Posts tagged: toddler activities

Toddler Trick (so I can make dinner) – Find the Frog!

By , July 3, 2009 1:40 pm

Most parents would agree that dinner preparation is the toughest time of the day. We are worn out and the kids are tired and crabby.  The easiest solution for a hard earned bit of peace is to plunk them down in front of the TV or a video in order to cook without “help” or having to play umpire.

On really bad days, I sometimes find myself too easily wanting to resort to the distraction of a video, especially with my 3 year-old who of course wants to “help” with everything, including dinner. So whenever I come across a new trick to happily and easily occupy her, I am eager to share it with others!

Several years ago I picked up some colored plastic threading and counting frogs at a yard sale. I have used them for everything from math homework to French lessons, but I just discovered a new game that my 3 year old loves: “Find the Frog!”  This is proof that we don’t need something complicated or expensive (or electronic) to entertain and teach a child.

Our frog friends come in three sizes and six colors. I simply tell my 3 year-old what to thread, for example, “medium blue,” and she does it with joy! Sometimes I get fancy and say “three large orange,” or “one small red and two medium green.”

This is so simple that most of you are probably saying “Umm … what’s so special about this?” But since it never occurred to me that this game could entrance my daughter for an hour at a time, it might not have occurred to a few of you either.

Plus, consider these benefits:

  • I can work in the kitchen while playing this game with her (or be lazy and sit on the sofa and read a magazine).
  • The game teaches colors, numbers, and sizes.
  • Children practice remembering and following increasingly complicated instructions.
  • The threading is an excellent exercise of fine motor skills.
  • You could play this with almost anything that threads:  beads, thread spools, colored pasta, or buttons for example.  (Great for creatively repurposing household items!)
  • Variation for non-threadable items:  have your child place certain items in an egg carton, container, or selection of dishware.  For example:  “Two blue buttons in the glass” or “One large seashell in the red bowl.”
  • Make this an activity for your “Mommy I’m Bored Box!”

For more easy ideas, please read these posts about other very simple toddler pastimes that have worked for me:


Sand – Creative Mixing and Sand Pictures (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , September 15, 2008 6:58 am

This week’s Unplugged Project theme of sand was inspired by the giant pile of sand that we have near our swing set. We had it brought it in to spread around the swing set area to soften the crash zone and also to control weeds.

I thought my children would have a lovely time spreading the sand nicely throughout the area. Wrong. My children have a lovely time playing on the pile of sand and don’t want it spread out! Oh well, for now we will leave it as is.  It is providing hours of cheap entertainment.

I had all kinds of cool sand ideas, but my kids had their own idea so I just let them go with it:  mixing.  One of their favorite activities is standing at the kitchen sink while I cook and taking bits of the ingredients (flour, vinegar, spices, salt, whatever is out) and mixing it all in a bowl accompanied by plenty of “oohs”, “aahs”, and shouts of “gross!”

First we scooped some sand into containers and brought it in.

I wisely laid out my vinyl “craft” tablecloth that we use for messy projects.  The children then gathered some dry ingredients: sugar, salt, flour, parsley flakes (that I never use and for some reason I have an ancient, industrial sized container of them), cumin (for the lovely smell), and celery salt (because again, I have too much of it!).

In the back of the pantry we also found some red lentils for color.  The children wanted to grind them up with a mortar and pestle, but it turns out that lentils are VERY hard so they used them whole.

I passed out an assortment of spoons, small ladles, a honey stirrer, and a tuna can strainer for sifting.  Of course hands were the most fun to use.

The kids sat quietly and mixed and played with it for at least an hour, maybe more.  They had a ball, I relaxed, and the kitchen took on a lovely cumin scent!

Next my oldest daughter had the idea of making sand pictures with glue. The kids put Elmer’s glue on construction paper to make a design:

Then they sprinkled their sand mixture on the paper making sure to cover all the glue:

Next was the fun part – dumping the sand off the paper to see how the picture turned out (lots of oohs and aahs)!

The kids also experimented with tissue paper, lentils and sugar.

The finished art (Blue: 8 year-old, White: 6 year-old, and Yellow: 2 year-old):


1) This is a good outdoor project, or indoors with a tablecloth – but be prepared to vacuum after.

