By Michelle Mady
Picture this. It’s day three of horrible, not-suitable-for-outdoor-play weather. I have set up more indoor obstacle courses than a Middle School PE teacher. My kitchen table is covered in glitter from multiple art activities inspired by perfect Pinterest posts. We have watched every YouTube video that I can stand. And as I pull up the weather report for the rest of the week, my stomach does a flip as there is no end to our indoor playtime in sight.
So, how can we possibly keep toddlers engaged while stuck inside? How can we do this without prepping activities while they sleep, making a mess of the house, and relying on the screen all day?
As a mom of 5 and toddler/preschool teacher, I have learned a few ways to engage toddlers with little prep, little clean up, and lots of fun for both you and your child.
Play with Old Toys in New Ways
That puzzle you’ve played with a million times? Bring that back out! Instead of putting pieces together, build with them. Knob puzzle pieces can become great stamps to use with some paper and ink. Jigsaw puzzle pieces can be stacked up to make a tall tower. Magna-Tiles can create spaces for sorting animals or building blocks by color or size.
Add-In Sensory Play
Take those building blocks and put them in a bin of soapy water. Take a tooth brush and practice brushing the “teeth” of the plastic blocks. While you have some soapy water out, put in any toys that are really well loved and have your child scrub them! Have plenty of towels ready to dry them off. Not only is this an engaging activity with minimal set up, it leaves you with some clean toys.
Kinetic Sand is typically a bit easier to clean up than play sand. Have a bag of it ready to go for inside days. Toys to play in the sand can be as simple as a spoon, bowl and cup. Kinetic Sand is not only easier to sweep from floors and carpets, but it is also more engaging than regular play sand. The way it moves and feels captures children’s attention for longer periods of time.
Re-create a Favorite Movie or Show
Have a toddler that can’t get enough of their favorite TV show? Play music from the show and dance along to it! Take a song from a heavily-viewed episode and act out the scene. Have your toddler pick who you will be and who they will be. This is a great activity to do when your child is asking for screen time and you are trying to engage them otherwise. Although “Let It Go” and “Into The Unknown” are currently not working anymore in my house…
Everything (and the Kitchen Sink)
How many times have you told your child not to pull the pots out of the cabinet? Well, have a special pot party! Bring out the pots and pans and let your toddler explore. Have your toddler help make dinner tonight. Pull up a chair to the kitchen sink and invite your toddler to fill the pot with water so you can boil the pasta. Let them pull the leaves from the head of lettuce for a salad. Invite them to pick out the plates and set the table. Older toddlers can even help with menu planning!
Keeping toddlers engaged is always a delicate dance. However, when weather forces us inside for extended periods of time, it can be straight-up difficult. Allowing them some ownership in what is chosen to play helps to keep them engaged for longer periods of time. These ideas also work both with an adult and as a start to independent play. Engaged toddlers equal family sanity.
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/FreshSplash