Our children enjoy playing with toys, but we've discovered a secret: they can learn to enjoy what we offer them to do. We have discovered they also enjoy detail cleaning the washing machine. Or stacking firewood. Or tearing out old carpeting. So we have for many years been transitioning to more real-life activities for our little ones, and it has really wonderful!
So, on a daily basis, we are looking, looking, looking for real useful things they can do...from our littlest one on up.
One major benefit is that this keeps the little ones with us more, instead of off in their room playing, and so we have much less incidences of children writing on sofa, writing on walls, covering their bodies with zinc oxide, etc. because they are usually with all of the rest of us, doing real things.
Here are a few things that our little ones can do with help.
- Empty dishwasher and put away silverware, tupperware, lower shelf stuff (we have organized our kitchen with most serving/eating dishes on lower shelves for that reason).
- Organize tupperware.
- Put away canned goods on lower shelves
- Put away or inventory or neaten toilet paper.
- Wipe down woodwork, walls, rails, kitchen appliances, dressers, bathroom or kitchen cabinets.
- Furniture diving! They use a stick or ruler or long utensil to retrieve things that are under the couch, chair, dresser, table, fridge.
- Wipe lower windows when given a paper towel moistened with window cleaner. (Since we realized babies could be taught not to put non-food items in their mouth, including teething toys, this has become a possibility-- with supervision of course.)
- Sweeping a porch or kitchen/dining floor. It was great fun when we made a masking tape large square on our tile floor, and allowed him to push debris into it -- fun for a 18 month old! (Yes, we teach him what a broom is for and don't allow playing/fighting with it. Just as Ben Franklin was darning his socks at age 4, and in times past, young children carried and used pocket knives, it is possible to teach children what tools are for, and it really helps prevent misuse of them.) Joshie enjoys this so much, after he swept up a dirt pile on our porch, he reached into a planter, grabbed a handful of dirt, threw it on the porch, and kept sweeping!
- Mopping a floor. It doesn't hurt a thing! If its not perfect, its still better!
- Vacuuming a floor. We found a small, weakling bagless vacuum cleaner. Its not a Klein-proof type, but for a little one working near a sibling, its perfect. And it doesn't hurt a thing!
Sure, it's definitely easier to give them a box of toys and let them be occupied. And we do have a few toys. But the interaction with siblings and the real skills and character gained through real activities is so much better than toys. Most toys are cotton candy. The best of toys simply imitate real activities.