You see them in the library, the grocery store and in the park – grandparents with a toddler in tow.
Though I have no factual basis for this, I believe that grandparents are stepping up in record numbers to help care for their grandchildren. I believe it because I’ve witnessed it firsthand: the grandfather sitting patiently with his grandson at a library computer; the grandmother in the supermarket, pushing her granddaughter in a cart; a grandmother and grandfather in the park strolling at a snail’s pace with their wobbly grandchild.
When we’re out with our grandkids we grandparents often exchange knowing smiles, aware of each other in public the same way kids and dogs are.
And then there all the grandparents at home with their grandkids, putting in long hours to help out their adult kids who’re holding down jobs.
When I first started taking care of my granddaughter she hadn’t even started walking yet. I wasn’t equipped, nor did I have clearance from my daughter-in-law yet, to take her anywhere.
I almost panicked at the prospect. She was too young to do some of the things I imagined doing with a granddaughter, like baking cookies, molding shapes with Play-Doh, or even crayoning in a coloring book. When I started out, I had my grandbaby for the occasional full day while her mother drove to another town for a substitute teaching gig. In my mind, the hours loomed like an eternity. How was I going to fill them?
If you find yourself in a similar situation with a toddler, here are some activities that work for me, and they’re all low or no-cost. These ideas, which I’ve gathered from other parents and grandparents, keep me from relying too much on my TV and other electronic devices to entertain my grandchild. I save the Sesame Street video for when I’m utterly exhausted!
Things to do at home
- Read read read! (My son used to chant that to me as he backed into my lap holding a book.) I love reading books to my granddaughter, as much as I loved reading to my boys when they were little. I’m glad that I kept a lot of books from that time. I also take advantage of the children’s section at the library. My toddler granddaughter loves books with flaps she can lift, as well as any book that features kittens or, God help me, Elmo. (It may just be me, but I’d rather read a book with Elmo in it than hear his squeaky voice on TV!)
- Play ball. My granddaughter loves balls of all sizes. She holds them and chases after them like a puppy – she hasn’t figured out yet how to throw them. (My better sense tells me not to hurry that.) You can find big soft balls that are safe enough to play with inside the house, or even make a ball out of rubber bands – your grandkids will think you’re a wizard.
- Bubbles! Kids love them. Bubbles do splatter, so I’ve found it best to play with them outside. You can use a commercial bubble wand and solution, or make your own bubble solution with dishwashing liquid (Joy works well). You can even craft an impressive bubble ring out of wire or a bent coat hanger. You’ll want to supervise this activity closely – a popped soap bubble near the eye can sting!
- Tea parties. You can find a child’s tea set at a thrift store or assemble one yourself. You can set out toddler-friendly food like goldfish crackers or Cheerios, and we pour pretend tea out of an empty pot (you can use flavored water if you don’t mind the spills). And be sure to invite all the dolls and stuffed animals so no one feels left out. It’s extra fun if you can construct a canopy out of couch cushions, boxes, or blankets to give your tea party privacy.
- Dance parties. Put on some music, grab your grandchild and dance. Bonus points for singing along. Carpool karaoke is fun, too, if you drive your grandkids around. Just watch the lyrics – remember how kids hear and repeat everything, usually at the most awkward times, too.
- Scooping and sorting. My granddaughter loves it when I get a couple of buckets or tubs and fill one with dried beans or pasta. I give her my big spoons and measuring cups so she can transfer the contents of one tub to the other. You can use a variety of materials – rice, cornmeal, sand, and birdseed – or whatever you have on hand. A note of warning: the smaller the material the bigger the mess it makes. I found this out the hard way when my granddaughter used her scoop to fling beans all over my kitchen.
Ideas for Inexpensive Outings
- Go to your local library. Libraries not only have shelves full of books you and your grandchild can browse and check out, but many libraries also have free group activities, and puzzles and toys for kids to play with, too. You and your toddler can easily enjoy an hour or more there.
- Take a walk. If weather permits, go outside – bring the stroller but allow your grandkids to walk, too, to better experience their surroundings. Slow yourself down to toddler time and examine every leaf, bug, or rock you come across.
- Find a park. Play equipment is a blast for kids, as good as Disneyland. You can hold them on a slide, or put them in a baby swing. Depending on the play equipment, you can even climb on it with them. Trust me, they’ll love it.
- Explore the grocery store. A chore for you can be an amazing outing for your grandkids. Many of the markets where I live offer children under 12 a free piece of fruit. My granddaughter noshes on banana chunks while we go up and down the aisles, looking at the bins of colorful produce and rows of jars, cans, and boxes. Some stores even have fun carts for the kids to ride in. Thinking of these trips as outings, rather than a chance to get a lot of shopping done, helps me not get too frustrated when she’s had enough and it’s time to leave.
- Tour a pet store. This is another fun destination, especially on a rainy day. Some of the big box pet stores are like mini-zoos, with birds, lizards, and hamsters in eye-level cages and walls of aquariums to wow your toddler. My friend’s granddaughters love to look through the windows of the grooming salon to watch dogs of all sizes get their fur trimmed.
Here’s a resource with more suggestions, some of which look curious, like squeezing wet sponges. But I’ll give it a go during some long afternoon – and my granddaughter will probably love it!
Another way to help keep grandkids entertained without busting your budget is to scour children’s resale shops and flea markets for games, toys, and books in good condition to keep at your house. Right now I’m collecting old hats, scarves, and purses for a dress-up box for my granddaughter when she’s a little older.
I can always use more ideas. What do you like to do with your grandchildren?