You are finally there, at the restaurant you had been planning to go to for days and weeks.
You had it all sorted. Dress-up, pack up and get there – your little bundle of excitement in tow.

After the long haul of getting a table, deciphering the menu, ordering, and washroom visits, finally, feeling settled, you sit hoping the food arrives soon. But the wait becomes long, as your child’s fiddling turning into runs across the restaurant, accompanied by stares from tables nearby.

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Yes, we all did this before we reached parenthood. Looked around at young parents, wondering why they could not handle their tot and stop her from running to others’ tables, pulling the table covers, crying and screaming for the cutlery and glassware! Hmmph …

Pre-parenthood was easy. All one had to do was STARE! Now, the tables are turned. It really is a smash, managing the tot in one’s own arms.

Which is exactly why; here are five suggestions on the coolest and simplest activity games to play with your child while waiting at the restaurant table!

A favourite and definitely the easiest, is “FIND THE LETTERS”.

This game is for those emerging readers who love to find a familiar letter here and a common word there. And, what better place to look, than in that boring, fine print menu card? Dig into it with your little one to find the letters of her name, sounds she can recognize, words she reads (like apple, juice, sugar and milk) and some favourite food pictures too!

Another good activity is the traditional “COUNTING COUNTER”.

This is easy to play anywhere. All you need to do is to count along with your baby. Count what? Everything you see around you! Count the plates on the table, spoons in the holder, trays on the shelf, red clothed people, even cars passing outside the window! Count your way to waiting for the food.

My real favourite, “I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE”, too works everywhere.

The classic game of spotting something around you and asking the other player, “I spy with my little eye, a golden coloured spoon. Do you spy it too?”, can get you and your little one thinking, observing and challenging one another; taking turns to spot something (from spoons to napkins, lights to electrical fittings, bags to furniture) and asking the other to look for it.

The best part about this game is that it can be played at any age! From toddlers who can point, up to bored teens. Just change the things you spy and make them just about right for the age group you are engaging.
Take my word, your spouse and others at the table too will soon join eagerly!

The next bestseller is the “SMILEY GAME”.

This requires paper and pen (ask the serving staff if you are not carrying any!). Ideal for 2+ you just need to make some simple human face outlines for your little one to give it features.

The fun starts after a few rounds. The child now not only knows where exactly to draw the nose, ears, eyes and hair; but also soon begins to add smiles, tears, feelings and stories in this super table activity!

Lastly, can there be dining games without a “MAT ACTIVITY”?

You can use the restaurant’s paper table mat (especially the reverse blank side) for some fun activities like match the same objects, spot the object, dotted lines and paper maze. If you cannot draw too well (like me!), worry not! Simply draw shapes, stars, moons, fruits and pencils for all those drawing games!

So, the next time you are in a restaurant, grab some attention for being a pro at handling your child.
Remember too; there’s lots of learning happening right there at that dining table. Have a yummy time!!

Writer: Sanya Hariyani Merchant, Co-Founder, Titli Early Childhood Training Institute.
A passionate early childhood educator since 2009