Raising a Low-Media Toddler: Participating in Everday Life and Work

Raising a low-media toddler: ideas for getting young children involved in everyday work

Note: I’ve been working on a series exploring how to raise a low-media toddler. I started by discussing why we strive to be media-light; I then talked about preparing the home environment to encourage non-electronic play, and also shared some ideas for a sensory table.

And now for the most challenging (for me) idea . . .

One of the main reasons many parents turn to TV for their toddlers is to keep them occupied and out of the way so they can get some work done.

I can totally sympathize with this. I am about 18 times less efficient when my daughter is underfoot. I’m generally so completely unproductive for the first six hours we’re both awake that by the time nap time finally rolls around, I’m paralyzed by all the work I have to cram in the next 90 minutes.

It’s hard to get much work done with a toddler around. It’s difficult when they’re constantly whining for your attention, begging you to read them books or dress their dollies.  It’s exhausting when every time you turn around they’ve peed their pants or spilled their milk or emptied the contents of the garbage onto the floor.

Sometimes, you just wish there was something that would magically get them to sit still and be quiet and let you have some peace for twenty minutes so you can get supper on the table. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

I know. I wish for that too. But in the long run, I don’t think TV is the best answer. It’s not a terrible answer, but if there are other options, I would like to try them as much as possible.

One option, I have discovered, is to get them involved in whatever it is you’re doing.

Again: I know. This is hard. It’s by far the most challenging practice for me to actually carry out. When I’ve had my kid with me for every second of the last 24 hours, even sleeping with me and watching me pee, the last thing I want is to have her little hands in my bread dough or the dishwasher. I would reeeeeeally rather just do the work alone.

But oh, they love to help. And if you can actually arrange to have them help you, everyone ends up happier. A toddler who is busy helping Daddy build the garage or Mommy sweep the floor* is not whining for attention: she’s absorbed in the delightful rhythm of the hammer or the broom. She’s engulfed in the sensorial delights of sprinkling balls of dough with flour. And she gets to enjoy a sense of responsibility and belonging, the pride of contributing to the household.

And I find her so much more delightful in these moments myself.

For me, there are two essential elements in getting my toddler involved: the right ATTITUDE and the right TOOLS.

I’ll briefly go over both.


I’m always working towards seeing my daughter as a capable member of the family who wants to participate. I believe it helps build her self-esteem and sense of competence when I give her small responsibilities and opportunities to join me in my work. I truly believe that young children enjoy real work, as long as we are doing it joyfully ourselves and invite them to be a part of it.

(Read more about the Montessori approach to practical life here.)

And when none of this works because I’m just so desperate for her to leave me alone, I remind myself that in the long run, I’m doing both of us a favour: I’d way rather have a kid always getting in my way with her little broom than have a kid throwing a tantrum because she can’t watch another episode of Dora.

There. I said it.


To help facilitate my daughter’s participation in daily tasks, I’ve found a few key tools are incredibly helpful.

It’s valuable to have good-quality, child-sized tools and furniture suited to little hands. Not crappy plastic toy imitations that will break in two months’ time. Real tools.

Last Christmas, we got her a child-sized broom; for this upcoming Christmas I’m planning to add a mop, rake, shovel, and a few knives to expand her working opportunities.

The Learning Tower: Best Purchase Ever!

Since I spend so much of my time in the kitchen, I’ve found the most absolutely wonderful item for encouraging my daughter’s participation to be the Learning Tower.

If you can afford it and have the room in your kitchen, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

(We were SO BLESSED to have found ours at a thrift store. I totally wasn’t expecting to find it there. We paid $40 for it, when we were totally willing to dish out the $200 they were asking on Amazon. I am not getting paid to endorse this product; I just REALLY REALLY love it.)**

Lydia uses her Learning Tower every single day. Its allows her to watch everything I do from a safe place. It’s way more secure than a chair or stool (if she loses her balance, she just bumps against the sides and gets back up again). You can adjust the height, so we’ll be able to use it for many years to come.

She can help me…

Wash Dishes:

washing dishes in learning towerBake:

making bread in Learning Tower

making bread in Learning Tower

Transfer food items to containers:

Toddler helping in the Learning Tower

Or even just hang out while I cook, learning about all the different smells, colours, and textures involved in food preparation:


Other Ways to Help Around the House

Again: I would way rather do these things by myself without interruption. But I try to get her to help with:

  • Cleaning up toys
  • Putting her dirty laundry into the basket
  • Wiping up puddles (including pee when she’s had an accident)
  • Watering plants

toddler watering lettuce

  • Putting away silverware

toddler putting away silverware

I don’t do this nearly as much as I would like, and I want to get better at it.  I want to start getting her to wipe down her own snack table and set the table, among other things. We’ll get there. Baby steps.

Do you have any ideas to add? How else might a toddler help out around the house? What kinds of tools have you found helpful?

*(Sorry about the gender stereotypes at work here. That’s just how we tend to divide the work around here.)

**(You might find it ironic that I would recommend such a costly item, when I argued earlier that one of the reasons I avoid electronic media is to cut costs. The Learning Tower is a relatively expensive item when purchased new, but I justify it on account of the fact that it’s enabling my daughter learn valuable life skills, which TV would never do. Moreover, it’s very sturdy and could be used safely for decades, with multiple children and for many uses. It could be resold for a decent price after your family was done with it. You can also buy [or make] attachments to turn it into a puppet theatre or an art easel and get even more use out of it.)

