The Accidental Babysitter
September 12, 2007 8:25 AM   Subscribe

What do I do with a one year old? She has toys, and seems content with them, but what else should I be doing?

I'm babysitting my fiance's niece due to a family emergency. I haven't ever cared for a child this young and I'm not sure what entertains them or really what to expect. Are there kids videos online? Maybe she'll play with the same toys all day? We don't have cable, and I don't have a car available today.

I've got the feeding/diapering thing down, and I'm good in the common sense department, but if there are any other MUST KNOW tips, please inform me.
posted by desjardins to Human Relations (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
At that age almost anything entertains them. She would probably like it if you would play peek-a-boo with her.

I am also guessing at some point she will conk out for a nap.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:30 AM on September 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Yup the kids will play with the same toy or set of toys for days if not weeks on end. As far as what to do with her, just engage her, talk to her, take her for a walk outside. Play peek-a-boo, read a book to her (you can read almost anything to her if you use the right tone of voice). Chase her around the house or outside to wear her down...then put her down for a nap.

Also at that age, almost anything can be a toy. I know my nephew absolutely loved to play with wrapping paper and paper bags. Just use good judgment and supervise her and you will do fine.
posted by mmascolino at 8:34 AM on September 12, 2007

Read to her.
posted by caddis at 8:34 AM on September 12, 2007

Read! If you don't have kids books, just pick anything. She'll enjoy the contact and sound of your voice.

Go for a walk if the weather's good. Show her flowers, trees, cats and anything else you find on the street.

Play some music.

Online ... not sure about videos, but the Boobah Zone is good fun for kids and grownups alike, with lots of bright trippy visuals and sounds.

I'm sure you'll do fine, and best wishes for whatever emergency your family is going through.
posted by valleys at 8:36 AM on September 12, 2007

If you have any books that are appropriate for little ones, you could put her on your leg, leaning back against you, put your arm around her gently, and read to her, making sure to show her the pictures in the book and to look at her face as you speak to her. If she'll let you, of course. If she doesn't want to be held, this will not work so well.

If she's one year old, she's probably trying to figure out how to walk. You could get her to stand up (ask her to do it, and help her only if she needs it), then take her hands and, bending down, walk with her around your living room, making sure to provide only as much help as she needs.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:38 AM on September 12, 2007

It's counterintuitive, but the more tired kids get, the less likely they are to sleep. Try to find out when her normal nap times are, and just try to gently settle her at that time - don't keep her up if she "doesn't seem tired": you'll have an irritable, howling nightmare on your hands shortly afterwards. If it really doesn't work out then minimise interaction with her (ie nothing beyond making sure that she's well and comfortable), and hopefully she'll drop off shortly after.

If you want to kill time then go for a walk outside with her, to the park or whatever. If she has a pushchair (or a car seat), this is also a good way to get her to go to sleep if she's struggling to settle at naptime.
posted by bifter at 8:40 AM on September 12, 2007

  • Books -- board books if you have them; if not anything with pictures will work, but you do have to invigilate closely otherwise they might get ripped.
  • Talk a lot -- even though the child might not be talking yet herself. describe what you are doing, things you see, things she's touching. Sing songs.
  • Go for a walk -- they often sleep in strollers, but if not they like to see the outside world. Even though they can't see you in most strollers still talk and describe things.
  • Go to a park -- lots of one year olds like swings!
  • Don't just give her toys, play with whatever she's playing with -- pile blocks, wiggle stuffed animals and so on.
  • Have fun -- doing this every day with your own kid every day is wonderful, but can also get wearing; doing it occasionally is mostly all the fun without the endless repetition.

posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 8:53 AM on September 12, 2007

If you have a small park nearby, kids that age love the baby swing. It's so soothing, sometimes they'll even fall asleep in it. Singing songs is great too, especially if there is clapping or hand movements that she can join in on.
posted by saffry at 8:55 AM on September 12, 2007

I remember feeling this same way and I was the mom. Whoa. (btw, when you say a one year old, is she 12 months? Or not quite 2? There is a difference in the things that will entertain her.)

Anything sensory and interactive will be entertaining. Things that we take for granted are going to be new to her. So, taking a blanket outside or sitting her in your lap and looking at people, at leaves, at grass, listening for sounds, touching stones, all good. You can give her a shallow pan of water and some things to put in it on your kitchen or bathroom floor. Music. Using a filmy scarf and pulling it quickly over her face and hands so it ripples around.

These things might or might not seem boring to you at first, but she will be intrigued by them. And watching her get into them might be fun for you! (It was for me.)
posted by jeanmari at 8:59 AM on September 12, 2007

Good suggestions so far. I'll just add that the AMA advises against TV for kids under two.
posted by canine epigram at 9:05 AM on September 12, 2007

Peekaboo --- entertaining for hours. You can use hands, a cloth napkin, a (clean, if it's handy) dishtowel...You hide, she hides, dolly hides, the chair hides...
posted by leahwrenn at 9:05 AM on September 12, 2007

Seconding Boobah, but not for a 1 year old. A lot of people are not cool with babies seeing screens (TV, computer) until 18 months.
posted by k8t at 9:07 AM on September 12, 2007

A little while of TV will not make her stupid, or blind her.

