What does your inner three-year-old want to do today?
December 30, 2007 7:19 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions, please, for entertaining a three-year-old.

I'm going to be babysitting a friend's daughter, who's three year old. Last time was in August, and we had a great day at the beach. December isn't beach season, so I'm looking for ideas which will keep her amused. There won't be other kids around. Minimal expense preferred, and no TV-ish suggestions please! Simple 3yo-suitable cooking recipes might be good.

(Fwiw I've plenty of kid experience, but I've mostly forgotten what that age group likes to do.)
posted by anadem to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I cannot suggest art highly enough. Show her how to draw and make different types of things. One of my fondest babysitter memories is being taught how to make a hand turkey. Also, you could make chocolate dipped strawberries for an incredibly easy thing.
posted by stresstwig at 7:25 PM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Baking a batch of cookies with a toddler is huge fun. Let her mix the dough with her hands, the oven will sterilize everything anyway.
posted by LarryC at 7:26 PM on December 30, 2007

Finger painting. With paints, or chocolate pudding. You will both have a blast.
posted by YamwotIam at 7:30 PM on December 30, 2007

Also, see peanut butter playdough.
posted by YamwotIam at 7:33 PM on December 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I dont know about my inner three year old, but a year ago my outer four year old enjoyed making cookies, art and reading but her real joy was dress up and dance parties. Maybe you two can dress up like princesses and dance around?

Just follow her lead and you will have fun. She might like to paint nine days out of ten but for some reason just wont do it when you are there.
posted by shothotbot at 7:42 PM on December 30, 2007

my 3 yo niece enjoys activities such as cutting her own hair, coloring on the walls, and painting her nails, tops of her feet, bottoms of her feet ect...
she enjoys doing those things when no one is watching her.

At 3 she likes to help me do most anything, make cookies, painting, gardening, anything she can get her hands into. She is pretty easy to entertain. Singing songs and reading books and puzzles are her fun things, at christmas she was starting to pretend with her new cash register. We played checkout for about an hour that day.
posted by meeshell at 7:42 PM on December 30, 2007

Making nachos. You grate the cheese, open the can of beans, etc. and she dumps them all on the chips.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:07 PM on December 30, 2007

Toy guitar! Target makes a $10 guitar that spits out noise and sound effects when you thump on various places on it. Pair that with something that looks/sounds like a drum (empty popcorn tin?) and you've got the makings of a new rock band.

Also, the collage thing is always good - several sheets of blank posterboard, some glue sticks, some leftover magazines, "cut out the pictures that you like," an endlessly fascinating palette.
posted by jbickers at 8:08 PM on December 30, 2007

My (almost) three year old neice is relentlessy entertained by being hung upside down.
posted by Kappi at 8:11 PM on December 30, 2007

sidewalk chalk
posted by tamitang at 8:12 PM on December 30, 2007

For some reason, this reminded me of a time that a babysitter gave me a not-sharp knife (maybe a butter knife) and a bar of cheap soap and had me carve it based on something I had drawn. I don't know what why -- maybe because I was able to "use tools" and taught me about creating something built on a design, or maybe because it just felt totally decadent to be able to use soap in this fashion -- but for whatever reason, I found it fun enough to remember nearly 30 years later.

Have fun!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:18 PM on December 30, 2007

what why, not "what why"
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:19 PM on December 30, 2007

Thanks! great ideas! I want to be three again (my grandkids are teenagers). Sounds like a fun day tomorrow. More ideas, more fun ...
posted by anadem at 8:25 PM on December 30, 2007

When I was three, my mother would read to me. I was very interested, and my interest encouraged her to teach me the basics of how to read. By the time I was 4 1/2 years old, I was ready to enter kindergarten a year ahead of schedule, and was already one of the best readers in the class. (I'm sure you can find some kid's books at a thrift store or the local library.)
posted by CrunchyFrog at 8:39 PM on December 30, 2007

I like the poster board/magazine/glue stick idea. My mom used to give me assignments when I was that age, ie. "cut out eyes/mouths/noses" and glue them to the poster board. She ended up with some very surreal collages!
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:57 PM on December 30, 2007

Yes, I'd forgotten we've got a box of small-kids books in our garage!

Any suggestions for good current 3yo books? Is "Each Peach Pear Plum" available in the US?
posted by anadem at 8:58 PM on December 30, 2007

My child is about the same age and loves making cookies and pizza. If you buy some premade pizza dough or use English muffins / pita bread / toast, you can make pizza in a flash. Baking cookies is also fun and teaches children all sorts of things about texture, measurements, mixing, conduction, art, flavour, cause & effect, etc. Making pizza fits into the same idea. Kids love these activities because they get to eat the results. It's like art, math and science all put together.

Other than that, following the child's lead is often a great idea. Kids love it when you show excitement about the things that excite them or that they find fun.
posted by acoutu at 9:24 PM on December 30, 2007

These books might give you some good fodder for a fun afternoon with a 3 year old, depending on her interests. There's a good variety of topics, and you should be able to find some of them at your local Barnes & Noble or something, I'd imagine.

Full disclosure: I designed a few of the books in the series back in 2004-2005, but I get absolutely no royalties. Dammit.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:39 AM on December 31, 2007

Body-painting with watercolors in front of a mirror.

A sink full of lukewarm water and a bunch of unbreakable measuring cups and other small containers.

Hiding an item repeatedly and letting her hunt for it. A three-year-old usually needs a lot of hints.


