Surviving Social Distancing with a Toddler
Updated: Jan 21, 2021
Right now is a rare time that almost all parents are in the same boat (and by boat I mean all trapped in our homes while we socially distance). We all know it is best to stay home during this worldwide pandemic so we are doing our best to adapt to the "new normal." But there is no handbook for dealing with a toddler 24/7. Even as a stay-at-home mom it has been a challenge because we can no longer enjoy our favorite activities like swim lessons, story-time at the local library, Gymboree, or play dates. In an effort to maintain my sanity and turn these long days into fun, varied experiences for Lou, I've been relying on a schedule, sensory activities, outdoor time, and toys. We're all in this together so I'm sharing the schedule that works for us along with 12 of our favorite activities and toys.
Lou is almost 20 months old so he takes one 2-hour-ish nap each day. This is the schedule that has been working the best for us, but we don't hold tight to it on the weekends when we spend almost all of his wake time outside if the whether permits and allow more screen time on Saturday. A mostly structured plan has been working well for both Lou and me during this time.
7:00 am Wake-up and get ready for the day (all of us- some days I wake up early, but I'm finding the extra 30 minutes of sleep is more valuable to me right now)
7:30 am Clean up kitchen and prepare breakfast
8:00 am Breakfast
8:30 am Lou watches one episode of one of his favorite shows (Puppy Dog Pals, Beat Bugs, Word Party, Sesame Street)/During this time I either watch with him or clean
9:00 am Structured playtime including 1 sensory game
10:00 am Snack time
10:30 am Outside or playroom time
11:30 am Reading time
12:30 pm Lunch- I start preparing around 12:15 and he self plays during that time
1:00 pm Free play and clean up
1:30 pm Nap
3:30 pm Snack time
4:00 pm Outdoor and family time
6:00 pm Dinner
6:30 pm Bath time
7:00 pm Bed time
In order to keep Lou entertained and learning while I keep my sanity, I've been relying on one new activity per day which has either a sensory, speech development, numbers, or color recognition component. I do also aim for them to require minimal items, prep, and clean up so I do not run ragged organizing these each day. Here are our favorites:
Pom Pom Drop
What you need:
Toilet paper and paper towel rolls
Pom pom balls
We spent the first couple weeks of quarantine collecting toilet and paper towel rolls to set up a pom pom drop. It was totally worth it because these have not been taken down since! It is a great activity not only to keep your toddler occupied while you work on dinner or chores, but it is also great for color recognition (I'll ask Lou to pick out a certain color). If your toddler is able to use tools it is also fun to let them use tongs to pick up the balls to drop in the tube which benefits fine motor skills.
Jurassic Moon Sand
Taste-Safe Moon Sand Ingredients:
8 cups flour (we used almond, but any works)
1 cup coconut oil
Food color (optional- we skipped this time, but will try in future now that I've found a natural food color we like)
Add food coloring to coconut oil if coloring then mix into flour until well combined. Sand should behave similarly to kinetic sand.
Lou loves having his very own "land before time" thanks to moon sand, plastic dinosaurs and palm trees, and a plastic bin. We went the the jurassic theme because Lou loves dinosaurs and we had them already, but we've also switched it up with plastic construction trucks and farm animals. Customize the experience to your child's interests then let them fo crazy exploring the texture of the sand and pretend play with their toys.
We bought this table last year for Lou's first birthday, but this spring it has become his FAVORITE toy. He wants to be in the backyard splashing around and using the included cups to "water" everything in the yard. There is also the option to remove the grey mountains and fill the other half with sand. We haven't taken advantage of that feature yet, but in the meantime Lou loves pouring water down the rocks to create a waterfall. He also stomps around the included dinosaur toys which also come in handy for other sensory activities (see Jurassic Moon Sand) Shop the table here.
Colored Pasta Sensory Bin
What you need:
2 cups of pasta per desired color
2 tbsp vinegar per desire color
Ziploc storage bags
Pour 2 tbsp of vinegar into plastic cups (one for each color). Combine desired amount of food coloring then add 2 cups of pasta per bag. Seal bag and shake shake shake until pasta is thoroughly colored. Once each bag is done, lay pasta out on parchment paper and let dry fully.
Once the pasta was done we chose to combine all of the colors then Lou used his Melissa and Doug cooking set to sort out the pasta in his pots and pans with the utensils. This held his attention for a while, but even when he was over that he still played longer using his construction trucks to scoop and haul the pasta. You can also work on fine motor skills and color recognition by having your toddler use tongs to sort the pasta back into color piles. Between uses, I'm storing the pasta in Lou's sensory play bin in Ziploc bags.
This is the first toy I ordered once it seemed likely the stay home order would be issued and I am so glad that I did! I love that Lou is learning the names for different fruits and vegetables, and Lou loves clapping for himself when he has correctly sorted the pieces by color. When all else fails though, Lou will entertain himself by throwing the fruit out of the buckets then collecting them all back together again. We've also used the produce pieces, sensory bin, water, and a little bit of nontoxic foaming dish soap to do a little fruit and veggie wash station in the kitchen.
