During the past month most of the world’s countries suggest and even rule people not to go to work or work from home if possible, and also schools and nurseries are shut down. So now you’re spending a lot more time with your kids during their hyperactive daytime. Week after week. We understand that it can be exhausting figuring out how to spend time with them while having your mind on an important work project on which you have a video meeting in 30 minutes.
For your convenience, we’ve gathered some open-ended independent play ideas and tips on spending more quality time with kids while staying at home during this quarantine. These include some activities that you can do together having quality time and some that your child can practice independence on his own. Feel free to bookmark this post and comment on your favorite activities.
Maintaining your sanity
It’s hard. You’re not alone in this and others around you also might feel weird. Have more thorough talks with your significant other and call your extended family, close friends and maybe reconnect with long lost ones. Our daily routines have gone through the window so we need to shift it with some more diversity and make a new routine.
Firstly, if you’re at home with your spouse, then schedule might be the key to success. Even if you’re used to waking up at 10 AM on weekends, unfortunately even if you’re spending the whole day in pajamas, it’s still Tuesday and you both might need to be productive work people. So routine will help you as it helps your toddler - waking up, getting ready for the day and then taking 2-hour turns on watching the kids. So spend time either working or with children. If possible don't try to do them both at the same time, because it means that you're not fully present in either. Structure your times when you are working. And at others than actually give the kids your full attention - be with them mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally.
Secondly, remember that just like most things in life - these changes are not permanent and will pass. Our task is to make the best of it while sitting in homes most of the time is our reality for now.
Modifiable Pikler Triangle
Yes, this is the time when we can shamelessly plug MOPITRI. An active toddler starting from 1 to 3 years old can spend endless hours climbing this smooth wooden frame and sliding from its ramp practicing his own ways of using this creative activity toy. Your only job will be to adjust the position of the frame every now and then. These activities will deplete your child from energy and keep him safely entertained while you were drinking coffee, working on an important project or just watching him have the time of his life.
Check out MOPITRI here and keep in mind - we offer free shipping in Europe even during this pandemic but the delivery times are unfortunately delayed.
Open-ended “toys” from household materials
Our good friend Gemma from Hidden Gem Youtube channel released a great video in January on the best open-ended toys that are budget-friendly and you could find at home. (If you see a Pikler Triangle being used a lot, it’s just a coincidence) These things exercise their creativity and imagination. You’ll be amazed by what genius things they’ll come up with.
Silks and scarves, bean bags, balls for rolling and tossing around and this activity includes searching for and collecting the balls back again, pom-poms and just some junk you have at home not yet recycled (boxes, egg cartons, bottles etc.). This might be something most of us want to get rid of as soon as possible, but try repurposing it for a while as a creative toy for a toddler. I can’t count how many hours we’ve spent playing with a cardboard box imagining it like a car, toy storage and making several games out of it.
Homemade sensory play
Kinetic sand or play dough - creative play holy grail. It’s sensory, it’s pleasant, it’s not toxic, it’s fun, creative and can occupy your little one from breakfast until lunch. What’s there not to love? Buy it in any kids’ toy store or don’t risk going to the store and make a home version of your own - here’s an easy way to make kinetic sand and play dough.
Mix together 500g of fine sand (beach sand will work) and 15g or one tablespoon of cornstarch. Then add about 10g or a teaspoon of dish soap to 100ml of water with some food coloring of your choice to make it more fun. Just like in baking - combine wet ingredients to dry and voila! The molding of cupcakes, stars and other sensory delights can begin. Just put it in a larger container not to make any funny mess.
Playdough:Plain flour, table salt, vegetable or canola oil, food coloring and warm water. Mix 50g of flour with 25g of table salt. Add 15ml of oil and food coloring to 25ml of water. Combine everything and adjust the water or flour if it needs to be stickier or softer. Put in a plastic bag and keep in the fridge to make it last longer. And when you make some great shapes from your new play dough you could also bake it to make it permanent.
Here’s a video help for you from Play Doh Kitchen.
Coloring bathroom tiles- easy to clean sensory activity
Combine liquid soap with some cornstarch and food coloring and give your kids a chance to color your bathroom tiles in a foamy mess. If you have a bathtub, then put your little one in the tub and let them create something totally new in a totally new environment. When they’re done or all the paint has gone on the walls, just wash it down with water and let the bubbly soap water fill the bath - another playful activity for your kids. You might have noticed - we like to combine several things into one.
Thanks Taylor Raine for her Youtube advice on this one and having several videos on activities during a lockdown.
Other water play (preferably in the bathtub or garden) would include pouring water from one tray to another, bottles, rubber on ping pong balls, sponges, etc. Just put your little one in a bathtub with a larger plastic basin, some trays, bottles, balls and rubber toys. Pour some water in and let the fun begin. Usually, our kids get in the bath only before bedtime and there’s not a lot of time to spend playing but now it can be an amazing way to let loose and let your toddler observe the gravity and how water moves, and it can take an hour or more. It’s an amazing world they can discover. Supervision here is needed even if the bathtub is not filled.
