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…
Transfer food items to containers:
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
- 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.)