I have been talking over the past few days with different mama-friends of mine about how we are managing our time with our littles at home in the midst of this global crisis. It’s a challenging time for all of us. We are all experiencing so many shared sentiments during this time. Fear, anxiety, stress, sadness, frustration, disappointment, worry, annoyance, loneliness, tenderness, confusion – these are just some of the conflicting feelings I’ve been having on my roller coaster of emotions this past week.
The internet and social media seem to be exploding with ideas for how to keep our sanity in trying times. I’ve seen so much solidarity and encouragement. People sharing ideas for entertaining our kids, ways to care for ourselves and our families while practicing social distancing, and ways to stay healthy and fit from home. It’s amazing really, to see people coming together like this. I find it incredibly inspiring to feel such creative and intentional positive connection linking us all across the world.
This morning I decided I should be using this space to contribute any way that I can. I have found myself doing quite a bit of texting ideas to friends and family. So I decided that offering some of the resources/ideas that I’ve been gathering might be helpful to share here! Today another friend called me and said – you should write a blog with all of these ideas. Thanks for the nudge Lauren 😘- that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I am here to share with you some of my best sanity savers for this uncertain time. Ways to entertain our littlest littles at home and create breathing room for ourselves too.
Mostly the ideas here are focused on coming up with ways to help keep little kids engaged, entertained (though I do not mean that this should be entirely up to parents to constantly facilitate!), creative, and connected. In my ideal world, these things are not super labor intensive. That means on the set up side OR the clean up side. A few moments to sit back and sip my coffee in peace is what I typically call it a win. Because we all know that coffee has almost certainly been re-heated at least 3 times since I poured it in my cup.
Favorite online resources
Two of my favorite social media resources for little kid activity ideas are Busy Toddler and Toddler Approved. These two accounts are incredible and have been tremendous idea generators for me in the past. I’ve used them both to create activities for my boys to do that they love! We’ve been home for a full week now and social distancing. Since then I have rediscovered a bunch of fun things that I’d forgotten about by scrolling through these accounts.
They share simple crafts and activities that are fairly easy to set up. They typically utilize things we have around the house already. And they always end up always being a hit with my kids. Many of these things are aimed at encouraging independent play. This is extremely valuable to me right now since it offers a little bit of down time for me within a day! Probably our favorite activities are creating sensory boxes out of all sorts of different materials. Who would have thought a box of cereal and a handful of trucks would be so entertaining to toddlers?! But they love it! Check out these accounts for tons of awesome ideas!
Homemade “Car Wash” Activity
Another HUGE winner every time we do it is to make a homemade toy “car wash.” I’m pretty sure this idea originated from one of the aforementioned accounts. We’ve made many different variations of this activity and the boys request it ALL THE TIME. I love it because I can set them up and then sit nearby to monitor. This almost always buys me a solid 30+ minutes of independent play out of them. Ahhh to drink my coffee and read my latest book or even scroll on IG for a little while in peace!
Things you need for this activity include:
- An area to play that you won’t mind getting wet – such as IN the shower or on a large towel. Even on the porch/in the yard works if it’s warm enough outside and you can be nearby to monitor.
- A shallow bin like a baking pan or plastic storage container. For extra credit you can add more small containers of varying size *see photo below
- Simple tools for washing such as a sponge, old toothbrush, dish scrubber, and/or washcloth
- Child-safe soap (to make sudsy water). I just use a squirt of their usual bath soap.
- Warm water
- Any toy cars (or any toys really!) that won’t get messed up if they get wet/soapy
- A change of clothes because they will most likely get wet!
Usually I just put some warm water in the main container and offer some tools to wash with. I might provide a few other “pouring” type tools (like measuring cups/spoons, etc). And I give a little bowl of soapy water too. They get pretty creative with this kind of play. And as long as you don’t mind some soap and water getting sloshed about (and all over them!) – it can be a great sanity saver for kids and parents alike. Not to mention that the cars get cleaned!
**Disclaimer – please don’t leave little kids and containers of water unattended for safety reasons.
Snacks with Jack
I don’t know about your kids, but mine love to go to school. Mainly because they love playing with their friends. We are very fortunate to have a full-time built-in resident/sibling playmate, assuming they aren’t at each other’s throats (which has been the case unfortunately this week!). But they have been asking non-stop to go to school or to go over and play with their friends. This is probably the most disheartening part of social distancing for me as a parent. Being so young makes it really hard for them to understand why they can’t be around their friends right now.
