Sure-fire indoor toddler activities
August 23, 2019 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Will be on grandma duty for a week with a 2- and a 4-year-old, sometimes together and sometimes separately. Please help me be a good grandma in two ways: 1. Give me your best indoor activity ideas for good times together within a small apartment. (There are many ideas on Google, but I want to know what has worked for your family.) 2. I raised an only kid; what's the best response when the boy starts bashing on his younger sister, as he does?

The 4-year-old enjoys helping me bake and the 2-year-old doesn't really have the patience or interest yet; I get that they are at different stages so it's fine if you have activity suggestions for only one of the ages. Additional deets: There is a balcony. There may be rain. They both like building forts. They have lots of legos and lots of wooden train tracks.

Bonus points for how to watch videos with them. They spend a fair amount of time on screens (don't @ me, not my kids), and I would love ideas for how to actually engage with them in some way when they are glued to Paw Patrol instead of feeling despair and wanting to stitch rude embroidery or nasty samplers.

Finally, I worry that my granddaughter is getting introduced to the patriarchy way too fucking early. Her big brother loves her and protects her and tries to comfort her mostly. But he is also way too comfortable with hitting and pushing her, IMHO. Then she starts crying, I comfort her, and that's the end of it. Should that be the end of it? Tips for dealing with sibling rivalry truly needed. Thanks, Hive Mind!
posted by Bella Donna to Human Relations (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
for paw patrol figure out who their favorite character is and interact with them when they do something silly (our son loved marshall and i'd always just say 'marshall' in that 'isn't he being silly' manner).

you can make your own playdoh with just a couple standard kitchen ingredients.
posted by noloveforned at 8:44 AM on August 23, 2019

1. Best indoor activity is building a blanket fort with chairs, blankets, pillows, etc and letting them hang out in there. Also good is games like "hop like a bunny to the basket" where you get some energy out. Pent up energy + bored kids = No Thank You.

2. Deploy videos strategically. Use them when you need to get stuff done like making them lunch, that way they get something they like and you don't feel like you're sitting there watching them watch something.

3. Kids hit each other. I bet in a year she'll be serving it right back to him. Basically, try to give them each attention, and accept that there is a degree of resource hogging kids do by nature. With 3 kids here, they compete all the time. Unless there's an injury, we kiss the boo-boo and let it roll. Our philosophy is not to give the instigator the reinforcing attention so they don't want to repeat the behavior. They're all under 10, so it happens, but much less than it did when we were constantly reacting and separating the aggressor.
posted by skittlekicks at 8:45 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

There is a great book (original in the 80s, updated fairly recently) called Siblings Without Rivalry. It's absolutely fantastic and has great strategies. I really learned how to better understand and empathize with the kids' feelings from this.

Best indoor play? Washing machine box+tempera paint
posted by SinAesthetic at 8:47 AM on August 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Indoor “sand” box using dry rice in a plastic tray with scoops and other toys.
Crayola paints - cheap at target
Kitchen science - dye drops in water, baking soda volcano

My kid loves it when I watch tv with him and we talk about what we’re watching.
Or, ask him what he’s into and find educational YouTube videos about it, so it’s interactive.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:16 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

I used to work in the building where my son was in childcare. I learned a lot from his very good child care setup and teachers. Get lots of supplies. Playdough, washable markers, glue, safety scissors, paper (a ream of copy paper is only a couple bucks, and/or a big newsprint pad), card stock (manilla file folders work well), magazines and catalogs to cut up, age-appropriate board games, action figures, sidewalk chalk, dinosaurs, toy cars, boxes, dress-up clothes, watercolor paint. Glitter is optional, but popular. This stuff stores well in buckets and/or shoe boxes. Get a washable and waterproof table cloth and be wiling to be messy. Don't get it all out at once. Some art supplies andtoys stay out, but some different ones come out every day, like puzzles and dress-ups.

Coloring clothes. Get white shirts at Goodwill,color with washable markers, wash, repeat. Remider that we only color these play shirts.
Masks - cut out ovals of card stock, cut out eye holes. Decorate. Glue on a popsicle stick for holding the mask.
Map - newsprint, poster board or other large paper. Draw roads, add collage stuff. Race matchbox cars on it.
Just paint stuff. Combine crayon and watercolor.
On your walk, pick up leaves. Put paper over a leaf, rub with (colored) pencil.
Write a note to Mom and or Dad, a report on something you did today.
Get a small pool, hang out outside. Squirt guns, clean squirt bottles from dish detergent. Or water play in the bathroom or sink.
Go for a walk every day, even in rain. It expends their energy, and gives them time in nature.
Make a doll house or castle from a box or boxes.
Visit all the local playgrounds. Take lunch. Rate the playground.
Go to the library; they almost certainly have reading time, maybe a toy lending library, and kids like to pick books. If you don't have a car, ride the bus, a great adventure.
Put on music, sing, dance. So much music on youtube. Now is the time to share music you love. Music is brain food; kids should have some every day.

