Monday, November 9, 2015

What We've Been Up To (i.e. How to Keep a Toddler Busy)

If you’ve been following us on Instagram (@jennyfromgeorgia), you know we’ve been up to some fun. This blog post could be titled, “How to Keep a Toddler Busy While Caring for a Newborn.” You might be wondering after I mentioned my post-partum euphoria in August if it finally all caught up to me. The short answer: No. The long answer: Yes. And if you happened to get the joke there, I can only say I’m sorry--I’ve never been that funny.

We have a lot of fun, especially in those brief moments when no one is crying.

No, because I’m just thrilled to be a mom again, and because Lydia’s been the best baby I could ever dream of, and because--oddly enough--I’m still on a cleaning kick, so that can only mean my brain is pumping out some sort of magical mixture of oxytocin and adrenaline. Hormones have never been so kind to me.

BUT, I must clarify: just because I’m finally feeling motivated to clean, doesn’t mean my house is actually clean, so don’t be disappointed if you drop by unexpectedly. I do have two kids under two, people.

Sidebar: Talk about unexpected, I actually fell in LOVE with a cleaner. Goodbye, Lysol wipes! This stuff smells like heaven and makes my house smell so clean and fresh--no small feat with the constant barrage of dirty diapers and baby barf. It can be diluted, so a little goes a long way, and it's non-toxic, so I can use it on any surface without worrying if my little ones are going to be touching or putting their mouths on it (like, for example, the toilet...because yes, my child has put his mouth on the toilet before).

Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Multi-Surface Concentrate in Basil Scent

So yes, it has caught up to me, or at least, it’s getting harder to keep up--especially with Caleb, who’s almost two. He’s spent his whole life chasing every milestone: rolling, sitting, crawling, walking, climbing, talking. “Veni. Vidi. Vici.” But now that he’s conquered all, he’s bored. He needs a new horizon--a new frontier to explore. Preschool would be the perfect adventure for him, but that’s still a couple years away.

So what do you do with a toddler who will soon begin to wreak havoc in his quest for adventure? First, you panic, because you just had a baby three weeks ago, and your mom is leaving tomorrow and you realize, there will only be ONE of you and TWO of them. Outnumbered. How will you take care of both of them at the SAME time? How will you eat? How will you sleep? How will you shower, or go to the bathroom for that matter?

Look at those faces. Don't they just strike fear into your heart?

THEN, you start trying to figure out how to keep him busy all day--or for at least three minutes, just long enough to go to the bathroom. Okay, so we’re actually talking about me, not you. What would you do? I’d love to hear your ideas! Here are 5 things I’ve learned so far about keeping a toddler busy:

1. It's All in the Routine

The night before my mom left, when I was starting to panic, I went into the bathroom by myself and shut the door for what would be the very last time. I opened up a new note in my Evernote app and punched in a rough hour-by-hour plan for the day. It’s evolved since then, but having a routine has been THE best way to keep Caleb busy. There's always something for him to be doing or helping me with. It helps keep me on track too, because I've already decided how to spend my time.

Caleb helps clean up after eating.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you more seasoned moms out there are like, “duh!” And those moms who are working or have older kids in school are probably just used to having a routine, so they might not even think about it. I remember well the daily grind of working full-time (/overtime). But as a stay-at-home mom with two under two, these babies can easily rule every waking (and not-so-waking) moment, so it's a challenge to be proactive and intentional about structuring my day. This is roughly how our routine goes:

7:00 - Wake up, get dressed, make beds, say prayers, "Letter of the Day"
7:30 - Eat breakfast and clean up, family prayer, Daddy leaves at 7:45
8:00 - Start the day, dinner prep, to-do list/chores (Caleb helps or plays)
9:00 - Feed and change Lydia
10:00 - Have fun! (e.g. play together, run errands, library, play date)
11:00 - Nap time for Lydia, learning activity for Caleb
12:00 - Back home, lunch, wind-down
2:00 - Read the Friend, nap time, Mommy Time (if Lydia actually sleeps)
4:00 - Chocolate milk after naps, learning activity for Caleb
5:30 - Daddy’s home! Caleb’s Daddy Time, get dinner ready
6:30 - Dinner, clean-up, family time
7:30 - Get ready for bed, baths, family scripture study and prayer
8:30 - Bedtime, Mommy and Daddy Time
10:30 - Sleep(?!)

