How is babby entertained?
February 18, 2010 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I will soon be watching my 18 month-old niece. I have general questions about entertaining a small person, and more NYC/Brooklyn-centric inquiries about getting a toddler in and out of the subway. I also need fun, little kid-friendly things to do in Southern Brooklyn (Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, northern Park Slope) and the city beyond.

My sister's nanny will be going on maternity leave in the spring, and I've offered to fill in. My niece is a year and a half, very bright and social, and really enjoys trips to the Botanical Garden and Prospect Park.

The family lives in northern Prospect Heights, so I plan on taking the kiddo to the park, music classes, and the playground regularly. My sister is fine with me taking the kid on the subway to get to other destinations, but I'm inexperienced in the ways of hauling a kid around by myself. Picking her up while IN the stroller to take her the subway stairs freaks me out (I'm terrified of losing my grip), so I need suggestions on another way to get her down the stairs without giving me a heart attack.

In general, I'm also just looking for baby's day out tips from NYC parents and caregivers. Anything I should know about stroller etiquette? Will the kid be fine if I wipe her hands and face with baby sanitizer post-subway? What are the best museums and activities for a young toddler in the city?

When it's rainy out, my sister and the nanny complain my niece gets insane cabin fever. I brought over cookies to bake, but apparently she's too young to enjoy this beyond eating raw dough. Finger-painting is a no-go because she's still testing new things by tasting them. She likes crayons (both for snacking and coloring) and getting chased around the apartment. What else should I be doing?

Thanks in advance for any advice!
posted by Viola to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How strong are you? If you have a good strong back you can carry her in a back carrier which makes getting around way easier. Parents who use them usually start this when the baby is a lot smaller and their strength builds gradually. If you have a camping backpack you could build up strength with that. and carry a lightweight collapsible stroller. always, always, always, take twice as many diapers as you think you'll need, and a couple of changes of clothing.

Kids this age often love music and dancing. One of mine was fascinated by sculptures in large art museums at this age. Zoo, botanical gardens. Library story hours for toddlers. The beach is nice on a warm spring day, build sand castles, fly a kite.

Try to take a first aid course soon so that you feel confident you'll be able to handle the emergencies that will not occur.

Have fun!
posted by mareli at 8:47 AM on February 18, 2010

There is a really cute zoo in Prospect Park, and it's cheap (2 dollars last time I went). Not sure if it's open in winter but a quick google should solve that issue.
posted by spicynuts at 9:00 AM on February 18, 2010

use one of those umbrella strollers to eaily get around. Indoors, you can play music with pots and pans and play one of my favorite old games - hide the thing. Pick a thing like a beanie baby or a figureine and take turns hiding it in a room and then the other has to find it. basically it's hide and go seek but ther person isnt doing the hiding, so you don't need to worry about losing the kid or them trying to hide in the dryer, etc.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:04 AM on February 18, 2010

Frankly, an 18-month old baby is going to be entertained by practically anything. Toilet paper: fun! Boxes: fun! Plastic mobiles: fun! Things that make noises when you hit them: fun!

I would worry less about the music lessons and more about situations in which it is easy to change her diaper, and where you won't get stuck when she passes her sell-by and starts whining and needing a nap. I doubt an 18-month old will get anything out of a music lesson, or rather, anything more than she would get from banging a spoon on a pot at home.
posted by musofire at 9:12 AM on February 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You can make edible finger paint! Mush up some avocado into a paste. Mush up some bananas to that consistency, too. Pour some ketcup and/or mustard in a bowl. You can either paint with spaghetti and tomato sauce! So, I wouldn't forego the art projects just yet --- you might just have to get creative about what you paint with. Spread a huge sheet of paper or some poster board on the floor and have at it!

With supervision, playdough is great fun. My 14 month old hangs out with the 2 and 3 year olds at playdough time in daycare. One of the providers sits with him as he mashes it up and keeps him from eating it.

As for things to do when it's rainy outside, I guarantee you there is a store somewhere with a play area and toys and what not. Bookstore children's sections are pretty good options, too. A bookstore nears us has these giant stuffed animals for "Reading Buddies," and that's always a hit if the toy store with the play area hasn't opened yet. Blocks. Blocks. Blocks. Build towers. Knock 'em down. Build towers. Knock 'em down. The jumbo sized leggos are another option. I don't know how your sister's neighbors would be with this, but we also let Baby Zizzle climb the stairs in our building. He goes up one side, runs around on the second floor, climbs down the stairs on the other side unless he climbs up to the third floor, and so on. This is a good distraction for much longer than you think it might be. Of course, these may vary with your niece, but I'm sure there's some equivalent variation of all of these that she'll like.

