By Aubrey Everett
Our favorite days consist of running around outside, hours spent on the playground, meeting up with friends for activities, and balancing that out with a little quiet time at home. But sometimes those ideal days are not in the cards. Whether it is summer heat or winter cold keeping you indoors, here are some ways to help busy toddlers stay occupied – and parents sane – when you can’t venture outside.
Make a schedule
Give some thought to the flow of your day. Plotting out a loose plan can make a potentially long day feel more manageable. I start by thinking about where our essential activities will fall – meals, snacks and naps – and once I have that general framework I can plan the rest of the day around those key building blocks.
Meals and snacks are a must, but they can also be part of the fun. If I know we have a long day indoors ahead of us, I try to hype up mealtime and make it an exciting experience. Perhaps I serve something out of the norm (breakfast for dinner!) or make a more complicated meal than I normally would on a busy day. Toddlers can get involved in various parts of the cooking and prep process, and if you don’t have to get a meal on the table in record time, these types of days can be a good chance for experimentation.
“Rainy day” toys
This is the time to break out that special toy you have been waiting to introduce to your child. We have a few items that we picked up on sale, or were given as gifts, that I set aside for this specific reason. We rotate most of our son’s toys on a regular basis but having something completely new can spark excitement and keep him occupied for a potentially long stretch of time. Indoor days can also be a good time to work with more complicated or item-heavy toys, such as Lego kits, train sets with multiple extensions, or anything with seemingly endless pieces to play with and arrange.
(Related: Kids Already Complaining About Being Bored?)
Get excited for transitions
On a normal day, transitions can sometimes be difficult when we are in a time crunch or must get out the door for an appointment. But when you have nowhere to be, transitions from one activity to the next can be fun or even lazy. Stay in pajamas until the afternoon and then make a big deal about finally changing into other clothes; or prepare for a mid-morning snack as if you are heading to a tea party or cafe.
Fun in the tub
Our son loves his bath time, but it usually comes during his bedtime routine and serves a very specific purpose: get this toddler clean. But baths can be an activity in and of themselves. If it is a freezing winter day, use the tub to warm up and let the steam take over the bathroom; if the temperature outside is rising, run cool water and let your toddler splash around in his swimsuit without risk of sunburn.
If you have exhausted all your planned activities, new toys and other resources, there is nothing wrong with incorporating some screen time into a long day indoors. Cuddling up with a blanket and a mug of hot cocoa on a winter day always feels like a treat. Alternately, retiring to the coolest room in the house, drawing the shades and sipping something cold feels equally as good in the summer months. Throw on a movie or your child’s favorite show and enjoy a break together.
About the author: Aubrey works in higher education and is the mother to an active and inquisitive son. She lives in the Boston area where she enjoys taking family walks along the beach, reading books, and introducing new foods to her son. Writing about motherhood allows her to connect to other parents and give voice to a challenging yet exciting time.
Photo credit: iStock.com/Galina Zhigalova