One of the ways we’ve decided to help them feel more connected is to use the amazing gift of technology to our advantage. My sister has a sweet little 2 year old boy that we all absolutely adore. Many of my closest friends also have kids around similar ages. So I started thinking the other day… I bet most of the kids eat snacks around the same times. Then I thought – it would be so fun for the kids to FaceTime each other during snack time to talk! They need that interaction with other little kids. This isn’t a perfect solution but it is a pretty darn good one working with the situation at hand.
Sometimes getting the kids on the phone for these kinds of chats is hit-or-miss depending on how they are feeling. But no one understands that more than a mama of a similar-aged child.
So my sister and I set up a few dates for the kids to do this. We even came up with the idea of taking turns reading books to the kids during these calls for even more entertainment. When I realized what a hit this would be, I promptly reached out to other family members and friends to see if they’d like to join in the fun. Now we have almost daily FaceTime calls with people we love. The boys even got to meet Aunt Marinna’s two new pet bunnies yesterday! The calls are usually short but packed with plenty of connection, laughs, and love. And that is such a gift in these times of uncertainty.
Here are a few more random sanity savers:
- Draw on the sidewalk in front of your house with chalk. You can even write inspiring messages to people who walk by! One of Noah’s favorite versions of this activity is for us to draw chalk fires 🔥 and then let him use a squirt bottle to “put the fire out.”
- Research simple craft projects – I try to think of one simple idea a day for them, the less messy, the better! One of my favorite books for ideas is the Play & Learn Toddler Activity Book.
- Invite your kids into the kitchen with you! Last month one of my goals was to cook with my kids more. It was a truly rewarding experience for all of us.
- Have your kids draw “letters” to mail friends and/or family. We asked our buddies in another state to be penpals with us! Or if you’re a procrastinator like me, this is a great time to color those b-day thank you notes you haven’t gotten around to yet!
- Walk around your block (keeping a safe distance from others) and play red light/green light or give specific tasks like “let’s hop to the end of the fence” or “try walking backwards.” Moving their bodies is SO important and a super healthy outlet.
- Pull your couch cushions down onto the floor and make a big “jumping” pile! My kids LOVE when we do this! But make sure to stay close and monitor that things don’t get too rowdy!
- Have a picnic meal in an unusual place – kids love to mix it up! Ours get so excited to sit on the floor on a blanket or to eat out on the back porch. This is an instant mood-changer.
- Popsicles in the bathtub – if you haven’t heard it before, one tried and true ways to get kids out of a funk is to “just add water.” So dumping them in the bath mid-day can make a world of difference. Add popsicles (mess free this way!) and you become the coolest parent ever.
- Give your little kids things they can do to feel helpful around your home! Noah has a whole list of stuff he does to help. At only 3 years old he is able to feed our pets, sort socks from the laundry (which he is usually rewarded with one m&m per pair), help set and clear the table for meals, assist with emptying the dishwasher, and tidy up after himself. Niko (age 1.5) helps feed the pets and set and clear the table with his brother. He also loves to helps unload the silverware (not knives of course) even though he can barely reach the drawer!
Last but not least… Read – Read – Read
“Children are made readers in the laps of their parents,”Emilie Buchwald
I am such a book lover and reading is one of my very favorite hobbies. This is one thing I truly hope to inspire in my children. I believe the best way to do that is by reading to them and exposing them to books as much as I can. To share my enthusiasm with them and to make reading fun! In this time of our lives where the days seem to stretch endlessly onward, I realize that I could fill big chunks of time by simply reading more.
We actually try to set aside several different times a day to read. Most often the boys and I read together. Sometimes we have “quiet reading time” where I pull out 2 yoga mats to have them sit and give them each a pile of books to look through. Then I can read my own book nearby! We have been building up our solo-reading endurance. Now I can usually get about 10 solid minutes in before one starts “messing” with the other. On other occasions, like when I really need a few moments to myself, I will pull up YouTube and find children’s books being read aloud. The kids love this because they are obsessed with screen time of any kind. And somehow I don’t mind as much if they are watching something book-related.
Tensions are running high these days and my emotions are flip-flopping all over the place. My kids are both super intuitive and in-tune with my energy at all times. This makes it even more important for me to have ways to self-regulate and feel calm, connected, and productive. I also need downtime to make space for myself in the midst of what can feel like endless days of cabin fever. These little sanity savers have gone a long way in creating a little breathing room for all of us. I hope you will find they offer the same to you and yours.
Please stay safe and sound (and as sane as possible) my friends.
If you have other fun sanity saving ideas, please drop them in the comments below! The more ideas for us to all share, the merrier!