Baby Zizzle also loves the water, so we'll run a bath for him just to play in sometimes if we really can't think of anything else.

As for subway travel, at 18 months, I'd only wash hands before and after meals. Seriously. I only clean Baby Zizzle's hands before eating. No need to wipe down after every single subway ride, but if you notice the baby's hands got extra grimey from a poll or something, then yeah, maybe a little wipe down won't hurt. But as a matter of practice, it shouldn't be necessary.

Completely seconding backpack carrier for shorter outings. So much easier to just step on to the train than to wrangle a stroller on the train with you. For longer outings, an umbrella stroller is a good idea, especially if the outing will cross naptime.

Over time, you'll figure out what works. You'll come up with your own games and enjoyments for all sorts of weather in no time.
posted by zizzle at 9:20 AM on February 18, 2010

Best answer: Seconding the First Aid course, you'll feel so much more confident when you're done.

As for public transportation, I recommend an umbrella stroller. Fold it up when you are going up the steps and carry your niece in one arm and the stroller in the other. Most have curved handles that you can hook over your arm if you need a free hand. This is how I get my kid on the bus. He's too heavy for me to carry in a backpack, but I can carry him long enough to get on the train or the bus. Now that he's walking, I can also just take him by the hand and walk him up the stairs if my back is bugging me.

I also really recommend a backpack or messenger as a diaper bag. Life is easier when you aren't struggling to keep a bag on your shoulder. When you pack a change of clothes for her, make sure you include a shirt for yourself. Always have a spare sippy cup (even if it's empty- you can always buy juice) and snacks for both of you.

Call local libraries and bookstores and find out when they are having story time.

Don't give up on the finger paint. You can use pudding! Chocolate is works well, but you can make vanilla and color it with a little food coloring. Just be careful with the food dye, it can stain. This is a great time to just strip her down to a diaper, then let her paint, and when she's done toss her in the tub. Coloring with crayons can also be good, she will just scribble but she'll have fun.

Another really good indoor activity is blocks. My kids can play with plain wooden blocks for hours. Oh, and never underestimate the joys of empty boxes. Big ones can be played in, and little ones can be stacked. You can also put on music and dance like a maniac, kids love that.

She might get a kick out of feeding the birds at the park. On the other hand it could totally freak her out. Once you get to know what she likes you can tailor your activities to that. My niece used to love airplanes, so we'd take her to watch planes take off (pre-9/11) and my friend's little boy loves trains, so we took him to the local train museum. My kids were nuts for animals, so we went to the zoo a lot. They really loved the petting zoo part.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:20 AM on February 18, 2010

There are organic finger paints in production (that page also has recipes for home-made finger paints, and there are recipes for food-based homemade playdough out there), although if even that is uncomfortable at baby's age, I remember really enjoying one pre-school project that involved "painting" with butter on waxed paper. The fat makes the paper more translucent. Mostly, it was an excuse to get messy and get something kind of cool-looking out of it.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:28 AM on February 18, 2010

Response by poster: Mareli- The niece weighs 25lbs and I weigh about 120, but she absolutely hates being carried on someone's back. I think she likes being low to ground where she's used to seeing things. I like the idea of zoos, which is something I never even thought of! I might take her to a quieter beach (Brooklyn beach recs?) if it seems like a good idea and not Sunburn Central.

WeekendJen- They use a Bugaboo and a MacLaren, and I've quickly learned that the Bugaboo is good for heavy duty street walking but terrible for the subway. I'm still freaked out by carrying down stairs in any kind of stroller because I can't really see where I'm going. I've adapted by carrying the stroller in one arm and babby in the other, but I still get heart palpitations when I do so. Having a baby around has compelled me to help other stroller-schleppers on the subway.

Musofire- Yes, I'm quickly learning that toddlers are endlessly entertained! But I meant toddler-appropriate music classes, where a bunch of kids bang on drums and tamborines for an hour; I'm not making her learn scales!

