Fun With Toddlers: Simple and Free comments

By Wendy Mihm | Wednesday November 24, 2010

Entertaining little ones can be a lot of work.

As parents today, we have so many options available, our job is arguably easier than it may have been for our parents and grandparents.  I doubt that when it rained for days on end, they could pay to take their toddlers to any number of indoor playgrounds to blow off steam in the bounce houses and ball pits.  Or that they could choose from dozens of reasonably nearby kid-targeted theme parks, petting zoos, and other activities to thrill and amaze the little ones.

But almost all of these activities cost money.  Sure, some don’t cost a lot, but if you’re in the habit of doing them week after week, month after month to keep your little ones entertained, you may be spending more than you think.

For example, let’s assume that admission to the indoor playground down the street costs $9.00 per child, per day. Sure, you can buy visits in bulk, but these may only reduce the admission fee to about $6.50 per child, per day.  Now let’s suppose for a moment that you only have one child, and that you bring him to this playground five times a month.  That’s 60 times each year, for a total of $390 for just this one playground – assuming you got the discount immediately.  You haven’t even gone to the zoo yet.  Or any children’s museums, or theme parks or holiday events, or, well, you get the idea.

But let’s back up a second.

Remember that your Mom made due without most of this stuff.

I’m not suggesting by any stretch that you quit it all, cold turkey.  What I am suggesting is that very young children do not need much to be entertained.  Fun can be free.

I remember, long before I had my own kids, I took my nephew out for a walk when he was about 18 months old.  My brother had dropped him off at my parent’s house while he went to work, and I was in town for a visit. It was February in Michigan, so we got him all bundled up in winter gear.  I listened intently to my Mom before walking out the front door (I knew absolutely nothing about kids).  She made sure I knew not to let him get too cold or wander into the street.

About 25 minutes later, my Mom came out to check on us.  She walked out the front door and burst out laughing.  We had not made it out of the driveway.  We were having too much fun inspecting every dried leaf, crack in the sidewalk and bird that flew by.

Now that I have my own kids and am a fairly seasoned Mom, I still forget this a lot.

Sometimes it’s because I’m the one who gets bored, and I suppose that’s perfectly reasonable.  There’s only so long that an adult human can find wonder in a pile of dirt.  Plus let’s be honest, it is very tiring to follow your toddler around for hours at the free park down the street, making sure she does not fall off the play scape that was designed for 5-12 year old kids.

But one thing I’ve discovered within this “fun can be free” concept is that young kids can make toys out of things that you would not consider to be very much fun at all.

For example, my husband and I recently cleaned out the garage (Woot!) and ended up with an empty under-the-bed plastic storage bin.  Rather than put it back in the garage, I unleashed it on the kids in the backyard.  Almost instantly, the bin became a boat, with the lid as a dock.  Our kids have been playing with it ever since.  When they bore of it, I will make it disappear for a few months.  Then it will reappear again and we’ll see if similar magic ensues.

You can try this with any seemingly safe, ordinary household object.  Pots and pans are great. Baskets are fun too.  My daughter loves to tie a ribbon to a basket and then pull her toys around in them.  Now her little brother copies her.  They can do this on and off for an entire afternoon.  Their new thing is having pretend picnics on our bathroom towels.

What household object will be next, I do not know.

What I do know is that my kids remind me over and over what I keep forgetting:  fun can be free.

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