Projects/Activities for 3-year-olds
October 28, 2013 5:07 AM   Subscribe

I've recently come to the conclusion that I need to spend more time with my 3.5-year-old boy/girl twins, and looking for some structured activities/things to do to help drive it and get them excited, as they generally prefer my wife over me...

My wife works part-time, and I work decently-long hours, which leads to the kids doing more "fun" things with her, and thus preferring to do all things with her. Without diving into the relationship dynamics, I'm looking for fun activities that are either one-time shots or can be spread out over multiple days. They already have plenty of day-to-day toys, so we don't need any of those. The kids are pretty standard in terms of their likes, with maybe a flair for the geeky side of things...Star Wars/Dinosaurs/Super Heroes & Heroines, but also like riding their bikes and just running around. With the weather, indoor activities would be preferred, but outdoor ideas are welcome too.

So far I've been looking at lego sets (knowing they're probably a hair too young for big-kid legos), dinosaur excavation kits, fun long books, etc.

posted by um_maverick to Human Relations (29 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Have you thought about a train set? Hours of fun.

Kids love messy activities & art projects. Paint pictures (or use markers if you're a bit faint of heart). Make your own play-dough and then make sculptures.

Let them "help" you around the house. They can add ingredients to bowls of pancake batter/cookies/brownies/bran muffins. They can "wash dishes" (and that's nice and bubbly and messy).

Have a "sleepover" in the living room. Watch Star Wars with popcorn in your pajamas. Make a fort and let them sleep under it.
posted by woodvine at 5:19 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I always recommend in this type of situation is to do what you love with the kids. Can you share picture books you enjoyed as a kid? Do you like to cook or bake? Do you enjoy any sports? Do you like to take walks? Start with what makes you happy and share that with the kids? Do you like train or plane spotting? Do you like gardening? Movies? Do you like shopping at markets? Buying new electronics? Art museums? The zoo?

There are a bunch of advantages to this approach? Your enthusiasm will be natural and contagious and the kids will feel it. If the kids hate what you are doing, you will not resent them for making you do something that you didn't want to do anyway - at least you will be happy.
posted by jazh at 5:19 AM on October 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is a link to some activity ideas you can do with toddlers.

Even though I don't have kids I have nieces aged 4 and 2 and subscribe to a newsletter called Fuel the Fire. It's a great homeschool resource, and although they are not homeschooled it has great ideas for activities and projects for kids of all ages, including toddlers. Have fun!
posted by billiebee at 5:36 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some things my dad did: long walks, lots of fun long walks. We'd walk to the pier to see the fishing boats and the fishermen with their catches, then stop to pick up some kind of yummy treat to bring home and have all together with my mom and infant sister; long walks to the library, where we would pick out books to read together, and once again, usually get something yummy on the way home. We also took walks to collect rocks, plants, shells, fossils, arrowheads, etc., when I got into making collections of those.

Also, regular Sundae parties with my dad on Sundays, when we'd make ridiculous ice cream treats with nuts and chocolate chips, bananas and other fruit, sprinkles, the whole shebang. It was a weekly ritual, and coming up with new ideas for toppings/combinations was always a favorite topic of conversation.

We also used to read the dictionary together, but I realize this is probably not for everyone. :) For us, though, it was super fun; my dad would pick a "hard" word and ask me how I think it would be pronounced, and then we'd go on to what it might mean, and talked about the different parts of words that could help understand it.

My dad was also MAJOR MAJOR on holidays, so we always knew we were going to get or do something great and fun on Valentine's day, Easter, 4th of July, etc. So. Much. Anticipation.

We also did a lot of camping as a family, on weekends, and for longer trips, and if the time off didn't mesh, it didn't matter. My parents would take us out of school to go on a family trip, and we'd do homework stuff together while on the trip. I can remember doing multiplication flash cards on the most gorgeous beach in the Florida Keys in between snorkeling and grilling fish.

