Screen-Free Dinner with a Toddler (The Fun Way)

Imagine…

A wonderful dinner meal (or any meal for that matter) has just been prepared. The sweet aromas of a yummy dinner fly throughout the house. Everyone is called to dinner to enjoy each other’s company and a delicious meal. Everyone, including Mom and Dad, put cell phones; tablets; computers; and TV away and off; right. Wrong! In too many households, including mine, dinner consists of simply eating food. No interaction, and maybe not even at the dinner table at all. There are so many distractions with our devices and TV that it is hard to unplug even for a few minutes to enjoy a meal as a family. Sound familiar?

My small family struggled with this. As I looked around at dinner time this is what I saw: my toddler watching a show on my phone, my husband messing around with his phone, and me reading a book. We were all in our own little world. There was very little interaction aside from the occasional, “Take another bite” reminder to my toddler. Sure, having the show on for my toddler helped her eat better; but there had to be a better way to enjoy dinner. Thus, the Dinner Activity Basket was born.

Fun and simple ideas to enjoy a screen-free dinner with a toddler.

Dinner Activity Basket

Dinner basket with activities
Dinner Basket

Our basket is completely geared to our toddler because that is the dynamic of our family right now, but this idea could easily be customized to fit the needs of your family. The idea is that instead of turning to our devices for entertainment during dinner we turn to each other. There are several different activities or games included in the basket that can easily be done during dinner—even with my toddler’s messy hands. ;).

What’s Included in the Basket

Reading Books

Right now me or my husband read a book while my daughter looks at the pictures, but if you have readers (or beginning readers) you could easily take turns reading from a book. If your family is a bit older, maybe you have a family novel that you choose to read (or listen to) together during dinner times. If you need ideas or don’t have any unread books around your house there is no need to buy more (unless of course, you want to). Check out your local library! Libraries are a great resource that we enjoy very much.

BAM!

This is a fun (and very easy) game that we play during dinner. The best part of this game is that it is super easy to personalize for your family and whatever life stage you’re at right now. All that is needed to make this game is a marker, a cup, and a bunch of craft or popsicle sticks. I found this idea at childhood101. As a side note, I decided to Mod Podge my BAM! sticks to help protect them from messy toddler fingers. Although the Mod Podge helps to keep the sticks clean, they do stick together a little. You decided what is best for you. Find the full directions here.

Playing BAM! while eating dinner.
Playing BAM!

Alphabet BINGO

My daughter absolutely loves this game. Essentially, this is a letter recognition game. Cheerios make great space markers. My daughter loves to eat the cheerios instead of covering the board. So she will point to the letter on her board and then eat the cheerio. Find these adorable BINGO printable cards at crazylittleprojects.

ABC BINGO game with cheerios
ABC BINGO

Conversation Games

These games require no preparation or materials, which makes them great. These could even be played in the car going to and from your family’s different activities. I searched the internet to find a lot of different talking games/conversation starters. Then I typed up the names of the different games, wrote simple directions on the back of each, and laminated them (check out laminating without a machine). I put them in the Dinner Activity Basket so we can simply draw out a conversation game and play. My hope is that by engaging and including my daughter in conversations she will learn more communication and speech skills. Below are the conversation games I included in our basket.

Conversation games
Conversation Games

All these conversation games were found at thedinnerproject. Check them out for other excellent ideas for various age groups.

Cat and Cow

Pick a leader. The leader either says, “Cat” or “Cow”. All the other family members either says, “Meow” or “Moo” accordingly. The leader keeps calling out “cat” or “cow” randomly and quicker until someone at the table says the wrong animal sound. Then pick a new leader.

I Spy

Pick a leader. The leader picks something he or she can see from sitting at the table (but does not say it aloud). The leader says, “I spy with my little eye something that is ___________(color of the object).” All the other family members try to guess what the object is. Whoever guesses correctly is the new leader.

ABC Gratitude

Go around the table and for each letter of the alphabet say something you are grateful for. No skipping people or letters, must go in ABC order.

Would You Rather?

Pick a leader. The leader picks one person then asks that person a “would you rather?” question that they have made up. The person answers the question and why they choose the answer they did. The person who just answered becomes the leader and asks a new person a “would you rather?” question. Everybody must be asked a question and be a leader before someone is allowed to be asked/be a leader again.

How Many Hands?

Pick an item from the dinner table (for example, a baked potato) and try and trace it as far back as you can. In the potato example: table-oven-pantry-grocery store-distribution center-farmer, etc. How did the item get from the world to our table?

Where in the World?

Take turns answering these questions: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? Who would you take? What would you do? What would you take? How would you get there?

Another version of this game (with a bit more preparation): Rotate turns for who will come to dinner prepared. When it is your turn, choose anywhere in the world and tell the family about that place. Some ideas could include the culture, people, customs, flag, tourist places to see, how far from home is it (in time and miles), weather/climate, form of government, etc.

Which One?

Pick a leader. The leader thinks of two people that all family members would know and says them out loud (for example, Grandma and Grandpa). Then the leader states a fact or interesting thing about one of those people. The other family members try to guess who the leader is describing. After a few rounds, switch leaders. This is a great game to learn about family history, funny stories, or maybe even historical figures.

High, Low

Each family member has a turn to tell the rest of the family the highlight of his or her day as well as the low. Think events, conversations, feelings, etc.

Sing

In our family, this means singing/saying nursery rhymes, church songs, and children’s songs.

Story time Coins

Finally, we have story time coins in our Dinner Activity Basket. Get the full directions for creating your own story time tiles at howdoesshe? Each family member draws several coins (how many varies based on how many are in your family and how many coins you have) from a bag without looking at what they are. He or she may look at them after everyone has drawn their coins. Pick who goes first and then begin telling a story. Each family member tells one or two sentences of the story at a time, using one of his or her coins each time it is his or her turn. Often this results in a silly, nonsense story that is sure to bring giggles. I suspect this one will be much harder for the adults around the table than the kids. ;).

Story time coins
Story Time Coins

Well, that does it for our Dinner Activity Basket. My daughter and family have enjoyed interacting with one another again during dinner time. I’d love to hear your ideas. What have you done to keep dinner screen-free? Leave a comment below.

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