Life with a toddler/preschooler is never dull. One moment everything is quiet and peaceful and then you suddenly realize that maybe it’s TOO quiet and peaceful. Too much serenity in my house means that Play-Doh is being stuck to a wall somewhere or the bathroom sink is overflowing or some similar calamity. I have a very busy, very curious three year old. He’s smart and funny and I love him dearly, but boy is he all over the place! I mean, VERY busy. He does have his calm moments, but overall he isn’t the type that can sit quietly and read his books or color for long periods at a time. And over the last year or so, I’ve come to realize that trouble brews when he is bored. Some days, I have to get pretty inventive to keep trouble at bay. I’ve come up with a list of things that are tried and true in our house. Some of these are easy, stay at home activities, while others require getting out of the house. Either way, I hope you can find some use for these ideas.
1. Cleaning – This one was discovered out of necessity as I was trying to get my house cleaned. Every swath of carpet I swept came with a question shouted over the roar of the vacuum cleaner. “Mommy, can I have some applesauce?” “Mommy, I need some water!” “Mommy, I have a question.” “Mommy, I love you!” You get the picture. Ian wasn’t doing anything wrong, but he was driving me crazy. So I asked if he wanted to help. His little eyes just lit up. Of course he wanted to help! Like most kids, he just loves to be included. So I found a tiny spray bottle I had left over from a grooming kit I had bought for Declan, filled it up with water, got him a washcloth and showed him how to clean the baseboards. Of course, I didn’t expect him to really clean anything, but he spent a good 45 minutes spraying water on the walls and wiping them off.
2. Vacuuming – Along the same lines, one of the best toys we’ve gotten in awhile was a little toy Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner. Anytime he sees me pull out the vacuum, he runs to get his so he can help.
3. Reuse a Box – I can clearly remember how excited I would get about really big boxes when I was little. If someone got a new refrigerator, I was in heaven. Turns out, things haven’t changed much over the years. Kids still love big boxes! Ours typically start out as clubhouses that we set in the corner of the living room. We cut out a window and squirrel away a flashlight and pillow inside. After a few days of playing, it usually becomes a huge coloring book and Ian colors all over it. After that, it’s usually either a slide or we take it outside to paint it with finger paints. Boxes can be used over and over and over again! I never throw away a big new box!
4. Bubble Bath – A bubble bath usually follows any painting activity. Ian loves to paint his hands and feet. No matter how messy he gets, I can just strip him down and stick him in the tub with some toys. We don’t use bubbles during our bedtime bath, so it’s always pretty special for him when he can have a bubble bath in the middle of the day. He would seriously stay in there for an hour if I didn’t make him get out.
5. Dance – Apparently, at the age of three, nothing is more fun than dancing in the living room with Mommy. I figure this won’t last long and it’s darn good exercise for me, too. So we dance and giggle. A lot.
6. Farm Animals – Want to know how to diffuse a melt down or argument with a three year old? Start mooing. Seriously. They can’t resist it and have to start giggling. If that doesn’t work, oink. Before you get through your litany of farm animals, your little one will probably be joining in. We’ve had a lot of nice long games of make believe in this house where I’ve ended up crawling around the floor barking just for the sake of keeping everyone happy.
7. Zoo – This one requires getting out of the house, but entire days can be spent at the zoo. We have season passes and usually go for a couple of hours at a time in the mornings. Everyone gets nice and tired and then we come home for lunch and a nap. No matter how many times we go, Ian has still not gotten bored. If we take the total price of the pass and divide it by the number of times we end up going to the zoo in a year, we figure each trip costs about $8 for the four of us.
8. Plant Flowers – I do not have a green thumb. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I have a black thumb. The beauty of it, however, is that toddlers/preschoolers don’t care. You can pick up a pack of seeds for a buck and plant them in pots or solo cups. They’re happy either way. Then you have the ongoing activity of growing them. It’s also a learning experience as it’s a great time to talk about germination and where flowers come from.
9. Forts – I can remember building forts out of the dining room chairs when I was little. Every time my mom would scrub the kitchen floor, she’d move the chairs into the living room and I would spend the rest of the afternoon covering them with blankets and pretending I had a special fort. Ian loves doing this, too. It only requires a blanket and some furniture and can provide hours of fun on a rainy day. We’ve even had lunch in forts around here.
10. Picnics – It’s always fun to go outside for a picnic, even if it’s just in the backyard. I’ve found that there’s something really special about eating somewhere other than the dining room table. Ian even loves to have living room picnics. We just spread a blanket in the floor and eat lunch as normal. He usually pretends that ants are getting his food, but he has a ball!
11. Marching Band – This is similar to dancing in our house. We just get something to bang on or a paper towel roll to blow on and we march around the living room like idiots making noise. We usually take turns being the leader and we march right up until lunch time!
12. Baking/Cooking – I’m not sure about all kids, but I can tell you that Ian LOVES to help in the kitchen. It really doesn’t matter what I’m doing. He’s super happy anytime I fill a measuring spoon or cup and let him dump it in the bowl. If I invite him to help me, he’ll usually stick with me the whole time. And he’s gotten quite good at it. I like to think his future wife is going to thank me when he gets older. 🙂
13. Scissors/Cutting – They make some pretty cool safety scissors these days that even a two year old can use. One of Ian’s favorite art activities is to try to cut out shapes. I’ve found that I can pull out some old Christmas wrapping paper and cut off of a long sheet of it and he will sit in the floor and use his scissors for a long time. I usually draw some shapes on the back of the paper and we talk about which shapes they are and he tries to cut them out. Halfway through he usually gives up on cutting it out correctly, but he keeps on cutting anyway! A word of warning on this one, though. Be prepared to vacuum afterward!
14. Mother May I – We have some epic games of Mother May I. I can usually stand in the kitchen and make dinner and have him stand in the living room and we play. We make up some fun moves, everything from huge elephant steps to snake slithers. He tries to make it to me in the kitchen without forgetting to ask, “Mother May I”. On the few occasions he makes it to me before we get bored, we celebrate with a victory dance.
15. Paint – For $5 you can get four big tubes of Crayola Washable Finger Paint. This stuff is awesome. One of our favorite things to do is to paint. A long time ago I picked up some Duck brand packing paper for some reason and it works great for painting. I just spread it out on the table a few layers thick and let him go at it. When the weather cooperates, we take it outside to cut down on any mess. Again, this will usually keep him busy for a while.
Obviously, not all kids will have the same interests as mine, but I’ve found that these activities help us avoid meltdowns and tantrums. Many of them also provide me with the time I need to do laundry, clean, cook, and take care of the baby. They also keep Ian from asking me to turn the TV on or get the iPad out. In my house, they are tried and true, and I hope they give you some ideas to keep your little one busy, too!