Monday, February 11, 2013

Keeping a Toddler Busy

The first thing I have to say is: "Thank you, Internet!" There is so much information about entertaining children out there. My advice is not to just look up things to do, but look up how your child is likely to be developing. Activities based on their areas of development will keep them happy longer and will help them learn and grow. Of course, every child is different. When you catch your child playing quietly by himself, take note of what he is doing and what it says about his development. This will help you find ways to encourage him to play quietly in the future.  Here are some fun things I have come up with for my "little bird." Perhaps you'll find a thing or two for your own toddler (and your own sanity.)

A classic. It seems so obvious, but I think even the most experienced parents forget sometimes. Let your kid help. It may be less than helpful, but it will keep them happy, which is actually very helpful. Let them help with laundry or dishes. When we are doing  dishes my daughter likes to use the special pink scrub brush I got for her or to pour water from one dish to another. For laundry, I give her a tiny basket and put her clothes in it. She then carries it to her room and dumps it on the floor. She usually makes several trips. I come back later to sort the pile into the proper drawers. Her favorite thing to help with is anything involving tools. In the picture she has a screw driver, but I prefer to give her less pointy tools like small wrenches. She inevitably finds something to turn with it.
Scrub Time
My daughter enjoys bubbles and cleaning. On several occasions I have given her something dirty, like a booster seat, to work on. I give her a scrub-brush  and a spray bottle full of soapy water.  The spray bottle is her favorite. Who doesn't love to squirt water? This not only keeps her happy for a while, but it actually is pretty helpful to me. After she is done it doesn't take long for me to finish the job.

Colored Rice in Muffin Tins
I don't remember what sparked this idea. It was something on pinterest, but it is my own variation. I mixed a tiny of water and food coloring into uncooked rice. I then place the rice in a pan out in the sun or in a warm oven to dry it out. Then I put the different colors of rice into a muffin tin and gave my daughter a spoon. It has been a good activity for her. The colors are completely mixed up now, so it looks like confetti, but she enjoys scooping and pouring. This one can be a bit messy because the rice goes everywhere, but its worth it.

Toy Rotation
If you haven't heard this tip yet, you're in luck. Its a good one. Store away some of your child's toys so that when they start to get bored you can rotate. They can be very excited about toys they haven't seen for a while. You can also see if there is a toy library in your area (check out wikipedia "Toy Library") Or see if your fellow mom friends are interested in rotating toys among your families.

Don't forget this classic! Finding or creating dress-up items is inexpensive and easy. You can cut up your old clothes or hunt for treasures at your local thrift stores.  Dress-up is an especially fun game when friends come over. And dress up isn't just for girls! Boys and girls alike can enjoy outfits such as doctor's appliances, pirate garb, cowboy get-up, police uniforms, and hats and shoes of all kinds.  Don't forget to rotate the dress-up items as you rotate your toys.

Spaghetti Art
One of my personal favorites. You know how noodles stick to a plate or a pan if you let them dry, making them a pain to clean off? Well, they stick to paper too! Just cook a few separate pans of noodles and put a different color in each pan. You'll need a very generous dose of food coloring. Make art with it! Snack on it! You'll need to keep the noodles moist, so mix a little water into the pans if they dry out. Otherwise they won't stick. When you are finished, let it dry in the sun or inside overnight. The final product isn't something you can keep (beside photos) because the paper curls as the noodles dry, but creating it is a blast.

Pudding Painting
Speaking of edible fun and delicious art, you can try this simple finger painting. Thin vanilla pudding+food coloring. Its a blast! And of course, it's yummy.  My daughter prefers paint brushes to finger painting, but it ruins them, so I'm still trying to figure out a solution to that. (I got this idea from my mother-in-law. Thank you, Sharon!)

Alphabet Soup
This activity is more eating fun, or at least pretend eating. As a preface, I would recommend magnetic letters to all parents! They are so great! For this activity, I put the magnetic letters in a metal cake pan and pull out a couple of spoons. My toddler and I pretend to eat the letters and feed them to each other. I like talk about the names of the letters we are eating to help her learn.

Dry Erase Markers
Thank you, Mom, for the dry erase markers and the dry erase board! This is a great variation on coloring because it requires no paper! If your kid can reliably restrict herself to appropriate surfaces, I would highly recommend it. My daughter loves to scribble/draw and then erase. Its a great learning tool as well. We play a game with shapes where I draw three different shapes and she erases the shapes as I say their names. Its good with colors too, and I hope to begin letters soon if she still thinks it's fun. If you decide to try this make sure to get colorful and low-odor markers.

This is another variation on coloring. This year for my daughters birthday I didn't want to buy wrapping paper so we colored and stickered a box together to put her presents in. She actually enjoyed poking holes in the box more than anything, but we had fun. Its also fun to color a large box to look like a house, or anything else, and then play inside. Long story short: crayons+boxes=fun.

*A note on coloring. I have heard that it is better to give a toddler a blank page than it is to give them a coloring book. My apologies, I could only find one of the sources I found a way back on this. Here it is:  

I think the idea is that coloring pages restrict them. They are putting color on someone else's drawing instead of creating their own. Having said that, I think a good coloring book is handy now and again, but I try not to rely on them.

Another classic to remember. Its simple: gather stuffed animals and dolls around the table or on a picnic blanket and serve them tea, or even a full blown meal! My daughter especially enjoys this one because she is fascinated with the ritual of eating as a family. Everyone gets such and such dishes and we all sit together and eat the same food. Everyone must have some of everything etc etc. It is a comforting pattern in her life and she enjoys providing it for someone else, even if they can't talk. Or eat.


  1. Great ideas!! One thing with the dry erase board is they also make dry erase crayons now. I got Charlie a dry erase board and the crayons for Christmas and it is very handy for church. It even comes off the bench when he colors outside the board.

  2. Your family is adorable! Some great ideas in here.