I got an email from a reader today, asking what sort of things our toddler does with his time, particularly since we don’t have a TV. I thought I’d share some of what we do, in case other readers are looking for ways to occupy a small child without TV or expensive toys.
I’m very lucky in that my husband and both work from home. When our son was born, I cut back to only about three or four hours of work for our business each day – the rest of my time is devoted to our son and our household. My husband has his office set up in our basement, and we keep the stairs blocked off so that our son stays on the main level with me during the day. We have childproofed the kitchen/living room/dining room area, and put childproof covers on the doorknobs leading into the other rooms. That way he’s always in the same area with me during the day. When I go outside to water the garden or hang up laundry, he goes with me, and entertains himself by playing in the dirt, gathering stones, stacking flower pots… we have a 3/4 acre backyard, so there’s always plenty for him to do out there.
In the house, we keep it pretty simple, which means he gets ample time to use his imagination. He loves to play with my pots and pans. He will entertain himself for long stretches to time by taking every pan and lid out of the cupboard, and carrying them one by one into the living room, where he sets them on the coffee table. Then he gathers whatever containers he can find, and pretends to pour or shake “ingredients” into the pans. Then he gets some utensils (I let him have save ones like spatulas and wooden spoons) and stirs his imaginary soup. I guess he’s spent plenty of time watching me cook!
We have a fairly large collection of board books, thanks to my friends at the library where I used to work (they had a book shower for me before our son was born). He likes to climb up into the recliner and “read” his books. He’s always thrilled if we join him, but he’s also happy to just flip the pages and look at the pictures.
Every day, unless the weather is really horrendous, I take our son and our dog for a walk, usually for about an hour. Sometimes we use the stroller, sometimes the Moby Wrap. Our son loves to point out cars and dogs and airplanes – pretty much anything that moves. We also go to the playground if the weather is nice.
We keep a box of toys in the living room, and he likes to dump them out and make up games to play. They are all simple toys, mostly gifts from his grandparents, and a few wooden toys that we’ve picked up at thrift stores. We also made a play area down in the basement in my husband’s office, using one of those super long sectional baby gate/cage things (my husband found it in a dumpster, and it’s in perfect shape). We keep another box of toys down there, and in the evenings while I do yoga, my husband takes our son down to his play area in the basement, and they hang out together. They are both happy for long periods of time just tossing a ball back and forth, so they do that a lot.
We keep a third box of naptime toys in our son’s room, in the closet. Every day, when I put him down for his nap, I put the naptime toys in the crib with him. He plays with them for a few minutes before he falls asleep. Since we started this trick a few months ago, we haven’t had any fuss at all during naptime (he used to cry or need to be nursed to sleep for his nap). The naptime toys are just toys that I gathered up from his other boxes – nothing special, but because he doesn’t see them all day, he’s interested in them when he does see them.
Our son has never watched TV. We had one until he was about 11 months old, but we never turned it on while he was awake, so as far as he knew, it was just a black box. Now that we don’t have one at all, his days are automatically taken up with other things. He’s never seen commercials, so there’s no desire on his part to have any new toys or gizmos. Nothing we have is fancy, but our son is happy pretty much all of the time. Thus, we’re going on the “if it ain’t broke…” theory.
We don’t have our son enrolled in any sort of programs or structured activities. We go to the library, but I haven’t enrolled him in story time yet, mainly because we go at different times every week, whenever I can fit it in around the rest of my schedule. We see other kids at the playground, and I get together every now and then with a friend who has a toddler, for a playdate. My honest opinion is that kids just need love, lots of laughter, toys that let them use their imagination (stuff from the recycle bin works just fine), and a secure environment. I’m not a fan of structured activities for preschool age kids. I also like to keep our life as low-stress as possible, and not trying to juggle a bunch of outside commitments for a toddler helps to keep it that way.
That’s our life with our son. It’s simple, very inexpensive (mostly free), low-stress, and lots of fun. I often find myself on the floor, driving “cars” (blocks) around the carpet, making vroom-vroom sounds, and realizing that nothing could make me or my son any happier.