Structuring your day with your toddler: Tips and activities to keep them engaged

Rumi and I are both home with each other 24/7. With about ten to eleven hours of sleep and about two hours of napping, we still get 20 hours of time with each other. Subtract the hours spent on mealtimes and you have 15 hours in a day to fill with playtime activities. Since toddlers have a very short attention span and spend only a few minutes on each activity, it is worthwhile to have a ready list of things that you can do with materials at home so that you always have a magic trick to pull out of your sleeve at the first sign of crankiness.

From making your own playdough to sensory play ideas, there is a large pool of ideas and resources available on the internet. You can put together a list of things that appeal to you and keep the materials handy. My favorite blogs are The Artful Parent, Meri Cherry and Tinkerlab which are full of amazing play and art and craft ideas to encourage creativity. Although it seems like a lot of work, one trip to Venus and a dedicated corner of the house for messy play can result in many wonderful productive hours of fun.

I absolutely love the idea of an art-space for children. Even in the smallest of apartments, you can give your toddler a small corner that is theirs alone – where they can draw, paint, read and put away their things. This also helps reduce the stress of clearing up and keeping the rest of the house in a presentable state. In our apartment, we have converted the large balcony of the master bedroom into a play cum artroom.  Nothing too fancy or expensive: a pinboard for Rumi’s masterpieces, a whiteboard, an old stool, a small cupboard with her toys and a basket of art supplies. She is allowed to draw on the walls or paint on the floor. It is her space. Here are some pictures:

When Rumi wakes up in the morning, the first thing I do after giving her a cup of milk is to take her downstairs for a while. These few minutes of being outdoor helps curb the crankiness on finding Baba gone (Abhi leaves the house at 6.30 in the morning). If it is very sunny, we wander about in the parking lot, looking at different cars and talking about their logos or playing hide-and-seek. I have found that beginning the day out-of-doors works up Rumi’s appetite for breakfast.

Post-breakfast, it is time for sensory play. Here, I let her get herself and the surroundings as dirty as she likes, without worrying about the end-result. I love the ideas that meri cherry shares on her blog. A lot of them involve some amount of prior preparation but the glee with which your toddler jumps in is totally worth it. Here are some tried-and-tested fun activities that we have done so far:

  1. Finger painting:

Edible paint is super easy to make with cornflour/ yoghurt and food coloring.  And it is such a delight to watch your toddler smear it on the paper, floor and himself! If you make the paint at home, you need not worry about it finding its way into your toddlers mouth. All you need for cleaning up later is a damp rag.

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Mumma and Rumi’s finger-painted fish
  1. Colorful pasta play

Cooked pasta provides a great squishy-squashy sensory experience for toddlers. For added fun, make smaller portions of the boiled pasta and use a different colour for each.

  1. Collage making

Use good old ‘gum’ that kids can dip their finger into and have them paste cut pieces of paper onto a pre-drawn shape. Rumi’s fish collage:

  1. Leaf and vegetable printing:

That done-to-death activity from our own school days: Cut pieces of bhindi, onion etc., dip into paint and print on paper. You can print on old fabric too. Old leaves collected on evening walks can also be used.

  1. Paper napkin art:

Rumi absolutely loves this one. You need paper napkins, diff bowls of colored water (water with a few drops of food coloring) and a blank sheet. The paper napkins are dipped into the water and the squishy goopy ball that remains in your hand is used to create art on the sheet. You cannot imagine how much fun they have with this one! Try it!

Once Rumi has tired herself out and turned the playroom into a complete mess, I take her for a bath. We have stuck to the same bath time since she was a baby, mainly because that was the time the massage lady could make it and temperatures would be warmer close to noon. Sitting in a bucket after the bath is a must.

After the bath is lunch time followed by a nap. Nap time varies from an hour to about two and a half. When she wakes up from her nap, it is still too early to head out so we spend some time in bed reading or playing with stuffed animals and dolls or building blocks. Some of Rumi’s favourite books are This Book Just Ate My Dog, Gossie, The Corduroy Bear and Dear Zoo. She also has fun making tea and snacks for her dolls and feeding them. Late afternoons are also great for song and dance time. Very often we switch on some Bollywood music channel and swing it.

Evenings are when Rumi is the grumpiest so we try to be out as often as possible. All children love the park but on bad-weather days, even a trip to the parking lot downstairs is worth it because it provides a whole lot of new inputs and children get bored and cranky when confined to their own homes.  A few new people to wave to or stare at, a take-along snack and a short walk or run and the witching hours are taken care of.

Rumi gets so grubby that we usually give her a second bath before dinner, which is less of a bath and more of a splashing session in her tub. This gives me time to prepare dinner.

Lastly but not least-ly come the bedtime rituals. At our place they include a song (it has been “Are you sleeping, Brother John?” for six months now), a book (only Love you Forever will do), two prayers (Awwal Kalma and a shloka from the Rama Raksha and lights out (nightlamp on).