By Michelle Mady
Entertaining toddlers requires a lot of patience, playfulness and creativity. I have worked with toddlers for 15 years, and in my experience I have found that the more preparation, thought and work I put into an activity, the less likely it is to keep children’s attention. We all know this, at our core. How many times have we smiled when our toddlers want to play with boxes and wrapping paper before opening the toy you waited in obscene lines to purchase?
How many times have we smiled when our toddlers want to play with boxes and wrapping paper before opening the toy you waited in obscene lines to purchase?
If we take that same logic to entertaining toddlers, the options are endless.
This really came to me when at our school’s graduation a few years ago. I needed to keep my nine 2-year olds calm and quiet while each other's classroom went up on stage to sing their end-of-year songs. I also had to keep them attentive while the oldest class was called up to receive their preschool diplomas. And the toughest part? This was happening in a large church where every sound echoes … forever.
I had an epiphany (or just a bit of desperation) and grabbed some painter’s tape on our way up to the church. I sat each child down and tore off a few pieces, putting them on the benches in front of them. Those nine children were so engaged, ripping the tape off and putting it in other places, we got through most of the event without disrupting parent’s recordings of the event.
So in my years of experience, I have looked at everyday objects as a tool, and am sharing some of my go-to’s with you.
#1 Painter’s Tape
You can do so much with this, and you don’t have to worry about ruining walls or finishes. In my earlier graduation story, I put small pieces of tape in various places for children to peel off. I have also put a bunch of pieces on my daughter’s high chair tray while I was making dinner. For older toddlers you can draw shapes on a few pieces and ask them to stick pieces together with the same shape. Younger toddlers love to peel tape off their hands, too! Grab a roll for endless, easy clean entertainment while you get stuff done.
#2 Packing Material
When you get your next UPS or FedEx delivery, take a look at the extra packing materials and consider hanging on to them. Shredded paper and packing paper make great sensory opportunities for toddlers. Toss them out on the floor the next time you need to get the laundry folded and watch your toddler explore. Bubble wrap can be great for little fingers, but be sure to keep an eye that it doesn’t go in their mouth.
#3 Bath Paint
Ideally this would be a “before bath time” activity, but it always leads to a bath, which is a plus. Make some paint by mixing shaving cream with a few drops of food coloring or washable paint. Then, strip your toddler down and put them in an empty bath with your shaving cream paint and a paintbrush. When painting is done, put on the water, hand over a washcloth or wipe, and continue the play with clean up. Super mess to sparkling clean in minutes!
#4 Spray Bottle
Speaking of entertaining through cleanliness, there’s nothing a toddler loves more than to “help.” But that help isn’t always helpful.
Grab a spray bottle of soap and water, hand it over to your toddler with a towel, and let them wash the table to their heart’s content. They can also wash their outside toys on the porch, the stairs, the floor, or anything else within reach. A spray bottle of water means that you don’t have to worry about water safety, and it is bound to leave something cleaner than it started!
Entertaining toddlers can feel like a heavy responsibility. Most of the time we put so much planning and prep into activities for toddlers, when often the simplest option is best.
About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15. As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.
Photo credit: iStock.com/kate_sept2004