Due to being raised with only another sister and having no real experience with toddler boys I just couldn't figure him out. I thought I was not a good enough mother, that I was not disciplining him enough or in the right way. And then I realized that HE WAS A BOY! And guess what mom? Boys are different! Yep they play different, think different, and relate different from girls. What a realization for me! Instead of trying to turn my precious son into a quiet neat little girl I let him be a boy. I found activities that fostered his exploration and adventurousness. And more importantly I began to study boys brain development. It was very eye opening as to their special needs when it comes to learning and play. Especially their need for DEEP MUSCLE stimulation. To regulate their brains some children, and especially boys, need to work their muscles. Things like jumping, swimming, climbing, bouncing, running, or working with their hands.
Now you have to understand I have a thing against TV. Our children are limited on how much and what they can watch. So I couldn't use the very easy out of TV to keep my son zombielike. We also didn't allow computer games, video games, or tablet games during the toddler years, although now we have a Wii with appropriate games.
So what's a mom to do to keep her active little ones busy and happy without TV or video games? Here are manageable activities and toys that actually WORK and have kept my three younger children who are all VERY active busy for hours. All of them stimulate the deep muscles that these children need every day. My children were much happier, calmer, and less destructive with these outlets for their needs.
At Mass last Sunday our neighbors daughter and children were visiting and sitting in the pew in front of us. She had an adorable 18 month old son with her who, in my opinion, did excellent. After Mass we talked and her parent mentions how busy he is and she made the same comments, expressing how she is always chasing him around and that most standard toys don't entertain him. I made some suggestions for what has worked for our equally busy children and decided to make a post for other parents struggling with the same issues. As our family has always been very low income I have listed things in groups from cheap to expensive. You don't have to be rich or even middle class to provide most of these items for your children.
Even though I have many of these items linked to affiliates on Amazon it's more so you can visualize what I'm talking about. I always look for gently used items before buying new. If you do buy online through one of my links however thank you! The little money I receive as a commission doesn't effect your price and helps to support this blog. I was not compensated in any way for this post.
Note: All children need supervision, especially young ones! These are not ideas for unsupervised play but more for things that will keep littles busy for extended periods of time so you can do things like fold clothes, do the dishes, or even read while being close by.
Cheap To Moderate
I cannot stress this enough that a Water Table is a life saver. Almost ALL children love them and will play with them for hours (I have never met a child who didn't love them ). When we got one it changed our lives for the better.
The nice thing is the worst that can happen is your child will get wet with clean water so you can just change their clothes. You can even set these up in a place in the house with linoleum floors for easy cleanup. They are great in the winter when you can't to outside to play. A water table can be bought online and range in price from $20.00 up to $100.00 for a really elaborate one that has room for several children to play at. Or you can make your own with a under the bed plastic storage toate you might have adding cups, plastic boats, and other water friendly toys. Be sure to monitor you small children for safety!
Play Dough is great and can be so cheap as to make it very affordable. I do encourage you to make your own from THIS recipe simply because not only is it cheaper but it doesn't contain any toxic chemicals and is much softer so that even very young toddlers can manipulate it. You don't need all those accessory's either. Although THIS SET pictured is very good for toddlers. Just plastic spoons, knives and cookie cutters work. Play dough was and still is a great outlet for my children.
The Local Park
Many parks now have "toddler friendly" play toys that are made specifically for the younger children. Going every day gets your child out in the sun and fresh air and lets them run, jump, and climb to their hearts content.
These balls are great for toddlers up to 9 year olds and come in different sizes for different ages. The nice thing is they are inside/outside toys and can be used for those rainy days when outside play is not possible. They also are inexpensive and are excellent at stimulating that deep muscle I have talked about.
Daily outside play is a basic and free activity, but can also be destructive if you don't have things for you children to do. Some fun ideas are sidewalk chalk, bubble blowing (always a huge hit!) , kicking balls, outdoor slides and swings, digging in the dirt or sand, and making stick houses.
Most toddlers love to stack blocks and I like the wooden ones that are unpainted due to fears of toxic paints. For some kids they will play with them for a good hour or more. With younger children you will need to build with them for awhile before they get the hang of it and watch out for blocks small enough to choke on. You don't need expensive blocks here and a set will not only last through several of your own children but can be saved for future grand children. Click HERE to see a fairly inexpensive basic set. Or heck you could make your own!
Most toddlers cannot do this on their own without LOTS of parental supervision, although now there are many bubble blowers on the market that even a toddler can use. For outside bubbles a Bubble Blower is great and provides lots of fun time.
Moderate to Expensive
Indoor Trampolines are great for little ones up to preteen years. Put on some kids music and let them boogy down. Don't forget that you can find these used!
Toddler Indoor Gyms, Gymnastics, Tumbling, Or Martial Arts
Most of these classes cost a fee that can vary from moderate to expensive, but they are also a lot of fun! We went to a very low key toddler gymnastics that my son LOVED and was more like a structured play time. He learned lots of balancing though.
If you live in a big enough town it may have a Children's Museum to go to. You can get a membership or pay every time you go. They are really fun with all sorts of different toddler friendly activities. Google them and you will see. This is in fact where we first discovered water tables and knew we had to have one. Check out the cool Portland Children's Museum
Swimming Lessons/Pool Time
If you have a local indoor pool they usually do toddler swim time and lessons. This is a great outlet for energetic little's let me tell you. And as a bonus your child will learn swimming skills! Most lessons for toddlers are very reasonable.