BBQ days at home were a big deal, too, when my dad would take the helm and make all the food (different era) and we'd all hang out on the deck or patio; it was like little parties all the time at our house. In the winter, we'd make a big deal of Chili Night, cooking the chili all day, talking about the chili, trying new things with or in the chili. Sounds silly, but OMG CHILI NIGHT... it was so great. And us kids would always have something that was our "specialty" to contribute to dinners, and there was much oohing and ahhing and discussing of ingredients and techniques for my salad dressing, or my sister's "hors d'oeuvres."

So, pre-internet, lots of walks, books, ice cream, holiday stuff, cooking, camping, fishing, swimming. Some of these might still be fun. :)
posted by taz at 5:55 AM on October 28, 2013 [23 favorites]

Also, sorry, I realize that some of this is age-appropriate, and some not for your kids, but maybe some things are possible ideas for when they get a bit older. (My parents actually camped with me beginning when I was a tiny infant, but they were very, very into camping.)
posted by taz at 6:06 AM on October 28, 2013

Play-Doh is good in that it's fun for both boys and girls. If you're sitting with them and helping them execute their creations then you're interacting with them, rather than just being next to them while they play. Puzzles, scavenger hunts and just playing at the park are also Fun With Dad kind of activities. My kids love taking turns getting bagels with Dad every Saturday morning. It's little things, really, that build relationships.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:12 AM on October 28, 2013

Some things my dad (who also worked longer hours) did with us (also fraternal twins): camping by age six, hikes on local trails, visits to the zoo, visits to virtually every Smithsonian museum, science experiments (they're a little young for Backyard Ballistics, but they could grow crystals or make gak,) many, many long bedtime stories, writing stories, Lego, apple picking, petting zoos, fossil/mineral collecting (age six or so?), looking things up in the 18xx edition of Encyclopedia Brittania (definitely by age 4), pony rides, Scouts, going through old National Geographics...

I agree that your enthusiasm will to some extent matter the most. I know someone whose father taught him about planes and circuit boards from a very young age and almost never camped. If you want more interactive ideas, I would look at the resources for kids your age for local museums/historical societies/other cultural institutions-- often there are at-home resources or kits that you can buy and also tie into other fun field-trip-like things.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:30 AM on October 28, 2013

Having novel experiences together is one of the hallmarks of family happiness (see @taz's awesome list above). So get them out of the house and go somewhere you've never been before -- preferably splitting the kids up so they can each have some quality, one-on-one time with you. I say this because I have a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter and we are helped immeasurably by "dividing and conquering" the kids for occasional one-on-one outings with mama or daddy. It is so much easier and fun to take care of one kid for a chunk of time than to manage both of them together for a whole day.

But if you can't split the kids initially, that's also fine. Your wife might appreciate having the house to herself for several hours on a Saturday (I know I would!) as you take both kids with you to go somewhere fun.

A park, an indoor play gym, a pumpkin patch, a zoo, an aquarium, a museum, a movie theater, a farmer's market, a bowling alley, a kid friend's birthday party, a bakery, a cemetery -- all fertile grounds for a parent-child date.
posted by hush at 6:31 AM on October 28, 2013

The Crafty Crow has lots of great projects for kids. They move beyond the "glue stuff to a paper plate" oeuvre into more art and science based activities.
posted by Biblio at 6:46 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

My 3-year-old loves to help cook. She'll count how many cups/teaspoons of something I measure & then I let her dump it in the bowl & stir.

Art projects are also fun. Draw a "secret message/picture" with a white crayon on white paper & then let them paint over it with watercolors to discover it. Grab stuff from the recycling bin (cereal boxes, toilet paper tubes, etc.) and build robots/homes for their beanie babies/castles.

Both my kids (3 & 6) like to take photos & make short movies with the ipad.