Her "interests" include clothing (we're all feminists in this family, but we're also shoe-lovers, so we're treading cautiously but encouragingly here with the girly business), cars (her dad took her to the transportation museum), playing with other kids, and exhausting adults.
posted by Viola at 9:36 AM on February 18, 2010

There are no elevators in the subway in NYC? In DC I use elevators for strollers and I've gotten much faster at the transportation process now that I know where they are on our main routes. I am totally freaked out by escalators and strollers, so elevators put my mind at ease.
posted by rabidsegue at 9:45 AM on February 18, 2010

Response by poster: There are elevators in some stations, rabidsegue, but lots of times the elevators aren't on the same platform where you exit so you still have to lug baby and stroller up and down stairs. Elevators in the NYC subway stations are convenient when they're around but nothing to rely on.
posted by Viola at 10:02 AM on February 18, 2010

For the rainy days, previously.
posted by CathyG at 10:25 AM on February 18, 2010

Unless it's 3 in the morning or in East New York, there are usually nice, non-creepy-looking passengers in any subway station who will be willing to help you carry a baby-laden stroller down the stairs in exchange for nothing more than a "thank you."

The Prospect Park Zoo is awesome, as are the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, which are sometimes free. They have a complex with a bunch of greenhouses full of different climates of plants, which is really cool and might be really fun for a little kid. But really just going outside in New York is super fun and full of wonderful new experiences for an infant, especially if you make the effort to actively engager her in play.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:50 AM on February 18, 2010

Try riding the city bus! More fun than the subway and lots to see. Just avoid them at rush hour. When I mentioned music and dance above I meant as in put on some music and get up and dance, clap your hands, jump, all that.
posted by mareli at 10:57 AM on February 18, 2010

The NYC Transit Musuem is really neat- lots of things to touch and see!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:10 AM on February 18, 2010

NYC subways aren't handicap accessible??

But yeah, if it's hard bringing her places (tell me about it), she'll be plenty entertained in the house. Books, crafts, cooking, etc. Or even just walking around the neighborhood. It isn't so much the activity as the novelty. Get a rotation of things so that you are doing one "new" (so far as she can remember) thing every couple of days.
posted by DU at 11:19 AM on February 18, 2010

I have entertained many little kids with completely inane seeming things such as a) a bucket of sand, an empty bucket and a cup, or b) same as above, just with water instead of sand. Seriously, little kids can sit there and go all ocd on tactile process type things, like pouring sand/water/dirt from one object to another. Sorting craft-store pom-poms/popsicle sticks/ping pong balls, whatever.
Crayola also makes these COMPLETELY kickass chalk-paints that look/feel like acrylic poster paint, but dry to a chalk finish and can be washed/hosed off sidewalks. I've gotten a lot of mileage out of those.
nthing the bookstore options. There are two Barnes & Nobles in Brooklyn - one each on either side of Prospect Park - that generally have good children's sections. I've killed a lot of babysitting hours in bookstores.
posted by 8dot3 at 12:58 PM on February 18, 2010

My ten month old weighed 25 lbs a month ago (I don't wanna know how much he is now), and I front-carry him everywhere in NYC in an Ergo. No guarantees your charge will like the front carry any better, but just to let you know that carrying the weight without pain is totally possible. I take my kiddo out every day for my own sanity. Groceries, errands, playground, art museums, kids' playspaces, free music and yoga classes, visiting friends, cafes...

FYI, the resource you're looking for is Mommy Poppins (.com). She lists unique events for kids/babies like Chinese New Year parades, recurring events like free storytimes, and compiles resources like indoor playspaces, drop-in classes, kids' museums, zoos, etc. I follow her articles, along with Time Out Ny Kids, on Twitter so I don't miss any special events.

I keep a list (by day of the week) of all the age-appropriate recurring things, and then I jot down the unique stuff week-by-week.... then I have another list of stuff I might do anytime, like going to Moomah (children's cafe in Tribeca), or Toys R Us. That way, if it's the third rainy day in a row, I don't feel desperate -- I can plot out a day's diversions from those options.

If you're similarly inclined, you may want to make a cheat-sheet of indoor stuff to do too. I find that when things have been whiny for hours and my frustration is growing, I forget easy diversions like "play with running water".
posted by xo at 5:12 PM on February 18, 2010

Your mention of the clothes made me instantly think "Lefferts House." It's VERY kid-oriented - they have a whole section devoted to "hey, here's some colonial farmer/Lenape tribe outfits to play dress-up in!" It's right near the Prospect Park Zoo, too, as well as the carousel. And it's free.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:25 PM on February 18, 2010

Take the bus. For real. It's a lot easier with the little ones. But you have to fold your stroller or they won't let you on.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 5:37 PM on February 20, 2010

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