It’s only January, and I don’t know about you, but I’m already over this winter. I drive past the park and gaze longingly at the swings and pine for the warm days when running out my toddler’s endless energy was easy and my house didn’t end up a disaster zone by the end of the day. Dayton has fantastic indoor options for running out toddler energy, but with endless runny noses and coughs and weather forecasts with numbers like “4” as a high, there are days where it’s just best to stay in. Entertaining a toddler for 12 hours can be a challenge, but we have come up with some creative ways to make the days more fun and engaging.
Here’s a few of our favorites:
- Let loose and let them get a little messy.
Put shaving cream on their play table and show them how to draw pictures in it.
Fill bins with sensory objects like dry rice, cooked spaghetti, cotton balls, or wine corks and let your child play and experiment (I like to do this inside the baby pool for easier cleanup).
Put a little food coloring in yogurt, put it on a highchair tray and let them play/eat.
Cover the floor in butcher paper, put some paint on it and let them finger (or foot) paint. Bonus Fun: wrap your child’s feet in bubble wrap and let them walk around in the paint.
- Make your own snow. By kneading together baking soda and shaving cream, you can make your own “snow.” Build fake snowmen with toothpicks for arms, raisins for eyes, and candy corn for a nose. Alternative recipe: 8:1 ratio of flour and baby oil.
- Make a Fort. Have tons of leftover shipping boxes from online holiday ordering? Rig them together with shipping tape to create a fort or maze in the living room. Bonus fun: Let your kids decorate it with markers, stickers, or other craft supplies.
- Bring the sidewalk chalk indoors. You can purchase a good size chalkboard at most craft stores for just a few bucks. Hang it on the wall or just let them play with it in the floor. Bonus Fun: if you have a space in your home, paint an area with magnetic chalkboard paint to create a permanent indoor chalkboard.
- Create a Ziploc bag painting. Put paint inside of a large Ziploc Bag. Release all the air and seal the top tightly. Tape the bag to the table or to a window and let your toddler use his/her fingers to create designs in the paint. Instructions here. Bonus Fun: Mixing water, a little vegetable oil, and a few drops of food coloring also makes this fun.
- Have fun with music. Make your own instruments. An empty water bottle with some rice or beans makes a great shaker. A bread pan and some rubber bands makes a “guitar.” Empty coffee containers make great drums. Or put some fun music on, move the living room furniture, and have a dance party.
- Burn some energy. Some kids love to mimic yoga or aerobics exercises and in that case, a more traditional adult workout video might be something you can do with your toddler. If that’s not your kid, there’s tons of “kid workout” videos out there. Our favorite is Fitness Blender (25 minutes of kid “games” to burn energy) or doing the motions to our favorite nursery rhymes on Mother Goose Club (also available on Netflix).
- Bake up some goodness. Whip up some brownies, decorate cookies, or let your kids shake the powder sugar bag to make puppy chow. Nothing shakes the winter blues like a little fun in the kitchen. If your little one is feeling under the weather, you could make smoothies or energy bites instead to boost vitamins and immunities. Bonus Fun: Share the love by having your child make a card and then deliver some of your baked goodies to friends, neighbors, or the local fire department.
- Plant an indoor garden. Winter is actually a great time to start growing lots of plants, and it’s a fun long-term project that can become a part of your daily routine. Just get some seeds, pots, planting soil, and a watering can and get to planting! Try planting carrots, cherry tomatoes, lettuce, kale, or spinach. Herbs also grow great indoors. With a grow light or sun room, you can grow even more. Do your research to know what conditions work best, but this can be a great way to teach your children where their food comes from and get them interested in trying new foods.
- Bring the snow inside. Kids want to play in the snow, but you don’t want to put on all that gear and stand out in the cold? Grab some buckets and bring it inside. The bathtub is a great place to play so you can warm them up afterward and there’s minimal cleanup, but a small baby pool or even a large bowl or cookie sheet work great too. Bonus Fun: Make snow ice cream!
1/2 cup half & half or whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups (or more) clean snow
Mix together the milk, sugar, and vanilla until sugar is dissolved. Add in the snow and stir until ice cream consistency forms. Store in a freezer bag or eat immediately. Garnish with chocolate syrup, sprinkles, or other favorite toppings.