We go on walks & look for pretty rocks or leaves for their collections.
posted by belladonna at 6:51 AM on October 28, 2013

These are all great suggestions, especially about doing what you yourself like, but also: three year olds don't need total novelty. THey just aren't bored yet. They like to repeat activities they think are fun. It can actually be kind of boring, to be around what they think is fun. They like, oh, to hit a tree with a stick over and over and say I'M CHOPPING A TREE while you just stand there.
So you really could do the things your wife's already done with them and that have already been tried and true.
The main thing here is to get out of the mindset of finding something that is going to be more fun than what they do with their mom. I might have read the post wrong, but if this applies: You could hire Ariel and Mickey Mouse to make balloon animals and it would feel stressful if you are feeling (and they are sensing) you have to somehow do this great activity to win them over.
Kids are funny that way, it is really normal for them to go through phases with their parents. They might be in a mommy phase right now, and though it always is hard when that happens, it's best to try not to take it personally. Next year they probably will want to do more things with you.
posted by third rail at 6:58 AM on October 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

lay on the floor; let them climb on you.

put them in the bath; sit beside the bath.

get a blanket, lay in the yard; let them climb on you.
posted by at at 7:00 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a 3.5 year old, and some of his favorite days are "daddy and kid"
days. They don't really do anything kid-centered, but Dad takes him to the hardware store, past the fire station, on little hikes when the weather is good, to the bank, and any other errand dad needs to get done. They make it an adventure day rather than a chore. And they always manage to go get burgers or ice cream.

I think just spending a whole "special" day that's just about "dad and me (or us)" is important enough for a 3 year old-- they like to do grown up things and be part of the decision making process. My little one comes home and can't stop talking about how much fun he had with dad going to the hardware store and how many firetrucks they saw!

When they get a but older, structured activities might work better, but for now, just include them
in your day-to-day and make it exciting! A huge bonus is that it gives your wife a little break too!
posted by katypickle at 7:05 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Build pillow and blanket forts.
Play Sequence for Kids (soon if they are not quite old enough).
Do 30-60 piece puzzles.
Mix all kinds of random ingredients in a big bowl in the kitchen and let them smell each thing you name before they put it in.
Get plastic bags from the produce section of the supermarket, blow them up, and play a game where you have to take turns hitting the balloon bag up and keep it off the floor (lava). (Usual safety warning about bags and balloons of course)
Reading books (ask me for suggestions).
Build card houses.
Buy a little round trampoline and wedge it between the sofa and a plush chair for fun jumping games.
posted by Dansaman at 7:14 AM on October 28, 2013

Do you have a place to garden? Gardening and yard work was always a "Dad" thing for me, and some of my best toddler memories involve me asking my dad incessant plant questions while "helping" him garden. He also took me to the garden center and nursery, let me touch all of the different tree barks, smell different herbs, ask continuous questions about which was which flower and how it grew, look at all the interesting shapes and colors. Sensory overload, but I knew nothing would jump out at me or be loud and scary. (I was very over-sensitive and shy.) If you've got a black thumb, it could still be very fun going to a nursery to look at plants, even if you just come home with an aloe vera. If you think you have some gardening chops, there are lots of things 3 year olds can do to feel like they're really helping to make things grow, either in a yard or a container garden. Planting a seed and watching it grow is also a time-honored preschool activity - it might be very cool if they've already experienced this with you.
posted by Mizu at 7:17 AM on October 28, 2013

I remember doing cool stuff with my Dad. One time we piled into the VW Bus and followed a rainbow.

Driving around the neighborhood looking at holiday lights was a THING. We stopped for hot chocolate, although you can return home and make it too.

He liked art so we'd color pictures together, or watercolor, stuff like that.

Pretty much anything you think is fun, your kids will think is fun.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:29 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Check pinterest. It's full of ideas for things to do, both inside and out. LIke, use painters tape to create a 'laser cave' in a hallway. Use masking tape to create hopscotch inside. Go on a nature treasure hunt.

Makes and Takes is full of good ideas for this, too.

Also, every Saturday morning was my time with dad - we would go out to breakfast, or pick up mcdonalds and go to a park or the beach, or go to a movie, or shop. Lots of great memories there.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:30 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Read to them every night. Use funny voices for the characters.
posted by blueberry at 7:44 AM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

My husband takes our 3 year old to breakfast every Saturday morning at a local restaurant. It's become a little tradition that we all look forward to every weekend (me because I get to sleep in!).

