Working from home has brought on some fun challenges to overcome throughout my day. Like, keeping an almost 2 year old entertained for 6-8 hours a day without hurting herself, the dog or destroying the house. She has no fear so I often find her at the top of a piece of furniture I didn’t know she could climb, using our dog as a horse – and our golden is the sweetest girl and just lets her because she is so gentle with Zoe – or my personal favorite, she has gotten stuck on top of a diaper box and in between the couch and wall. She has a creative energy that is forever burning. So how do I encourage her explorative nature while continuing to work and keep her safe all at the same time?
I have never been more thankful for my background in Early Childhood Education than I am right now. As we navigate these unknown adventures of both my husband and I working from home full time we have had to get creative with toddler activities. Especially when Ohio’s weather doesn’t cooperate and we are stuck indoors for days at a time due to the rain and cold MAY weather. (Ohio is drunk sometimes) Here are a few of our favorites.
Over the last couple months I went through a progression of buying sidewalk chalk from the dollar section at Target to Crayola’s heavy duty mega teacher box of buttery smooth chalk. They are not even in the same playing field friends. Crayola’s is just in a league of their own. Something that we have done a few times that has truly saved us some days, is playing chalk indoors. I know, I know, ‘Sarah, Are you insane?’. Well probably a little, but I have never been tested for insanity so we can’t be sure. Chalk is easy to wash off of little hands, most surfaces, the dog, the wall, my table, and my kitchen floors. We have dark, really pretty floors in our apartment and she loves to sit on the floor next to me while I work and just make little doodles. -Full disclosure, she also has drawn on my clothes while I am working and just giggles. It’s washable, And keeps her busy for a while.- We love our sidewalk chalk!
Outdoor Bubble Machine
Sincerely, if you have not spent the $20 on a bubble machine for your toddler yet, hit me up and I will donate to your child’s entertainment and your sanity. This little machine I purchased last summer for a get together with family was mostly enjoyed by our dogs and our older niece at the time. Zoe was too little to truly enjoy the bubbles then, but we are making up for that this year. Almost every single time we are outside on the patio play we have this running. Not only does she love them, but our golden retriever loves playing in the falling bubbles as well. When Maui -the dog- plays and dives for the bubbles before they hit the ground and “chomps” on them our daughter does one of two things..She will either giggle and play with Maui, OR she will get angry that Maui beat her to the bubble she wanted and make THE most adorable grumpy face. Either way, our dependents love them and we love watching them enjoy the bubbles.
Getting Messy with Painting
Okay, take a deep breath on this one. And now slowly let it out. Friend? Toddlers learn through making messes. They learn through trying things out and getting their hands dirty and seeing what works and doesn’t work. But I get it, Oh believe me I get it. Cleaning up crayons or sidewalk chalk is one thing, but paint? It is a bigger activity and a messier one, but so worth allowing them to explore their creativity this way.
Here are a few ways we do paint time in our house. First, use washable paint. We love the Washable Tempera Paint – For Kids. We have a 30ct variety pack with bright colors, glitter colors, and metallic colors. Sometimes we only need to fill 20 or 30 minutes of time so we do smaller projects, like one page artwork pieces to mail to family. I use white card stock because the paper doesn’t get as soggy with the heavier paper. I take scotch tape and roll four little pieces to place on all four bottom corners and then tape it to the kitchen floor, or to her high chair tray. This keeps the paper from running away from her while she is painting. If you want to do several pieces at once that is cool too, because it gives her a bigger surface to play with.
We have also done a few canvas paintings as well. I got a square canvas at Target, and it happened to be on clearance so I ended up only paying a few bucks for it. I laid down some garbage bags and let her pick out all of the colors she wanted to use. Then I dabbed a little dot of each color in a few different spots on the canvas and just handed her the brush.
The second canvas we had her paint was an old piece of art that hung in my class room that I was just sick of staring at, but didn’t want to throw it away. So I used some pearly white, and silver glitter acrylic paint left over from Christmas ornaments, and covered the entire canvas while she was sleeping to give her a fresh slate to work with. Again, we laid down a few garbage bags to protect the floor, and dabbed all of the colors she chose all over the canvas, handed her a brush and let her play. This is my favorite piece of art that we have in the house. I will cherish this forever. My favorite part about this piece is the fact she ended up using her hands towards the end and there are a few little Zoe hand prints frozen in time hanging on my wall!
This is the less messy version of painting. We have this little water mat that we put out almost every day for her to play with, give her a cup of water, and a paintbrush. Does she end up painting the cabinets, the floor, her feet, my knee and the dog with water as well? Well obviously the answer is yes. But it’s just water. So we let her. Honestly this has been our using hero activity in our house. We use this almost every single day. When she is done we just clean up the water with a hand towel and then drape the mat over my chair to dry.
Cause and Effect Toys
These can be anything from shape sorters, to puzzles, to interactive dancing toys when you push their hand or squeeze their belly. We have a few Cause and effect toys where she can sort out shapes and then the toy cheers and sings a song when she gets the proper shape into the corresponding hole. These can keep her busy for hours. We have this little picnic basket, and this hedgehog that are her current favorites. Plus they are teaching her shapes, colors, and fine motor skills all while she is playing. Pro tip, if these are toys that make sound or music and you don’t want to go insane listening to the same three recordings 539,575 times a day, and if they don’t have volume settings, take some scotch tape, or packing tape and put a layer or two over the entire speaker. LIFE. SAVER. She gets to play with the toy and enjoy the music, without you wanting to punt it across the yard. You are welcome friend.
