Monday, June 9, 2008

50 More Ideas for Toddler Days: Part 1

I don't believe that I've ever mentioned her here before, but Beth over at Write, Mama, Write is one of my favorite bloggers. She is a former teacher now SAHM (like me) and has a toddler son (who is, I think, a tad older than Brother.) I appreciate all her musings about motherhood and admire her craftability. (If football announcers can make up words like "escapablity" and the like, so can I. Craftability. Oh calm down, spellcheck!)

Anyway, one of the first posts I saw on Beth's site thrilled me. It was titled 50 Mood Changers for Toddler Days and it is a WONDERFUL listing of ideas that will help you get through those long afternoons with a little one. (I will note that it's not just for toddlers- preschoolers will love it all too - and some work well for older kids- but it's special in that ALL of it works with toddlers, the most, er, challenging group.)
At the bottom of her post, Beth mentioned that she hoped to eventually compile a list of at least 100 ideas, but this list stopped at 50.
Since I first saw it, I've referred to the list time and again, and started making my own notes on the backs of the pages. Lo and behold, my list started approaching 50 too! And it occurred to me that if I posted my 50 here on my blog, Beth would have her 100! (And, just maybe, one of you would find an idea that rescues you from a long, fussy afternoon one of these days.)
So, I'm going to spend the next week posting 10 ideas at a time until I get through all 50.
*Note- For the record, if you read through Beth's blog, she certainly could have compiled another 50 by now with all her creative ideas! (She's the originator of the Sculpey nature prints that have made the rounds on many blogs.) I highly recommend an afternoon spent with her archives!
OK- here it goes: the first ten ideas for toddler days (actually the 51st through the 60th if you start with Beth's list):

1. Set up a "potion station"- This lets kids act as chefs, scientists, or simply mess-makers. They LOVE this one. I like to give them flour, soda, colored waters, pipettes, glitter (in a shaker), turkey basters, funnels, and possibly some vinegar if you're going to be supervising (because of the cool reaction when mixed with baking soda.) Also include containers for mixing and pouring such as empty baby food jars and containers for pouring. I actually bought a few plastic graduated cylinders from this source so they could be like real scientists. If you want to give it more of a "cooking" feel, give them little bowls with lots of different "ingredients"- favorites around here include dried beans, oatmeal, cornmeal, goldfish crackers, colored sugar sprinkles, and old dried spices (nothing hot that could burn eyes.) Here's how I like to set this up: Put down a big vinyl tablecloth. Put a LARGE, fairly shallow bin on a low table-top (or on the floor, but the kids get messier when it's on the floor.) I like to use a futon-style bench my DH made that stays in our backyard, but a piece of plywood stretched across some cinder blocks would work just fine. Then put all the "ingredients" inside the large container. I tell the kids they can do whatever they want- mix, mash, drip, etc. as long as it stays inside the bin. Of course, it doesn't stay in the bin, so be mentally prepared for that. Recently I did this inside on my kitchen floor. Know what? They made a huge mess that we were able to clean up in about 15 minutes with a broom, wet sponges, and a dishwasher. I say, let them make messes! It's what toddlerhood is all about. Seeing how engaged they are in this activity and how proud they are of their "concoctions" makes it worth the mess.
2. "Cook" some Mudballs - This is a yummy snack and is a fun one to make with your toddler. They are really good at smashing up the graham cracker in a zip-lock bag. See recipe here.
3. Snowball fight- What to do with all those old magazines and catalogs? We have a snowball fight. Rip out lots of pages and ball them up into paper balls. (Toddlers like to help with this.) Then, put down a line of masking tape in the middle of a room. The idea is to throw the snowballs at each other in a set amount of time (a timer with a ringer or buzzer adds to the fun.) The winner is the person with the fewest number of snowballs on his/her side at the end. For younger and only children, Mom and Dad will need to model this a few times to give them the idea. For siblings, kids vs. parent works well. And older kids can just go to town at this on their own. At the end, we try to race and see if we can get all the snowballs into a bag before the timer rings.
4. Play dress up from mommy’s closet- Sometimes the dress-up chest gets a little stale and over-played-with. One day I was inspired to invite the kids into my closet and try on some of Mommy and Daddy's things. It was a big hit.
5. Greeting card fun - Do you save greeting cards? I highly recommend it. More than once I've lectured myself on being a hoarder and said, "Just throw them away!" but somehow knowing that they cost $2-$4 each makes it hard for me. Now that I have young kids I'm glad I saved them. Here are some of the fun things we do with our greeting cards:
  • Keep them as a "collection" in a pretty box. Brother and Sister can have some serious fun bringing them to an adult one at a time and back again to the box. I know, it doesn't sound fun at all, but they like it. (Especially when the adult makes a big deal over each card, "Oh, look! And Easter bunny with a colorful egg! I like this one!")
  • Sorting games- I'll offer a prompt like, "Find all the cards with a bunny." or "Find all the cards with something red." Sometimes they come up with their own idea, like grouping them by holiday or by sparkly vs. not sparkly, etc.
  • Collage- Sometimes we decide to cut a few up and add the images to our collages.
  • Play mailman- Brother and Sister have great fun bagging up the cards into fabric totes and delivering mail to various stuffed animal friends. We round up our toy mailboxes and create others out of shoe boxes, bins, etc.

