With kids returning to school the last couple of weeks I'm seeing a bunch of posts on homeschooling blogs about how to keep toddlers busy. It makes sense - the big kid and the parent need to do lessons, but what is the little kid supposed to do?
There are no big kids being homeschooled in our home, but this parent still needs chunks of time during the day to do other things. Sometimes just time to make dinner! I noticed recently that I have been turning more and more to iPhone and iApp games to distract The Bean when I needed a few minutes, but I have mixed feelings about doing that. The science on the subject is unclear but what I see happening is that she gets hyper-focused on the screen. She doesn’t respond to my voice or other things going on in the room. The more she uses the device the more she wants it, but the more time she spends playing games the more quickly she loses interest in them. Not that she wants to put the device away, she just wants it to do more, something else, something more interesting. And when it doesn’t she gets very frustrated. This all looks like addictive behavior to me and I don’t want to feed that. It is one thing when I'm sitting right next to her and interacting with her, but when I'm trying to get my hand free this just doesn't feel like the best way to do it.
So I’ve been reading up on toddler busy bags (check out my Pinterest board where I’ve been collecting ideas) and various activities appropriate for a smart and curious 19 month old. I’ve been specifically looking for things that I can make with stuff I already have around the house. I few weeks ago I made an I-spy bottle out of an old water bottle, some rice and some plastic farm animals, which was only semi-successful. She carries it around the house sometimes but hasn’t quite figured out how to manipulate it to see the different animals.
Last night, after she was done with dinner but not ready for bed yet (but mama was!) I pulled a plastic tub out of the recycling and cut a hole in the lid. I got a handful of various-sized puff-balls and showed her how to fit one of them through the hole. That was all she needed!
This simple toy entertained her for more than half an hour - ages longer than any iDevice has kept her attention!
First she put all the little balls into the tub. Then I showed her that the lid came off and she dumped the puffs out and fed them back through the hole again. Then she spent some time figuring out how the lid worked. Then she started sorting the puffs into different parts of her highchair tray. Then she put them all back in the tub by the handful and pouring them out again. Then we talked about what colors the balls were and how some were bigger than others. She selected her favorite - a large purple one - and put the rest back in the tub.
At that point she was finally ready get in pajamas so I put the toy away, but she carried that little purple puff ball all the way to the bedroom and still had it clutched in her fist when I moved her, sound asleep, from my lap to her bed.
Have you found simple ativities like this that your toddlers love? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!