15 Low Tech Toys to Keeps Kids Busy at a Restaurant (Instead of an iPad)

Restaurant outings with toddlers and even older kids can be a tricky affair. What with long waits before your meal arrives and even more waiting once your child is full-up, it can be difficult to keep kids busy and engaged. We’ve all seen kids watching videos or playing on their iPads or other devices in restaurants – but that’s not for everyone. Whether you’re trying to keep your child away from electronics completely or you simply want your meals out to be a family affair, we’ve pulled together some low-tech toys and games to help.

Is having a toy or a game really any different than handing over a device, you may wonder? We think so. The items we’ve picked are low tech, educational and creative, and eco-friendly. They’re not only fun and engaging, teaching your kids new skills or allowing them to master current ones, but they’re also interactive. They invite dialogue and while they do keep your kids busy, they don’t involve the same level of isolation electronic devices do. Plus, rather than inundating your child with blue light, fast-paced graphics, or annoying sounds disturbing you and other guests – instead of a flat, two dimensional experience – they’re able to craft, explore, imagine and problem-solve while they play.

Make Me a Sweater Cross Stitch Bear

A great project for cross stitch beginners, Bear needs a sweater and your child can help. Go for a sporty look today and something more traditional tomorrow. Cross stitching is a fun and creative craft activity for kids. Keep little hands busy as they work hard to make a variety of sweaters and outfits for their adorable bear friend. The kit includes a wooden bear made of solid beechwood, 100% wool yarn in two colors, a kid-safe plastic needle, and a booklet with tutorials and cross stitch patterns to get kids started. The bear is very durable and high quality so you can always supplement the kit with your own chunky wool, sparkly yarn, or vibrant seasonal colors.

Djeco Wooden Magnetic Portraito Playset

Inside this quirky head-shaped metallic box is a large assortment of wooden facial features, hair styles, and fun accessories for building all kinds of boy and girl faces. Create a sunglass-wearing cool guy with spiky yellow hair; an eccentric grandpa, or a bearded pirate with a flower in his hair. With 38 different pieces, there are so many possibilities that this toy doesn’t get old quickly. Everything fits perfectly in the tin face box for easy clean up and transport.

Ikonic Toys Duotone Car Set


Designed by Floris Hovers, this line of 6 wooden toy cars is perfect for kids who love vehicles and transportation. The bold two-tone cars are inspired by vehicles of the past but also feel very modern. Not only are the beautifully designed but they’re made of beechwood for a wonderful, warm tactile experience that invites imaginative play. Each car has its own look and feel and is nicely stored away in its gift box.

Cicade Shop’s Pocket Dollhouse

A sweet little toy for younger children, this pocket dollhouse is perfect for occupying your child with imaginative play. Made of Lithuanian linen, the little house opens up to reveal a soft sewn doll with hand crochet braids. She has her own a hand-knit pocket-bed, a little sewn pocket-drawer to keep her valuables safe, a tiny sleeping mask, and a cat lamp that glows in the dark. The entire toy is lovingly handmade with hand-stitched details.

Little Biscuits Dress-Me Notepads

Keep your little artist busy with this unique fashion sketch pad. With 50 sheets of drawing paper and nine different illustrations that rotate throughout, the high-quality paper is strong enough to handle glitter, sequins, and other embellishments. Kid-sized at 4 x 6.5”, the notebook is also small enough to slide into your purse and take anywhere. Let your child imagine themselves and their friends as astronauts, superheroes, or anything else they desire.

Woody the Sheep Knitting Game

Made in France, Woody the Sheep is an adorable and eco-friendly knitting game for kids. A fun way to introduce younger children to the joys of knitting, the kit comes in adorable packaging and includes a wooden needle, a sweet little sheep figure made of beautiful timber, and organic wool from French sheep. Let your child wrap him up cozy as they learn patience, problem solving, and fine motor skills. The natural materials make this toy a soothing, tactile experience. Once complete, you can unwrap Woody and make him a new coat in a different pattern or display him as a decorative object.

