How can I be a delightful and surprising aunt to a 3 year old?
April 21, 2021 5:28 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I finally have a vacation planned to see my 3-year-old niece, and we're so excited! Last time we saw her in person she was under one and a half, and while we're on video chats with her, it's of course not the same. I don't have a ton of experience with little kids, and could use help brainstorming small, silly surprises (toys or games or songs, etc) I can bust out during our trip to help us be the most super-fun aunt and uncle we can be. Suggestions?
posted by tiny frying pan to Human Relations (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Fingerplay songs and lap games (depending on your strength and the child's size) can be a great one; just have search and prepare to have your ear bent on YouTube. (My kids' favourite was "The Grand Old Duke of York..." A lot of versions don't have the last verse so I will give it to you here:

He marched them to the left (move child or fingers to the left)
He marched them to the right (ditto)
He marched them all around the town (spin around)
'Til he marched them out of sight (HIDE or hide your fingers.)

At 3 my kids also adored anyone who would play any kind of game involving a soccer/volley/basketball with them for any length of time - catching a baseball was still a bit frustrating for them. When we were the aunt and uncle we used to arrive with the ball.

Robert Munsch books are great, and some of them (Zoom, as an example; The Paperbag Princess; David's Father) are positive messaging. If you want to delight, Mortimer (make up your own tune for the song he sings) will possibly drive her parents mad but at 3, it was a super favourite book.

And I'm sure you know this but it's a good idea to let the niece come to you - she will, but giving her room to make the first move will go a long long way.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:45 AM on April 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

My husband and I are the "fun aunt and uncle" and we have accomplished this mostly by just being ourselves when we are around our nieces.

As an example, we spend a lot of time playing covers of silly old songs and when we perform for our nieces they are rapt. My husband's guitar and banjo get a lot of attention from tiny fingers, and my vocals are delightfully accompanied by creative interpretations of whatever tune we're playing. (I am now remembering the time we were held prisoner forever singing them to sleep and then we thought we were safe to escape and just as we started to tiptoe away the 2 year old suddenly jerked her body bolt upright and growled "MORE!!!" with the voice of a groggy demon monster and scared the piss out of me and then we had to sing again omg good times) So yeah music is a hit.

Also, kids love to be seen and heard and considered thoughtfully. Nearly every 3 year old I've ever met is stuffed full of fascinating thoughts and opinions they are just waiting to share with anyone willing to listen. Make an effort to engage her and include her in conversations.

Another thing adults don't do often enough is just relax and play with kids. So bring a hodgepodge of small toys and craft supplies, dump them all out in front of your niece, and then let her choose what she'd like the two of you to play with or create. Have fun with her!

In the spirit of full disclosure, we have a large and wondrous dog who is the real celebrity when we visit with the girls. So maybe I don't know anything and you should just get an awesome dog or borrow one.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 6:23 AM on April 21, 2021 [11 favorites]

The biggest hit toy at my friend's kid's 3rd birthday this past week was a set of wooden play vegetables
held together with velcro, that you can cut apart with a play knife. Motor skills, manipulating objects, and imaginary play. It clearly hit a sweet spot for that age group!
posted by deludingmyself at 7:23 AM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Every kid is so different!
Some want to be entertained and some want to do the entertaining. Some are very physical, others prefer figuring nifty things out... Do you have any inkling what kind of people they are?

I think particularly to begin with you can't go wrong letting the kid lead the way. Practically all 3 year olds I know love making up games where they get to tell you what to do. They love having an adult at their beck and call. This stuff is exhausting, so most parents have limited patience for it. If you get down on their level and just join in in what they're doing, they'll love it.

Most of the things I recommend are things parents don't do often enough because reasons, so you get bonus points of you do!

- Based on my own kids I recommend play dough.
- And crafting! Look up some cool crafts they can do where you make seasonally appropriate decoration together.
- painting - not dinky watercolours but big messy pots of paint! Finger painting, splattering etc. (Many parents don't encourage paint because of the mess. If you can handle that mess, you'll provide a great afternoon.)
- Body painting/ face painting each other. Always a hit.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:50 AM on April 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Only popping in to add: We know her well, and she knows us, we have a dialogue! She is active and a very un-shy or timid kid. And has a ton of toys so games or activity based things might be more what I'm looking for. Thanks for the suggestions so far!
posted by tiny frying pan at 8:01 AM on April 21, 2021

Nthing finger/hand-play games/songs. My 3yo has an “aunt” she adores who she’s met in person twice but constantly talks about and the forging moment was a silly made up game/song called “gentle hands”. It’s like magic
posted by shesdeadimalive at 8:23 AM on April 21, 2021

My niece wants to look at ALL THE CAT PICTURES on my phone.
posted by yarntheory at 8:24 AM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Take her out on walks and discuss what you see. My youngest grandkid, age 2.5, loves when we go for a walk, just the two of us, holding hands. Or to the park. We talk about the flowers, the trees, the sky, the cars and trucks. She also loves piggyback rides.
posted by mareli at 8:24 AM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

She still might be shy when she sees you in person even if you've seen her on video chats for a long time so be sure to let her warm up to you. No one would ever say my daughter was shy but I realized around that age that she masked it by pretending to be an animal of some sort so beware that shyness doesn't always show up in typical ways.

