It’s every mom’s secret fear: You find yourself waiting – at a crowded restaurant, on a plane, in the doctor’s waiting room, stuck in endless traffic – with several bored children and no toys.
So what do you do to keep them entertained? Here are a few of my favorite tricks!
Take turns picking out an object somewhere in the room and telling each other, “I spy with my little eye, something [color]!” and try to guess what it is. Something red could be a bottle of ketchup, something green could be a potted plant, something yellow could be someone's T-shirt. You can also get more specific for littler ones: “I spy…someone wearing a baseball cap” or “…a picture of a little boy” or “…salt and pepper shakers.”
“The Alphabet Game”
This one works with children who recognize the letters of the alphabet, even if they can’t actually read. Go through the alphabet together, trying to find an example of each letter, in the correct order. It’s best in the car when there are constantly different signs going by, but in the doctor’s office you can flip through magazines; in a restaurant you can use the menu; at the grocery store you can look at package labels and aisle signs.
“Down by the Bay”
This one only works when you’re not going to disturb others while singing. If you don’t already know the tune, check out YouTube for an example. The lyrics are: “Down by the bay, where the watermelons grow, back to my home I dare not go. For if I do, my mama will say, ‘Did you ever see [fill in the blank]?” You fill in the blank with a rhyming phrase, like “some llamas wearing pajamas” or “a fish washing a dish” or “a crook reading a book.” You can take turns filling in the rhyme, or everyone can just blurt out whatever comes to mind. The sillier the rhyme, the better!
Another noisy one best saved for traffic jams. You remember the old chant: “Categories (clap clap)! Names of! (clap clap) [specific category]s! (clap clap) Such as!” and then you fill in something that fits into that category starting with each letter of the alphabet, in turn. Good categories include vegetables, types of clothes, colors, food, vehicles, things that grow. Get creative with your answers: anyone can come up with “purple” as a color that starts with “p,” but how about “persimmon,” “plum,” “peacock,” or “pewter”? Feel free to skip over the hard letters. Nothing starts with “x” other than “xylophone” and “x-ray,” anyway.
“Who Are They?”
True confessions time: My husband and I played this game on our first date. We were at a restaurant, and seated near us was a table of maybe a dozen people ranging in age from late 20s to early 60s. We decided they were the employees of a law firm, and carefully identified the partners, the paralegals, and the interns. We determined who was secretly having an affair, who was ready to jump ship to another firm, and who was actually an undercover FBI agent. Children love to make up stories, so encourage them to imagine where the family in the car next to you in the traffic is headed, what the couple at the next restaurant table is talking about, or what the grocery store cashier is going to do after work today.
No matter where you are or how little you have on hand, you – and your children – always have your imagination with you. Use it! You’ll be amazed at how quickly time goes by. (Even when you’re in line at the DMV.)