Keep in mind: this is the goal, not necessarily reality. There are days when it’s 10AM and I’ve just reheated my breakfast for the fifth time, and it seems like all I’ve done for the last 3 hours is clean up spills and baby barf and change diapers. Once we’ve gotten into a groove, I’d like to add time for exercise and/or a morning walk.

2. We're Always Learning New Things

Every week I pick a topic to explore with Caleb (usually the same as our preschool group), and I try to do one or two learning activities with him every day centered on that topic--one in the morning and one in the afternoon. It’s “scheduled” as part of our routine, but it’s flexible depending on what else we have going on. The goal is not to add more to my plate, but to keep him busy and learning--one way or another--so if we’re already out for a play date or story time at the library, we usually skip the activity that morning.

Overall, this has been working pretty well, because picking a topic for the week is the perfect springboard for planning plenty of activities to keep Caleb busy. Pinterest is a frequent source of inspiration, of course, along with a few friends and blogs I follow. Here are just a few of our adventures:

Let's go fly a kite!
WARNING: Gluing cotton balls can be addicting to toddlers.
Sidewalk chalk makes learning bigger and better.
Duct Tape + Backyard Exploring = Nature Bracelets
Toothpicks and marshmallows, 'nough said.
Digging for dinosaur fossils
More gluing
YouTube has tons of educational videos for kids on anything and everything.

Most of our activities are 100% improv, using whatever we have on hand, so there's no prep in advance. Except, the terms "weekly topic" and “learning activity” sound so boring...I need to think of something else to call them. My marketing brain has failed me so far. Any ideas?

3. It's Letter of the Day! (Clap! Clap!)

If you know the song, you're already singing along in your head, right? This is pretty self-explanatory: we “study” a new letter of the alphabet each day. So every morning in Caleb’s room after he gets dressed, makes his bed, and says his prayers, we draw our "Letter of the Day" on his chalkboard, along with pictures and words that start with that letter.

Later, we watch the Sesame Street podcast and "Letter of the Day" song on YouTube, and sometimes we do learning activities for that letter. It depends on the day. Again, I see it as a tool to keep Caleb busy and learning all day, not so much an item on my to-do list. We started with “A,” and after stopping for a while then starting back up, we’re now on “U.” I think once we finish the alphabet, we'll start on numbers.

Here's a sample of Sesame Street's "Letter of the Day" song, so come dance with Elmo, we're moving your body to the ABC's!

4. We DIY Preschool

Once a week, we meet with a few other moms and toddlers in our neighborhood for our own preschool/playgroup. We start with a song, then we have a short lesson on our topic using pictures or books, and we finish with a simple hands-on activity or craft. Of course, there’s also plenty of playtime for the kids and girl talk for the moms. It’s a fun way to get together with friends, and we take turns hosting and planning it.

A super-cute, super-fun activity for learning about shapes by one of the other moms

5. Nap Time is Sacred

A HUGE motivation to stay busy all day is to tire both kids out so they’ll nap at the same time in the afternoon. Sometimes it’s less than 20 minutes, sometimes it’s over two hours, but it’s time I can use to “sharpen my saw.” I don’t do any housekeeping usually; I study the scriptures, write, work on my own projects, chat with a friend, or sometimes just relax with a good book or period drama on Netflix.

The point is: I find that when I spend a little time every afternoon on my own goals and interests, I have more energy to spend on my kids when they wake up from their naps. It helps me keep Caleb busy for the rest of the afternoon and keeps me going until bedtime and beyond. It’s often the only time I have to myself, so it really is sacred, and the result is that I can be at my best (and getting better) every day.

Is it nap time yet?

So that’s what we’ve been up to. What about you? What do you do to keep your kids busy and be at your best all day long?

(Psst! Don't forget to follow us on Instagram @jennyfromgeorgia to see what else we're up to and share your own ideas!)

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