Everyone has made it to the table, and Mommy is trying to review multiplication facts with one child and monitor a science lesson with another child, with a toddler who has become mobile and wants to be the focus of attention. Sound familiar? I have been through this phase a few times, and I learned that pre-planning some special activities for my toddler to do, just during school time, helped give me a few minutes to focus my attention on the older kids and kept me from feeling frazzled.
Wooden puzzles and play dough are must haves, but there are also some inexpensive homemade activities you can assemble easily and have on hand for variety. Toddlers like to be a part of the action, so I found that by pulling the high chair up to the table with us or setting up a spot on the floor nearby, my little ones were busy and happy. (Be sure to avoid choking-sized objects, and keep toddlers within sight.)
Combine 1 cup flour, ½ cup salt, 1 T. cooking oil, 1 T. cream of tartar, and 1 cup water in a non-stick skillet and heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until dough forms a ball and no longer looks wet. Remove from heat and turn out onto waxed paper. Once cool enough to handle, add a few drops of food coloring, if desired, and mix until combined. Store in air-tight container. You can also add essential oils, spices, or glitter (lemon oil in yellow dough for summer, pumpkin spice in orange dough for fall, peppermint oil and silver glitter in white dough for winter).
Fill a small plastic shoe box with plain rice. Bury seashells, silk flowers, small cars, or plastic animals, and provide a plastic shovel or spoon for toddlers to dig with. Plastic cups, measuring spoons, and small bowls are fun to fill and dump; silk flowers can be planted and picked. Put everything back inside and snap on the lid for storage.
Gather a dozen plastic eggs of different colors and use markers to color the inside of each space in a cardboard egg carton with corresponding colors. Your child can match each egg to its correct “home,” dump them out, and start all over again. For variety, take all the eggs apart so she has to match the halves and put them together first, or give her colored pompoms to match and put inside each egg. Muffin tins and ice cube trays also make nice sorting trays.
No-Mess Finger Paint
Mix a batch of vanilla pudding and divide into three equal portions. Mix each with food coloring (red, yellow, blue), and then spoon into large zipper bag, squeezing out the air before sealing. Lay the bag flat and show your toddler how to draw designs with his fingers on the outside of the bag or squish the bag to mix colors and create new ones.
Lay items such as a comb, leaf, sandpaper, paper doily, or corrugated cardboard on the high chair tray and place a large piece of paper on top, taping down the edges. Show your toddler how to use the side of a chunky crayon to reveal what is underneath. Older kids can make homemade rubbing plates by drawing designs with school glue onto cardstock squares. Once dry, the glue leaves a raised design.
Homemade Lacing Cards
Cut large shapes (circle, triangle, square) from different colors of cardstock and cover both sides with clear contact paper. Punch holes around the edges and tie on a piece of yarn with tape wrapped around one end for easier “sewing.” Talk about the shapes and colors. Variations include photos, or pictures from magazines or coloring books glued onto cardstock.
Items in a cardboard shoebox, rotated so toddlers always have a “surprise.” Ideas include a shatterproof mirror, toilet paper tubes, large pompoms, plastic animals (the box can become a barn), plastic golf balls (hole cut in the lid of the box for pushing balls through), pipe cleaners to bend and sculpt, pocket-size photo album with family and pet photos, small cars (the box is the garage), large macaroni noodles and yarn for lacing, small swatches of cloth for stacking and feeling (corduroy, wool, felt, satin, burlap), alphabet blocks, linking blocks, sticky notes.