[Note: These tips are from KFDC contributor, Emily Moise, mom of two little ones. Most of my strategies have been more for school age children, so Emily brings a fresh perspective to this new socially distanced world we’re all still figuring out how to navigate.]
If you’re like me, you’re seeing the plethora of virtual events, free online courses, streaming exercise classes, and binge-worthy TV recommendations, and thinking, “If only I didn’t have two toddlers!” Even though many of these offerings are geared towards preschoolers, a screen opens Pandora’s box for my nearly 3-year-old daughter and isn’t doable for my newly 1-year-old son.
Here are my social distancing survival tips for parents and caretakers of kids in the 1-3 range, using minimal or strategic screen time:
Change the scenery. Toddlers physically cannot stay in the house all day. It just ends badly. If it’s nice out and above 40 degrees we get outside (a nursery school rule), at least two times a day. Back yard, front yard, open field, tennis court, or “nature walk.” If stuck indoors, we change up the scenery there as well. Whether that’s making bath time a foam party, setting up a tent, or just moving playtime from room to room.
FaceTime. This was always part of our little ones’ routine for family in NYC, but now we’ve added friends, more family, and even a whole nursery school class to the mix. Using a smartphone as a phone feels good! Kids get to converse or listen to conversation, see friends they miss, and then we can hang up without them wanting to scroll or watch videos. If your preschool class has yet to schedule a live group chat, encourage them to do it! We used Lifesize.
Hone in on the distraction-proof activities. My child can do puzzle after puzzle only looking up for you to hand her the next one, but give her an easel and paint and she’ll be done, paint spilled in about two minutes. We haven’t given up on painting, but we are really playing up the things that give her laser focus to kill an hour. Tip: Search the Facebook Marketplace for more puzzles, Play-Doh supplies, etc. You won’t have to wait for shipping…just be sure to sanitize well!
Choose your parent-DIY activities wisely. There are so many crafty ideas for toddler activities circulating out there now—but some can take way more time to create than use. I recently discovered @busytoddler on Instagram and her ideas using stickers (like this one) was an aha moment for me. My daughter loves stickers, as in she loves to just peel them off one by one until the sheet is done—five minutes max. With @busytoddler guidance, I’ve since created sheets of words and landscapes for her to match stickers to.
Aim for 45-minute intervals. The majority of those gym and music classes our children cannot attend at the moment are just 45 minutes long. For us, on non-school days we would have one or maybe two classes/open gyms on the schedule. If we can set up one of our social distancing activities and go for 45 minutes, I consider that a win and there is less pressure on the rest of the day. This is a good way to think about digital activities like Cosmic Kids Yoga. You can also try starting an activity with 20 minutes of your own “circle time” using music like this.
Love thy neighborhood walks. When the workday is over, we’re likely strolling through our neighborhood with the little ones in a wagon. We find neighbors out on every block willing to have a 6 foot-separated chat, or giving the kids a friendly wave and smile—much needed, real-life face time! The sidewalk chalk art movement is making these walks even more cheerful for everyone. Tip: Search your toddler’s favorite characters on this drawing tutorial site and be amazed at your sidewalk art skills.
Lastly, find your child’s TV obsession and milk it for all it’s worth. My daughter is fan-girling over Paw Patrol at the moment. Our routine is to watch two episodes in the morning and two in the afternoon (~40 minutes total). So now that’s all she asks for rather than an endless stream of requests. If she asks for more we say, “But you already watched four Paw Patrols today!” —which sounds like a lot. We have a stash of activity and reading books to support the fandom without the need for more TV.
What are some of your strategies for this social distancing with toddlers? If you have some good tips to share, please do so in the comments!