If you’re anything like me, you love going out to eat! But all that wait time at restaurants can get hard for children, especially those with attention problems. Well, good news! You can work on speech and language skills while waiting for dinner and keep your child occupied in the meantime! Try these restaurant activities to improve speech and language while you wait.
Restaurant Activities #1:
Find Letters/Words on Menus: Literacy
Ask to hold onto a few menus after you order. Many times, kids will get their own special menu that they can color on, these are good too! Once the waiter leaves, tell your child you’re going to play a game. Make a race to see who can find certain letters, numbers, or words on their menu. If you have a child who doesn’t know letter names or words yet, you can draw the letter for her first so she can see what it looks like before trying to find it. If this is still too hard for your child, have her find pictures on the kids menus (such as, find me the bunny!). If your child is doing very well with this, try asking him to find harder things, such as “find me something sweet” or “find me something chewy”.
Restaurant Activities #2:
Grouping vocabulary words into categories is a wonderful language skill that will improve your child’s ability to understand words and recall them when he needs them. Try going through the menu and grouping all of the foods into categories. You can tell your child the categories ahead of time, like “fruits, vegetables, grains, baked goods, dessert, healthy/not healthy, appetizers,” etc. Then, pick out a food and have your child decide which category it belongs to. If you have paper with you, you can keep a running list. Some foods may have multiple parts that belong in different categories, such as a cheeseburger. It’s great to talk about which parts belong where. If your child has a lot of trouble with this, you can make very simple categories like “dinner” and “dessert” or “yummy” and “yucky” (in his opinion!). For older children, you can try harder categories, such as using descriptors, like sweet and salty.
Restaurant Activities #3:
Teach Your Child to Order: Social Skills
Ordering food for your child may seem easier, but it will build your child’s language skills and confidence if they can order for themselves. You can practice ordering food beforehand at home so it’s not so intimidating. Practice a script like “I would like the _____”. When you’re practicing at home, tell your child what types of questions the waiter might ask her so that she can prepare some answers ahead of time. When you get to the restaurant and your child picks out what she wants, have her practice asking with her script on you first. If the waiter comes by, tell him you need more time until she can get this part done. Ask her a variety of questions about her order so she’s ready. You could ask her “how do you want that cooked?” or “do you want a salad with that?” Once she seems confident, let her go ahead and try. If she freezes up, trying starting sentences for her and letting her finish them. You could say “I would like the…” and let her fill in the choice. If the waiter asks her questions and she doesn’t respond, re-ask her the question yourself and then when she answers, tell her to direct that answer back to the waiter. Take baby steps, this is very hard for some children and it may take several attempts. If she’s really upset, just go ahead and order the rest of the way for her and try to get her to do a little bit more on the following visit. Remember to keep practicing at home with a variety of adults so she gets a lot of practice. Talking to strangers can be scary but being able to use language in a social outing is very important. Keep at it and you’ll succeed!
Restaurants can be fun for kids and adults and with the right restaurant activities, you can make it through without too much hassle. For more great speech and language activities and resources, check out the Speech and Language Kids Podcast. Thanks for reading!