They cook dinner together almost every night. Dad helps him measure out the ingredients and dump them in the pot and then little dude gets to stir.
posted by chiababe at 8:26 AM on October 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to second the idea of splitting them up. I have triplets, and it's so, so special to have one-on-one time with them. Even luckier that you have twins and one can go with Mommy and one with Daddy (alternating, of course) but it's really a win for everyone.

Of course, doing things all together is important too, but I cannot stress how awesome it is to be with my kids on their own. With multiples, it's so easy to lump them together (yes, even as a parent) so I need that time as much as they do.
posted by pyjammy at 10:25 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

2 suggestions:

1. Pick one thing that you like and make it repeat over and over, like every Saturday we go to breakfast and then to a museum. The repeat doesn't have to be every week or exactly the same thing, but over the years they should be able to say "this is the thing we do with dad". If you want to do all different things, then name the time something like "Daddy Adventure Time" so it has some consistency.

2. Imagination games. When playing with trains or at the park or on a hike, make up stories to go along with whatever you are doing. Maybe at the park you are hunting for hidden dinosaurs and you find clues like a rock that could be an egg, or tree bark that looks like scales. On the trains - who are the passengers and where are they going? While walking, play Would You Rather... kiss a snake or hug a bear? live in a room without windows or a room without doors? etc. Or ask questions like What would it be like if dogs could fly?
posted by CathyG at 11:34 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Duplo train set is lots of fun. Also, while I'm sure your wife spends *plenty* of time with them, as a part-time-SAHM myself, I can tell you that it's not all high quality. A lot of it is "play by yourself with this stuff so I can do the dishes." So, having 100% of your attention may actually be a novelty. Here are some things my husband enjoys doing with our similarly-aged kids (5yo girl and 3.5yo boy):
--running errands that require walking (in all sorts of weather). Husband has a bottomless bag of light-up rings and bracelets which ups the fun factor for cold fall and winter evenings.
--wrestling/swinging the kids around. Husband is about twice as big as I am, so definitely the one who should be on the floor letting the kids "attack" him with "rhino power" and other bruise-making fun.
--"fancy dinner" or "fancy breakfast" out of the house at our local diner. I can't tell you how delightful I find these activities, as the one who spends a lot of time entertaining the kids at home. The kids have a ball going out with dad.
posted by tk at 11:50 AM on October 28, 2013

My wife orders craft kits from Kiwi Crate. Our 3½ year old girl loves them. There's also Green Kids Crafts -- we've never used them though.

In the house she loves:
Anything crafty: painting, scissors, ink stamps, gluing etc.
Or we play musical instruments.
Or hide and seek. She loves this and it's so easy. You can reuse hiding places since she enjoys pretending she doesn't know where I am.
We also have a few board games she likes to play. This is one.
And we play with a toy kitchen. Right now she's loving making pretend pasta carbonara. She's learnt the recipe and performs each step and serves it to me.
And we play music and dance.

Out of the house, I tend to do most of the 'going places' with her. I have memberships for various places (e.g. children's museum, science museum). The membership pays for itself very soon and since each visit is free you don't feel bad about going for a short trip.
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:16 PM on October 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a 4-year-old, and in addition to many of the great activities already listed, a recent hit in our house has been making things out of big cardboard boxes (big enough for the kids to fit inside). We have made a rocket ship, boat, submarine, and airplane. We add a few details to make each vehicle seem authentic (spinning cardboard propellers, periscope, hatches, etc.), and the kid is highly entertained for hours (he's in his boat as I type). It provides lots of free, creative play, but also lots of fun parent/child together time as we come up with the designs, draw on the cardboard, modify the designs, etc.
posted by Empidonax at 12:40 PM on October 28, 2013

I know it is fashionable to hate on McDonald's and pretend to feed one's children only wholly unprocessed foods, but I cannot tell you how great it was that my Dad would 'sneak' (Mom was not as excited by fried stuff as we were) me out for trips to fast-food places.