What you need:
To make the tunnels simply fold down 1-2 inches on each side of the construction paper then tape down. This activity did not take long to set up and Lou loves anything involving cars. It didn't hold his attention as long as some of the other activities, but considering how easy it is I know we'll be using it a lot over the next few weeks and future rainy days inside. The cars we used came from his Melissa and Doug Take-Along Town Set and they were the perfect size.
Ps yes, Lou is in mismatched jammies, but I think we're probably all rocking questionable outfits during quarantine
What you need (per color):
1 Cup water
3 Tbsp baby shampoo/body wash (we used Honest Co)
Combine water, shampoo, and desired amount of food color (little goes a long way) in a blender or small food processor. Blend on high for 30 seconds or until it becomes fluffy foam.
I'll be honest, there was no premeditation to this activity. I woke up on day 19 of being home 24/7 with a toddler feeling fatigued and unmotivated, but then I stumbled on this activity on Pinterest and thank goodness y'all because it was so easy and a total hit! Lou first loved using measuring cups, whisk, and a few other kitchen utensils then we switched to an under the sea adventure with plastic sea creatures. This activity will certainly be repeated especially since the soap left our kitchen smelling like lavender.
Play Dough Shapes
What you'll need:
Natural play dough- we love Eco-Dough
I bought our pack of eco-dough last year, but I wasn't using it to its full potential until quaratine. Lou used to just squish the different colors and tear pieces of them smoosh them back into the larger chunk. Once we also got these fun plastic shapes I realized we could use the dough for shape recognition as well. Lou enjoyed pressing the different shapes into the dough while I would instruct him to do a certain color and shape. This activity is great because there is very little set-up or clean-up, and it has multiple developmental benefits. And let's be honest, Lou also just really loves any chance to use the fun rolling pin.
If you follow me on Instagram at @breadandkaleenthusiast then you have certainly seen Lou's favorite kitchen sink in my stories. It took us some searching to find this specific sink because they are not all created equal (the first brand we ordered broke within 10 minutes), but this sink has lasted for 3 weeks and still going strong. I love that Lou is learning chores and he just loves being able to play with his own sink since mama's sink "is not a toy"...anyone else have to say that multiple times a day? This sink will definitely be our go-to for first birthday gifts for all of our friends who have recently welcomed their own little ones. Shop the kitchen sink (color changing accessories included) here.
Ocean Water Sensory Bin
What you need:
Ocean themed plastic toys (we just used his bath toys)
Soap (optional- I added a couple pumps of Babyganics foaming dish soap for "waves" look)
This activity came together in just a few minutes because all you need to do is add a few sprinkles of the blue food color into the water then let your little one go nuts with their toys. We tossed in some ocean creatures, fishing net and little boats which were a big hit! Really any waterproof toys work though. This is another great activity when you just need a little time to do the dishes or prep a meal, but want to ensure your toddler is entertained.
Sesame Street- Stories to Grow On Me Reader
I'm not sure about your kids, but mine doesn't always have the attention span to sit down for more than one book in a row. That is at least until we found the Stories to Grow On Me Reader which comes with 8 books each based on common toddler experiences like brushing teeth or going to the doctor plus an interactive reader. Lou loves to pick a book then he finds the matching button on his reader. Then we work together with each page to find the matching color button on the reader which reads the page. His attention is held for at least a few books and he has requested every day of quarantine so far (20 as of today 4/4). Shop the Me Reader here.
It didn't hit me until I was almost done with this list that I had left out the best activity, cooking! Almost everyday Louis and I cook something together in the kitchen and it is a great opportunity for him to learn words, patience, and order of operation. We of course stick to recipes that are easier for toddlers, but Lou is always right by me on his learning tower (linked to the IKEA hack we used to make ours). Here are a few of our favorite recipes to make together:
1) Sweet Potato Snacking Bread- Shut the Kale Up
2) Turkey Broccoli and Cheddar Biscuits- Spinach4Breakfast
3) Zucchini Bread Cookies- MJ & Hungryman
4) Quinoa Bites 3 Ways- Bread and Kale Enthusiast
5) Mini Strawberry Banana Muffins- Spinach4Breakfast
ps all of these recipes are freezer-friendly so we'll munch on one for a few days then freeze the rest to minimize waste and have some healthy food always on hand.
I really do hope that some of these ideas help with keeping your toddlers entertained during this crazy time! If nothing else, I'm so happy to now have all of these photos of Lou which you can be sure will be pulled out many many years from now to remind him that his mama had to spend weeks on end keeping him happy as a clam in our house. Stay safe y'all! Hopefully I'll be able to bring y'all a bunch of outside, social activities to do in Kansas City soon...once we're all let out of our homes.
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