Table Time Activities
Ever struggle to prepare dinner while your kids are going wild and fighting with one another? I know how you feel! I have come up with a list of activities for you to try with your kiddos to help prevent this chaotic time from being so stressful. As a nanny, I love being able to prep healthy meals for my little kiddos, but they often get a pretty wild before dinner and it’s hard to cook and keep them entertained at the same time.
My first two suggestions are:
1. Try to make easier and quicker recipes so that dinner doesn’t take as long to get ready or require as much involvement. Prepping certain things earlier in the day during their nap time can also be helpful! Instant Pots or Crock Pots are also life-savers! (Pressure Cookers and Slow Cookers can be a great addition to your kitchen.) One pot or one sheet pan recipes are often good too, because you can put everything together and then leave it to cook while you go entertain your little ones.
2. Get them involved in the process. You can let your kiddos start helping you prep dinner even from the age of 2 years or earlier! If they aren’t great at listening and being helpful yet, another option is to put them in their high chair near where you are cooking and let them watch you. You may be surprised how interested they are to see the process! Letting your kids help you cook is amazing in several ways. One way is that it often makes them a bit more likely to try the food you cook once it’s done. It doesn’t always help, but overall it does increase the chance of them eating the meal.
Sometimes you employ all these strategies and they still aren’t cutting it. Or you just want to enjoy cooking a meal by yourself at times. This is when the list below comes in handy! Have your child(ren) sit at the dinner table nearby and supervise their play while you’re cooking dinner. Many of these activities are great for a wide range of ages, but some are more entertaining for little ones or better suited for older kids.
This is a classic activity that many families already have and use often. Most kiddos love shaping and creating with playdough, and it’s a great sensory activity. To switch it up a bit, give them some new tools or cookie cutters to use with the playdough. This will provide a renewed interest and might help their play to last a bit longer. Making your own playdough from scratch and adding in food coloring or essential oils is also a great activity. This can be done earlier in the day (it’s really pretty easy!) and then the new playdough can cool down and be presented for play while you’re cooking dinner. Use a calming essential oil for a great sensory play time. And no worries if a little goes in the mouth with homemade playdough!
-Paint in a Bag
Many kids love to paint, but it usually makes a giant mess with toddlers! Some kids also don’t love having that messy feeling on their hands. This is a perfect solution to both those problems. Get a thick ziploc bag (freezer bags are usually a nice thickness). Then take several colors of finger paint and squeeze some good size drops inside. Use some masking or painter’s tape to secure the sealed bag to the table. This ensures the paint will stay put in its ziploc bag! No mess, but still fun. Let your little one squish the paint around and swirl the different colors together. I tried this activity with my nanny kids when they were getting antsy one afternoon and they really loved it! It’s another great sensory play activity. They squished all the paint colors together and wanted to do another bag with different colors. Pretty fun and very easy with minimal clean up compared to doing regular finger painting!
Kids love to play with things that aren’t toys made for children. They like exploring real life objects and often prefer these items to regular toys. You can get some non-breakable pots and pans out of your cabinets and set them on the floor or table for your child to explore and play with. Give them some wooden or plastic spoons and ladles and let them bang around and make some music. This might not be the best activity when you have a headache, but if you’re up for a bit of noise, your little one will love this and probably want to do it again another time. You can even play some music for them to drum along with or welcome them to start dancing (depending on the size and layout of your kitchen area, haha!).
Sensory activities are really great for keeping kids’ attention for a bit. Take some dry, uncooked rice (or beans, pasta, lentils, etc.) and place it in a bin or tub. You pick the size of the container, how much rice you add, and whether it goes on the table or floor! You can even prep it beforehand with some food coloring or essential oils to make it more interesting if you’d like. Give them some measuring cups and spoons to scoop the rice up with and let them enjoy. You can also hide little toys in the rice bin and instruct them to dig around until they find all of them.
-Arts & Crafts
When your child is about 4 or 5, they are able to do much more on their own. For this activity, you can get out some various art supplies and let them choose what they’d like to make. Provide them with various colors and textures of paper, crayons and markers, tape or glue, scissors, and more. You could even give them stickers, pompoms, dot paints, buttons, etc. to put onto their creations. If your child complains or isn’t sure what to make, offer some fun suggestions like a kite, book, or anything they’re really interested in. Help them to spark some imagination. If your child is a bit younger, you can provide them with a cardboard box and some colors to decorate the box with. Kids always love boxes and come up with some pretty creative things!
Just before dinner or nearing bedtime is a great time for a calmer activity where some listening skills are practiced. Many libraries have books you can check out that are accompanied by CDs with an audio reading of the story. There are also some apps, downloads, etc. online now that you can use as well. Little toddlers aren’t likely to sit still for this, so it’s a bit better suited for preschool and up. It’s best to have the book there in hand for them to follow along with as its read. This is great practice for reading and comprehension. At dinner, you can ask them about the story and it can be a conversation starter. Audio books that have a bit of music and are shorter will appeal better to really young kiddos.
This is a classic craft made by most children at some point in their lives. You get some ribbon or yarn and have a variety of pastas available for stringing. Macaroni and other tube pastas with a hole on each end work best for this. You could also include some buttons or beads for more variety in colors and shapes (best for older kids). Let your kiddo string on the noodles and make their own jewelry or present it as a gift to a loved one. For youngsters, this is a great fine motor skill activity to increase dexterity. You could also have your kiddos paint some of the noodles beforehand to make the necklace look more interesting.
I hope these activity ideas were intriguing and helpful to you and your family! The list of things you can do with your kiddos to have fun and keep them entertained is really endless, but sometimes it’s hard to think of things when life feels chaotic! A few more table activity ideas include putting together puzzles, playing memory match games, playing an easy card game like Go Fish with siblings, doing paper doll dress-up, and sorting shapes and colors of small blocks into different boxes or baskets. Share with us in the comments if you have a favorite dinner time activity or if you have any questions about the things listed above! Happy playing!