Naps. You will enjoy these a LOT, trust me.
posted by wryly at 1:34 AM on December 31, 2007

During Xmas lunch, I gave my 3 year old cousin my point-n-shoot digital camera and asked him to photograph each member of the family for my album. He liked the responsibility of the task, and the pics he took were pretty funny. He's unusually gadgety for a little guy- handling the camera might be a little advanced for most 3YOs, but a variation, maybe- you handle the camera, and ask her to help you find things to photograph: "Let's take a photo of something red! What do you see that's red? Oh cool, you found a red book! Here, you look at the screen and tell me when to press the button to take the picture! Is that one good?" ....It could become like an extended, technical version of "I spy".
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:34 AM on December 31, 2007

My three year old is a bit quirky, but he loves to hear me tell him about stuff from my imagination. For example:
- the maddest, most extravigant ice cream sundae I can think of. which would be made using a special machine with lots of knobs and buttons and levers.
- my imaginary house, in which I would have a slide next to every staircase, beds made of inflatable boucy castles, a swimming pool instead of a bath, with 10 different kinds of bubble bath on tap....
- my imaginary zoo
- the best playground ever

Normal 3 year olds might enjoy making their own suggestions, but mine is happy to listen for 15 minutes.
posted by pootler at 5:00 AM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

My almost 3 year old loves bubble wrap, as well as many of the things already suggested. (Then again, who doesn't love bubble wrap.) Really, anything you do together will probably be fun, at that age they love attention from grownups as much as anything. We also have great fun at our local indoor inflatable playground (this is it, perhaps you have something similar nearby); it only costs $5.00, weather is not an issue, and after about an hour our daughter is so tired she can hardly stand up, which makes nap time a cinch. They let grownups play too, but be forewarned you will not bounce as well as a toddler if you fall.
posted by TedW at 5:23 AM on December 31, 2007

I spent last year teaching preschoolers in an inner-city school district, which meant we had everyone from upper-middle class kids whose parents wanted them to mingle to kids who had no toys or books at home, and the only constant among every single three year old in the class was this:

If it was BRAND SPANKING NEW, it was awesome.

We could unveil any new toy/station at all, and it would be so popular we'd have to have them taking turns.

They also loved any and all prizes. Devise a game (scavenger hunt?) and have a dollar store prize for the end. Seriously, even the kids with fairly well-to-do parents would go apeshit over a prize I bought two for a buck.
posted by InnocentBystander at 9:58 AM on December 31, 2007

My 3 year old loves being read to, taking walks to the park in almost all weather (we're in MN here so I know from bad weather, just bundle up), crafts, including painting and playing with play clay, and adult-supported make-believe with favorite toys, (ask and answer lots of questions about what's happening with play). Check with parents about nap schedule, behavior and mood will be better if an ordinary nap is not skipped - it may be tough to achieve with the novelty of your presence, but I find often even trying helps. At this point kids are starting to have a good idea of what they want to do in play, they like to have some control and they like to show and tell, so "what do you want to do?" and "show me what to do?" will take you a long way. TedW is right, toddlers generally love attention from adults (as parents, this is the point where we are pushing them to be more self-sufficient and trying to stake more of our own time out, so an adult who is happy to be full-time attentive is a treat), it probably won't be hard to keep her entertained.
posted by nanojath at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2007

So I did a bit more thinking on this. Honestly, kids that age are often pretty easy to entertain. Some of the books I've done for them are about things like going outside and gathering twigs to use as obstacles for toy trucks & stuff and then making up stories. Or playing with colored tape. Nothing very complex.

When my niece was 3, we were the bestest friends in the world and she was really obsessed with wanting to be a big girl and do big girl things. So I used to stage big girl slumber parties for the two of us and we would pillow fight and do all sorts of junk. Really, it was never so much about planning things out for her to do, we entertained ourselves together. I think 3 is a great age where kids are really present in your company, and they're REALLY REALLY excited about learning because they're preparing to start school and anxious about not being babies anymore.

I think her favorite thing that we did was that we went from house to house visiting my friends to figure out who would win the "Bounciest Bed in the World" contest. We'd just show up, say, "Excuse me but we need to borrow your bed." and walk past them for her to hop on their bed. Then she'd rate the bed on a variety of criteria (general bounciness, height gained, and visual appeal of bed). My friend Barry won, even though his bedroom was a mess. My friends actually got a kick out of the surprise contest and would feign excitement at the thought they might win. I forget what the prize was, but I think she made it. So that was another project.

Yeah, they're pretty easy & fun at that age.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:24 AM on December 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Float things in the kitchen sink. Just supervise her on the chair or stool or whatever while you play together. This sounds boring to us but will provide at least an hour of amusement for a 3 year old.

Measuring cups, plastic cups, smurfs, turkey basters, ladles, soap holders (which are obviously BOATS, duh!) legos, all that stuff is huge fun. You will all get wet so maybe an apron but eh, it's just water. Until you add soap bubbles! :)
posted by DarlingBri at 11:49 AM on December 31, 2007

Paint macaroni with poster paints and string together to make necklaces and bracelets for her and some friends (or mom).
posted by cocoagirl at 11:11 AM on January 2, 2008

-Beauty Shop (hairbrush, lip gloss)
-tea party with stuffed animals
-hide and seek
-sing songs with actions (Head & shoulders, knees and toes, Itsy bitsy spider, little rabbit foo foo)
-scrambled eggs are easy to make together.
-And I second floating things in the kitchen sink (adding food colouring to the mix doubles the fun)
posted by greedo at 9:24 PM on January 2, 2008

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