Thursday, July 31, 2014:

Busy Activities for Busy Boys

 Recently a friend asked me for some ideas on how to keep her toddler engaged.  Before I knew it, I had written a short novel.  Sharing here in the event it can help you too!

Q: I'm always curious what other moms do to keep their little ones stimulated, entertained and engaged throughout the day. What is your secret, especially with two?

A: The dynamic is really different with two.  Outside of logistics and schedule coordinating, having one was harder for me.

1. Everything was new!  Phases would come and throw us for a loop and we'd think, "OMG, will it EVER end?!"  Now with two, when we go through the spill-the-dog-food phase, I think, "oh, right...I remember this with Liam.  Just a few weeks of putting the bowls up high so we don't spill the water...again!!"  It's kind of like running a second marathon- it's still hard, but I'm able to pace myself much better this time around.

2. I always felt like I needed to be engaging with Liam.  Even when he wasn't necessarily asking for my attention I felt like I should be next to him and actively playing.  And when he would "ask" me to play with him, I had a hard time saying, "no".  Now with two, if I was feeding Finn and Liam needed me, I felt like I had an "excuse" to say no and to sit and nurse Finn.

3. And now, at 14 months and almost three years, there are actually times when they want nothing to do with me and simply enjoy "playing" with each other.  So I can actually finish my coffee (sometimes), without sharing or hiding/losing it around the house!

Ok, so that doesn't answer your question, but I just wanted to tell you that being a mom to one is, in many ways, harder than having 2+ It's almost like a hazing ceremony- you just gotta make it through that first "test" ha!! (have you guys read that post- "to the mom with only one child" or something like that??  It's a really good read!).

So the secret to my survival is to spend as much time as possible out of the house.  I lived in an urban area so, with Liam I'd pack a lunch and a picnic blanket, throw Liam in the stroller, and go to the park or the playground and stay out until naptime.  I loved when he would fall asleep in his stroller on the way home.  I'd walk to a nearby cafe and eat lunch in peace!!

Now we bring lunch to the pool or, if I'm feeling adventurous, we might go out for lunch after gymnastics or a trip to the playground.

Even though they are little, it's so good to have at least one or two structured activities- Gymboree, music, etc.  It was also good for me bc it forced me to get out of the house and socialize even if I was exhausted!!

On the days we were stuck inside (or like now, when nap schedules conflict and I can't be out and my 14 month old just wants to explore...), I make sure all lower cabinets are locked aside from one or two and I'll sit him in front of the cabinet and let him pull out every piece of Tupperware we own.  Same thing in the bathroom- we don't have anything dangerous in the lower cabinets, so he will pull out cotton balls, q-tips, brushes, etc.  he makes a mess, but I get a shower!!

Another thing I do with Finn if I'm trying to get dinner done, I put random objects in a muffin tin (see photo attached).  He can easily spend 15 mins playing, "sorting", etc with the pieces.  This is also a really good way for me to enforce the "not in your mouth" command :). But for the most part he just likes to dump things out.

Things that I do with the kids-
  • Mega blocks
  • Puppets
  • Puzzles
  • Drawing ( they are still young but tape some butcher paper to the floor and give him some of those thick crayons- and draw with him too!  I would draw a town or a road and he'd "drive" a toy car through it).  I'd seriously have paper taped down throughout our house, but it was fun.
  • Books are always good
  • "Cook" dinner together- I'll usually give him a bowl and wooden spoon along with small blocks or tiny toys that he can "stir"
  • Recycling- this is one of his favorite things to do- we have a pile of boxes by the back door and he'll just dump out the boxes  (one time I had a metal can in there- ended with a really bad cut...bad mom moment! But milk cartons, plastic bottles, toilet paper roles...he loves it).
  • Tissue busy boxes- both boys LOVE(D) to pull out tissues.  It made me crazy!  But once I got over trying to keep things neat, I'd let them do it until they got bored of it, and then just stuff the tissues back in and use at diaper changes).
  • Empty tissue box busy boxes- we have a few empty boxes of tissues around the house with random toys- Finn loves to put items in and pull them out.  
  • Painting- I'll let Finn finger paint in his high chair.  I also experimented with filling ziplock bags with paint and taping to windows or floor.  Liam didn't love it, but I thought it was a great idea.  Another easy clean up is to let him finger paint in the bath tub. When Liam was still putting everything in his mouth, I let him "finger paint" with chocolate pudding in the bathtub....saw it on, not that cool.
  • A fun outdoor activity if he's good on his feet is to go for a "nature" walk- bring a ziplock and pick up leaves and rocks, pinecones.  
  • Water table- even before Finn was really walking, he could pull himself up and splash the toys around
  • I think the trick with boys is keeping them active.  I used to drive myself crazy trying to clean up activities or prevent the kids from climbing the furniture.  Sure, you want them to be safe but once I realized the benefits of "messy" play and climbing, I just kind of went with it and surrendered to the chaos that is now my "mom of two young boys" life.

So the top secret tricks to survival-

1. hire a babysitter for one morning (I have someone come Wednesdays, 8a-1p).  Get out of the house...alone. Or blockade yourself in your room :) I save all my non-kid friendly errands for this day (groceries, post office, etc) and I make it a point to do something for me- a massage, mani/pedi, etc).

2. Find real mom friends.  I know a lot of lovely women who can host a play date like nobody's business!  From adorable toddler-size lox spreads and homemade coffee cake pops.  Seriously, these women AMAZE me!  And I'm grateful that I can call them friends.  But what you really need is that neighbor you can call up and say "hey, I haven't washed my hair in six days, we are now using strictly paper plates because all the dishes are dirty, I have dried God-knows-what across the hardwood floors, but would you want to come over at 3 and stay until my husband gets home so that I don't"  The day goes by so much faster w a good mom friend!

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