2) Since food ingredients are involved, make sure little ones don’t try to eat their creations.

4) If you do use spices: MONITOR HOW MUCH IS USED (or this project could get pricey).  Also – avoid anything containing pepper unless you have a lot of Kleenex on hand.

5) If you allow the use of water, be sure it is only a small amount or be prepared for a big muddy mess!

6) If kids dump their sand outside when done, be sure you know where they do this.  Ours went into one of my rose beds so I should have a nice crop of lentils sprouting very soon.  :(


Finally, here are some photos of the very favorite sand Unplugged Project around here, jumping off the swings and landing on the sand pile!


Did you join us for a sand project this week?  If you took part in the Unplugged Project this week, please link to your post.  If you didn’t do a sand project, then please do not link, but read about how to join in next week!


Since we recently did soft, the theme for next week’s Unplugged Project will be:


Have fun!

Beans – The Perfect Toy?

By , July 2, 2008 10:44 pm

I am officially procrastinating. Instead of packing for our big trip tomorrow (Phoenix by car, then East Coast by air on Friday) I am writing a Very Important Post about…well, hmm…beans?

Perhaps I’ll share a quick idea of what I came up with to help my 2 year-old be entertained during dinner preparation.

I have some wooden trays that some good French knives and serving utensils came in. I kept them because they were so nice, and also because I am a pack rat.

I have never really known what I would do with them, but tonight I brought out my big container of dried beans (that I keep exclusively for play purposes) and the wooden trays, and let my 2 year-old put the beans in the hollows in the trays.

She enjoyed it so much that my other two (6 and 7) arrived on the scene to see what was so fun. Much to my surprise, they asked if they could play too. So all three put beans in different shaped openings in the trays.

Maybe it is the Montessori “training” that makes them love this sort of thing (they have been attending since they were 3). But whatever it is, I was grateful for a bit of peace while I cooked.

Now, what else can I write about? Oh dear, I guess I must go and pack. I may be offline for a day or two while I am in-transit, but I will write when I can, and I will certainly be back for this week’s Unplugged Project (the theme is sky)!

Great Resource for Keeping Young Toddlers Busy!

By , October 11, 2007 8:57 pm

At the end of September I wrote a post entitled How to Get By Without the Electronic Babysitting Box, inspired by the frequent questions I get along the lines of “how do you make supper without a TV to keep the kids occupied?” In the post I mention that for me, the1 to 2 year-old range is the most challenging one to keep independently busy when necessary.

This evening I was going through one of my bookshelves and I happened upon a little book that has very simple and creative ideas for keeping 1.5 to 3 year-olds busy. It is The Toddler’s Busy Book by Trish Kuffner.

I was given this book as a gift when my oldest was just a baby. Honestly, at first I was completely underwhelmed by it. Not knowing much about little ones, I had no idea what challenges I would face when my sweet infant became an active young toddler. Activities such as “Car Wash” (p.128 – child washes riding toys) or “Pasta Sort” (p.184 – child sorts different shapes of pasta into small containers) sounded pretty boring and unimaginative. After all, wouldn’t my little one be creating art masterpieces and reading War and Peace by age 2?

Well, several years and several children have taught me that activities such as “Car Wash” and “Pasta Sort” are, in fact, the absolute height of brilliance! I think that for adults, well for me anyhow, it is much easier to come up with projects and ideas for older children because they are more physically capable and think on a level closer to our own.

As I said in my Babysitting Box post, I do not believe in being my children’s entertainment committee, but there are times when they just mope about bored. So, especially being without TV, I find it useful to have a few ideas to throw out there for them to try. Older kids can do art, or origami, or crafts, or make books, or any number of things that adults can relate to.

Little ones are more of a mystery. Plus, they rely more on a grownup to play with them, or at least supervise a suitable independent project for their age. I find it challenging to think of appropriate ideas. Since most grownups would find pouring dried beans incredibly boring for example, it might not occur to us that something so simple can be a mesmerizing project for a 1.5 year-old!

