I'm in sort of a rough phase here with my toddler, in finding things to occupy him on his own. I engage with him all the time I'm with him, but there are times when I would love for him to be entertained for a few minutes on his own... (when I'm trying to make dinner is the main one). I've tried all sorts of things and sometimes various activities I set up will work, but other times they won't.
I'm at the end of my rope some nights while I'm desperately trying to assemble a meal and he's clutching at my legs and screaming. And although I too feel like screaming, I can't blame him.. he's bored and needs something to do and hates being down low and unable to participate in what I'm up to on the countertops and stove.
I have mostly just tried to involve him somehow in everything I have to do (ie, "helping" me hang the laundry or sweep or even cook) but sometimes I need (want) to do it alone and quickly/efficiently. The cooking is really the main time this is an issue. I sometimes just don't have it in me to be as patient as I need to be to have him up at the counter "helping." Sometimes, I'm tired of having it be such a production to have him up there and I just want to throw the meal together in peace, and fast. I wish I had more patience, but sometimes I'm awfully short on it.
So... what is your toddler's favorite toy, that will occupy him or her for 5-10 minutes minimum. I know every child is different, but I'm just wondering if there are things I should be considering as activities that won't quickly lose their allure. I'm already considering a dollhouse, a toy kitchen, a few silks, and some building blocks. I imagine these are things that can provide long-term imaginative play and will entertain him beyond his current stage. Anything else I should be thinking of?
In addition to toys, do you have a favorite activity you set up while making dinner? I'd like to avoid anything too too messy, though a little bit is fine. I will give him a small jar of beans, along with an ice cube tray or some spice jars and encourage him to sort. That will sometimes work, but not for long, and I think I've used it one too many times because he hasn't gone for it lately.
We don't currently have loads of toys, and I'm realizing we should add a few more. I've tried to avoid some of the typical plastic noisy toys (though at this point, I'd gladly utilize one while I make dinner!).... so I'm feeling it's time to invest in a few things that will help him to play on his own. We've got various hand-me-down toys, but they all seem to lose their allure so fast. He'll put a puzzle together a time or two and then never is interested in it again. That doesn't seem terribly sustainable or a good investment.
I am totally aware that this age is not particularly independent or self-directed, and it's not that I expect him to totally go off on his own. But man could I use a few 10-minute chunks here and there.
Tell me your tricks and ideas!
It's all about fostering independent play in toddlers through gentle, respectful interaction. I've been following many of the principles, like not interrupting kids while they play, being responsive to their play instead of directing them, & simplifying a play area to only a few toys at a time and rotating them frequently.
My 21 month old is now able to play by himself (in safe play area that is adjacent to my kitchen) for 30-40 minutes at a time while I cook and clean. Sometimes he'll ask for me, and I see that he just needs a quick moment to connect with a hug or a cuddle and a book, and then he'll go back to his "work".
If he needs to interact with me, he "helps" me with housework, too, but has the freedom to accept or decline my invitation to participate. Also, we have a step stool in the kitchen so I can give him projects at the counter while I cook, like stirring flour and water with whisk, shaking spices, or placing cut veggies from the cutting board into a bowl.
As for specific toys, he's currently obsessed with things that go, so he's happy rolling his cars and trains around a track for long stretches of time. They stay in his play area all the time. I keep a bin of 5-7 random toys (i.e. stuffed animals, instruments, blocks, balls), in his play area, and rotate them on a weekly basis. If I see he's really interested in a particular toy, I'll keep it in his play area until he gets tired of it. The point is, his play area is a place for him to explore, *not* a place to store toys. When I kept all his toys in there, he would quickly get overwhelmed and couldn't focus on one toy for more than 5 minutes. He'd whine and demand for me to pick him
up and get clingy. Now that his play area is simplified, he'll happy get lost in his own world, singing and babbling away.
Mommy to DS born 11-10-10 And DD born 6-3-13
My 21mo loves to help and I too sometimes cannot oblige, so currently she's obsessed with my whisk and "mick" (mixing things) so I hand her that with a bowl and she goes to town mixing singing her abc's lol. She's a fan of puzzles and cars and if I pull out a toy that's normally in her bedroom to put in the kitchen/dining area (it's an open ranch so I can see her into the living room as well) she's amused enough that I can finish what I need to do. She does get to help at the counter with non-hot things like shaking spices out of jars, she's learning to crack eggs, pouring liquids that I've measured out....I love having her learn independence so we follow a lot of Montessori principles allowing her interests to guide us. Coloring is also big right now, mostly chalk because there was a crayon-to-wall incident while my FIL was watching her (or more likely he fell asleep!) and she can draw for hours with her chalk.
The foolproof ones for us are her toy stroller/grocery cart--it's amazing how long she'll occupy herself just picking things up and pushing them around in various conveyances. I haven't tried this, but it just occurred to me to set up some sort of scavenger hunt--hide a few toys/favorite objects around the house and ask her if she can find them and put them in her cart.
The other big one is letting her play at the kitchen sink while I'm cooking. It *is* messy, but just water--she loves "washing" the dishes and that keeps her occupied for a long time while I'm busy. She really likes to be near me while I'm cooking.
I like your idea for sorting with the ice cube tray--I'll have to try that!
Fiction writer by training, writer/editor of anything anyone will hire me for by trade. Me + D=my girls E (4/2011) and little N, 1/2014.