When you need to rest; quiet, engaging self-play activities for your toddler

We’ve all been there.  It’s 7 am, you wake up feeling (as usual), like you were hit by a truck.  You can barely stand up and brush your teeth, and your toddler is jumping up and down, full of energy (jealous much!?), asking you to play with them or worse… watch TV (cue ominous music).  You are still in survival mode, and turning on the TV sounds like a pretty darn good idea!  There’s nothing wrong with a little TV every once in awhile, but making a habit out of it, especially for children under three, can cause attention problems, and take time away that they could be using exploring their environment and being creative.  You don’t have to suffer to give these opportunities to your child; there are hundreds of options for quiet, engaging, fun, SELF-guided play for toddlers.  I’m going to share a few of my favorites!

"Playful Patterns" by Discovery Toys

“Playful Patterns” by Discovery Toys

Pattern Matching.

Pattern games help children learn to distinguish shapes, colors, and set the stage for learning ratios and fractions.  We found “Discovery Toys” original “Playful Patterns” set at a consignment shop for $10; It has easily become MY favorite toy in the house.  The set comes with 50 different cards, and 6 sets of different colored foam shapes.  Each card has a picture, either abstract, or a scene, like a boat, fish, a clown, ect.  The goal is to arrange the shapes to complete the image.  My son is obsessed.  When I’m not feeling well, I suggest he go get it and bring it to my bedroom, or sit by my recliner.  While he plays, I offer suggestions, guidance, and encouragement, and praise.  We are playing together, but its an activity I can do while laying down!  “Playful Patterns” retails for over $50; however, Melissa and Doug have a similar set for under $20, called “Pattern Blocks and Boards.”

Sewing cards.

This an activity that, once your child gets the hang of it, they can do completely on their own.  Sewing cards increase hand-eye coordination, dexterity, pattern recognition, and are the first steps to learning to sew!  There are dozens of options available; gender neutral, like animals, or sets designed specifically with boys or girls in mind.  I got my son a set of different local animals.. turtles, birds, cats, dogs, frogs, ect.  They are brightly colored, and come with rounded shoelaces perfect for little fingers! I couldn’t find the exact set I got online, but again, Melissa and Doug came though with their own “pets” sewing cards, which is fabulously priced at $9.99 and comes with a storage box!

Counting games. 

Anything that teaches number recognition and adding will give your child a leg-up in preschool, and set the stage for success and confidence in Math.  One of my favorites is the  “Go Fish Game with tackle box,” by Fisher-Price.  The child places cardboard fish upside down on the floor, and uses an adorable plastic fishing pole, complete with an adorable worm, with a suction cup on the end, to “catch” the fish.  Each player chooses a colored boat, and “fishes” for fish that match the color of their boat.  Each fish has a number on it, and after “filling” their boat, they add the numbers together to see who “caught the most fish.”  My son is 4, so we have an abacus to help him count the numbers together.  When I’m not feeling well, he catches fish for me as well, and we add the numbers up together.  This game usually is played with me sitting in the recliner with a cup of coffee, and him on the floor.  It takes about 45 minutes to complete the game, and by the time he’s done, my morning meds have kicked in, and I’m ready to get up!

When all else fails: educational, age appropriate tablet apps

Before you succumb to turning on the TV, try educational apps!  We use “Zoodles Kid Mode” (click the link for details and my full review).  The app allows you to create an all-inclusive environment for your child on your phone or tablet.  The app makes it impossible for your child to place phone calls, or purchase anything, it also prevents them from accessing anything for adult eyes only.  You can customize it with apps that you’ve downloaded yourself.  Some of my favorite apps are “Sid the Science kid Science fair,” which teaches the basics of scientific research, and the “Monkey preschool lunchbox” series, which teach math, reading, and science.

Parenting while living with chronic pain may be the hardest challenge you’ve ever faced; but there are lots of resources and activities out there to make it easier on you, and even fun!

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Elizabeth Christy

Elizabeth Christy is an author, writer, and IT professional living in Sterling VA. She lives with her husband James and 4 year old son, Jimmy. In addition to basic survival, Elizabeth enjoys reading, sewing, and nature. She also runs the nonprofit organization "Books and Bottles", which promotes reading to young children. (Facebook.com/booksandbottlesorg

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