Before we get to the activities, I want to make one thing clear: my kid has toys. He loves his little red wagon. There is a stuffed cat that he carries around like a baby. He's got a puzzle bench that he will spend chunks of time on. I'm not saying that toys are bad. I'm just saying toys aren't the only way to keep a toddler busy, and if you're trying to save money or cut back on consumerism and clutter, you don't need to feel pressured to fill your kid's toy box with conventional plastic junk. Read on for how to keep your tot busy, engaged and delighted using found items around your home.
1. Water Play
When it’s warm out, we do this one almost every day. I have a couple of large metal mixing bowls that I fill with water, and I give him measuring cups, washcloths, and clean paint brushes to splash with. He squeals when he sees the bowl!
2. Make Some Noise
That same metal mixing bowl turned upside down goes from sensory play to an impromptu drum. Give that kid a wooden spoon or a stick to bang on it. We do this outside a lot once he’s splashed all of the water out of the bowl. I am sure that our next door neighbors are thrilled. I’m sorry, neighbors!
3. A Kitchen Drawer
I got this idea from the book Raising a Happy Unspoiled Child by Burton L. White. White suggests giving your toddler play areas in the kitchen, so that they can explore. One of the areas that I babyproofed was a kitchen drawer.
The drawer used to hold a mix of plastic and glass coffee cups, but now the glass ones are in a high cabinet and the drawer is just full of our reusable plastic coffee cups and plastic measuring cups. My son likes pretending to drink from them. He likes it even more if I put a little water in there, so he can spill it on himself and on the floor. It’s messy, but he’s happy, and I get time to cook a meal!
4. The Kitchen Cabinet
This is another suggestion from Raising a Happy Unspoiled Child, and my son LOVES it. To babyproof a cabinet, I moved our ceramic and glass pans out and am only storing metal pots and pans and our wood cutting boards. This is the other weapon in my “I need to make supper” arsenal. My guy crawls in and out of there and plays with the baby-safe cookware inside. Sometimes he tries to close the door. It’s like a permanent fort!
5. His Booster Seat
My toddler is obsessed with the straps on his booster seat, which blows my mind. Apparently this is a thing, because some other moms I’ve talked to say their kids are strap crazy, too. He will play on that chair for 10-15 minutes at a time, which means I can have a quiet cup of tea or even unload the dishwasher.
Don’t have a booster seat? No problem! This activity is really my kid trying to figure out how to do something he sees me do many times a day: snap him into his chair to eat. As you go through your day with your toddler, see what little things like this interest him, then let him try himself while you get a few minutes of precious you time.
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