6. Present hunt in the house (like an Easter Egg hunt but use small boxes) - This one takes some prep. work but it can really rescue a day turning sour. Collect some small boxes- jewelry boxes work great. Put a small treat inside each one (a small candy, small toy, a sticker, etc.) Wrap them in wrapping paper and set them aside until you REALLY need them. Then, when you decide it's the right time, have the kids sit in one spot (like on a bed) while you hide the presents. (It helps to have them see them before they're hidden so they know what they're seeking.) Have them go on a search and bring all the wrapped presents to one location. (I have them put them in a laundry basket.) Then, divvy them up and open! *I recently decided to paint the boxes so that I don't have to wrap them. It's easier to get organized for it and has the same effect. **Also, the prizes are nothing fabulous. A sticker here, a few M&Ms there- it's all good to them!
7. Mrs. Magoo's magical purse - Does your toddler love to "hoard" small things? Sister, especially, has always been a hoarder. We go to playgroup and she ends up walking around the room clutching 10 small toys in her little arms. Toddlers also love to "discover" and unpack/repack. I got out an old purse and did a little embellishing with paint and glitter to make it look more magical. Then I loaded it with some small "treasures"- small dolls and animals, various odds and ends. (See the photo.) It really doesn't take much to make the purse seem "magical"- novelty is the key. So, on a rainy day, "find" Mrs. Magoo's magical purse and let them explore. Then, during an opportune time (like while they're sleeping), make it "disappear." I always tell them Mrs. Magoo must be going on another trip and needs her bag so she can pack. It makes it really fun to add a new little item or two every now and then and let them "discover" something new. Here are a few of the current contents of the purse:

8. Wash-Away-Your-Blues - Beth mentioned this idea on her list, but it is such a great one that it bears another mention. If you're up for a little splashing and puddle wipe-up, you can provide your toddler with a fun activity with no expense. On a nice day, I set up a water station on the back porch or in the yard. On bad weather days, I strip them down and let them play in the tub. While doing simple things like pouring water and playing with water toys is fun, I find that their play is much more engaged and long-lasting (and often less messy!) if I provide a focus. Some ideas: offer some plastic baby dolls, small washrags and sponges, and a little soapy water for baby washing, let them round up their plastic toys or plastic dishes for washing, wash shells and rocks, or give them a bin of items with which to experiment the scientific properties of sink/float. You could also make it an art exploration by providing some homemade bathtub paints. It is also very helpful to provide them with various pouring items- plastic drinking cups, measuring cups with handles, etc. Brother is especially fond of ping-pong balls because he can't make them stay submerged. (Lots of giggles!) Another idea is to use a Sharpie to draw faces onto ping pong balls and use 1/2 of a (cleaned) Styrofoam egg carton as a "boat." Foam meat trays (clean!) also make cool "barges" for small plastic animals. 9. Celebrate some less-common holidays- Last year after Christmas and New Year's Day had passed, it seemed like a long, dull time until Valentine's Day and then Spring. Beck offered some great suggestions for January and February on her blog. Go here to see! I have also some fun "holidays" on our family calendar. A few include:
March 3- Hina-matsuri (Japanese doll festival) See info. about it here.
March 13- Good Samaritan Day (On this day we perform Random Acts of Kindness. Next year we're going to do some guerrilla art on this day too.)
March 18- Johnny Appleseed Day
March 20- First Day of Spring
May 1- May Day and Mother Goose Day
May 5- Children’s Day
May 19 Circus Day
June 25- Eric Carle’s B-day (I'll share more about him later this week.)
July 28- Beatrix Potter’s Birthday
August 12- Middle Child’s Day *We don't celebrate this one because there is no "middle child" in our house, but I think it's a great idea.
September 9- Teddy Bear Day

