Kids pretending to take orders from a menu
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Play Idea: Create Your Own Café

Nov 8, 2017

We pride ourselves on imagination, but from time to time it feels like we’re dredging the bottom of the barrel when it comes to creative playtime ideas for and with the kids. Plus, we’re always on the hunt for activities that will build their life skills in subtle and fun ways. So we were overjoyed when the kids came up with the solution to the situation all on their own, developing an awesomely fun and unique café, including a complete menu, prices and even an idea of who was in charge of which areas! Here are the activities (and sneaky skill builds) that go along with the fun.


Design the Café

Making a

To kick off the activity, start by suggesting that the kids name the café and give it a theme. That could mean the restaurant serves everything chocolate, cheese, pasta, burgers – pretty much any favourite food will do! The kids will have a blast discussing what items will ultimately end up on the menu, with a healthy dose of persuading the others about the reasons why. They’ll also have a big (and probably loud) brainstorm session about what to name the café, and we’ve found that a game of rock, paper and scissors is a good way to solve any disputes. We loved to see the creativity flowing as amazing suggestions were offered for menu items, names of dishes, and a moniker for the café proper. 

Life Skills:

  • persuasive communication
  • brainstorming
  • listening to other people’s ideas
  • leadership

Create a Menu

Child draws out menu.

Next up is a healthy dose of arts and crafts as the kiddos design the menu, draw or cut out photos of food items, and decorate the café. Get out the paints, pastels and pencil crayons and let creativity spill forth – it’s amazing how engrossed the kids can get in this project perfect for non-artists as well. Food magazines can provide inspiration, and even some design and décor magazines to choose a look for the nook. They’ll love owning the look and feel of the menu and café, similar to the fun they have decorating or rearranging their own rooms.

Life Skills:

  • creativity
  • drawing
  • manual dexterity
  • research

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Be the Boss, Make Some Money

Little girl looks at menu.

How much for that gourmet grilled cheese? Who owns the place, and what’s a manager? Kids get to set the prices for the café and soon learn about why everything in life isn’t free. And hammering out a basic sharing of duties is a subtle way to learn about teamwork and responsibilities. One kid might want to be a cook and focus on fun with food, while another wants to chat with customers. Kids often quickly clue in t the idea of responsibilities and all the little actions that go into producing something big.

Life Skills:

  • leadership
  • decision making
  • negotiating
  • people skills

Take an Order

Young boy takes his little sister's order.

Once the set-up is done, it’s time for the customers, whether family members or playmates. Kids will adore using a real order pad, available from paper supply stores, but any paper will do. Older “wait staff” can write out orders, while younger ones can draw pictures of the food or repeat them back to the “cook”. This is the point in the game where those acting skills really come out, and customers ask questions about menu items and ingredients.

Wait staff can get creative and descriptive with their answers and remembering to ask about any drinks or dessert orders. Just imagine the little ones trying to sell a reluctant customer on a dish of chocolate-covered potato chips, or a macaroni and cheese burger. When it’s time to serve the food, wait staff need to use their memories to get the right order to the correct person, all without spilling!

Life Skills:

  • writing
  • verbal communication
  • description
  • memory
  • sales

Play the Cook

Little girl pretends to

After the order is received, it’s time for the chef to get to work creating those delicious dishes. Play food, pictures of dishes, a few real-life concoctions, or good old magical make believe work well for representing the meals, snacks and dishes. Everyone can join in the fun here, but the chef is in charge. Kids have fun making, creating – and referring back to the menu when they can’t quite remember the specifics of a certain dish. It can be a blast for the chef to tour the restaurant and chat with the customers after they’ve had a few bites of the creation to find out how they liked it.

Life Skills:

  • memory
  • attention to detail
  • people skills
     

Tally Up the Bill

Brother-sister duo getting along!

When it comes time to add up the bill everyone can help, with or without a calculator. Somehow math seems more fun when it’s part of the café setting. Play money is fun at that stage so that the staff can also learn about making change. The classic Fisher Price cash register is a great toy to use here as well, if you have one. Kids can also learn about calculating tips and why they are sometimes given. Kids get a kick out of “earning” money, even if it came from Monopoly. And there is something oh-so-satisfying about pressing the keys of the cash register and retrieving the money and coins.

Life Skills:

  • adding
  • subtracting
  • percentages

The café game is a favourite in our home, and works with a minimum amount of materials. It offers great returns in creativity, math, language and planning skills — but most of all it’s a bit of creative fun, and that’s the most important thing.

Article Author Janice Quirt
Janice Quirt

Janice Quirt is a yoga teacher and freelance writer who lives in the beautiful hills of the Headwaters in Orangeville, Ontario, with her blended family of seven. With kids spanning a decade in age, there are always some shenanigans on the go, and she loves being in the middle of it all. Janice loves sharing nature, eco-living and new experiences with her family and friends, as well as a fine cup of coffee and a good book.

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