While I try to champion the wonderful qualities of toddlers, I'll be the first to admit that your average two year old can sometimes be exhausting, exasperating and extremely hard to entertain. For those days when your little one has you in a heap on the floor and there are still 10 hours till bedtime, I offer the following distractions.
- Find a field. If weather is remotely agreeable, I highly recommend taking your little person to the biggest, widest open space you can find and then just sitting in the middle of it. Your toddler can run, dig, chase balls, you name it, and you can mostly sit. Any type of large area will work, so those who are far from fields or snowed under can improvise.
- Dig out the kiddie pool. Yes, even if there are 12 feet of snow outside. Bring it into the kitchen, put a sheet underneath it and your toddler inside it and then put some buckets of strange things in there. Some ideas are dried beans, rice, dragon tears, polished rocks, packing peanuts and sand. Be sure to include scoops and empty bowls to mix up concoctions. You can bury little toys inside some of the containers for an added treat. Just be sure to watch toddler nonstop, so the goodies don't end up in her mouth, nose or ears.
- Make a mess on the carpet. This idea comes from Magical Mama Barb and is utterly brilliant:
"My youngest two especially like to take things and dump them out on the carpet. Well, I got the idea to 'freshen' up my carpet the other day, and knew the kids would enjoy helping me, as it ALLOWED them to make a mess on the carpet. I put about a cup of baking soda mixed with some lavender essential oil in a powdered sugar shaker, and let them go shake it all over the carpet. Woo-hoo, running wild and free shaking white stuff all over the carpet! I took the shaker and had them lay their hands on the floor with their fingers spread out as wide as possible. Then I shook the powder all over their hands, leaving nice 'shadows' of their handprints on the carpet. The kids loved it!"
When done, the kids can even help vacuum and make it disappear.
- Make an obstacle course. Toddlers love it when they get to tear up the room and climb on the furniture! Use couch cushions, blankets, bean bags, etc. to make the living room into a giant play land. This is guaranteed to buy you enough time to do at least one chore and at least one thing to make yourself feel pampered. It's remarkably easy to clean up afterwards and is good exercise for the kiddos too!
- Find some cardboard boxes. They're still the best toys on earth. Get a big box and help toddler draw on car doors or rocket ship panels, make a puppet show stage, cut out a door and windows for houses, you name it. If you have several you can make a whole town. You can haul out dolls and stuffed animals to get in on the fun too. If you're not up to the artistic part just let your little one loose with even one cardboard box and watch how much fun it generates. When you're done you can flatten them and recycle them or stow them under the bed.
- Download some free toddler games from the internet. Do a google search for "freeware toddlers" and you'll find lots of pages of all kinds of free games for little ones. Our all-time favorite here is Tuxpaint, an absolutely free and absolutely wonderful drawing program for kids that has "stickers," magical effects, funny sounds and tons more. While it claims to be for children 3 and up, my two year old can easily do it and a one year old could with assistance. You can read about it and download it here: http://www.newbreedsoftware.com/tuxpaint/
- Crumple up a bunch of paper. Yep, that's it! Use some scrap paper, newspapers or ads and just crumple each page into a ball. When you have a laundry basket full (at least!), wage a snowball fight inside, have your little one try to make baskets or even let her sit in them and pour them over her head. She can throw them up in the air, try to juggle, practice throwing and catching, stomp them and more. When you're all done, have her help you bag them all up and put them in the recycling. You can even count them as you collect them and make it educational. ;)
- Make some squeeze art. Fill an empty glue or ketchup bottle with a paste of flour (or cornstarch), water and food coloring (if desired). Spread out some newspaper and give your toddler a cookie sheet to squeeze designs onto. When he's done with the designs he can use a plastic fork, finger or homemade pattern comb (a piece of cardboard with waves or spikes cut into one side to leave trails) to make further designs in the goop. When he's done with one creation, rinse it off in the sink and let him do another. Anybody who's ever had a toddler get into a bottle of glue knows how irresistible they find the simple act of squeezing a puddle of ooze.
- Go for a walk. It'll do wonders to burn off your tot's energy and lift your mood, and put you both in a calmer frame of mind for the evening. If you have to, just walk together down every hall of your apartment building. It counts! When we're in a motel I often take the kids on evening runs through the halls. The only rules are that they have to tiptoe when they run, can't run if there are people in the hall, and must whisper. I even join in the tiptoe dashes sometimes!
- Get out the art supplies. Any of the following will occupy your average two year old for enough time to give you a break: assorted pipe cleaners, safety scissors with a variety of things to cut (different kinds of paper, ribbon, grass or leaves, tin foil, etc.), play dough and stuff to roll and poke it with, Color Wonder markers and paints, chalk with a chalkboard and wet sponge, a pencil sharpener and crayons to sharpen, stickers (we buy page reinforcers or price stickers so we get tons for a dollar), modeling beeswax.... You get the idea!