How about introducing a stuffed animal to her on video chats now and let the stuffy say how much they're looking forward to seeing her? And then you can also work in some other stuff like this:

"When I first meet you, do you think I might be a little shy?"
"If I'm shy when I see you in person then that's probably ok, right? If I am, I'll just sit here on Aunt SoMuchFuns lap for a while."

Of course when you see her, the stuffy will leap into her arms with delight but just introducing the idea and kind of letting her know that it's ok and that you guys can talk about it (or she can talk about it with her parents) would be really nice, I think.
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:53 AM on April 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My son is 3 and my sister is the Best Aunt Ever.

Things he loves to do with her:

* Races (he picks the starting line and says “mark, set, GO!” and he runs and she runs very slowly and he usually wins but not always)

* Stories (he makes her tell endless hours of stories to his specifications - he’ll jump in and correct things)

* Dance party (Kidz Bop is good for kid-friendly renditions of pop songs)

* Boomie ball (blow up balloons, try to keep them all in the air, sometimes to music)

* Playing with his toys (she’s really good at things like figuring out complex fun track configurations for his Hot Wheels, etc.)

* Painting (big things of Crayola washable paints on butcher paper taped with painter’s tape to the floor)

* Imaginative play of any kind (she’s willing to do it for long periods of time which is amazing)

I agree with others if you let her lead, let her boss you around, and generally be into whatever she’s into, that’s the best and will get you a tiny super fan for life. My sister will often bring a few Hot Wheels just in case, but for her it’s really more about being present and engaged in the moment than having anything on hand or queued up that’s amazing.
posted by bananacabana at 9:18 AM on April 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I can really get my three year old laughing by making goofy mistakes like trying to put his shoes on his hands or my pants on my head.

Definitely get down on the floor and really engaging in what ever make believe thing she's into.

Stickers are very popular. My kid loves playdough and kinetic sand and I absolutely hate cleaning those up. Wish I had a fun aunt to do those for me!
posted by carolr at 9:19 AM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When my niece was that age, she loved to play hairdresser with me. I’d let her brush my hair and put alllllllll the clips and barrettes in it. It’s amazing how satisfying she found it. I have a few pictures of myself with some of her...ah, more creative hairstyles...

At that age she and my nephew both liked to make iPhone videos of themselves with me and then watch themselves again and again.

I recommend the activities in this booklet. Even though they’re educational games they don’t feel that way. There are crafts, nature activities, card games, songs and rhymes.

One of the surprise major hits from that booklet was giving my niece and nephew each a measuring tape—they measured everything in my parents’ small apartment including me, themselves, and each other. I’m not kidding, between their measuring tapes and the bathroom scale, they were occupied for at least 20 minutes with measuring, weighing, and comparing (“How big is your wrist? Foot? Hand? How big is Auntie’s wrist/foot/hand?”).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:03 AM on April 21, 2021

Best answer: As an (at least temporarily) “fun Aunt” to littles I think my fun-ness stems from the fact that I am giving my niblings 100% of my attention, when their parents are typically pulled every which way. So when I visit, I am fully available to do whatever they want to do, play whatever they want to play, and read any story (with fun voices!). I am VERY positive and full of praise for them and I am VERY interested in seeing all of their toys, drawings, and treasures. They love for me to visit and after spending time with them I’m exhausted but happy!
posted by rogerroger at 11:40 AM on April 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

This is so great. I think I qualify as a fun aunt, so, for my nephews:

I get down on the ground with them a lot, more than other adults. They're more comfortable, I'm less intimidating.

They want to play something again? SURE. Always be up for one more round (I've had to declare an absolute poundage limit for being flipped or carried, though.)

Have a bunch of 'need nothing' games ready to go. I Spy, Guess My Person, 20 Questions, Slappy Hands, etc. etc. Having a small notebook and some pencils for emergency tic-tac-toe or scribbling is great too.

If her parents are cool with it, always have coins on hand for candy machines and stuff.

I like to leave some notes around the house in tricky places for them to find after I'm gone - under a tabletop, back of a door, bottom of a drawer.

And I agree with everyone that your attention and respect is key!
posted by punchtothehead at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2021

At that age my daughter found it very entertaining to be given a pair of scissors and a bunch of scrap paper to cut up. Enabling that mess and then cleaning it up seems like something a "fun aunt" might do. (After making sure the parents were not worried that scissors might be too dangerous or that showing the kid the joy of using them might be dangerous to all the cuttable items in the house.) Check that any scissors you provide aren't so child-safe they barely work.
posted by Redstart at 11:54 AM on April 21, 2021

Three is such a fun age! In school settings "dramatic play" is the name for imaginative play that happens around play kitchens and doll houses etc, and three is where this starts. Tea parties are a hit at this age, and putting real drinks, or real food in a play set she already has might be super fun.

One fun idea is to create a fairy house in the yard. You can make one of these with found stuff, or you could take a special trip to a craft store to buy some miniature items special for the space- think colorful stones, or plastic animals.