The Ball Pit
This not so little toy was a gift from her Aunt Kiki and Uncle Zippy (both amazing nicknames they have received) for her first birthday almost a year ago. This may be the single most played with toy she has. We rotate this toy out every couple weeks and without fail every time we bring it back into circulation you would have though Santa himself brought this into our living room. She LOVES this thing.
Books…On Books…On Books
We do designated story time a few times a week. I know, if you are able to do this daily, and snuggle with your tiny humans and enjoy reading the same three books out loud to your child who tries to force you to read fast enough to keep up with how quickly she wants to turn the page….then…well you are better than me. Haha That’s not what we do here. Don’t get me wrong. I love reading, I love reading to my child, I love watching her daddy read to her.
But here is the thing. And this may sound crass….but I taught early childhood education for four years. Which means I did story time roughly 2, 880 times in the four years I taught. Guys…That is A LOT of Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear Brown Bear, Pizza Man, Noah, The Day The Crayons Quit, Goodnight Moon, The Cat in The Hat, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive, Amelia Bedelia, Guess How Much I love you, Madeline, If you Give A Mouse A Cookie…If You Give A Moose A Muffin, If You Give A Pig A Pancake….Can we stop giving people food to animals please? That is insanely unhealthy for them and will most definitely make them sick and teach our children to feed the dog chicken when they are allergic then you will have to spend the next five days following the dog around the house with a bag to make sure you don’t have to clean up their liquid shit one more time…. It’s been a week ya’ll. It’s been a week. Haha ANYWAY…
Story time. Daily reading is just not my favorite thing to do. All of her books are down at her level so she has access to any of the books she wants to explore anytime of the day. And I know she loves her books and reads them often, because of how many times I have to pick them back up and put them on the bookshelves. I love that she loves books, and I love that she prefers to have Michael read to her, because he does it WAY more enthusiastically than I do. So knowing how important it is to read to her I make sure to sit down a couple times a week and for however long she wants me to read the same book, or every book she owns, we snuggle down, and I make all of the voices, noises, and sound effects to make her giggle.
Fine Motor Skill Activities
These are some of her favorites as well. She loves coloring on her magna doodle, and uses her crayons to color the same picture of Forky from Toy Story 4 over and over again. As of late she runs into the kitchen where I am working from home and asks to crawl up onto my lap and asks for my pen and colors in my notebook for work. Honestly, having her make little scribbles on my own notes makes me happy. And I know even more so, they will make me happy when we go back to “normal” and I am away from her 40+ hours a week but will have my notebook with me, and will happen upon her little toddler notes for me and will smile. She loves to doodle and create. So I encourage her to explore that avenue of creativity as often as possible.
Walks / Parks / Bikes
If the weather is permitting we go on family walks after dinner. We load up the stroller with snacks and water and walk to the nearby school / park. Once we get there we get her out of the stroller and let her just run in the empty soccer field. This gets all of us out of the house and moving our bodies. It gives her a new environment to explore instead of the little yard or living room we have for her. It sorta resets all of us and gives us a nice break from the walls of our home. Plus watching her run through a giant empty field makes her look so small and helps my mama heart visualize her young for forever. Recently we acquired a little tricycle for her to play with outside. This is such a good tool to help her with growing those large motor skills and foot-eye coordination. She is not very good at it, but she LOVES this thing. Again, if weather is permitting we make an adventure of walking to the end of our complex parking lot to the mailboxes to get the mail. It takes us a long time,but it is another chance for her to step away from home and explore. We love exploring!
We touched on outside bubbles, but the weather in Ohio is not always the best, and outside time may not be possible. So this is our alternative. We don’t do baths every night, and we don’t do bubble play time every bath either. However, we enjoy when we do, it is always a huge hit.
Obviously, you need to bathe your children. Haha but I get it, there are some nights that bathtime rolls around and you are SPENT for the day. Days that I really feel like I am running on empty and I just want to go to bed, this is when I do longer bathtimes. Wait what? The days you are counting down the minutes to bedtime are the nights you take longer to get them ready for bed? I’m confused. It’s okay. I will explain. Think about what calms you down at the end of a long day and helps you relax before you climb into bed? No you can’t give them a glass of wine. I am talking about a long hot shower, or long bubble bath. The same thing helps little ones calm down before bed.
We use Aveeno Lavender baby wash on these nights and make lots of bubbles before she even gets into the tub, so the bathroom is calming, and soothing. Setting the mood for a calm bathtime. We get her in the bath, wash her hair, and her body, then spend the next 15 – 20 minutes just watching her play. -Sometimes it is not that long before she asks to be “all done”- She is obsessed with Toy Story 4 right now and loves her “Little People” characters, so we bring those with us. She thinks she is having the reward of a lifetime because we are using not-tub toys in the tub, and playing with lots of bubbles. But in reality we are calming her down and preparing her for a nice transition to bedtime. We love lavender baths.
This is my list. These are things that have worked for us. I am in no way saying these are sure proof activities for your toddler. But if you needed some ideas what to do to keep your little one entertained I hope these ideas helped. And if you try any of them let me know how it went! Most importantly mama, you do what works best for you and your family.