That said - water-soluble fingerpaint and big sheets of paper. Fun for both of you!
posted by rtha at 9:10 AM on September 12, 2007

jeanmari: she's exactly one year old - her first birthday was last weekend.

Thanks for all the suggestions. She got cranky, so I started reading to her, and she promptly fell asleep (it was a book on Javascript, I almost fell asleep myself).

She only wants to be on the bed - if I put her on the floor she howls. (She is napping in a portable crib, I did not leave her on the bed.)
posted by desjardins at 9:13 AM on September 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

If you had a car I'd invite you over - we are sort of neighbors! I have a 14 month old and he loves playing with a wooden spoon and pots and pans more than any of his fancy electronic toys. It's a gorgeous day so take her for a walk or to play outside. My son loves to sit on the grass and crawl around and examine sticks and things. I just have to keep a close eye because he'll try to eat most of what he picks up.

Above all, talk to her, all the time! She probably understands most of what you say and she'll be reassured by the sound of your voice!

If you end up watching her again and want to get together (a Mini-Meetup!), or want to talk, please email me.
posted by Kangaroo at 9:23 AM on September 12, 2007

it was a book on Javascript, I almost fell asleep myself

posted by caddis at 9:23 AM on September 12, 2007

Expect to spend a lot of time interacting with her. One-year-olds aren't really capable of independent play for very long. However, if you follow her lead, you should be able to keep her busy. She probably has a 45 minute nap in mid-morning and again in mid-afternoon. This varies from child to child, day to day, and stress level to stress level.

If she can stand, she would probably like to be at the sink with you. Just give her some cups to play with in the water. You do have to steady her at this age.

She might like banging things together. Or pretending to stir in a pot -- or hitting it like a drum. If she can walk, she might like to help you push a broom around.

I believe the recommended guideline for TV at 1 year is 30 minutes a day -- no more. However, it is a family emergency.
posted by acoutu at 9:24 AM on September 12, 2007

Definitely music, any kind, but best if you can move around to it.

A bath, with some plastic cups, will take up some time and entertain her if she likes water. Be careful about the temperature, never leave her alone, and get a good grip on her with a towel after--babies are slippery!
posted by Riverine at 11:00 AM on September 12, 2007

N-thing reading to her. I found that the best books at this age have some interactive component, either through the way the book is constructed (peek-a-boo flaps) or by you (the reader) creating some interaction. Where's the X? is a great way to make it interesting for kids that age.
posted by bluesky43 at 11:24 AM on September 12, 2007

I'm a dad of a 14 month old boy.

.. I echo the comments about simple things. Give her a big wooden spoon. Let her play with the wisk, or tupperwear.

My kid loves .. and he loves the car. Just stick 'em in behind the wheel (car turned off, you in the passenger seat) and let them play with all the buttons.

And while it might not last long, any kind of TV cartoon may draw their attention for 2-5 minutes. -- If nothing like that, go to your library and take out a suitable DVD. -- And there's usually something at the library they like, a play zone of some sort.

And when all else fails, plop them in the stroller and get some exercise for yourself.
posted by duncantuna at 12:49 PM on September 12, 2007

wow, she sleeps and poops an incredible amount.
posted by desjardins at 12:52 PM on September 12, 2007

Let her play in your Tupperware cabinet, if you have one. Kept (still keeps) my boys entertained for a good while.
posted by Melinika at 1:15 PM on September 12, 2007

Read to her, give her books, have REAL conversations with her -- not baby-talk simple stuff. I once met a 3-year-old who greeted me with, "Well, hello, Mrs. Whynot. How are you today? Are you here to play tennis with Sophie and Ted? I like tennis, don't you?" So she and I sat down (waiting for Sophie & Ted) and had a nice chat.

Also, explain and describe things to her, like, "Did you know the vacuum cleaner works like this..." or "Where do you think the robin gets food to feed her babies?" And keep reading.

Oh, and dance and sing (even if you can't carry a tune). My parents did that with me (eons ago), and I still remember the dances with great fondness and an occasional tear.
posted by Smalltown Girl at 6:54 PM on September 12, 2007

(For some reason I can't paste any links today. Sorry...)

Any books by Margaret Wise Brown & illustrated by Garth Wise, like "Home for a Bunny," for example, offer lifelike pictures with lots of detail for pointing out. In this book, a bunny scoots along asking animals about their homes, looking for

..."a home for a bunny,
a home of his own,
under a rock or under a stone,
-- where will bunny find a home?"

See if you can find books with similarly lifelike illustrations (or even iconic, simpler ones) to help her recognized things like bunnies, butterflies, frogs, flowers, birds, etc...

Also -- the Baby Signs books (by Linda Acredolo ENTHRALLED my daughter -- small board books with photos of an object one one side of the fold and of a baby making the sign for it on the other. We have Baby Signs, Baby Signs for Bedtime, Baby Signs for Mealtime, and Baby Signs for Animals. After about 3 weeks of reading these she started making the signs herself.

And never estimate the hilarity of comic songs -- about her, about every situation (poop, bottles, putting on socks and bibs, etc).

I let my daughter (now almost 2) have a little "alone time" nearby in her pack-n-play for a short time (20mins) every day. I was near to her but she learned to spend a little time entertaining herself in a safe environment. It helped also to make the playpen a fun place, not a punitive or lonely one.
posted by mdiskin at 6:54 AM on September 13, 2007

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