Another thing (and this website, Tinker Lab has endless other ideas, and a series of books too) is to make homemade play dough. Adding glitter to home made play dough in my experience adds a new coolness factor. You can also add color with Kool-Aid and it adds a neat scent too.

As a school librarian, I have to recommend bringing a book, and at this age Richard Scarry is wonderful- so much to look at on each page. I take care of a 2.5 year old, and we read Cars and Trucks and Things that go every time I see her, and she spends time really looking at each page.
posted by momochan at 11:59 AM on April 21, 2021

My daughter is 3 and my brother is a super fun uncle. He does whatever she tells him to do, all the time, and they play a lot of silly physical games (piggy back rides, tickling, throwing her on the bed repeatedly, literally running in circles.) A big hit right now is “backpack”, where she jumps on his back, he carries her around and then he says “here I am at school, let’s put my backpack down and see what’s inside, zippppp OH MY GOD THERE’S KIDSNAME IN HERE”, laughter ensues, repeat. Just be really silly and stupid and physical, and be prepared to do things over and over and over. Another tip is to treat playing like an improv exercise - whatever imaginative play the kids want to do, keep it going by saying “yes, and xyz” which with my kid will get progressively sillier and sillier.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 12:06 PM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Fun auncle stuff I've done with my niece:

bubbles (always a hit). make sure you have two containers/wands, one for you and one for your nibling. make sure small, clumsy fingers can pull the bubble wand out or get the big round kind you dip in

kiddo binoculars and kiddo magnifying glass -- look at things up close and far away, flip the binoculars around and giggle at how wacky things look that way. great indoors and out

dance and music/singing party - share your favorites or let the little one share theirs, then wiggle and bop around. add partial/full spins and dips if you're able for extra giggles

cook/prepare something simple, fun, and tasty to eat together, like the "banana milkshakes" out of a kid's cookbook: mash ripe banana in milk, add 1/8 tsp vanilla extra. or english muffin pizzas with veggie faces, or the ol' classic ants on a log (celery, PB, raisins), show them how to make octo hot dogs or apple bunnies

this one's not my favorite, but is my niece loves it: my brother allows lots of screen time and she's got her own tablet, so playing games with her, watching shows with her, but actively engaging while she does them--comment on characters or ask why she used that move, or what she would do if she was in the show (and then use that for later imaginative play)
posted by carrioncomfort at 12:14 PM on April 21, 2021

Best answer: Three is a great age for flash lights. I haven’t met a kid that age who didn’t love a flashlight dance party, flashlight tag or jumping around with those little flashlight rings on their fingers (check with parents that these are ok for your niece & not a choking hazard). Another element I like about this idea is it can help you transition her to bedtime or nap time by saying something like “When you’re ready for bed, we can read a story by the light of the flashlight!” Or do shadow puppets. That’s assuming the parents and niece are ok with you helping with nighttime routines of course, so maybe it’s best after you’ve been there a day or two. I also think it’s a great age for a small stuffed animal present. My brother is the fun uncle and he once brought small, toy stuffed kittens in each of his coat pockets and asked the kids to pick left or right (spoiler: they got to have all the kittens). I know that’s simple, but there was something extra fun about the fact that the kids loved kittens at that age and he had like four of them.
If there’s a nice petting zoo or farm nearby, I think that could be a nice activity to do with her and is hopefully very covid safe too. I hope you have a great visit!
posted by areaperson at 12:33 PM on April 21, 2021

Dancing or exercising together. I used to watch and follow along to Mousercise, yoga and dance videos with the 3 year old in my life, and it was awesome.
Little competitions - like chugging a glass of water.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:20 PM on April 21, 2021

Also nth-ing measuring tape!
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:20 PM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Blow up a couple balloons and bat them around together.

Create jewelry with large craft beads and string

Hide small "treasures" like shells, special rocks, or beads in some sand and go on a treasure hunt

Blow bubbles

Toss a soft stuffed animal back and forth to each other

Bring a few new books and read together
posted by medeine at 1:37 PM on April 21, 2021

My nephew is going to be three in June, and he LOVES hide and seek. He doesn't *fully* understand it, in that he will always hide in the same place, or give himself away by giggling, or pop out when I get close, but we have so much fun!
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 4:18 PM on April 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

general 3yo thoughts:

as often as possible, kneel down to speak eye-to-eye.

get on the floor when you play.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:32 PM on April 21, 2021

If she gets shy or overwhelmed or even cries when seeing you in person, don't worry, that is normal and she will warm up to you. I think some kids think that when someone new comes that means their parents are going away? Anyway. Let her lead the way. Play the boring repetitive games she wants to play. Show her new finger games, or teach her a new way to give a high five (maybe down low, too slow?), talk to her, walk with her, do silly things like hide behind a wall and come out different ways crawling, jumping, walking like a crab, etc), teach her something new but simple, ask her to help you with stuff and make it fun.
posted by at 5:26 PM on April 22, 2021

« Older Where can I find the video about 5g causing covid...   |   What strange things has your dog eaten? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.