And one I have dreamed up for fun, Rainbow Day: This one is scheduled for late June at our house, and here's my plan. We are going to use this day to honor God’s faithfulness and celebrate the beauty of his creation. I'll start by reading the story of Noah’s Ark (and/or use puppets and/or set up a scene and/or act it out) Then we'll:
Decorate the house with rainbow colors (to remember God’s sign of promise)
Wear white t-shirts and squirt each other with colored waters, and paint our shirts
Eat the rainbow; set out foods in color rows or areas to make a rainbow, eat Jello jigglers in multiple colors, drink brightly colored Kool-Aids,
Play outside with tinted waters, clear tubing, funnels, and ice cubes
Go on a color hunt in the yard (and note the beauty of God’s creation)
Talk about the colors of the people in the world/ diversity
Do some tie-dye
Play a color-based game
I will certainly post about our first Rainbow Day after it happens!

::The fun thing about these days is that they are totally optional. I keep them on the calendar and decide whether to celebrate them (and to what extent) based on the other things happening in our lives at the time. For example, this year I had really wanted to celebrate the Japanese Doll Festival in our own way (because Sister would LOVE it) but that week was already so overloaded that I didn't need to add to it. However, Good Samaritan Day worked nicely for us this year. We read the Bible story and ended up delivering some cookies to families and friends and taking some homemade cards to the nursing home down the road. Of course, once you celebrate these days one or two years in a row, they will become OFFICIAL holidays to your kids and you'll have to keep it up!
10. Create a scrapbook page with your child- Many of us become scrapbookers of some kind or another when we have children. When Sister was born, I discovered this craft/hobby and really got into it... until Brother was born. Since then I've only had time to do one measly page. Poor Brother. It's just so hard to find the time! So, to solve the problem and bring my children in on the fun, I've started scrapbooking with them. I do have some tips for you if you decide to give this a try:
  • Limit the quantity of art supplies- they'll want to use it all! I usually put out a few papers, safety scissors, a few photos, glue sticks, some good quality markers and crayons, and one or two fun extras (such as a few stickers, rubber stamps, glitter, Prima flowers, etc.)
  • Once you've introduced the concept, let them do it. Don't interfere by suggesting where they should place their photos, offering design tips, etc. On the flip side, you work on your own page too and don't let them interfere with your work either. That way you both end up with a product you like.
  • Offer to transcribe their dictation onto the page to record what they want to say about the photos, the layout, etc. (If they refuse, I usually just have them talk to me about their memories of the event we're scrapbooking and write it down, along with any sweet or funny comments, on a separate piece of paper. Then I attach it to the back later.

Here we are at work during our last family scrapbooking session:

And here are two of the "finished product" pages. As you can see, process is our focus around here! (But I actually do love their products!) Sister's is on the left, Brother's on the right. (And I did blur their faces in Photoshop, so don't be scared by that!) See you tomorrow for the next ten ideas!

PS- I must mention that this post "series" has been languishing in an incomplete format for quite some time until I saw Bethany's post of summertime activities. She got me motivated to finally finish them up! Thanks, Bethany! :-)


Beck said...

This is a FANTASTIC list! AMAZING!

Anonymous said...

Where were you when I had toddlers????

You ROCK, girl.