If we talk about water play, you need to try water painting if you haven’t already. You don’t have to be in a bathtub for this one. All it needs is a sheet of cardboard, a paintbrush or a sponge and a tray of water. As your little Picasso paints his masterwork, he’ll see the shapes drawn and after a while, it dries up and the painting process can start from a blank page. You won’t use tons of paper, colors and just a little bit of water to exercise fine motor skills combined with the creative outlet. And for the case of this article, the best part is that this might not involve you - water won’t get the clothes and furniture dirty the artsy explorer can do it on his own for a while.
Practice practical life
During this #StayHome period, it might be even easier to start practicing practical life parenting that is the cornerstone for Montessori methodology. Lead with an example and help your children do everything themselves. This does mean adjusting the environment for their needs like setting smaller tables and chairs, putting books where they can choose for themselves and putting clothes rack for their height, but this is worth doing for your child to be self-aware, confident and independent. It’s one of the reasons why our top-selling product is the kitchen helper tower Step’n’Sit that transforms into a toddler size table - it’s a way for a toddler to see how you do it and eventually help you in cooking, washing up, and cleaning. And we’re very happy that many parents choose this meaningful lifestyle for their family. So next time instead of pretend-play that you’re baking muffins you can practice making them with your little helper by your side. You can read through some guidelines on Practical life from Age of Montessori.
Also one suggestion from Taylor Raine and one of our personal favorites is to have a dance party with your kids (and hopefully your spouse also) - put on your favorite tunes and let loose. Feel free to include jumping and loud singing. This will not only wear out your kids a little bit but will release a lot of endorphins to brighten the mood for everybody and maybe will provide some physical activity to get your heart rate up and burn some calories if you do it enthusiastically enough. So put on some Bohemian Rhapsody and make your neighbors question your family’s sanity.
While we’re on physical activity note (pun intended), you might consider also having your workouts done with your toddler. It can be intimidating at first, while your child understands what’s happening but if he’s active on his feet then running around in circles, jumping jacks, squats, and lunges, this will serve as a great bonding experience for all of you.
Doing yoga together would be an excellent way to exercise, stretch and calm yourself in these troubling times. It is very beneficial to you and your child, but we all know that it’s near impossible to get toddlers to concentrate on being calm and collected. Unless there’s a TV in front of them. So you might consider here a pass for screen time - there’s an amazing Youtube channel called Cosmic Kids Yoga. They combine physical benefits of doing yoga with colorful storytelling in popular children's movie themes like Moana, Trolls and of course Frozen. It’s a chance for you to do yoga and get your kids into the habit of doing it with you so that after a while you could do it without the screen (hopefully).
Do as I do
If your little energy bomb is set to hyper mode, here’s a game called “The Copy cat” or “Parroting” that will wear him out and takes a toll on you too for a while. The means of the game is for your kid to mimic everything you do. To make your child want to do this activity starts by doing something unorthodox, crazy and fun (and do it as much as you can as often as you can by any means) in the meantime remembering that it must be something that your child can do. For small children, it means that jumping, performing somersaults won’t be the best choice. On the other hand, trying to lift your leg and the opposite hand might be easy for you but extremely challenging for the little gymnast. To get you started, try running around through your house, get under the chair if you can, get on to the sofa if it’s allowed in your household, spin around and squat several times. If you have time, give a chance and change roles - do everything your child does and see what he comes up with. This again is a fantastic way to increase creative thinking and build self-esteem.
Go into the wild
If possible, go outside. It’s springtime finally and if you have a garden, then move most of your activities outside for two main reasons. Number one - staying healthy, breathing some fresh air, getting sunlight and smelling flowers. Number two - don’t disturb the working parent with the bursts of excitement and joy. Smells, tastes, and other senses - there’s plenty to explore by moving around the garden and talking about ants and leaves, birds and trees, and the nature in whole - this is a great way to spend time with your baby that you could enjoy yourself and will prove to be a great bonding experience for both of you.
Who would have guessed, right? This is an amazing activity to entertain your child with and most of the time it doesn’t have your involvement. Using pencils, crayons, watercolor might not only let them promote their creativity by using and developing fine motor skills. It starts as chaotic scribbling and asking for you to draw cats and suns all the time but with age, it changes in some pretty wonderful pieces of art you will be proud of posting on your refrigerator.
What ideas have you used from this list? What could you add to it?
There are so many things you can start doing with your little toddler while at home and one of the greatest things - to get to know them better and improve your relationships by about 1000%. We wish you and your family good health and hopefully, we’ll get out of this as better people and stronger families. Remember, this will pass but you can influence how you handle this new situation.