Don’t get me wrong. I ADORE my daughter and cannot believe I’m so lucky to be able to spend this time with her, but every so often I find myself feeling bored with doing the same old things with her. Sometimes the daily routine and seemingly endless cycle of diapering, feeding and putting to sleep of my 10-month-old becomes less enjoyable than I know it can be. Several years of working with children, especially the younger ones, has taught me that children are far more open to experiences and the enjoyment and learning that comes from them when their caregivers are excited and eager themselves. Something that can be hard to achieve if nothing changes in the day-to-day routine.
That’s why I love to bring my little hamster anywhere where there might be other people that are happy to see her. Every time I bring my daughter around a new face that’s actively engaging with her, I pick up or am reminded of a new game, song, or way of interacting with her that I can incorporate into our day to make things a little more interesting for the both of us.
So if you’re in the same boat as me, looking for ways to spice up your boogie-wiping, head-bonk calming baby and toddler days, here are a few simple things to do with your baby or toddler.
Ever since she was a month or so old, we started showing and reading books to our peanut. The turning of pages and new, interesting images on each page really grab her attention. Looking at books together gives us the structure of the book to fall back on when Mommy or Daddy are feeling less than creative, and gives us a chance to calm down and be still, if even for a few minutes. Keeping board books on low shelves around our home gives our little one the option of finding and pulling out the books by herself (an activity all on it’s own), then she can flip through them independently, giving me a chance to fold laundry or put together some food uninterrupted.
To keep our stash of books fresh and exciting, we visit the library every three weeks (the amount of time you can keep a book without renewing) to return the old books and find some new ones. Making a trip to the library is a great way to spend some time together, looking at books, watching people, and checking out the toys in the children’s corner.
It’s likely you’ve already discovered that your little one excels at pulling freshly washed laundry from the bin, or emptying every drawer, box, or shelf they can get their tiny hands on. Harness that energy and let them build on this skill of moving things from place to place by setting out a container filled with baby-safe items and letting them take everything out. It can be as simple as a basket of lone socks, or a bin of interesting toys or pieces of material for them to explore as they take each item out.
Although it’s probably already a go-to, the giggles I get from hiding and reappearing are priceless. To keep this game interesting, try different ways of hiding and let your child be the one to find you. Crawl out of sight behind some furniture and wait for baby to come get you. Find a big blanket or a hat and cover yourself so your little one can uncover you, building on fine and gross motor skills and continuing to learn about object permanence. Leave the blanket out for the babe to try hiding their self.
Beyond being intriguing for baby to hear your voice making a melody (whether you find it pleasant or not) and to watch you make repetitive actions for baby to try mimicking, singing is a wonderful way to provide early literacy for the very young. Early literacy in a term used to describe the skills children need to acquire, from infancy to age five, in order to be ready to learn how to read when they get to school. Repetition is important for young children to learn and become familiar with songs (and every other facet of life), so try to sing each song a few times in a row to give your little one a chance to figure out what to expect from the song.
There is no shortage of songs for children, and you can find a wealth of them by surfing different early learning websites and youtube, as well as in books at the library. For convenience, I have listed mostly classics that you might already know from your childhood, but I encourage you to go out and find some new songs for you and your little one to learn and enjoy. Here is a good place to start.
If You’re Happy and You Know It – Clap your hands, stomp your feet, shout hooray, do all three, and make the song your own by adding in your own verses and actions.
Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes – I like this song because you are building a knowledge of the parts of their own body. Learning about yourself is fascinating, and knowing the language for body parts will help with dressing, directed moving, and explaining “what hurts” in the future.
Five Little Ducks – For some reason my babe finds the “quack” sounds very entertaining. You could use your fingers as the number of ducks going and coming, or if you happen to have a few rubber duckies around, singing this song with props makes a lovely activity and gives small ones an opportunity to build on their understanding of what a duck might look like, sound like, and the concept of going away and coming back. If you don’t know the tune (albeit there are MANY variations of every kid song and all of them are fine), you can listen to the version I know here.
