Playtime for Toddlers
Mary Clare becomes busier by the day. Since she started walking, she hasn't really stopped.
She is an explorer through and through. Keeping her occupied has become quite the task. She gets antsy and even throws a little bit of a tantrum if we hang around the house for too long. For a while, we aimlessly tossed all her toys in a giant basket, essentially a blackhole of toys. I had assumed a 1 year old just needs a bunch of toys and that would be entertaining enough. Maybe that's the case for some kids but not Mary Clare.
Things weren't working, I needed to find a way to engage her in more focused play. So I did a little research and came across Jennie Monness of Mo' Mommies. She is the founder and creator of Mo' Mommies. Mo'Mommies is a community that brings together moms and children 0-2 years old using an online platform and her incredible playspace, Union Square Play, where she houses Mo' Mommies programming and other thoughtful classes. The programs include a wide array of classes for even the teeniest babes - flow play, baking, music, art. Little ones get messy - think babies in diapers covered in paint or flour. We have yet to attend Union Square Play (working on it, Jennie) but I follow along on social media - the programs are unlike anything I have seen and truly child led.
Through Jennie's blog and instastories I've learned so much about baby and toddler play. I have learned how to intentionally set up a space that is encourages focused, child led play. Jennie has also helped me develop a plan for how to facilitate this play and let it flow naturally.
Play: the work of a child
I learned a lot about play in graduate school yet somehow haven't applied it to my own child. Children are natural scientists, if you sit back and watch a toddler engaged in play, you'll see it. They're constantly trying to understand how things work. Exploring - what can this do? What if I do it this way or that way? What does it sound like? What happens if I throw it? What does it feel like? What happens if I push it? This play, or work rather, is how children begin to understand their world.
So...why wasn't I applying all of this to my little girl? I was right on top of her, showing her how things work, telling her what to do with this toy or that. No wonder she was getting frustrated! I thought I was teaching her but I was robbing her of the opportunity to do what she was meant to be doing. So now I'm working on sitting back, even busy myself with something (the goal is for it not to be my phone). So far, it's been really cool to watch her out of the corner of my eye. What a wonder to let her lead the way.
So now what to do with pesky blackhole of toys?
Staging a Playspace:
By following Jennie on Instagram and reading her blog, I've learned so much about this. I realize now, that blackhole of toys is hugely overstimulating. It’s akin to having the TV on really loud, while talking on the phone, answering the doorbell and writing an email. It was overwhelming for Mary Clare and I had no idea. So I have learned a few basic principles.
1. Less is more - You do not need to have 300 toys available. Mary Clare is much more focused and stays with something longer when her choices are fewer and thoughtfully chosen.
2. Contain yourself - The goal is to organize like objects into different containers. Sort the toys into smaller baskets or soft storage bins that your little one can easily access.
3. Like goes with like - Try to group things that are similar. All the cars or things she can push go together. All the play food is in it's own basket. All the balls are in another. It's not an exact science and sometimes I (or the babysitter or my husband) end up tossing stuff wherever but it's okay because...
4. You gotta switch it up - Watch and notice what she gravitates to, what holds her attention. Is there something she has no interest in? If you see a certain basket that just ain't gettin' the love, maybe it's time to switch it out for something new.
I have found that setting up her play space in an intentional way makes a big difference. Since I've started setting up playtime at home this way, I see Mary Clare engaged in play on her own for much longer. I can step back and let her do her thing. I'm even able to set up some stuff on the kitchen floor so I can make dinner...sometimes!
It's all about not showing her how something works but it's about giving her the space to figure it out. This doesn't mean I have my feet up drinking coffee all day while she plays. She still needs me, still gets frustrated. I still get down there to play with her. If she's playing on her own and needs my help, trust me she lets me know. (READ: she screeches until I help her).
It's not all rainbows and butterflies all the time, like any kid she is far from always happily occupied. We have to take a walk or get out of the house every day. She gets cranky and frustrated and it can be hard. But I have seen fewer meltdowns for what seems like "no reason." That’s a win, if you ask me!
Also, I would like to say, I know there are some of you out there rolling your eyes and thinking, "she has one kid, wait till the next one comes." That may be so but for now I am going to keep trying to do what works for us. And as we all do, we will figure it out as we go and as our family grows!
Here are some of our favorites that we use to create a play space!
Our Fave Containers: The Container Store and Home Goods have awesome baskets!
Natural Lined Basket Jute Storage Bowls Woven Rope Baskets
Toys: we have plenty of toys that make noise and light up but these days Mary Clare is into simpler things
Play Food Silicone Baking Cups Magna-Tiles
not a toy but she loves them
O-Ball Horse Stable Ball Pit Balls
a classic SO into this, right now