Gone are the good ol’ days when handing your child a coloring book or letting them loose in your back yard was enough to keep them stimulated and engaged for hours on end.
With today’s ever-growing entertainment industry and widespread media, we find ourselves chasing the newest model of every gadget and rushing to the store for this season’s hottest item. Even with all that, we’re still prone to the dreaded sentence: “Mom, I’m bored…”
We’ve done it all… read books on 100 ways to entertain your child, Google searched “things to play on a rainy day”, and even jumped into the gadget store to get some supplies for our new innovative game we came up with.
There’s just a small problem with these tactics: we find ourselves having to spend more money on supplies for each new game we prepare, having to think imaginatively about how to create these games, and having to take the time to actually prepare them!
Great. We’ve gone through all that and now we’re ready to entertain! It goes great for the day, maybe even for a whole week. Then what? … “I’m bored”
And the cycle repeats itself once again.
With our experience in the toddler world, here are four ways to keep your children stimulated in a cost-effective way.
1. “Hey Creativity, Come on Out!”
As a parent, we’re tempted to continually give our children the answers to everything. It’s in our parental nature because we only want the best for them. Whatever questions they have, we find ourselves caught up with answering them to the best of our ability.
Want the good news? That’s not what they need from us! Whether it has to do with homework they can’t solve, a word they don’t understand, or a boring day they have to deal with, trust us when we say: allow them to solve it. Instead of providing them with the answers they crave, guide them to answer their own questions.
When your child is looking for something entertaining to do, ask them what they would ideally like to play or do. Once they’ve contributed a few ideas, help them come with ways they can do those things within the space and supplies available. Now’s a great time for you to suggest some items that can be used and some ways to get it done!
Not only does your child have a game now, but they’ve:
1- Triggered the thought process and used their own creativity
2- Spent the time preparing the game on their own
3- Played the game
4- Felt accomplished and successful
You’ve also nurtured something priceless in them: problem-solving skills!
At Clay, our staff stresses on one thing: making each child’s visit feel totally different each time. They accomplish this by engaging with and responding to a child’s mood for the day. Are they totally digging the song that just played and want it louder? Great! Let’s make up a dance routine to it. Are they visiting with a group of friends? Bring on the competition games! Let’s go Team 1 and 2.
2. Get to Know the Imaginary World
What’s the best part of an imaginary world? It can change drastically with a snap of the fingers, it’s extremely unique to the person imagining it, and it’s free! The same space can be a jungle one day and a cave the next. It’s what you make of it.
We try this exercise with kids in our playground, and we use our play-unit for that because it has a great variety of obstacles. Here are some examples of how we set the scene for them:
Scene 1: There’s a piece of treasure lost inside and your job is to find it! We have an awesome prize for the hero who can do so. BUT, there’s one condition: you have to do it in slow motion! There are dangerous animals sleeping around and if you wake them they’ll come out to get you! (Our staff member can act like a lion chasing them whenever a child moves away from the rules of the game).
Scene 2: You’ve woken up and found yourself in a bank after hours and that’s forbidden! You need to get out as fast as you can without getting caught. Just one problem! Their laser alarms are activated! As you make your way out of the bank, make sure not to touch any walls or columns. At some points, you’ll have to jump up and at others you’ll have to slide under to avoid all the lasers beams.
3. The Wonders of Multi-tasking
Seat your child in front of the TV and they may stay there entertained for a while if something they like is on. Likewise, hand your child a coloring book with coloring pencils and that might keep them busy for a while (say… 20 minutes tops?).
However, couple both together and what do you get? A magical combination. Children have shorter attention spans than adults, so they need more to keep them engaged for long periods of time. When placing their play table and stool in front of the TV with a coloring book and pencils, you give your child the option to watch their cartoon for a few minutes, then look back down at their book to color when the TV scene is not too interesting for them, and then look back up at the TV when they please.
This combination comes with advantages too. Firstly, your child’s eyes aren’t hooked to the TV at all times which is better for their eyesight. Secondly, this works on your child’s auditory learning skills. When they’re coloring, they’re still listening to the TV and retrieving information from what’s on. This is your chance to slip in some educational shows! Thirdly, this combination teaches your child how to multi-task and be able to divide their focus to two things at once. Finally, (and this one’s for you mum!) this type of combo is relatively a quieter and calmer way of entertaining your child, so this is your chance to get things done like run some errands, do some house chores, or slip in that wonderful hot bath you’ve been dreaming of all morning!
4. “Mommy/Daddy for the Day”
Kids love to act like grown-ups (little do they know we’d love to have their place!). They enjoy dressing up like adults and acting like they’re going to work or to the supermarket. For those days when you’re both home, how about make them actual adults? Invite them to help you with all the tasks on your to-do list. Here are some ideas:
– Take them to the supermarket with you: ask them to lead you to the dairy section, introduce them to the different types of brands available, and allow them to choose one specialty food item they’re craving. To make the trip extra special, you may even treat them to a croissant at a nearby café!
– Allow them to tag along with you to the bank: teach them about money, how we use it, and what a bank does.
– Involve them in your cooking: they can hand you things from the fridge, add salt and pepper to the mix, and even do some mixing. Enjoying the meal together once it’s ready is a special way to teach your child about the direct relationship between hard work and great outcomes.
– Do the wash with them: this can be super fun for your child by giving them the task of choosing clip colors that match (or don’t!) for each clothing piece.
With this “game”, not only have you entertained them for the day, but you’ve indirectly taught them about duties and gotten them involved in doing chores. Starting this when your child is young will go a long way in instilling a mindset that recognizes the importance of responsibilities. It’ll make it easier years later when you ask them to keep their room clean and their desk tidy.
At our playground, kids often come on their own; without a group of friends to run around and play with. Our staff members become one of their best friends and sometimes even role models over time! We incorporate this role-playing game and introduce them to the different job tasks we have to do in a fun way, such as:
– Picking up all the blue balls around the playroom and getting them back into the play pen as fast as possible
– Blowing up balloons and tying them together
– Sorting the pink and blue water bottles
– Decorating the playroom shop together
– Taking care of a younger toddler and making new friends!