This morning my daughter watched two hours worth of Curious George, Sesame Street, and the Tiger-Neighborhood-one. And, yeah, I let it happen.
There are days when it’s too cold or too wet to go outside. There are days when I’ve used up Curious George on the mundane, like taking a shower or making breakfast. We are no longer members of the local toddler gym because it doesn’t fit our schedule, and I haven’t really looked for anything new to enroll her in yet. There are days (every day, but I’m trying to be poetic) that I have to find a way to keep my toddler entertained, engaged, and grow her mind. I fail pretty much every day, too, because we end up dancing to the stereo, chasing the dog, and climbing the furniture. All. the. furniture. Up? Up?
I’ve gone to those silly, Super Mom websites and read their fabulous ideas. I get ideas sent straight to my inbox from subscriptions I’ve signed up for. Let me break it down for you. It takes at least twice as long to set up and clean up EACH than the length of time it holds my toddlers attention. I’ve decided that for now, natural curiosity and exploration that happens organically (I hate anyone who uses that word), is probably just as effective, if not more, than all of these toddler activities that sound great in theory, but in reality never go the way you plan. Take a look at some of my failed attempts.
1. Let’s Color!
Tape paper to the floor. Pull out some crayons, and let your loved one’s inner artist emerge!
Reality: First, you need a crumb-free floor to tape paper to. No time for that, so just swipe those dried bits of food away from your work area. Once your toddler sees the tape dispenser, she is going to be much more interested in it than coloring on paper. And the tape you’ve added to the paper? It’s a STICKER!!! Toddlers LOVE stickers. She’ll do her best to add tape to the paper, remove tape, unroll more tape – - wait this tape is stuck to my finger, Mommy get it off! Now there’re food bits stuck to the tape. Mommy, get it off! Actually, why is there paper on the floor? I’ll help out by tearing it off. Done. Whew. Okay, what’s next?
Same concept for finger painting, only it’s 1000 times messier, even when you’ve pulled out the giant, plastic tablecloth to work on. Unless you’ve plasticked (Yeah, I made that a verb.) an entire room and all exits via Dexter, that paint is getting on your carpet.
Anything safe to ingest + kitchen accessories, bowls, measuring cups, muffin tin, etc. Dump uncooked rice into a large bowl. Let toddler explore. Pour different types of cereal into muffin tin. Let toddler experiment.
Pouring, scooping, eating, dumping, tossing, and smashing are all involved. Keep the vacuum handy or be prepared to step lightly through the minefield that is now your kitchen floor.
Anything around the house: colored blocks, pairs of socks. Have toddler gleefully sort objects while you discuss with her about colors, textures, and size.
Reality: No, Mommy, YOU want to sort; I want to be Godzilla and plow through your organized piles of boredom. I will only pick up a “blue” block if I darn well feel like it, and right now I feel like chewing on a red one.
4. Songs and Finger Play
This Little Piggy, Patty Cake, Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Wheels on the Bus… Singing + hand motions = all day fun.
Reality: Unless you’re tired of singing the same song for the 30th time in a row. Or unless you haven’t even finished singing the first line, and your toddler is already vigorously shaking her head NO. Plus side, no prep work involved in this one. Unless you’re annoying and make finger puppets for your child. Then you deserve the sheer disappointment of your toddler not caring.
5. Obstacle Course
Pull the cushions off the furniture. Grab the giant throw pillows of the beds. Line them up and make steps onto the cushion-less couch and love seat. Add a pop-up tunnel, and your toddler’s sure to have a rollicking good time in her new living room-indoor gym!
Reality: She doesn’t want to climb, so you’re going to have to pick her up and put her on the sofa-fort. Also, the cushions are in the way. She can’t run around with her stroller and chase the dog with all this stuff on the floor. What is your deal? Pick up the house, woman!
So, what does entertain a toddler? All the things that break and can be ruined by, or ruin, a toddler:
- A cup full of colorful pens. (Keep the caps on, obvi.)
- Christmas silverware and the cupboard with all the extra place mats, napkins, and napkin rings.
- The glass centerpiece with the fake fall foliage and fake apples.
(There will forever be bite marks in every one of those fake apples.) Let’s just all agree that fake fruit as decor is a stupid idea.
- Sitting on all the chairs. But she refuse to learn how to climb, so you must place her in a chair, and then she’ll point at the next chair, and then she’ll want to sit in the next chair, and then back to the first chair. Keep. Going.
- Water. But only if it’s from your cup. The one without the lid. The one that’s not spill-proof. The one that she’s dumping all over her shirt right now.
- Your really tall bed. Bonus points if you can catch her before she lunges herself off the side.
- Helping with laundry. As in, you fold, and she puts it on her head, or her doll’s head, or the dog’s head. Soon she’ll get impatient with how long it’s taking you to fold and refold all the clothes, so she’ll grab a pile, carry it to her bedroom and stuff it into her drawer. Done. Moving on. Just remember where to look when you are out of kitchen towels.
- No supervision. Go change the crib sheet on your toddler’s mattress. See what blessings await you when you are through. Do this when you have 10 minutes before you have to leave to go teach a class. When is your husband going to be home, again? (This one’s fun for everyone!)
- Snacks. When in doubt, snacks.