Toddler-Tested, Mom-Approved Boredom Busters
Toddlers live in the moment and find joy in every situation. They'd love to play all day long, and there's no one they'd rather spend time with than you. But it's no secret that a toddler's attention span is a bit on the shorter side. So keep your list of "Boredom Busters" fresh and at the ready. Rediscover your own "inner child," grab your toddler and go out and play!
Escape Your Four Walls. Spending too much time indoors can make anyone feel bored. So if you and your little one feel cooped up or cranky, get out of the house and play. You've no doubt discovered that your toddler is more content and can focus on activities longer when playing outdoors. Plus, lots of fresh air almost always guarantees longer, more solid sleep.
Romping outdoors can be a year-round sport -- just dress for the occasion. If the weather is a bit chilly, bundle up with layers before you duck outside. On a drizzly day, a raincoat and rubber boots are perfect attire for a puddle-jumping good time. Just be sure to give your splish-splasher a warm bath when you return back home -- a calming prelude to naptime.
Scavenge Up Some Fun. Toddlers experience their surroundings by picking things up. With your child leading the way, you can turn almost any occasion into a treasure hunt. Indoors, "hide" favorite toys in plain sight for him to find. And a walk or hike is a perfect excuse to do a little gathering -- pinecones, dandy lions and chestnuts all make great toddler "finds."
Renee and her daughter Daisy enjoy exploring a local beach. "Daisy loves searching for all sorts of treasures," Renee says. "I'll ask her to find a rock, a shell, a feather... she puts them in a bucket, and when we get back home, it's exciting to sort through it all and ooh and aah over the treasures she's collected."
The More the Merrier. Joining a playgroup is one of the best things you can do for your toddler, and yourself! These gatherings often include music and songs, toy-sharing, snacks and other toddler-oriented fun. And while the kids play, the adults can socialize and trade helpful parenting tips. Ask friends if they know of a group near you. Better yet, since playgroups usually begin informally, gather some buddies and start your own!
Maryann and her son Jared regularly meet friends at a local high school track. "It's vacant in the mornings, so we all bring our kids' favorite wheeled toys," Maryann explains. "Jared loves to pull his wagon, and there are lots of other toys he can borrow."
Follow the Leader. Toddlers enjoy nothing more than helping you with a task, mimicking your every move. So make this mirroring part of the fun. If you're watering flowers, raking leaves or sweeping the walkway, by all means let your toddler "help out." You'll find kid-sized watering cans, rakes and brooms at your favorite discount retailer. Or help him "paint" the house or fence by providing a clean paintbrush and a small container of water. For indoors, play kitchens and tool benches are great toys to help toddlers mimic their favorite role-models.
Big Fun! Just Add Water. When the weather is warm, set up an outdoor water-play station -- including measuring cups, margarine tubs and funnels. Fill them all partially with water, and let your toddler pour and spill to his heart's content. These same items can also make bath time double as play time. (Important Safety Note: Always stay within splashing distance when your toddler is near any amount of water. Large buckets are a drowning hazard and shouldn't be used when toddlers are near.)
Transform the Familiar. Changing familiar surroundings into something new is thrilling for a toddler. Janice, a mother of three, shares some of her favorite tricks. "We'll pitch a tent in the basement playroom and fill it with pillows, blankets and stuffed animals. We also cover our dining room table with blankets that reach all the way to the floor. This is our 'secret cave' and we crawl in and have snacks or read a book by flashlight." Why not transform your family room by filling the floor with pillows and pretend it's a swamp teeming with alligators? Get creative!
Find the Right Mix of Toys. Seek out toys that hold your toddler's interest and help him develop important skills. Toddler classics such as shape sorters, puzzles with knobs, lacing cards and building blocks all help boost hand-eye coordination and spatial abilities. Encourage his creativity with an easel and toddler-friendly art supplies, or let his imagination run wild with everyone's favorite: cardboard boxes.
Having every toy out is overwhelming when you've got a short attention span, so keep the available toys to a minimum at any one time. Consider rotating your collection every once in a while so his playthings stay fresh and interesting.
Move It! Toddlers are always on the move, and they like it that way! So turn on the tunes and dance -- then stop the music suddenly and "freeze" in place. Blow soap bubbles for him to chase and pop. Put a pet collar and leash on a favorite stuffed animal so your toddler can "walk" it all over the house. Fulfill his desire to push, pull, ride and scoot with age-appropriate vehicles such as wagons and tricycles.
Encourage a Love of Books. Always have a stack of books handy for cozy time on the couch, or as part of a bedtime ritual. Your toddler will enjoy having his all-time favorites like "Goodnight Moon" read to him over and over. Supplement familiar favorites with fresh selections from your local public library; the librarian can recommend books to suit your child's age and interests. And be sure to check out your library's toddler program, which may feature storytelling, puppet theater and other lively, literary entertainment.
Be Ready for Anything! Keep a small stash of toys in your car or grab-n-go tote, as you never know when you'll be stuck waiting somewhere with your antsy companion. And when you visit grandma's house she'll appreciate you bringing your own supply. And of course, you'll have more success preventing a meltdown at the grocery store if you've got Mr. Wiggles or another favorite toy always on hand.