As a mom of many (currently five and one on the way), I can tell you that some days are more stressful than others when it comes to juggling the needs of a range of children, especially when it comes to lessons. Sometimes the younger children are content to tag along in whatever we're doing at the moment, but other times they become disruptive—writing on their siblings papers, crawling on the tables and chairs, interrupting when someone is asking a question or when I'm giving an explanation.
|After laying out a "road of books", Evangeline plops beside her sister to watch her do her work.|
While I like the idea of busy bags, we don't really have a lot of space for extra stuff, and will have even less when we move into the smaller house we are building. So here are ten practical ideas that I use to keep my littles busy. I employ these ideas to keep just the toddlers busy, but sometimes my six-year-old is included in these activities as well so I can focus on my two older children.
We don't have a problem with little bitties sticking Lego pieces in their mouths, but you may. The littlest children have learned that the blocks aren't for chewing on by observing their older siblings, so this simply isn't an issue. Therefore I can pull out the boys' bin of Lego bricks and let the younger children go at them. Sometimes I will ask them to build me a pretty house to live in or make a Lego robot. If they dump all the Lego pieces out, it's no big deal. I have a tiny hand broom and dust pan that the girls love to use to scoop them all up. If regular Lego sets are an issue, maybe Duplo blocks are a better choice.
Whenever we make a trip to Costco, I make sure to bring some extra boxes home. While all the kids love playing with boxes, no matter what their age, the younger ones seem to enjoy them all the more. They can color on them, make little houses, and turn them into a hundred different things (a car, a baby bed, etc). Molly Jo likes to put her dolls in the plastic laundry bin and push it around. So, something as simple as a laundry bin or plastic storage bin can be great fun.
MOM'S TOYS ARE THE BEST TOYS
I have a small kitchen cabinet I allow my toddlers to play in. It's home to bibs, plastic kid plates and cups, and silicone baking cups (which are Molly Jo's favorite). Sometimes just giving them a bin of "Mom's toys", like whisks, wooden spoons, plastic or wooden bowls, cups, and is enough to occupy them for a good while. Sometimes I save the packaging that oatmeal, cereal, and other things come in for a couple days so the kiddos can enjoy them while I work with the older children.
We don't have a lot of dress-up clothes hanging around, but that doesn't mean our children don't enjoy playing dress up! Mom's closet is a big hit, and all of our children—no matter the gender—have enjoyed putting together silly outfits. The toddlers especially enjoy trying on my shoes and their big sister's shoes. Sometimes I give Molly Jo a bin of shoes to play with, which keeps her busy for a half hour! Scarfs, hats, socks, and belts can be used to make some mighty interesting outfits. Sometimes I gather different things in a bin and allow them to go at it.
COLORING & WORKBOOKS
This one seems pretty obvious, but I figure I should mention it anyway. When I am reading a book to our children, I will often give the younger children (and the older ones too, if they are interested) a coloring sheet to go along with whatever we're reading. When the older kiddos are writing memory verses, younger children can color a bible story picture. Young children who have taken an interest in writing may be interested in tracing words you have written in highlighter. They like to feel like they are part of whatever we are doing, so I try to come up with things that they can do that go along with our lessons. Inexpensive workbooks from Target's dollar section or Dollar Tree are great for little children. We actually aren't big into workbooks as part of our curriculum, but all my children enjoy doing them in their free time (seriously!) so I have bought a stack of workbooks for each child. Molly Jo and Evangeline will sometimes go through the older children's older workbooks and scribble on them. Keeps them busy!
Sometimes I throw a big blanket over the kitchen table or coffee table and put a few fun things on the floor underneath (books, dolls, etc) so the little ones can play in a fun space while the older children and I work together. This is a favorite activity... for all ages, really.
If you have a kiddo who is interested in puzzles, keep a few in rotation. Toddlers may really enjoy wooden puzzles, while the older they get, the more capable they are of doing more complicated ones. Dollar Tree has a bunch of good ones. We keep them in plastic baggies and only get out one at a time so pieces don't get mixed up.
WIPE BOX FUN
If you have a toddler, then you know how fun they seem to find pulling every single wipe out of the wipe box. So, take an empty box and fill it with all sorts of things. You can fill it with baby rags so they have colorful fabrics to pull out (or cloth wipes, for that matter), or you could put a variety of things in (small toys, Lego pieces, crayons) for them shake around, pull out, and put back in. It really is the simple things that seem to be the most fun!
Another simple one that often works well, even if it's only for 10 or so minutes. Sometimes I encourage the younger children to make cards for Daddy or for a friend, and give them some crayons, colored pencils, and stickers (or even stamps). There are sticker sets that are similar to paper dolls, allowing your child to put together cute little outfits and accessories. Buying a special notebook to use as a sticker book might be helpful.
All of my children have loved playing with magnets as toddlers. You can buy magnetic numbers and letters, get fun magnet clips to clip papers to, and even make your own magnets (check out Hobby Lobby or Michael's for adhesive magnets). You can find or make magnet dolls or silly faces. You can laminate photos and stick magnets on the back for children to move around. If your fridge is not the sort that magnets stick to, use a pan (Dollar Tree!). If you don't like having a lot of clutter on your fridge, have the kiddos put the magnets in a wipe box or special bin when they are done.
And there you have it, ten simple ideas that don't require too much work on your part and have the ability to keep kids busy! Plus, you don't have to spend lots of money (if any at all) to do most of these. Even my older children enjoy many of these activities! You might find that a lot of the time your littles are content to hang out and look at books or play with math manipulatives along with their older siblings. I always try to include them in what we are doing, but if that just isn't working, I have these ideas in my back pocket!
Of course, it's always nice when they decide to take a nap!
What are some of your favorite, simple ideas for keeping preschoolers busy?