Living in Ireland often presents challenges to entertaining a 2 year old due to the, let's call it dependable rain. Our eldest child turned 2 in February and in the last 6 months has taken to loving the great outdoors with all its wonders. Let's face it, the boundaries of the explorable universe of the home are probably reached in the months of crawling and early walking. Our two year old looks at the outside world with the same amazement as she did when she first became mobile indoors.
After a pretty wet few months it became quite frustrating to be faced with wet weather and having to try and explain to our child that we couldn't go and play outside. We found it a particularly difficult task as a parent because she wanted to do something that should by all means be encouraged. Trying to avoid the trap of easy visual entertainment on TV, we tried to figure out ways to provide entertainment that would create a level of physical exertion and mental challenges, rather than the profoundly mindless TV entertainment.
While we do let her watch TV from time to time, we have certainly found that eating and sleeping patterns end up disrupted because watching TV simply doesn't burn off enough physical and mental energy. So actively entertaining our child was the solution, but it presented yet another challenge. Kids will quite happily play with one toy for hours, but for an adult this is extremely mentally draining.
Through a period of trial and error we finally managed to figure out a set of games, toys and books that would provide physical exertion and an educational experience, while at the same time not being mentally exhausting to us parents. What I want to do in this how-to article is quickly share with you our experience of how we found a way to fill several hours indoors and list some of the entertainment most popular with our two year old.
As already mentioned, playing with the same toy or game for long periods of time can be quite a task for an adult. The trick then is to identify as many games as possible and play each one for 20 minutes to half an hour. Below I list 7 games that are popular in our house, which can easily fill 4 hours.
Now to our favourite forms of entertainment:
1) Jigsaw puzzles
These seem to be one of the favourites and have turned out to be the best way to get our child to not look for the TV when bored. Over the past months we have bought several different ones which provides a bit of diversity. The main benefits we see from this include learning to concentrate, spatial awareness and hand eye coordination. It is amazing to see the mental development that is achieved with these puzzles over several weeks and months.
2) Hide and seek
Or simply "hiding", seems to be a game that is spontaneously started. While it is not as physically straining as the next point it has proven to be a great source of laughter. She always hides in the same place, but she still seems to get a huge kick out of being out of sight and silly dad pretending to be looking for her in the wrong places.
This is probably one of the best ways to physically wear out a 24 year dad, but it also makes a 2 year tired. The best place for this is a long hall way or large room where you space to run, but even lots of short runs in smaller spaces should do the trick. "Catch me more" is what we often hear along with yelps of joy. This can be very well combined with hide and seek.
4) Stickers and Drawing
How stickers can provide for entertainment is beyond me but combined with drawing pictures it does seem to fill a void. We picked up a large book of sheets of different stickers (butterflies, flowers, animals, shapes, etc.) in a office and stationary shop so there are always some at hand. For the drawing I would suggest getting the largest crayons you can find, as these are easier to handle.
Also known as "play with blocks" in our home, is probably one that most fathers actually enjoy, I certainly do. It brings back memories from my childhood where on a daily basis I would empty out a large box of Lego pieces and start building whatever came to mind. Our little one enjoys building towers and houses, and it is incredible to see how much her dexterity has improved.
6) Ball Games
Another fantastic source of laughter, but you have to make sure that you have very soft balls, ideally foam. Now, I'm not going to suggest something like play catch with a dog, but ball games definitely have the advantage of being quite physically active with a good dose of laughter as well. What seems to entertain our child is when she throws the ball and I pretend to not be able to quite catch it and do something silly like fall over or bounce the ball off my head. I actually managed to keep this going for 40 minutes one day without getting bored myself; her belly laughs were just too funny to notice time.
7) Books (physical and iPad)
This is usually one we do last, as it helps in the wind down mode especially before meals or bed time. As our child has become more and more fascinated with books we have found the best way is to get children's books from the library. Despite this, she often goes back to the same favourite books. In addition to physical book we have found some great interactive books for the iPad, like Red Riding Hood. What these do is combine the reading of the spry with little games that even I enjoy. One thing we find helps as well is to get the child to act out the story, as it some more interaction and imagination.
These are just samples of games, but are by far the most popular in our house. It should give you an idea as to how you can go about creating a list of things for child entertainment. Having a list of games like this definitely makes the whole experience less monotonous for parents, as any combination can be made to suit the day.
The biggest reward for the efforts put in came one severely wet day, when at bedtime my two year old turned to me and said "Having a great day Daddy" and gave me a big hug. That makes it all worthwhile.