Many first-time parents of young children spend hours actively researching and reading books on child development. I am not one of them. Instead, you’ll find me at 3am on a random Tuesday hastily googling “sleep regression what age,” or in the cereal aisle of Whole Foods searching for “help stop tantrum” while my daughter flails at my feet. Doing my parenting homework is not my strength.
So, when my daughter’s daycare took a 2-week long break this summer, I had no idea how I was going to keep her entertained and stimulated all day long while she’d be at home with me. But before I ran out to Lakeshore Learning and spent all my money on new toys, games, and art supplies, I turned to one of my favorite sources of inspiration for almost everything: Instagram. What a goldmine.
Turns out the Instagram community is richly populated with pediatric occupational therapists and early education teachers focused on child development. Luckily for us, many of them love sharing ideas for fun, stimulating, and inexpensive activities that will keep kids busy and encourage things like fine motor skills and strength building. A bonus is that the bite-size format of IG makes this otherwise overwhelming information easy to digest for parenting on the fly. There are tons of accounts worth following, a few of which I’ve listed below, but my go-to source for inspiration is @playingwithchanel. This is partly because one of her daughters is the same age as mine, but it’s mostly because of one trick I learned from her account that has definitely made my life a little easier. Let me introduce you to Waiting Hands.
Playing With Chanel founder Priscila Yu refers to the online popularity of this trick as the “Waiting Hands phenomenon” and it’s easy to see why it’s become a follower favorite. Here it is in a nutshell: 1.) Your impatient infant or toddler demands a thing. 2.) Before they work themselves into a tizzy, you tell them to clasp their hands and count to five. That’s Waiting Hands. 3.) You have a few seconds to heat up their milk/grab their toy/finish using the bathroom while they learn a little impulse control. It’s simple and amazing, and it’s the most useful tool I’ve learned yet.
From @happytoddlerplaytime, I lifted another tip that I’ve found indispensable: freezing stuff. Anything and everything that can fit in an ice cube tray is frozen, which then becomes a fun, interactive new toy for your child to play with as it melts. Before this, I didn’t realize how much kids love water play, how long they can do it for, and how good it can be for their little developing minds. Freezing cubes in advance takes a tiny bit of planning ahead, and you’ll want to try to contain the mess a little, but it’s a great activity that keeps them busy for longer stretches of time.
Last but not least, I leaned hard on this brilliant makeshift game from @simplylearning that only requires a laundry basket, yarn, and your kids’ toys. You place the toys in the basket, tie yarn every which way along the top of the basket to create haphazard openings, and your kid must then figure out how to retrieve their toys. It’s a fun way to challenge your little one to problem-solve and work their motor skills, and the best part is that it becomes a new game every time you switch out the toys. It’s the game that keeps on giving.
For more helpful accounts run by avid child development professionals (and some passionate parents), check out these other accounts, too! (And feel free to list your personal favorites in the comments below).
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