Let’s Make Some Great Placemat Art

This isn’t just a booklet of paper placemats, Marion Deuchars has designed some fun and educational art activities to keep kids, young and old, busy at mealtimes. Featuring 36 generously sized mats and nine different designs, printed on art activity paper, there are enough themed sheets for a family with multiple children. Make your own pasta shapes. Picture your favorite meal. Draw Mona Lisa's Smile. Invent a meal for an alien.The prompts are fun and just enough inspiration to spark a child’s creativity.

Liewood Wooden Memory Game

This wooden memory game features bold graphics that are both sleek and sweet. With line drawings of birds and pandas, paper planes, and hearts, the illustrations are easily recognizable against the subtle yet playful background colors. Fun and stylish with a nordic touch, the pieces easily tuck away in a beautiful wooden box, making it easy to take the game with you on-the-go.

Studio Roof


These gorgeously illustrated 3D models are fun to build and great for imaginative play. Made of recycled cardboard and printed with vegetable inks, they come flat-packed so they’re easy to transport. Your kids can build, play, and disassemble them to take back home. Building these beautiful creations is easy: just pop out the shapes and slide them in together. The models come in a wide variety of shapes and themes from insects and animals to vehicles and cityscapes. Assembly instructions can be found on the inside of the packaging.

Pierre the Maze Detective Series

Each book of this beautifully illustrated series features 15 full-spread illustrations of intricate, magical mazes. In each version, Pierre the Maze Detective has a new case and he needs some help navigating a variety of fantastical worlds from underground cities to tree-top towns and haunted houses. Your child can trace their way through the pages, spot clues and solve extra mystery challenges along the way to get through long car rides or restaurant wait times. These books are hours of fun. A page of answers with the routes through the mazes and other solutions is included at the end of each book.

Sarah and Bendrix Match a Track


Totally low-tech and fun to play, this gorgeously illustrated matching game is both an educational toy and a perfect way to keep kids busy. Animal lovers will love poring over images of 25 different animals and their tracks and trying to pair them up. Has an elephant just crossed your path or was it an echidna? Can you track down a coyote, make out the trail of a peacock, and recognize the paw print of a panda? Kids can use their critical thinking skills while you wait for your meal to appear.

Plus Plus Puzzle Blocks

This building toy is basically a box of possibilities. With a single, simple shape in a variety of colors, your child can build anything they’d like in flat mosaics or more complex three dimensional pieces. It’s a totally open-ended toy that kids won’t tire of it easily, and it’s mobile so it’s perfect for on-the-go creativity. The pieces are also small, compact, and pack away easily so you’re not carrying a large or bulky item. As a developmental toy, it encourages fine motor skills, logic, and imagination without the use of screens.

Clover and Birch Wooden Busy Bag Set


This Montessori-inspired four pack busy bag set is a must-have for inquisitive toddlers on the go. They’re very easy to transport and great to just keep in the car so that you always have them handy for doctor appointments, long car rides, or restaurant outings. The four pack set includes four different busy bags: The Bowl and Scoop Set, The Egg Cup Set, The Alphabet Set, and The Animal Matching Set – great for keeping your child occupied for hours. All the pieces are made of natural wood for a lovely tactile sensory experience. The smooth textures and different, fun shapes invite exploration and play. Each set comes with its own organic cotton drawstring bag.

Plan Toys Pinball Game

While this classic game is a little larger to carry around, it will totally do the job, if you’re looking for something low tech to keep your kids busy on the go. Not only will kids enjoy the standard play: pull the stick at the bottom to shoot the ball up and try to hold the ball in play as long as you can by pushing the buttons on each side to control flippers. But we also love that this pinball game is totally customizable. Kids can mix up the playboard and create different challenges by adjusting the positions of windmills, wooden pegs, and rubber bands so it never gets old.

Wakka Water Toy


We’ve all obsessed over these little games for hours as a kid, trying over and over to get the hoops to land on their sticks. It’s just so simple, challenging, and fun. It has the hand-held feel of a smartphone without the cons of high-tech games...no overstimulation, no glowing blue-lit screens, and no negative effects on attention spans. We love this eco-conscious new update to the classic water toy game. Using natural wood rather than garrish plastic is beautiful aesthetically, a warmer tactile experience, and of course, better for the planet. The updated look also elevates the toy to an heirloom quality piece rather than a disposable throw-away.

What are some of your favorite low-tech toys and games to keep your little ones busy at a restaurant?

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