Have a schedule for TV time.
Have a schedule. Breakfast, we all clear the table, a 4 year old can sweep the kitchen, badly, but it's good practice. Then a walk, then home for 1 episode of 1 show, probably a snack, then an Activity. Lunch, then reading a few books and naps/ quiet time. Another activity/ play time with a box of supplies, probably another snack, everybody tidies up toys, maybe 1 more episode of 1 show while you make supper. After supper, baths, music or books, bed.

Hitting. Hitting is not allowed here. Hitter, you must be overtired/ too woundup, and you need to sit in the bedroom with a few books ad take time to settle down. It's the original intent of "time out" no blaming or name-calling, but the hitter is separated, has time to calm themself. Repeated hitting may result in loss of privileges, like not choosing the video, a favorite action figure is removed.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Definitely play-doh on a table so it's easy clean up. Get some plastic utensils for them to use to cut the play-doh and maybe a plastic mold or two to play with (check your local thrift store).

For the two year old, and maybe the 4-year old: Get a old oatmeal cylinder. Find an old deck of playing cards. Cut a slit in the lid of the oatmeal container that will allow some cards to fit through it. The kids love to put the cards through the slit.

Another idea I've done when babysitting: Tape together some pieces of construction paper. Write the letters MOM (or DAD) (or one of each) really large on the paper. Tape it to the wall somewhere easily accessible for the kids. Buy some small dots or star stickers at an office supply store, and let the kids place the stickers on the paper. Guide them to put the stickers on the line. (the littler one will need more help, but the 4 year old can probably do it on their own.)

One trick that worked for my mom: If they come with a tablet, promptly put it away. If they ask for it, just tell them that dad took it with him. The kids will forget about it. Might ask once or twice, but if they don't know it's there, then it's not there.

Another tip for your sanity: Establish 30-45 minutes of quiet time each day, or 2x per day. They have to sit on their bed. They can stay awake or they can fall asleep, but they have to stay on their bed.

Kids will understand that the rules are different at your house than they are at home. Just establish the routine, and let them know what the rules are.
posted by hydra77 at 9:40 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, and check the dollar store. I found some good little games there - a set of Memory game cards and some puzzles.
posted by hydra77 at 9:41 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yes, a million times yes, to 'Siblings Without Rivalry'!!! Also
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen, And Listen So Kids Will Talk
Playful Parenting

Also agree with advice to use the videos/tv strategically.

various forms of water play either at the sink or a plastic bin set out on towels on the porch
strategically go from very simple just water to add more interesting as the days go by:
spoons, cups, whisk, small toys, bubbles

rotate toys. start with the fewest that you can get away with. then you can add more or exchange if it seems they are not sustaining attention.

just pulling cookware out of the cabinets and playing with it. mixing bowls, pots and pans.

dress up and pretend play

pushing each other on ride-on toys or pulling each other on towel on hard floor

Hope you have a great time!
posted by halehale at 9:41 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

My kids could have spent days in the bathtub. Get the tub crayons, lots of nifty toys...there was one that stuck to the wall and was like a marble run or something, some little spay bottles so they can squirt each other, shaving cream...honestly, my kids would still hang out there at 12 and 14 if we had a bathtub big enough.
posted by victoriab at 9:45 AM on August 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

Messy things:
* Make slime or ooblek (2 parts corn starch + 1 part water = non-Newtonian fluid fun)
* Put shaving cream on a cookie sheet and let them "finger paint" or use a brush, chopsticks, forks, etc. to draw
* Paint some cheap wooden objects from the craft store (birdhouses, lighthouses, treasure boxes)

After all the messy things, bath time can last forever if they are having fun. Dolls, vehicles, cups, paper boats, etc. keep them occupied indefinitely.

Out of the house yet indoor things:
* Local library 1000%
* Bouncey-house / ball pit playplaces (not sure how common these are everywhere, but there's several in our local suburban realm). Worst case, Chick Fil A/McDonald's/etc. playplace
* Children's museum, aquarium
* Mall (if you still have one, they sometimes have play areas)
posted by hankscorpio83 at 9:46 AM on August 23, 2019

My kid can spend tons of time putting things into the salad spinner and giving them a spin. She also likes making salads from leaves and whatever she can find. All manner of plastic or silicone bowls, measuring cups and spoons, spatulas, tupperware, etc, is great and also sometimes goes in the bath.

We've also had good luck with watercolors, definitely playdough, stickers are good, too. You can cut out paper crowns and color and decorate with stickers. If you have a plastic table cloth (like the kind with the flannel backing because they are sturdier), these are great when doing all sorts of crafts.

Dress up is fun if you have some scarves, hats, neckties, inexpensive necklaces, fancy-seeming shirts, belts etc, plus the aforementioned crowns. A visit to a charity shop might turn up some fun stuff to play with in this realm and you can always just donate it all back when you're done (though really, a small cute suitcase filled with dress up stuff is a great thing to have stashed away in a closet). They might also like packing these things up into a small backpack, suitcase or duffel bag to "go on a trip."

