Toddler Play is Not My Forte


I know this is going to make me sound like a terrible mother, but I really, really hate toddler play. I love my child more than anything in this world, but the phrase “mommy, play with me” is one that I dread on a daily basis. Don’t worry, you don’t need to post any kind of hateful comments, I already loathe myself for it. The guilt and shame I already impose on myself is way more severe than you could ever possibly try to inflict on me.

So let me explain a little bit. It’s not that I hate playing with my child, it’s that I’m really terrible at it. When I think back to being a kid, I remember hating it then too. First off, I was never crafty. I loved to color and paint by numbers, but that was really the extent of arts and crafts for me. Creative play wasn’t really my thing either. When I would play dolls with friends, I never enjoyed making up scenarios out loud, or showing any kind of inclination to create a narrative. I just liked to quietly dress my dolls and play with their hair.

I must have been an absolute riot on play dates.

When I approached middle school and had to take art class, my teacher noted how much I genuinely disliked doing crafts, but how much I loved organizing the supplies, so she would let me straighten her messy desk and then sort all the paints and pencils by color. It was heaven. I didn’t have to touch my arch nemesis, glitter, and bonus, the art classroom was always neat and tidy. You might think I just hated getting messy, but it’s really not that at all. I just think some people aren’t wired for papier-mâché and pipe cleaners. I am one of those people.

Fast-forward to now, and my daily dilemma of entertaining my preschool-aged child. Of course we read, color, watch movies, play on the iPad, build things with Legos, mold Play-Doh, and exhaust all of the standard toys in the house. But I swear I read a new article everyday about how a child’s job is to play and how it’s my job to foster that play in a meaningful way. And that can be a challenge for someone who evidently never graduated beyond parallel play. And I still just don’t understand the appeal of making crafts. So, ironically, I’m having to get creative to come up with ways that allow me to not have to be creative, if that makes any sense. Obviously I’m still leaning as I go, but I have actually stumbled upon a few ways that allow me to encourage play that is fun for the both of us and doesn’t make me want to burn down my house because I find glitter in places where it definitely should not be (i.e. anywhere in the house). Again, don’t I sound like so much fun???

What is this chick smiling at? This is the stuff of nightmares!

So here are a few things that I’ve been suggesting lately when my son utters that famous phrase. Maybe these ideas will help you out if you also dislike crafty toddler play that involves scissors and glue or perhaps you simply aren’t particularly adept at creative, imaginative play:

Emoji Storytelling

This was something I stumbled upon by total accident. My son is currently obsessed with emojis, so one day we were looking through the Target dollar bin and I found a giant pad full of emoji stickers. At first, because I’m admittedly not a creative writer of fiction, we would just put stickers on a page, and that would interest my son for approximately five minutes. I know what you’re thinking: moving stickers from one page to another isn’t a blast for everyone??? But I happen to put a sticker of a princess next to a dolphin, and then next to that went a bank, and suddenly we had a story of a princess who turned into a mermaid, who had a pet dolphin that she rode into town to run errands. Okay, it’s certainly not the greatest story in the world, but my son thought I was frickin’ J.K. Rowling with my storytelling wizardry, and he now begs for emoji stories all the time.

Living Room Workouts

Now, working out with your child is not revolutionary, but for a mom who struggles to find her own personal motivation to workout, and for a child that needs activity and boredom-relief, it really can be a lifesaver. My son is always game, so I always make sure that I find a fast, cardio-heavy workout that will keep us busy. Dance workouts are great for this. I usually find a Popsugar Fitness YouTube video and put it up on the TV via our Roku, and it easily burns about 45 minutes, and hopefully a few calories as well. When I’m feeling super adventurous, I will try a few acro-yoga or partner yoga moves with him. I found a great article with pictures when we first started doing this, and the poses are beginner level, but really fun. 

Searching Pinterest

I am very careful to say “searching” Pinterest. What I mean is a targeted search with specific keywords that lead me to great ideas. I don’t mean scrolling aimlessly through Pinterest, getting depressed by all the beautiful projects that I don’t have the ability or patience to attempt. Pinterest can be really inspirational, but it can also be really depressing. Especially when you come across images of the ghosts of projects past that you actually did pin and then have the gall to attempt. But I have come to realize what a treasure trove it can be if you just hone in on what you’re after. I go straight to the search function and type in things like “preschool indoor activities” or “easy crafts for kids.” I’ve had a lot more success this way, and far fewer Pinterest fails. Some ideas we’ve tried and liked recently include: making snack patterns with things on hand like goldfish, raisins, m&ms, practicing writing letters using salt in a shallow dish or baking pan (I know what you’re thinking, salt? Isn’t it really messy like glitter? It is, but it doesn’t hang around for months like glitter. Bonus pro tip: salt vacuums up, glitter does not), and finding things around the house that begin with a certain letter on mini scavenger hunts. We have also done letter-based scavenger hunts with magazines or catalogs that come in the mail.

This is more my speed.

Like I said, I’m still learning how to play with my preschooler in a way that engages the both of us so that the “mommy, play with me” happens a few times a day instead of a few times an hour because my ideas are so boring an uninspired.

But I’m curious, do you have some great ideas for toddler play that you think might inspire other moms (like me?!) who need all the help they can get? If so, send them my way in the comments!


  1. Yes! I’m so glad I’m not the only one that feels that way. Thanks for posting about this. It was very helpful.

  2. I love the honest way Ashley has of bringing you into her world. As I watched my wife ( who had the
    Opportunity to part time work till our son was in preschool , I would watch in amazement as the two engage in “Mommy play time”
    We were blessed with our son and 8 years later, our joy was complete with our daughter.
    {ladies, men read these things , too} keeping that in mind, our son at 3,4,5, like Mrs Stein, I witnessed a lot of it from vantage point of my man cave or the home office. They would play kick ball, bouncing the crazy little balls that bounced FOR EVERYONE, we all had them. The two would throw them and with a 28′ ceiling it was like cardio play catch!
    Early around 4, he was interested in anything electronic. In “look mommie” moments he would demonstrate his command of the tv removes the early ones and with no cable he learned the spots to turn the remote powered antennas. Just to show off and hear the praise. Remote toys were next
    When our daughter came the two competed for play time attention even though our son was into early computers, brining our daughter along who to this day both grown up with families each
    I think that time with mom playtime morphed into the second religion in our home:: Fierce competition in “Jeopardy”.
    Best time to instill joy and accomplishment in a child is play time to learn that a game played well, becomes a life lesson. To get the accomplishment, a good person, loved and one who contributes to family and life, is well done creative play time with mommy where they grow as joyous and well grounded adults….and parents. A father’s view. Well done Ashley Stein, well done indeed.

  3. Being creative with imaginative play is hard. We offer take cues from books we read or tv/movies. Current fave of my 2 and 3 yr olds are reinacting Dr. Suess’s “Yertle the Turtle”. Also recommend the book “Room on the Broom.” We play birthday party a lot and decorate for a tv character’s birthday party and the kids find/wrap toys up as presents, make a pretend lunch/cake.
    My kids also oddly like to wash/clean things. We’ll wash cars, bikes, and windows, even the floor (just don’t expect their section to actually be clean when they are done), though scrubbing toys with soap bubbles is their fave (just make sure the toy can handle being submerged).

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