Fun for Shut-Ins: Entertaining Toddlers Indoors With A Minimum of TV. And Tears (Yours, Theirs, Whatever)

Given the recent hurricane, Nor’easter, and then weeks of lingering colds, we’ve really gotten back into touch with our playing-indoors-skills. Now,if she could help it, Harper would always be inside, walking in a circle and telling herself a story. No, she is not insane, she’s creative and that is totally different. But Ollie wants to be outside, bouncing a ball and screaming “WHOA!” every moment of his life. So the inside thing is a bit of a challenge. But sometimes you just have to, and in case this should happen to you, here are some things that have helped me to avoid the “holy crap there’s still 9 hours until bedtime” terror-shakes.

4:30am: Up and attem, early birds! Just because daylight saving’s ended doesn’t mean we have to squander those delicious mornings of freezing pitch black when there is no one to play with and nothing to do! On an inside day, the savvy mom makes everything way more difficult for herself than usual, so breakfast should be Fun, like waffle faces, or green scrambled eggs. Drink as much coffee as possible as you eat the kids’ leftovers- you’re going to need it!

The rest of the day, think of yourself as an adhoc preschool. I like to alternate periods of freeplay (until someone is injured or a significant amount of Harper’s hair has been yanked out of her head), arts and crafts, manipulatives, and frequent snack times. The challenge for me is to find things that both the 3 year old girl with the fine motor skills and enormous attention span AND the 1.5 year old boy with the wild thing mentality and tendency toward flinging can do together.

Here’s what works for us:

Edible Crafts. Because let’s face it, the crafts get eaten whether they are edible or not. Peanut Butter Playdough is a favorite around here and about 40% of Harper’s total nutritional intake. Finger painting with jello and/or dyed yogurt are also big hits. ( I never imagined food dye would be such a crucial ingredient in the rearing of human young. ) Same for colored spaghetti, with, which a selection of cups, entertained Ollie for almost 20 minutes- a record! Painting with water on the chalkboard is also always a winner. Yes this is filed under edible. Yes, chalky water is apparently quite refreshing. And this one is – bonus – not messy!

Playing in the Sink. A classic around here. As a bonus, the floor gets a thorough soaking which I think counts as mopping, right?

Dolly Birthdays. We got lucky and it just so happened that Special Baby’s birthday coincided with a day of freakish snowstorming. We printed out dolly invitations (from, just scaled them smaller) and made decorations and goodie bags during baby-nap. Tiny cupcakes are a crucial part of this.

Movie Night. As a very special treat (because a random birthday party isn't enough), we had an unprecedented afternoon movie night, complete with popcorn (which a friend later told me is a huge choking hazard so really it's amazing we survived!!), cuddling up, and an episode of Wonder Pets. I try to do as little tv as possible, especially for Ollie, but I figure every once in a while it's ok, and by that I mean Mama was starting to twitch.

Dance Party. Always. Our favorite is Jackie Wilson. Though I have been told I am a better singer than Jackie Wilson! I can't say by whom.

What didn't work: I won't go into details because it's too traumatic to relive, but regular finger paints were a disaster. And as many times as I've tried to convince Harper that sorting dried beans is fun, she does not believe me. Trying an obstacle course for burning off energy didn't work either, devolving immediately into a scene reminiscent of The Hunger Games, with couch-jumping.

End the day with smiley-face monster pizzas, shaving-cream-painting and/or colored ice cubes in the bathtub, and by the time your spouse comes home there will be no food in the house, a huge mess in every room, and you will be asleep in your child's bed unable to even form sentences! Charming.

But just imagine the relief when the weather lets up and your pale blinking shut-ins can leave, and you get to take them to an indoor playspace where they can bounce off padded walls while you ignore them and write a blog post on your phone!

Good luck this winter. We're all going to need it.











PS: Sorry for the random placement of photos. Like I said, on the phone. Modern, I know.

4 responses to “Fun for Shut-Ins: Entertaining Toddlers Indoors With A Minimum of TV. And Tears (Yours, Theirs, Whatever)

  1. Oh Amy you crack me UP!! Makes me laugh and cry at the same time in an sad ironic kind of way. I can’t say I’ve been so creative with the cooking and crafts because I’m just too mess averse and lazy (and the truth is, my kids watch more TV than I care to admit), but I have squirted food coloring in the bubble bath and done some other crazy things to avoid excess TV watching, like raising butterflies and praying mantids and letting them loose in our apartment. And yesterday? Live Frog Dissection. With my dad. In my kitchen. For real. Four squealing kids poked and prodded the poor froggy’s innards while I sipped tea in bed and read non-fiction. Yep, welcome to my world…

    • Oh thank you! I don’t like messes either, to tell you the truth. But it seems to me that everything is a big freaking mess either way, so might as well make it a fun mess? Maybe? I think the butterflies sounds totally amazing, like they will remember it someday as an enchanted mysterious dream. The frog dissection is scary. But sipping tea and reading, I think I’d do anything that would let me do that!

  2. Holy heck, look at Ollie’s beautiful hair!
    All of these are such great ideas!

    • Thanks! We’re all a little obsessed with his hair. Everyone thinks he’s a girl. But when I gave him a trim the other day Harper wrung her hands nervously and made me promise not to cut off “his boingy boingy curls”…

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