Written by: Annie Baur (local CincyNanny)
I find that there are two major things that make spending all day with a toddler enjoyable: routine and choices. Routine makes them feel safe and makes them easier to manage because they know what’s coming next. Giving them choices helps them feel empowered and eases the power struggle a bit.
Toddlers thrive on routine, it makes them feel safe and it feeds their development. They’re figuring out cause and effect, they’re learning how to predict what comes next and it excites them to see it all in action. If they can predict that throwing a rock in water will make a huge splash, watching that happen gives them a thrill! That’s why they ask the same question over and over, they’re predicting your response and surging with satisfaction when they’re right. It almost becomes like a little addiction (much to our dismay, right?). So, planning a routine where they know what’s coming satisfies this thirst.
My daily schedule usually involves breakfast, activity, lunch, nap, snack, activity, cleanup/ wind down. For the summers, when none of the kids have school, I’ve created a weekly routine: Make Something Monday, Take a Trip Tuesday, Wet and Wild Wednesday, Think About it Thursday, and Fun with Friends Friday.
I make a big sign (with kids’ help) that lists our weekly schedule. This way we can look at it and talk about what is happening the next day (and the next and the next and the next). We fill the “activity” spaces on our daily schedule with something from the theme of the day. The specifics of what we choose is up to the kids!
Toddlers are also learning about the “self” and they long for some kind of control or power. Have you ever played red light green light and allowed one of them to be the leader? It’s like you’re transported into a dystopian apocalypse watching a tiny Napoleon burn everything you love to the ground. A big reason they argue about tiny things is because they’re discovering what it means to be their own person with their own likes, dislikes, and opinions but they’re stuck in a world where they’re totally dependent on someone else and they have little to no control over what happens to them day to day. It’s like you discover you have wings but then simultaneously discover you’re chained to a tree. I try to remember how hard it must be for them and empathize when they’re challenging me. This helps me respond with a kind heart.
Another way I preemptively approach this challenge is by giving them lots of choices and letting them feel like they do have some control over their day and more like the world is meant for them instead of excluding them all the time. So, on Make Something Monday, they can choose from an array of options. I usually keep plenty of art supplies and cooking supplies on hand and give them a list of possibilities. I try to collect great age appropriate ideas so I can easily jump into whatever they choose. For art or cooking projects, it’s important to allow the kids to do most or all of the tasks (with supervision). Some great options are painting, collages, cookies, smoothies, etc. Pinterest is always a great place to look for ideas.
Take a Trip Tuesday is a great day for a trip to the park or zoo, maybe a children’s museum or even the book store! It’s great to have one day reserved for an outing, this way you get a chance to get out and explore but it also helps the kids to understand that not EVERYday is going to be a big adventure. You can plan ahead by knowing that on Tuesdays, you’re for sure going to pack it up and go somewhere. This way too, if the kids have ideas for an outing on like a Friday, you can start planning for the following Tuesday. The best advice for these days is just to be patient and organized. Give yourself plenty of time and bring whatever you need along. Be consistent with boundaries and safety, don’t get overwhelmed and be sure not to skip naps or meals.
Wet and Wild Wednesday is best spent in a bathing suit! You can set up a sprinkler and water table in the yard or go visit a local spray ground. Research what is nearby so you can switch it up or give the kids a choice. I am sure to bring my own swimsuit even if we are only playing out back. The kids want you to play with them and it’s lame to say “no, I want to stay dry!”. Once again, planning one day a week to get wet gets you out of doing it everyday as it is an undertaking. Getting wet and then drying off, changing clothes several times, it’s just a lot of work so this way you aren’t saying no but you also aren’t doomed to do it everyday.
Think About it Thursday is a bit of a “down” day. A chance to chill. I usually tell the kids they can ask a question about the world and then we will research the answer. For example, a 4yr old asked “how do bees make honey?”. We went to the library and looked for books that may answer the question. We also looked on YouTube on the library computer for some information. A child of any age can have a library card. In Cincinnati they can have 6 books at a time and there’s no due dates or late fees. We have a special reusable bag where we keep all our library books so they are never strewn about the house and we typically exchange them each week. This is a great way to see what the kids are interested in and plan more activities around it! Maybe on Monday you can make drawings of bees or honey glazed granola! On Tuesday you could call around and maybe go visit a bee keeper (there is one in Northside that will give tours). I feel like this approach encourages them to ask questions about their world AND discover ways of answering their own queries. With any luck, school will be exciting and “doable” as opposed to daunting and foreign.
Fun with Friends Friday should be the chillest day of all. The last thing you want to do is wear the kids out and put them in a position where they’re exhausted and intolerable over the weekend. Their poor parents are already emotional about missing out on the activities during the week, it’s kind to help the kids get ready to have fun with their folks on the weekend. It also typically annoys me to be asked everyday to go hang out with “so and so” next door. This gives us one day where it’s ok to text the kids down the street and make a plan to hang in someone’s backyard. They can also choose to go on a walk with friends, maybe get the water out again, read some books rented from the following day, just kind of hang around and relax.
So, in conclusion, the big takeaways are routine and choices. Being organized and consistent helps you to be open to the kid’s ideas and interests. I’ve used this plan for 2 summers and found it really is well balanced. It’s just the right amount of chill time and adventure. If you’d like to see some of my ideas you can check out my Pinterest board “Annie The Nanny” or message me on Facebook!