Category Archives: Playfulness Toolkit

Waiting Room Games for Toddlers


A friend asked how to keep a young toddler occupied in a waiting room. I figured I’d share it here as well. :)

Upside Down Baby 
“Upside down baby” is a huge hit. Hold him on your lap straddling your waist. Hold his hands and open your knees and lower him until he’s hanging upside down. Bring him slowwwwly up and say “peekaboo!” Or you can say “uppppsiiiiiddown! Riiiighttttsideup!” Be careful that baby is not somehow licking the floor and that baby does not flip over upside down. 

Art Walk
Wander the office and look at artwork. This works best if baby is sitting on your shoulders and you’re holding baby’s hands to keep baby from falling off of your shoulders. Otherwise baby will attempt to pull all of the artwork off of the walls. If you are not fast they will succeed. 

Trot Trot to Boston
“Trot Trot to Boston” is fun. Start off with baby sitting on your knees facing you, with one leg off on the outside of each of your legs. Bounce your legs and say “trot trot to boston trot trot to lynne be careful when you get there.. you don’t fall in!” and then open your knees and baby “falls” into the space between while you’re holding onto baby’s hands. Be careful to not actually drop baby. *Note: Do not worry, this will not convert him to a Red Sox fan when he grows up, despite mentioning Boston. If you need to be cautious you can substitute any type of rhyming thing that involves the world opening up and swallowing him whole.

Sliding Face Changer
Play the “sliding face changer” game. Hold your hand in front of you so that the knuckles face out, your thumb faces up and your pinky finger faces down so that it can move up and down like a shutter. Move it up in front of your mouth- as it moves change the expression of your mouth. Move it over your eyes and change the expression of your eyes. As your hand comes up and baby can see all of your face you should have “Funny Face A”. Slide your hand down. As your hand obscures your eyes and then mouth change the expression. As your hand comes down below your chin you should have “Funny Face B”. You can add to this game by saying “Sad”.. “Angry”.. “Happy”.. “Sleepy”.. etc. Or you can make a sound before a specific face so that he can guess what face is going to come. Teaches pattern recognition. I’ve managed to make my daughter fascinated with patterns and she looks for them everywhere.

It looks like this:

Knee Bounce Patterns
Play the knee-bounce pattern game. Put him on your knees ala “trot trot to Boston”. Bounce your knees up and down and say “Bum bum bum”. Then bounce your left knee and say “Boom boom boom” then bounce your right knee and say “Bam Bam Bam”. Vary the patterns. Then start saying the pattern before the bounce. He’ll start trying to predict which bounce is coming. This works best if you make it very very suspenseful and make Obvious Eye Contact of “this is about to be funnnnn.” You can even raise one knee like you’re about to bounce to the wrong pattern and see what he does. My daughter dissolves into fits of laughter when I am about to “get it wrong” because she knows I’m going to do something silly just before I do the right pattern. *Note: This may have strange consequences as the child grows older. Do not blame me if he becomes obsessed to listening to old Beatles songs backwards to find secret messages.

Body Part Identification
Ask him where all of his body parts are. Hand, nose, fingers, toes, belly button.. If he doesn’t know them now is a fun time to teach him. 

Animal Sounds
Ask him what different animals say. What does a cow, donkey, elephant, etc. say. If he doesn’t know them, now is a fun time to teach them. 

Paper Ripping
Bring paper. Let him rip paper. Also bring a bag for the ripped paper. Toddlers LOVE to rip paper. Love love love love love. 

Bring Books
Bring books. Unless he likes to throw books. Never bring anything that can be thrown unless you are willing to crawl under many things. 

Fake Wallet
Make a fake wallet. Fill it with those shoppers discount cards everyone wants you to have, the library card that you have from when you were twelve and that you never got rid of, the expired ID that someone punched a hole in and that you can’t actually use anymore, the fake credit cards that everyone sends you that are not real credit cards, the Kohls discount cards, and various things that you have printed out and laminated to make chew-proof and rip-proof (See the previous paragraph where paper ripping is mentioned.) Fill it up with LOTS OF THINGS! Now it’s baby’s wallet. Or baby’s purse. The more child-friendly contraband stuff the better. DO NOT allow them to use your real purse or your real wallet for this purpose. This stuff gets thrown and you have to retrieve it. You do not want your actual license to somehow manage to disappear. Trust me on this.

Playfulness in the Kitchen: Silicone Ice Cube Tray (#ActivitySunday)

Silicone Ice Cube Tray Activities

  1. Make colored ice to play with (let them move the ice around on a piece of paper towel and it will “paint”) – Karen
  2. Freeze small items into ice cubes. An older child can experiment with how to get them out (hot water, salt, a mallet, etc.) – Karen
  3. Sorting! See what fits in the cubes and what doesn’t. – Emily
  4. Make ice cubes and let your child smash them with a rubber mallet outside. – Sarah
  5. Make cube crayons. Melt crayons one at a time into the tray and they’ll be rainbow crayons. – Sarah
  6. Puree and freeze different fruits and vegetables. Let your child try cucumber, carrot, grape, pear, etc. “popcicles”. – Sarah
  7. Fill with paint and let your child mix the different colors – Sarah
  8. Fill with water and drop different colors of food coloring into the water. Give child strips of paper towel to dip into the colors. They will climb up the towels. (Do on tile or in bathtub) – Sarah
  9. Practice 1:1 correspondence by having her put 1 item (snack food, straw. . . ) in each spot. – Kristen
  10. Let the child figure out how to get the cubes out of the tray. – Sarah
  11. Make jello “wiggle blocks” and build with them.  -Sarah
  12. Put an item in the first cube for each row. Let the child sort matching items into the other cubes in the row. (same color pom poms, types of bean..)
  13. Have the child move objects around in the tray using their fingers, tweezers or chopsticks depending on age.

