Getting supper on the table is no easy task. Add toddlers into the mix, and it can easily become one of the most frustrating parts of your day. It was for me. I reached my breaking point last year and decided that I had to find a (screen-free) way to entertain my kids while I cooked supper. *We are not opposed to screens, but try to minimize their use*
As I tried to come up with a solution, one of things that I kept thinking was “they have so many toys that never get played with” and decided to solve two problems at once.
The goal was to find a constructive way to keep them entertained while I got supper ready utilizing what we already had. In trying to figure out what that would look like, I decided on these criteria:
- Kids needed to be in or near the kitchen so that I could quickly help (translation: referee) them
- Activity would keep kids stationary so that they would stay in or near where I was
- Needed something that cleaned up quickly to smooth the transition from play to eating
- Something that they could do (mostly) unassisted so that I could actually cook the food
We have a large island in our kitchen where I do all of the food prep and it also doubles as our kitchen table. Having the kids do some sort of activity at the island while I made supper seemed to be the solution for what I was trying to accomplish.
And with that, armed with a note pad and pen, I went to the kids’ toy room and made a list of anything they had that could be done, completed or played at the kitchen counter. The list was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be and a good chunk of it was the stuff that didn’t get used often.
Two Birds Down.
I collected the items from the list and brought them upstairs to our office closet. Separating the toys would help the kids distinguish between “regular” toys and “Counter Activities” (as they are referred to in our house). That, and their toy room is downstairs and our kitchen is upstairs, so I wanted the counter activities close to where they would be used.
The toys are stored on the bottom of the closet so that the kids can easily take out what they want without (much) assistance. These closet organizers were here when we moved in and they’re fixed in position, so we just try to work around them as much as we can.
Originally, the rule for Counter Activities was that the only time they were to be used was when I was making supper. The thought process being that I wanted the counter activities to be something special and something that they’d always be excited to take out. I’ve loosened up on that rule a little bit because they are always excited about doing them. If we reach a point where they’re bored with them, I may go back to the original rule.
How Does It Work?
- Pick up all of the other toys. Before I start making supper, the kids clean up any toys that they had been playing with previously. This way, all of their toys are put away before eating supper, and I’m not fighting with them to put stuff away as I’m also wrapping up the last parts of getting supper ready.
- Choose an activity. Each kid goes to the closet and chooses one counter activity. They are allowed to change them at any time, but may only have one at a time and they are responsible for cleaning up the activity and putting it away before getting out a new one.
- Put away Counter Activity. 5 minutes before supper is ready, the kids put away their activity and then help with their pre-supper jobs (setting the table). This is why choosing activities that clean up quickly and easily is key – it minimizes the transition time from play to eating.
There is no exhaustive list of what could be included for these activities. Unless you have almost no toys for your kids, you shouldn’t need to buy anything new. For reference, here’s what’s included in our Counter Play closet:
- Lacing Beads
- Memory Game
- High 5 magazines
- Mr. Potato Head
- Sort & Snap Color Match
- Shape Sorting Cube
- Sensory Bins
- Magnetic Dress Up Dolls
- Imagination Magnets
- Animal & Letter Magnets (used on imagination magnets board)
- Reusable Sticker Pads
- Magna Doodles
- Workbooks (Tracing, Scissor Skills, Tape & Wacky Faces)
- Paint with Water Books
There have been times when the kids have been playing so well when it’s time for me to start supper and I think, “Oh, they’re having so much fun. I don’t want to interrupt it. I’ll just let them keep playing.” And I regret it every time.
We’ve reached a point where if I start pulling pots and pans out and haven’t told them to start cleaning up, they ask for Counter Activities. It’s a really proud parenting moment for me.
What ways have you found to keep your kids entertained while you cook?