This book has 365 such projects. Some are more complicated or require a bit more parental involvement than others, but all would truly be entertaining for a child in the 1.5 to 3 range. When I read these simple ideas now that I am on toddler number three, I often have a reaction of: “A ha! Why didn’t I think of that?” For example, the “Car Wash” idea would be a great toddler distraction on a warm day while Mom tries to garden. Or why not have your little one sort pasta shapes in the kitchen while you make dinner?

The 365 ideas in this book are organized by theme to make it easy to find just the one you need for any particular situation. The themes are:

  • Rainy Day Play
  • Kids in the Kitchen
  • Water Play
  • Outdoor Adventures
  • Out and About
  • Nursery Rhymes and Finger Plays
  • Early Learning Fun
  • Music and Movement
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Birthdays and Holidays

There are also sections on what to keep on hand in your craft cupboard, craft recipes (playdough, homemade paint, etc.) and other useful tidbits.

Trish Kuffner has written a series of other “Busy Books” too. We have also recently acquired The Children’s Busy Book : 365 Creative Games and Activities to Keep Your 6- to 10-year Old Busy, but have not used it yet. Leafing through it, I must say that the projects look really interesting. We’ll have to try a few of them soon. I’ll report back!

Here are links to all the books in the Kuffner “Busy Books” series in case you feel like browsing.

How To Get by Without the Electronic Babysitting Box

By , September 29, 2007 8:26 pm

According to the study I wrote about in my September 26th post: How Much TV Do American Babies Really Watch, one of the main reasons that kids under age two watch TV is for “babysitting” purposes. People often ask me how I manage to get any cooking, laundry or other household chores done with three kids and no TV or video games.

The answer? I simply neglect my children. That is my secret! I more or less leave them to their own devices. I don’t believe that my job includes being their entertainment committee.

They have toys, games, and books, but mostly they just run around in or out of the house and play imaginary games. I am fortunate that I have two children relatively close in age to entertain each other. This does make occupying them easier. The downside is that, with more than one child, there can occasionally (OK, on some days – often) be discord. Then I am unfortunately interrupted in my work to become a referee (not my job either).

But I also have a 20 month-old and she is more demanding of my time and attention. Sometimes she runs around with the older two, but when they are at school, or engaged in a non baby-friendly game for example, she follows me around wanting attention.

Obviously I can’t let her wander too far off. Her silence is always a bad sign. Some of my best “Mom of the Year” moments have been when I have diverted my attention from her for just a minute or two (more on those particular True Confessions on a day when I feel more like making True Confessions).

Age 1 – 2 years is the most challenging one for entertainment I think. You can’t tell them to just “go play” or send them off to clean their rooms. They are developed enough to want to do something other than sit on a blanket and stare at their hands for example, but they are not yet very interested in toys, at least not for long. The attention span is so short. Plus, they can MOVE and that can mean definite trouble!

Here are some things I do to divert the baby’s attention from me in order to do all the necessary tasks (obviously I am right there next to her for these activities to avoid any other “Mom of the Year” moments):

1) Stand her at the little kitchen island sink with a trickle of water and a few plastic cups (not good if I need her clothes to stay dry however).

2) Give her a tray with measuring cups, plastic bowls, measuring spoons and some dried beans. Of course, watch very closely that none go in the mouth. If your child still puts lots of things in his mouth, maybe try this with larger containers and scoops and use those big Legos that are too big to be swallowed.

3) Let her play in the pots and pans cupboard.

4) Bring out our giant box of dull plastic cookie cutters (which have always been used for play more than for cookies).

5) Give her a box filled with an odd collection of objects that are too large to choke on. She likes to take them out and put them in again. If the box has a top, I make sure that it is easy enough for her to take off and put back on by herself. I have learned the hard way that I will be called upon every fifteen seconds or so to “help” if the lid is not easy enough, and frustration for both of us will quickly ensue.

6) A box of canning rings is entertaining. They can make noise, become bracelets, or simply be placed in and out of the box again and again.

Sometimes these tactics only buy me a few moments of peace, but a minute or two combined with fast working, usually lets me muddle by. If I have a really time-consuming project, then I try to plan it around her nap, or after bed.

What do/did you do to keep your 1 to 2 year-old occupied* when necessary?

*occupied – with your observation, but not your direct participation!

Panorama Theme by Themocracy