When my son was 2, I quit my full-time job to stay home with him. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I needed easy, creative ways to keep him occupied — but on one income.
I began to realise that he was drawn to anything with an interesting texture. If I set up a “sensory bin” for him —a plastic tub or container filled with materials that stimulate the senses — he would stay occupied for upwards of an hour, which was no minor victory.
To keep him intrigued, I had to switch up the materials as much as possible, but most of what he really loved was stuff we already had on hand at home.
I’ve used short dry noodles (like penne or elbow macaroni) or long cooked noodles (mixed with a tiny bit of olive oil to keep them from sticking). For some reason, large plastic dinosaurs always gravitated toward cooked spaghetti.
You can also reach for dried rice or oats, but those make a bigger mess. I’ve used both, but they’re a bit of a last resort for me.
This was a popular suggestion in our Offspring Facebook Group. So many parents out there are throwing dried beans in a container and adding in funnels or farm animals or whatever is nearby and looks interesting.
Group member Joshua says, “My son loved his bean bin. It was a long, low-walled plastic storage container filled with all manner of beans. The two of us spent a lot of evenings on the floor filling dump trucks with excavators and dumping them back out again. Beans got everywhere, but it was definitely his favourite ‘toy’ for about 2 years.”
(P.S. For as popular as the bean suggestion was, one parent in the group offered up this warning: “I made one with mixed dried beans and some of them sprouted and it was incredibly gross.” So watch out for that.)
Lids from baby food pouches
You know all those squishy pouches you’re buying that are filled with organic pureed fruits and veggies? Now you have a purpose for the little plastic lids, thanks to Facebook group member Abby:
Granted, this one takes a little more planning. That’s a lot of lids. But hey, if you start saving them now, you’ll have enough to fill a baby pool by June. (Note the little scooper and sand shovel ... that’s a nice touch.)
Fill a plastic bin with all kinds of different paper, such as construction paper, old magazine pages or junk mail. Add in some string or ribbon, hand over a pair of safety scissors and let them have at it (while supervised, of course).
As long as we’re talking “paper”, shredded paper in a tub was another hit in my home. Give them a large bowl on the side and a pair of kitchen tongs and let them grab that paper and move it back and forth between containers. (Developing motor skills, for the win!)
When you start doing all your online holiday shopping this year, save the packing materials that come in the boxes. Bubble wrap is good for a few minutes of popping, but packing peanuts can be especially fun when you have enough to fill a box and bury toys. Bury 5-10 small toys for them and let them go digging for treasure.
Good old-fashioned water
If you’re cooking and need them off to the side for a few minutes, plug up the kitchen sink, fill it with water and let them grab a few water-friendly toys. Now their sharks have an ocean to swim in or their plastic dolls have a giant pool to dive into.
For kids who love baths, step it up a notch with a colour bath. Fill the tub with water and swirl in a few drops of food colouring. We’ve done red baths on Valentine’s Day, green baths on St. Patrick’s Day and blue baths on random days.