Old MacDonald Had a Farm – Animals and all their noises are a favourite theme for many little ones. There are so many different animals to sing about – cow, horse, duck, chicken, rooster, donkey, dog, cat – or if you grow weary of the norm, try some more exotic animals that you can think of. And again, if you have some stuffed animals or animal toys, bring them out and sing about them while your child explores each one.
Maybe you’re not feeling comfortable carrying a tune. That’s alright! There are a lot of options for fingerplays, which are essentially rhymes for children with actions using their hands and fingers to increase dexterity while having fun. In fact, you could use any of the songs mentioned above without a tune if you wanted. Again, here are some of the classics, but I encourage you to seek out some new ones that you find interesting.
Round and Round the Garden
Get your child to hold out their hand, palm up, and start drawing a circle on their palm with your finger as you say:
Round and round the garden, goes the teddy bear.
One step, two steps (“walk” your fingers up baby’s arm)
Tickle under there! (Tickle baby’s armpit).
This Little Piggy – Who can resist those little toes? If your family is vegetarian or vegan, switch up the words so that the piggy “has tofurkey” instead of roast beef, or whatever is relevant to your family. Make these rhymes your own!
This little piggy went to market, and this little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy had roast beef, and this little piggy had none.
And this little piggy went wee wee wee all the way home (Tickling under arms ensues).
Patticake – A very classic old favourite. I like to use hand-over-hand with my babe to make this one more exciting (especially the rolling part).
Patticake, patticake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can.
Pat it, and roll it, and mark it with a “B” (or your child’s first initial if you like)
And put it in the oven for baby and me.
Open, Shut Them – Grasping and releasing are two different skills, and this simple fingerplay practices both. Follow the words with appropriate hand gestures. I have a tune to this one, but it works just as well without.
Open, shut them. Open, shut them. Give a little clap, clap, clap.
Open, shut them. Open, shut them. Lay them in your lap, lap, lap.
Creep them, creep them. Slowly creep them, right up to your chin, chin, chin.
Open up your little mouth, but do not let them in. (Hide fingers behind you quickly before they get to babe’s mouth)
Put on your favourite tunes and boogie with your baby. You’ll expose your baby new sounds and rhythm, get some exercise, and enjoy some close bonding time. Choose some different styles of music to offer a broad range of sounds and tempos. You can hold the little one in your arms, hold onto hands of a toddling child, or give yourself some space and let them watch while you get a groove on. My husband shakes his head when he sees this, and is worried that our daughter needs to avoid learning my sweet moves, but we’re all smiling and laughing and enjoying our time. And the wonderful thing about young children is that they don’t judge.
Try not to get stuck using the excuse that “there’s no time to exercise”. Little people learn so much about themselves and their world by watching you. So stream, rent, borrow, or make up an exercise routine that is simple and take a few minutes every so often to move your body. Your babe will be thrilled that you’re jumping, bending, or otherwise moving in a new and exciting way, and down at their level on the floor, and may even try to join in in their own way. It may no be the most relaxing yoga session, or the most effective fitness strategy, but it’s a start!
Get Out There!
With a bag packed and ready to go by the door, it’s easy to pop out of the house for some fresh air and new faces. Besides the library, the sitting at the park there is a lot to see and explore, and you don’t have to be walking to enjoy the playground. Infant swings are a great place to enjoy a ride while watching other children play, and slides can be used with an adult’s support. Check out your local library, schools, and recreation centres for weekly events like Toddler Time, Strong Start (click the link for why this program is soooo awesome!), or Mother Goose for a more structured group activity.
Hopefully I’ve reminded you of some of the simple things you can try to liven up your day with baby, or perhaps got you thinking about other fun things you’ve been meaning to give a go. What are some of your ideas to keep yourself and your little one learning and having fun together? Comment below to share them!