. (Or BYO if you have a child that is picky about colors and won’t settle for a random restaurant assortment!) Sometimes kids will let you join in, other times they may want to create a masterpiece by themselves.

2. Pen and Paper Games

Remember Dots, Tic-Tac-Toe and Hangman? These were some of my favorites when my children were too old for coloring, but too young to beat me all the time. You can print out (or even buy) game boards, or just pull a receipt out of your purse and play on the back. If you aren’t familiar with Dots (aka Dots and Boxes), this video will explain how to play. (There are also videos explaning how to win that you may want to watch!)

3. “I Spy With My Little Eye…”

This is a great one for young kids that have learned their colors. You take turns picking out an object in the restaurant and describing it only by its colors and then see how long it takes someone to figure out what you are looking at. Hardest part can be containing the enthusiasm of a child who wants to shout out answers. (I grew up playing this one as “Fiddle-dee-dee, Fiddle-dee-dee, I see something that you don’t see…” Anyone else ever learn it that way?)

4. “A My Name is Alice…”

This was my go-to when a child was learning to read. You go around the table taking turns with each successive letter in the alphabet (secretly hoping that you dont get the “Q” or “X”).  It can also ‘be easily modified from the standard format of “A my name is Alice, my husband’s name is Adam. We come from Atlanta where we sell apples.” Younger children can play without including a geographical location, and older children can be asked to add in additional items such as a job. (It’s so versatile that we’e played it in the car with teenagers!)

5. Hide the Coin

Sometimes it seems the longest wait comes after you’ve eaten. That’s when hiding a coin for entertainment works best, as there’s dishes, napkins, and likely other items still on the table that would easily conceal a coin. Everyone closes their eyes except the person hiding the coin. Once the coin is hidden, each person takes turns guessing where the coin is without actually rummaging around the table. They can be guided with “hot” and “cold” signals to let them know when they’re getting closer or farther away. When someone guesses correctly, the person who did the hiding reveals the coin.

Variation for large families/groups or for playing before dinner starts: One person is “it” and closes their eyes while someone takes the coin. Everyone puts their fists out, and the person who is “it” tries to figure out which fist hides the coin. 

6. Counting

Yes, you read that right. Once my children were old enough to understand “Bob Barker Rules” of placing bets, we used to take guesses on what number we would be at when our food arrived. Then we would slowly count. Sometimes into the hundreds. Whoever came closest to the actual guess without going over would “win” the pride of knowing they had the best guess. To this day, my kids still like guessing when our food is going to come out, only now we just pick a time and I look at my watch to determine the “winner.”

Do you have something else you like to use in a restaurant to occupy your children? Please share it in a comment!

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