When I want to sit down and have some "We're going to go do something together, without me doing other stuff at the same time, and talk" time with my daughter I still like to take her to a fast-food joint even though she's old enough now to be polite in a nicer restaurant. Because there are little plastic toys, because I don't worry about how much it's costing us, because I can do it all the time because of the cheapness of it, and because it thrills her to eat French fries and it is so nice to provide this little thrill for her. I also like the Ikea cafeteria (see: cheap) but it's not as thrilling for her because it's less junky. Still, a good option for no-we-just-had-fries times.

For at-home stuff, there are really nice cardboard punch-out activity things now; they'd be old enough to colour them but would need you to neatly punch stuff out and help with assembly. Taro Gomi's Play All Day and Doodle Dolls are great.
posted by kmennie at 1:35 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get a pretty big plastic bin, and start filling it with art supplies. Glitter, googly eyes, pom poms, plastic "craft" beads, glue, markers, crayons, glitter pens, pipe cleaners, construction paper, safety scissors, the plastic lanyard stuff for stringing beads, stickers, yarn, ribbons, everything you can think of. This way, if you happen to see a cool art project somewhere, you already have the stuff and don't have to go out and buy stuff and lose the excitement level. Also, many kids just love to be allowed to just play and explore with all that stuff. So, even if you don't see a particular project you want to try, you can make one up!

I love all the cooking suggestions, too. Nice, short projects, with a result they can be proud of. Don't forget to hang the artwork up in a place of honor!
posted by freezer cake at 4:31 PM on October 28, 2013

PINTEREST! Get an account, set it to private if needed and start creating themed boards. All the suggestions above are great but it's hard to remember the ideas when you have kids clamouring for your attention and you're just back from work and tired. I group by themes (we're midway through three weeks of Tree Week, doing nature walks and leaf prints and stuff) and by activity type (play table for things I can set out on a table and let her play independently with). Pinterest is amazingly useful for me to glance at and find something fun to do with my kids.

If you have time, prep activities in boxes. I use clear plastic file folders and small Ikea clear boxes that stack, and put the materials inside with an instruction sheet if needed. That way, I can just grab one and get going.

If there are regular chores you do like making dinner, sweeping or laundry, think up a way to get them involved. It'll take twice as long at first, but the kids will be excited to be involved. My toddler chops bananas with a cake knife, washes plastic dishes in the sink and fetches and carries things in the kitchen when we cook. She is super super excited to throw the garbage out every day as "her special job".
posted by viggorlijah at 11:34 PM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dad took us to the swimming pool every Sunday evening, from the time I was about 4 to, well, when I became "too cool" to go to the pool with my dad. It was a lovely way to wind down the weekend, my brother and I would splash around the pool for awhile (and, when we were older, my dad got to relax in the hot tub), then go for dinner at a casual place and fall asleep in the car on the way home. I still remember this fondly, decades later. We didn't spend much time with my dad otherwise, so those memories are especially precious.
posted by third word on a random page at 2:21 AM on October 29, 2013

They will remember and enjoy outings, adventures, trips, much more than some more junk you might buy them. So forget toys. You need to go places with them. "We [everyone but mom] are going to the [beach, museum, mountains, park, swimming pool, river, sea, amusement park, etc.] today. Let's get ready." And your wife will love you (more) for getting them out of her hair.

Make picnic lunches together, pack up stuff you might need -- pillows and blankets for napping, umbrellas, boots, raincoats, swimming suits, cameras, books, changes of clothes, etc. -- and go.

And if they are capable, try to get them to write and draw about what they saw and did when you come back. This will help them remember and learn from things, and it's a good way to relive their fun and share it with mom and other relatives.
posted by pracowity at 5:48 AM on October 29, 2013

« Older Fizzy yoghurty stuff! Yay!   |   Motorcycle Racing - Why Don't The Bikes Tip Over... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.