“How do I entertain my two-year-old all day long?”
I could feel the desperation in that mom when I read the Facebook post. I scanned the replies and thought most suggestions seemed like a lot of work. But maybe she was looking for ideas on making your own preschool busy bags.
I thought she needed a bit more help and redirection. I imagined she was a first time mommy and I could relate. I have just one. He’s 13 now and I’ve been back in the workplace for awhile. While caring for a group of children is different than caring for one, there are several strategies from my childcare work experiences that I would implement at home if I could do it over again.
I Would Remember I’m in Charge
I’m not saying I could make him go to sleep or eat a certain thing or even play with a certain toy. But I would throw that initial idea of entertaining right out the window.
I’d remember I’m the adult and I set the stage and he will not be entertained every minute of today. He will laugh and be happily engaged at times. He will be a grump other times. He will throw a tantrum a few times.
All is to be expected and my attitude determines so much – even if it’s in how I walk away from him melting down in a safe space and the tone I call out, “you be you, boo.”
I Would Put up Almost all of the Toys
It’s not about keeping the house clean. When dozens of toy options were available, I was promoting the dump and jump play mentality. That’s when a child is entertained by dumping this thing out and jumping to the next thing – just to dump out. It doesn’t take long to dump everything out and afterwards you’re left with a mess and a child who is done with everything.
I’d borrow from my classroom strategy of planning which toys to pull out when. I’d rotate toys and where to play. Oh, tired of the blocks on the living room floor? Here’s a puzzle at the table. Or, sit here in front of the fridge with a bucket of magnets right now.
I’d encourage a longer stay with each toy. I’d demonstrate how to play with each thing before expecting him to play alone. And I would absolutely take turns interacting directly with him and leaving him to his own play. He needs to grow in independence and creativity. But I need space. Establish boundaries with both of you in mind.
I Would Only Eat at the Table
It’s not just about nutrition. It’s about manners. It’s about housekeeping. You are always teaching. You are always modeling. You are trying to fill up time, for goodness sakes! In group care, a snack is something to look forward to – and not just for the children. Caregivers are happy for the moments of still and quiet at the table. Linger there!
Lunch is an entire production. Even if I didn’t involve my child in cooking prep, I would have a list of steps to lead up to eating. Washing hands, setting the table, saying a blessing or reading a short book at the table before eating are routines we enjoy at my center. Similarly, we have clean up steps to follow. In the same way, a morning or afternoon snack (or drink) requires another coming together at the table.
I Would Spend More Time Outside
Nature teaches and entertains. It challenges and soothes. The fact that it did not excite my own is likely because I did not encourage it. While it may require more supervision than inside play, I’ve decided it’s worth it.
Need some ideas? Bubbles. Wildflower picking. Heck, picking grass excites some children. Allow it.
Chalk in the driveway. A bucket of water and a big paint brush for painting the fence or the house. The garden hose with sprayer attachment for making rainbows or spraying each other. A pile of sand or soft dirt and a plastic shovel. Rock collecting. A big blanket and the same few books that weren’t interesting inside. Bird watching and cloud gazing from the same blanket.
Jumping in rain puddles. Do you know how much time you can take up if you’re willing to let them just run around during the rain storm? Sometimes, a lot. And, no, we can’t do that at the childcare center. But you can go outside almost every day of the year. Expand your idea of what qualifies as an acceptable temperature range.
I Would Play More Music
Want to set a mood or change it? I wish I had used music as the tool it can be. We play lots of music in my classrooms and we use it with intention. We have a playlist for naptime. We have several for dance time. Others are for music and movement. (Yeah, I’m just now realizing that dance and movement are the same – but it’s entirely different, too. I promise!)
One thing I would not do – I would not play music in the background all the time. I want to distinguish it at times. Clean Up time song, anyone? Right now, my teenager uses music on his own as a calming technique when he needs it. If only I could go back in time and harness his current wisdom. But you can. In meltdown mode, could music be your ally? When boredom seeps into either of you, could music be your answer?
I Would Do More Crafts
Actually, no. I wouldn’t do more crafts. Looking back, I don’t think crafts would’ve been our answer … ever. He just wasn’t and isn’t into that sort of thing. But, you and yours might be. And I will tell you that in so many circumstances with so many groups of children that I’ve been with, a craft table occupies longer than I ever thought possible.
I am not suggesting specific craft projects. I am suggesting a table with a few supplies. Dollar store tablecloths are great for quick clean up and a quick vacuum works wonders. By the way, we use the same tables in our classrooms for snack and crafts. We clean the tabletops and sweep the floors multiple times a day. Just do it. I’m ashamed to admit that I never made my favorite craft with my own boy. Stringing fruit loop necklaces might just happen today!