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  1. Hey Kathleen! OG loves to use her little broom and dust pan. She also puts groceries away (soft things that wont hurt her tiny toes if they fall) and hands clean plates from the dishwasher to mom or dad to put away. I struggle with patience to let her do things for herself before I swoop in and finish the task. I am working on it though because I think it’s so important for her self-esteem. Great post!

  2. We totally have a learning tower too… except it’s a more of a kitchen chair. You’ve given me a couple ideas though – I hadn’t thought of letting Henry put away silverware.

    He really likes to help clean and I think I’m going to be getting a pintsized broom set in the future. I just wish we had an island in the kitchen. Our counter space is limited it’s hard to find room for him that’s not right next to the stove or really needed for food prep.
    Molly recently posted..Preparing the Pantry: Other EssentialsMy Profile

  3. I’m not a mother, or even close to being a mother – but, I so appreciate reading about your approach to parenting. I am LOVING this Media-Free take on raising a toddler and look forward to more of your entries!

  4. I have LOVED reading your posts on raising a low-media toddler. I am having my first child in October and my husband and I don’t want to raise our child entertaining herself with TV & electronic games. I am SO excited to put all of your ideas to use as she learns and grows!! Thank you so much!

  5. Sorry I’m just now getting around to commenting on this series – but let me add to those above and say that I’m loving it :) We approach TV very similarly to you – it’s out of sight in the front room (because otherwise our “formal” living room would be a complete waste of space) and we don’t have cable. I think Miriam has maybe seen it on a few times in her life, when her daddy is trying to catch a bit of a football game. Honestly, neither she nor I ever think to turn it on during the day. We do watch youtube videos occasionally, but I try to keep that to a minimum, too.

    I know some of my friends wonder what in the world we do all day, because we also have very very few toys. But really, we do life stuff, like you said – we cook, we clean, we run errands, we visit friends (who do have toys), we sew, we go outside, we read (a lot). I think once you get in this mindset, that my job is not to keep my kids entertained but to allow them to participate and learn about how the world works, that the need for media decreases dramatically. Not completely, but quite a bit.

    All that said, M has been acting out just the slightest bit lately, and I wonder if it isn’t because she’s a bit bored now. She’s mastered most of the things we do in daily life, and so, while it would be easy to start sticking her in front of the tv or getting toys to entertain her, what we really think she needs is to be challenged more. For us that means discerning a Montessori school, but it certainly doesn’t have to – I have a feeling that just getting a few new challenging works would be more than enough.

    And now I’ve left a novel, as usual :) One last bit – I would love a learning tower, but a chair works fine. Although after “helping” wash the dishes, she has fallen off once when it got wet. I told myself it was a learning experience, but she still splashes so maybe not :-P
    That Married Couple recently posted..Little by littleMy Profile

  6. We are going on 5 and a half years of very minimal screen time and from our family’s perspective it has been very worth it. It’s true that there are times when it seems like it would be easier to put on something for them to watch (which is now impossible because we don’t own a tv and I’m currently without a computer or internet), I’ve definitely found that my girls at least are more content and engaged when they don’t. I’m also finding that those years of slowing down and enjoying their presence and help as toddlers is already turning into us enjoying working together on the things that need to be done around our home.

  7. I don’t even have a little one and I love your parenting posts–they are so insightful and thoughtful and make me hope that I will someday find my own balance. I was wondering, have you ever posted anything about expectations versus reality of childcare? I’ve been trying to plan when to work kids into my life, and have been wondering a lot about what people expected parenthood would be like versus what it is like (for better and worse). Just wondering if you have a post (or would ever consider doing one) about this!


    • Hi, Ann! Thanks! I don’t have a post like that, but it’s a good idea. One expectation that comes to mind immediately was how much work kids are after the first year. For some reason, I was under the impression that the first year was the hardest, and after that, it got easier. WRONG!! For me, in a lot of ways, the second year was HARDER, because my daughter slept so much less. :) I was still spending SO much energy looking after her, it was kind of alarming. I’ll think about writing a whole post on the subject — thanks for the suggestion!

  8. We are so there too! Ana loves to help and is much happier when involved. Really want a leaning tower but can’t really afford one at this moment. However there is an awesome tutorial online to make one and I’m hoping I can convince my brother-in-law to make it for us. In the meantime, I tend to use my ring sling and wear Ana on my hip so she can reach and help. I LOVE that someone lose is involving the child in every day life too. What a great way for kids to be an involved member of the family and learn to take care of their own family someday!

    Can I ask where you’ve found real miniatures of tools such as a broom? I can only find plasticy junk ones. I’ve been wanting a real one for Ana for months.
    Michele recently posted..Motherhood with a Toddler – Diapering/Elimination Communication Part 2My Profile

    • Hi Michele! It is HAAAARD to find quality tools for kids. I was amazed at the amount of junky plastic stuff that’s out there. The broom we found (after weeks of searching) is a little corn broom that (I think) is considered a “lobby broom.” Ben found it in a hardware store, of all places, with the rest of the regular brooms. After discovering how very difficult (impossible?) it is to find these sorts of things in brick-and-mortar stores, I’ve looked into buying other tools online. If you’re interested, you could try http://www.forsmallhands.com/, or even Amazon (just search for things like “toddler broom”). Or google Montessori stores that might be closer to you. I’ll be doing almost all of Lydia’s Christmas shopping online this year. Toys R Us just doesn’t have what we’re looking for!

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