Also, the library is a great resource. Story times, checking out books, just wandering around. I've also had good luck with visiting IKEA, because they can spend time in the area that has all the kids stuff and then have $1 ice cream cones. They also have really affordable craft supplies there, too.
posted by vunder at 11:03 AM on August 23, 2019

You mentioned the 4-year old is into baking with you... If you also bake bread, allow them to help knead the dough. I visited my 4-year old niece this past spring and she was real excited to get her hands in there and squish it around. We'd take turns and she was into that.

She was also very into these large floor puzzles, like this one. I'd work on one with her, and as soon as it was complete, she'd immediately dump out another and start on it. She had like 3.
posted by pdxhiker at 11:29 AM on August 23, 2019

For the hitting, see if you can catch why the old one is hitting or pushing and prompt him on a better response. Most often it will be in frustration or anger at something the little one did - knocked over his blocks, picked up a toy he wanted. Model for him the right way to respond. Recognize that even if he does it right, it might not work and offer to help him if sister isn't listening.

So it might sound like "Hitting people is not OK. If she takes your toy, ask for it back. Say, 'That is my toy. I am still having my turn. I can share later but right now I want it back.' I know she isn't very good at listening, if she doesn't listen, let me know and I'll help."

Now, if he is coming over out of the blue and making her cry, I would assume he's bored. Remind him it isn't acceptable and then redirect.
posted by metahawk at 11:41 AM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Both ages may like stacking paper or plastic cups. The younger one will knock it down, but we used to say, “kaboom! Oh, that’s a 2-year old’s job! Let’s build another one to let her knock it down.”
Spray bottles with water in them are a really good idea. I would let them spray in the tub or on your balcony (assuming it’s safe). The younger one may like having a small tub of oatmeal or rice or kinetic sand and hiding small toys in it and driving toy cars in it. The 4-yr old may like building things with toothpicks and mini marshmallows. I wouldn’t stress too much about videos because it’s their vacation and you’ll probably need a break anyway. If I’m really going nuts occupying my kids, I’d usually suggest a bath with snacks (eating fruit or popsicle in the tub works every time). Or building a big pillow pile and laying on it with them. Good luck!
posted by areaperson at 12:55 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Float boats (and measuring cups and plastic bowls) in the kitchen sink.

In other news, you can physically pick your grandson up and remove him from his sister but you cannot introduce a new form of discipline like time outs or whatever. Nor should you introduce an inflatable pool to a small apartment. Use the bathtub.

Not your monkeys, not your circus.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:14 PM on August 23, 2019

Granny of a 3,4 and 6 year old. I've learned a couple of craft-related rules that have helped me cope:

1) Play doh is a no-no if you have rugs or upholstered furniture anywhere near. The 2 year old is probably too young for play-doh anywhere except a rugless playroom or outdoors. ( I had to replace a rug. I don't allow play doh in my house anymore.) Same with slime and that weird stuff made of tiny spongy spheres that you can squeeze into different shapes. It shreds and embeds itself in the carpet. These are better with older kids, I think.

Poster paint is often, no usually, permanent. You wouldn't think it would be, but I've learned that unless it specifically says washable, it likely isn't. I have many stained dishcloths because of this, despite regular bleaching. Craft smocks are helpful, but not a guarantee.

Are there libraries in your community that have a toddler story time? Barnes & Noble regularly does this, and perhaps independent bookstores in your area. This might work best if you have one child that day, as you can coordinate the age of the child with the books being read.

Children's museums are pretty common in larger cities, as are children's theater groups. You might check with parents in your area, maybe with some assistance of the kids' parents for tips. I bought memberships to two museums my grandkids love, and our local zoo. The cost of a membership amortized across the frequency they want to visit makes it a good buy, and it allows us to do something where they get some exercise, make messes someplace I don't have to clean, and saves my house for (hopefully) quieter activities. Even a good playground can be a loved destination. Pro tip - pack a lunch. The food is these places is usually either chicken fingers, pizza or fries, and it's expensive and terrible.

All my grandkids are enchanted with the city buses. They live in the suburbs and they think buses are exotic forms of transportation. And if you are a senior and have a free pass, and little kids are free, as they are on most municipal transportation systems, you can have a day of free travel to the enchanting ends of the city. This would probably work best with your older grandchild, as the younger might need diapering, which would be a strategic challenge at best.

Discipline and squabble-squashing I do with the phrase "We don't act like that at my house. In my house we try to be kind. Apologize to your sister/brother." Then I hand them back to their parents. As much as I love having one or more of them, one of the best parts of grandparenting is handing them back to their parents.
posted by citygirl at 1:33 PM on August 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

The crayola washable paints are VERY washable. They're great. They're great for painting the bathtub or shower wall and making coloured water too.

The bath soap crayons we had stained. Ymmv, proceed with caution.
posted by jrobin276 at 9:53 PM on August 23, 2019

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