Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Keeping Little Ones Happy While You Cook

Sometimes it's hard to be a mama,
Tryin' to cook supper with your clan.
You'll have good times
and they'll have good times
Doin' things that you've already planned... 
(sung to the tune of "Stand By Your Man")

Many days, with little ones in the house, it's really hard to cook.  You're in the middle of supper preparation, at a point where it's hard stop, and the baby needs to be held and changed.  But once you get his basic precious needs taken care of, that little guy needs to be entertained!

Here's Matthew, one of my little guys.  Gotta love that crusty little nose.  And mouth.  :)

I've collected a few tips on entertaining kids (outside of using the TV which doesn't work for my boys).  Hopefully they will be of use to you!  If you have some tips that you'd like to add, please leave a comment or email me at!

Here are some tips for children too old to be occupied/satisfied with Cheerios in the high chair, but too young to reason with (ages 18 months to 3 years):

1)  Mixing bowl, measuring cups, water, and a beach towel:  Spread a doubled-up beach towel on the floor.  Fill a large plastic bowl with about a cup of water.  Set out an assortment of measuring cups, spoons, basters, colanders, etc.  Strip the kiddo down to his diaper, stand back, and let him at it.  I use this trick for "mild emergencies" only:  when I am at a point in dinner preparation where I cannot stop, my husband isn't home, and we are rapidly approaching a five-alarm meltdown. 

2)  Clean Up!:  Using a damp dishrag, act like you're having the best time of your life wiping off the table.  Casually go to the sink, rewet the rag, squeeze out the excess water and nonchalantly ask the toddler if perhaps they might like to wipe off the table, chairs, high chair, window sills, etc.  This is always a hit in my house.  But keep an eye out---soon your furniture, your shoes, and maybe even the dog will be getting a wipe-down. 

3)  Spray Bottle of Water: For the last remaining remnant of us with non-stainless steel fridges:  fill a spray bottle with water.  Have some paper towels ready.  Put a bath towel down at the base of your fridge.  Let the kid go to town spraying the front of the fridge with water and then wiping it off with the paper towels. 

4)  Playing in the Sink:  For the evenings when you have only half a nerve left, and small children are literally screaming and hanging from your appendages (No, it's never happened to me.  Why do you ask?), here's the big kahuna.  Let them play in the sink (if they can reach it by standing on a chair).  Putting their little hands in the running water, filling up cups, playing with the soap, "washing dishes", etc.  I have only used this two or three times because 1) it makes a giant mess, 2) it is addictive for the kids and that creates dangerous problems when they are standing there and you have to drain boiling pasta water into the sink, 3) during supper preparation my sink is usually of questionable cleanliness for little hands, and 4) if you let them do it frequently it lessens the effectiveness, at least that's the case with my kids.

5)  Shoelaces:  It was unusually quiet the other day while I was cooking.  Timothy (4) was a preschool which left me wondering what Matthew (2) was up to.  Sneaking around the corner, I saw him intensly focused on the shoelaces of my husband's hiking boots.  15 minutes.  FIFTEEN MINUTES.  (I am shouting that.)  That is how long he was occupied with those amazing things.

6)  Canning Jars and Lids:  Perhaps it's not the safest thing to let your toddler play with glass jars.  But I was desperate when Matthew discovered the empty canning jars (with the multi-pieced lids and rings) in the cabinet.  I got a good 10 minutes out of that activity.

(And no, my cabinets aren't pink.  That's just the result of bad photography...)

7) Medicine Droppers and Syringes:  My kids love these things.  You know--the plastic "plunger" things that come with infant ibuprofen and such.  Although the boys usually send arcing streams of water across the kitchen, I can tolerate it because--you guessed it--they are occupied and I can finish cooking.  (Thanks, Devan, for reminding me about that one!)

8)  Dried Beans and Pasta or Buttons:  Also--how about filling a plastic container with dried beans or pasta...or even buttons?  That's a big hit, too.  The kids can use measuring cups and such to dig around in there.  Until a few months ago, Matthew was a Grade A #1 Choker.  (You can read about one of his episodes here.)  But as he gets a little older I am becoming more brave. 
For older kids (4 and up):

Since you can reason with / distract these guys a little easier ("Dinner will be ready in about 15 minutes, buddy.  Why don't you go build me the most humongous Lego fighter jet imaginable?!"), it's a little less of a challange...somedays...

1) This is a great age to start introducing responsibility and handing out chores (setting the table, unloading the dishwasher, sorting the recycling, taking out the trash, etc.).  The way I see it is this: if you are in the kitchen under my feet, you will be put to work, my little friend.    But Timothy thrives when he is given a "chore", so this has been a great thing for us.  Now I cannot keep him out of the recycling bins...he is so ready to pounce on and sort anything that is in there.

2) Does something need to be stirred, mixed or whisked (not on the stove, of course)?  Look no further than the little person eager to be an important part of a family routine. 

More to I discover the meantime, best wishes to you as you try to cook supper with your kids in the house!  It's not always easy...


Unknown said...

I love this post! I have a post on tap for Oh Baby! titled, "ways to occupy your toddler while your nurse your baby"... same concept, different task!
I use your idea with the cups, strainer, etc except instead of water, use pinto beans or noodles. Slightly more of a pain to clean up, but it's fun for hours. I let Neena do that in her pop up tent so beans don't go EVERYWHERE.
Your sink idea is great.. it never gets old at my house. that one is high on my list because it gets me a good 30 -45 minutes (oh yeah!)
Playdoh.. or shaving cream. If your nerves can take the mess.
and stickers. A sheet of stickers doesn't last long at the Ash house, but paired with a "journal" (comp book) and a pen just like mine, I can get a good 12 minutes out of my Tot.

Devan said...

Great ideas! Thanks! Maylee also likes to play with buttons, I like to keep a baggie in the kitchen that she can dump and stir them in and out of pots and pans. She also likes to play with "medicine" droppers. They don't require much water, but she can transfer the water into several cups for several minutes. Thanks again for the ideas!