Add your ideas in the comments section below, and I’ll add them to this post!

Every Sunday I’ll be giving Nurshable readers a room in their house and asking for pictures of different items from that room. I’ll post those pictures and we can share ideas for activities that use that object. Let’s fill up our Playfulness Toolkit and find the play in every room!

Playfulness in the Kitchen: Spice Rack (#ActivitySunday)

Every Sunday I’ll be giving Nurshable readers a room in their house and asking for pictures of different items from that room. I’ll post those pictures and we can share ideas for activities that use that object. Let’s fill up our Playfulness Toolkit and find the play in every room!

Spice Rack Activities:

  1. Sniff different smells – Erika
  2. Sort spices by colors, shade or arrange by the height of the jar. – Sarah
  3. Recognize letters on labels. – Sarah
  4. Recognize patterns in the spice bottles (cap cover, bottle shape, plastic/glass, pictures on the bottles) – Sarah
  5. “What food does this smell like”? – Emily
  6. “Spice Memory”- Smell several spices and learn their names. Then try to remember the name by sniffing the spice. -Sarah
  7. Mix the spices into homemade playdough (the powdered or liquid ones) so you have nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and other scents of dough.  – Sarah
  8. Experiments and Potions. Mix different spices with water or oil and come up with a story about what type of potion you’re making. – Nancy
  9. Spice paintings with glue and colored paper. – Sarah

Add your ideas in the comments section below, and I’ll add them to this post!

Somehow I Became That Parent Who Sings

Singing was that one thing that I swore I would never do as a parent. “You’re gonna have to be the singing parent” I informed my partner. Ironically I have become the parent that sings. And dances. And that essentially channels every terrible children’s program ever. With a touch of Dr. Seuss. Out of tune. Because I’m not only tone deaf I’m actual full on deaf-deaf. But. You know. Whatever. I just hope that my children learn actual tune and melody elsewhere.

I’m the person that doesn’t even like to lip-sync to Happy Birthday. Past attempts by pushy boyfriends to get me to “just try” to sing resulted in my informing them that I would sooner break up with them than sing and to kindly drop the subject.

So why do I sing with my kids? Many reasons. I don’t want my kids to think that they can’t do something that they enjoy just because they’re terrible at it. They enjoy it when I sing because even though I’m terrible at it I still rhyme and it’s still fun. And because it helps move things along faster and engages them enthusiastically in things that might otherwise be akin to pulling teeth. It also keeps ME moving and having fun.

Here’s my current songbook of completely made up children’s songs:

Instead of “sit down. Please sit down. Do not get up from the table until you’re done eating..”

I chant:

Sit sit sit to eat eat eat and if you stand upon your feet you lose the food you wish to eat! (My two year old will finish it for me if I don’t finish it. In fact he’ll chant it at me if I simply say “please sit down.” And he’ll sit. And eat. You know. Or he will lose the food he wished to eat. And my six year old has added on “done done done and now I can go have fun fun fun.” )

Instead of “PLEASE come over here so I can put on your socks! Sit still! I need to get all three of you dressed so we can get out the door!”

I will sing:

A one sock a two sock a three sock a four. A one sock a two sock a three sock a four… We put on the socks before we go on walks outside the door! Socks on rocks! Socks on fox! Socks on little feet that we take on walks! Pants on bums! Pat the tums! Shirts over heads! Oh the blues! Oh the greens! Oh the reds! And a jacket on your back! and a bag on mine! Quick quick quick! We’re almost out of time!


And when my daughter needs her diaper changed but is not in the mood I go silly with:

“Need to change your diaper cuz it’s full of pee,
need to change your diaper cuz it’s full of poo,
cuz it’s full of all the yucky that came out of you,
need to change your diaper cuz it’s full of pee
need to change your diaper cuz it’s full of poo,
gonna change your everything, everything except for you.”

So instead of getting upset about not being able to crawl she’ll lay there and tap her hand to the beat and smile.

Ways I was Playful Today

1- I put on some music on the TV (cable channels that just play music- no video) and danced around with the kids.

2- Filled up bathtub with bubbles and showed toddler how to blow bubbles using a straw. (This will backfire when he has juice/milk next..)

3- When loading the washing machine we played “laundry basketball”. The baby helped despite her desire to eat dirty socks.

4-When loading the drier it became a relay race where I handed my 2.5 year old each piece of clothing and cheered him on while he ran over to the drier and threw it in. We named the colors. Note to self: We have too much black clothing and not enough colorful clothing.

