During the month of March, it was recommended for families to start social distancing, so like many families, we went into isolation. This meant staying home 24/7 — no trips to the store, no park or play-dates, and no classes to be attended. Our world — my toddlers’ world — was turned upside down.
To be honest, our days took quite a bit of adjusting to. Although I am a full-time SAHM with two little ones, it was easy for all of us to feel a tad overwhelmed. My children and I were used to having scheduled toddler activities and play-dates. My toddler did not understand why we suddenly could not play with her friends or go places.
My full-time working mom friends were suddenly having to adjust to working from home, while taking care of their toddlers; I can’t even begin to imagine how overwhelming that would be.
No matter what role you have, I hope this post will be helpful to you in gaining ideas on how to keep your toddler happy and busy, so you can get some things done and maybe even five minutes to yourself.
While it took time to adjust to our new routine, we ended up managing to find a new flow. What I found to work best for our family was a block schedule. It allows us to have a routine, but it isn’t rigid. The schedule just helps our day flow. My toddler knows what to expect and is encouraged to have independent play-time throughout the day, while enjoying lots of fun toddler activities.
Let’s talk more about a block schedule. Basically, it means chunks of time in categories. It’s simple enough where I don’t have to overthink it and my toddler grasps the concept. Please note: This exact routine may not work for your child/family (because we’re all different!), so mix it up and cater it to your family.
Our Typical Quarantined Day
- Free Play/Mommy Makes Breakfast (Kids Wake Up!)
- Breakfast Time & Playtime with Daddy before he goes upstairs to work
- Books, Blocks, & Music Time (8:30am)
- Snack & Screen-Time (9:30am)
- Craft Time/Activity (10am)
- Lunch (11:30am)
- Free Play/Outdoor Time
- Quiet time (1pm – 3pm)
- Snack & Screen-Time (3pm)
- Activity/Outdoor Time (3:30pm)
- Music Class (4pm)
- Supper (5pm)
- Free Play/Bath (5:30pm – 6:45pm)
- Bedtime Routine: clean up toys, potty, brush teeth, read books, and pray. My baby and toddler go to bed at 7pm
Here are the nitty gritty details…
After breakfast and “da-da” goes to work, we have “Books, Blocks & Music Time.” Basically, we gather a few books, music instruments (you can really use anything from kid music toys to a bowl and wooden spoon), and blocks. We do not always do the same thing during this time, but it always involves these toys. On most days, we read a book and sing a song that relates to the book; my nearly one-year-old and three-year-old both love this time. Example: We read “Barnyard Dance” and then sing “BINGO.” Typically, we read three to five books. Afterwards, we build whatever our imagination desires with blocks. The cool thing about blocks is that there are so many different types: wooden letter blocks, Mega Blocks, Lego blocks, etc., so you can easily change it up daily.
You can also change this activity to “Books, Balls, and Blocks” time if you need to burn more physical energy. Playing basketball, throwing balls into bins, playing indoor bowling, etc. are all great options. I encourage you to check out the research behind this specific play.
This activity can easily be turned into a more independent activity too. Set up your toddler with the said items (e.g. books, balls, blocks, instruments) in stations around your living room. Explain to them that it is time to for “x,y,z,” It may take them time to build up playing independently, but that is to be expected.
It’s a controversial subject, but my toddler gets 30+ minutes of screen-time at least twice a day. I use this time to put my other child down for his nap, but my toddler looks forward to her screen-time, which she receives after “Books, Music, and Blocks” time and quiet time. Screen time used to be battle; she always asked for it. Since sticking to this routine, she knows when to expect it. She gets a choice to choose a show or play her tablet (we’re big fans of Khan Academy and Bible for Kids app).
While my toddler is finishing up screen-time, I set up the next activity. Typically, I have an idea of two to three activities to do during this time because, as we all know, toddlers can make activities last for five seconds or thirty minutes. These are activities that I can do with her or set her up a “station” and let her have fun, while I get some tasks done. Activities during this time would be an arts and crafts activity (paint, markers, coloring, glue, stickers, scissors), play-doh, a sensory bin, a preschool learning activity, board game, puzzles, or we go outside.
During free play, my kids gets to play whatever! Let me be completely honest: my house is a mess. Toys are EVERYWHERE, which is “fine, everything is fine” because we have clean up time before we transition to nap-time. It’s important to me that my toddlers learn to be responsible for their things. If you’re toddler struggles with clean up time, try turning on a clean up song or make it into a game to see who can clean up the fastest.
You may be thinking, “But my toddler doesn’t nap.” My oldest toddler rarely naps, so we set boundaries and implemented her nap-time to be “rest time/quiet time.” She knows that she is supposed to stay in her room, preferably in her bed. She can sleep, play quietly, or read books. I can tell a huge change in her demeanor if she does not have this alone time. It’s amazing how a little alone time can allow us to recharge. I know as an adult I benefit greatly from alone time.
Around 4pm, when I need to start supper, my toddlers participate in a free online music class through the Chattanooga Public Library’s Facebook page. The highly interactive class is 30-40 minutes long. They sing, dance, learn sign language, read books, and so much more during this time!
Independent Playtime & Activities for Toddlers
- Popsicle baths: Bath time can be anytime when you have a toddler. It’s basically an indoor pool to them. My toddler thinks it’s the most amazing treat to have a popsicle in the bathtub.
- Pretend to cook: Give your toddler some of your baking bowls, measuring cups and spoons. You can let them play with cheerios, noodles, beans, etc. They will have tons of fun mixing, scooping, and measuring.
- Make a magical reading fort. It’s magical because my child actually will spend an hour in here. It’s just a blanket over the table. I like to stash the tent with things like activity and flap books, a magnetic drawing pad, a flashlight, and a snack.
- Sensory bins: These can be made out of anything! We like to use rice and beans, kinetic sand, and water beads. If you buy containers, you can easily store the sensory bins you make and pull out a random one when you are on a hunt for an easy activity.
- Play-Doh: You can make it or buy it, but I prefer to purchase the $10 Play-Doh sets. Each one is a different theme, so we have multiple exciting options when it’s play-doh time.
- Set up an art station: While using a large roll of white paper, I cover my child’s activity table. I will give her washable paint, markers, stamps, stickers, OR crayons to decorate and make art with. Giving my toddler 1-2 art tools help keep my toddler from burning through the project (and our supplies) too quickly.
- Wash Toys: If your toddler has a ride on toy, let them wash it! Fill up a bowl with soapy suds and give them a toothbrush (less likely to drip water everywhere versus a washcloth). Park the car under a towel and voilà: their very own car wash. This activity can really be used with any toys that are washable (race cars, little people, etc.).
- Utilize online toddler classes through Kindermusik or the Chattanooga Public Library.
- Check out these posts on 25+ indoor toddler activities and over 50+ activities for summer boredom busters.
- Additional ideas can be found on great websites like Busy Toddler, My Bored Toddler, Little Ones Learn, and Montessori for Kids.
Day after day in isolation can be draining, but this routine has helped our days flow better. Due to this new normal, I’ve lowered my expectations of our days and it’s okay if you do too. We are all adjusting and trying to get through this time — us and our toddlers. We both miss our friends, play-dates, and shopping trips and we will get through this time together.