A Question from a Reader:
"Now that I have two toddlers at home I sometimes find myself lacking creative ways to intentionally play with them. I loved reading about some of the ideas you have done - but my boys are a bit younger. Maybe you could share some games or activities that you did when they were toddlers. We have great toys and we get them get out a lot, but if I have to play trucks one more time I might just die!"
Oh yes, I remember those days very well. Now our family is in a different phase, but at the time it seemed as though the toddler years might just last forever. In order to survive (& thrive), I developed a few strategies to help me enjoy those days with my little people.
Here are four ideas to make the most of the toddler years:
1. Remember that little ones don't need lots of stimulation.
I'll never forget when a friend at a playdate asked if my boys were enrolled in any summer classes. They were 2 -years-old and 18-months-old at the time! The idea that constant entertainment, recreation, and academic stimulation is needed from day one of a child's life has gotten out of hand in Western society. It's simply not true, and it puts unnecessary pressure on mothers these days.
Your toddlers need two things - love and play. And for children growing up in healthy, functional families - those two are a given. So let your little ones tag along while you work. Let them get in your way at times - even eat off the floor on occasion! It is not a big deal.
Relax. They are learning all the time. Life (and you!) are their teachers.2. Create a written toy rotation list.
This idea is needed more for mom's sanity than a child's development. It brings variety to the day for mother and toddler, and alleviates boredom.
During the early years (& even now) we kept a few toys out for free, anytime play. Others were stored in our basement. I created a rotating list so that I could pull out something "new" each day. Good toddler play activities include cars & trucks, play animals, blocks, musical instruments, water play, Play Doh (or homemade alternative), play kitchen, baking, fingerpainting, stamp art, legos/duplos, and playing in a tent.
Keep in mind that the typical toddler has a short attention span - most activities will be over after fifteen minutes, twenty if you're lucky. At that age it often ends up that Mommy plays with the toy while your child watches. That's okay, too. You're still connecting and developing creativity.
Let your children engage with toys in whatever way comes naturally to them. Don't limit play to what a toy is "suppose" to do.3. Enjoy books together.
As an avid reader, I couldn't wait until I could explore books with my children. But often it takes a while for attention span and interest to develop. (In our family I noticed this interest for full stories present around age three.)
That doesn't mean, however, that toddlers don't enjoy books. They do - in their own way. Pulling them off the shelves and tasting them are two classic examples!
So store the treasured titles away for a couple of years, and let them go for it. You want your children to learn as soon as possible that books are fun, interesting, and engaging - not something they get in trouble for touching.
Put plenty of books at their eye level and let them investigate. Every once in a while, pull one down and show a page to them. Toddlers also love hand-sized photo albums. Place pictures of your child along with family and friends inside.4. If you have multiple children, plan for one-on-one time.
It's easy during the toddler years to get stuck in survival mode, but your children need to be valued as individuals. So when you can, seek out ways to spend time one-on-one.
One idea I used was what we called "playpen time." This involved about 30 minutes (which we worked up to slowly) where the children would play alone (with toys) in a playpen or crib. While one boy played by himself, I could spend time with the other. Yes, sometimes there were interruptions, but it was better than having no one-on-one time.
It's hard to believe now, but those pudgy faces that greet you every morning will fill out before you know it. One day very soon, you might even find yourself in the bathroom without little visitors. So don't wish these precious days away.
Take one moment at a time, and enjoy your beautiful babies.
What activities does your toddler most enjoy?
***This post is linked to Works for Me Wednesdays.***