5- When making the bed I pulled off all the blankets and flipped the sheet into the air letting it come to rest on the heads of the baby and 2.5 year old. Repeatedly. For 15 minutes. While they shrieked in laughter.

6- Diaper changes = FLYYYYYINGTODDLER! and FLYYYINGBABY! After diaper changes = Piggyback rides to our bed, and being “thrown” onto the bed. (Obviously the throwing of the 10 month old is more like swing swing swing ::put down:: whereas the throwing of the 2.5 year old is more akin to throwing.)

7- Toenail and fingernail clipping accompanied by “This little piggy” followed by tickle-tackles.

8- Toddler-led crafting. Alexander-in-the-middle is obsessed with his big brother’s scissors and wants to use them all the time. So I gave him some old catalogs and construction paper and glue. He created a masterpiece consisting of lots of cut up pieces of stuff glued together in a big pile with puddles of glue and topped with bits of granola bar and copious amounts of cat hair that he found in a tumbleweed in the hallway.

Lunch time!

9- Pretended to be a fishandrice eating monster that wanted every bite of the fish and rice and blew on it to cool it off, but Alexander stole all the bites! Oh no!

10- chased Alexander around down stairs to the tune of two different “toddler tunes”. Anne-Marie likes to be carried while we chase, and shrieked joyful chasey shrieks. When the tune changed I froze like a deer in the headlights, then changed how I was chasing him.

11- Peed on space monsters in the little potty while wearing a stealth squadron helmet. (He did. I did not. My butt would get stuck on the little potty and my head would get stuck in the helmet. I use the big potty, as is properly dignified. I do still pee on space monsters though. You know. As a good example.

12- Worked on putting together Lego men from a bucket of heads, bodies, hair, helmets and other accessories in a bucket. Technically this is not me “being playful”. Technically this is me handing him a bucket and a tray and me laying down and nursing the baby and reading stuff on the computer between making comments about the awesome Lego guys and girls that he’s making. It’s awesome for the hand-eye coordination stuff and the fine motor skills.. And for me being able to lay down for a while.

13- Wrestled with the 2.5 year old on the bed once the 10mo woke up. He likes rough play. Got kicked in the face a few times and decided it was time to get dressed to go outsiiiiiide!

::Editing this as the day progresses::

Everything Is More Fun If Mommy Didn’t Say It

A number of people have asked for ideas on how to be more playful, as they feel that they are not very good at imaginative play.

One of the games kids love the most is when their dolls or stuffed animals talk to them. Coincidentally this was one of the games I loved the least.

My oldest son LOVED this game. He called it “him talk to me”. “Him” was his little stuffed toys that looked like the characters in a popular childrens show. I was terrible at that game. So absolutely horrible at it. For one, I have broken ears so I can’t get the voices right. For two- I felt like I had to come up with awesome scripts to rival that TV show. On the fly. By myself.

Then I learned the secret. Everything is more fun if mommy isn’t the one saying it. It doesn’t matter what is being said, as long as it is the stuffed doll talking and not mommy.

I didn’t have to come up with scripts. I didn’t have to use the right voices. I didn’t even have to remember the right names. I could ask my child what the names were 500 times in a day and it was just another funny game to him that the character had forgotten what his name was and that it was asking about different names that all sounded similar. “Am I….. Austid? Am I … Aussie? Am I…. Austlow? I’m Austin? Really? I don’t think I’m Austin… I think I’m… Uhh.. GRANDPA!” You cannot begin to imagine how many minutes can be spent making your child double over laughing as his stuffed toy tries to prove to him that he is actually a 6 foot tall balding man.

Sometimes the toys start off saying exactly what I would say. Sometimes they would proclaim complete incompetence in the game to start, and then laugh at themselves before requesting that my son give them a piggy back ride. Or they would argue with me and I’d ask my son to be the tie-breaker that could help me choose between baked salmon and rice or macaroni and cheese for dinner. Or they’d read books to him that he would not have otherwise been interested in reading at the moment.

If you find that you don’t know what to say when your child wants you to make a toy talk to him… Just say what YOU would say to your child. As long as you say it in a tone slightly higher or slightly deeper than your own voice while you make the toy move.. You’re being imaginative enough.

Understanding that freed me up to be more imaginative, and it actually ended up becoming a fun game to play.

You don’t have to be good at it. In fact you can be pathetically bad at it, and your child will still be amused. You just have to pick a place to start trying, and start. As you do it more frequently it becomes a second nature and suddenly everything has a voice when your child needs a distraction or to be entertained or reassured.

Playfulness as a parenting tool

My middle child has a special friend “Mommy Spider” which is my hand. Whenever he’s struggling with something my hand-spider will start tapping its feet a little bit, then will pop up and walk over to Alexander. “Hi! What’s your name?” it will ask. And he’ll be immediately enthralled. I.. Err.. Mommy Spider will ask him what he’s upset about, and he’ll talk about the troubles that he would otherwise struggle to vocalize.

A game that I used to hate has become a fun way to connect with a melting-down two and a half year old.