Young children need a little guidance when they have their friends over for a visit.
Forgive the comparison, but sometimes kids are like puppies: if you don’t find them something to do, they will find something themselves, like dumping all the cereal on the kitchen floor or digging up the garden.
At this age, around 2-3, kids are moving from a stage called “parallel play” where they mostly play on their own, to group play, where interaction becomes more appealing. You can help your child move into group play with some short-duration play dates that include “free play” and some more structured activities1.
When you are in charge of someone else’s child as well as your own, finding new activities for kids can be so challenging; they have so much energy and not-so-extended attentions spans. Here are some really easy ways to get them involved that don’t cost much money, require much planning, and keep the mess to a minimum.
This one is a twofer: get a large tub or bucket, fill it with bubbly, soapy water, dump their toys in, and furnish them with some scrub brushes. This activity is obviously better suited to outside, but if you use biodegradable soap, you can just dump the water in the yard when they are done. Clean toys, happy kids!
All parents have experienced the horror of the markers on the wall. Well here is your solution: white board film comes in a roll with non-damaging adhesive on the back, so you can apply it to any surface and voila, instant whiteboard! Make sure the dry-erase markers are non-toxic, and supply the kids with some old towels so they can wipe and draw repeatedly.
If the weather doesn’t permit, you need a drop cloth and some plastic cups and plates for inside. Kids can use blocks or other toys as pretend “food,” and they can invite their whole stuffy collection if they like. A small pitcher with water becomes the “tea” and kids love serving each other. You can also add real snacks into the mix too.
This one is a multi-step process but if you have a large box lying around, cut out half of one side and prop it upright. Kids can make puppets by decorating socks or paper bags and then act out plays for each other.
When their attention wanes on the more fine motor projects, let them get the giggles out by turning on some upbeat music. Choose a kid-safe room and they can bounce around and have a pillow toss, or you can blow up some balloons and they can bop those around. There are thousands of great kids’ albums or as a cheat, just find a kid’s station on Pandora. For some extra cacophony, pull out some pots and pans and let them bang on them with wooden spoons!
Gather up all the little plastic figures: barn animals, dinosaurs, people, and take them outside. Cordon off an area of the yard where there are some plants and let the kids take turns hiding their little animals and finding them. It’s like a treasure hunt!
If it’s fall, rake a big pile of leaves in the yard and let them bounce around. This will evoke peels of laughter and you will be surprised how long it will keep them entertained. Hint: you might want to just strip them down and put them directly in the bath, and that will seriously round out their fun.
Some things to keep in mind: with this age, kids are just starting to learn how to interact, share, and take turns, so curb the possibility of tantrums or disputes by explaining what is going to happen in advance, emphasizing how we treat guests in our home, and making sure to redirect away from activities that invite infighting. As your toddler grows, you will see them improve at the guest/host dynamic, but to start out, maybe only invite one child at a time for your first couple of play dates. And don’t forget to join in and have some fun yourself!