To uphold my mother’s reputation, I want to start by saying that I grew up in a very anti-TV home. We rarely watched TV as kids. In MY home, however, my son had developed a healthy addiction to Elmo by the time he was 19 months old. Back then David watched TV every now and then, but things have changed. The biggest change is Mary Virginia; as soon as she arrived, I relinquished all parenting responsibilities to the good people at PBS.
TV is just so easy. Anytime I need to nurse/change a diaper/do laundry/play Candy Crush, I can glue David’s bottom to the couch with an episode of Curious George. In fact, sometimes I’m so desperate for him to stop climbing on my back while I nurse, I’d be happy to not only turn on the TV, but also give him a quart of ice cream and a spoon if it means I can put Mary Virginia down for a nap without wondering about that splashing sound coming from the bathroom.
We realized we created a TV problem in our house when David started this litany of requests: “Watch Elmo? Watch Curious George? Watch The Hat? Watch Super Why? Watch Dinosaur Train?” That’s the entire PBS morning lineup. In order. David knows it by heart. You know those parenting moments when you’re simultaneously proud and embarrassed?
When we say no, he pauses, raises his eyebrows and says…”Watch…football?” Then he pulls out his ace card. “Watch Breaking Bad?” David has never watched Breaking Bad, but he’s heard us talk about watching Breaking Bad, and he’s doing whatever it takes to get us to turn the TV on. He is equal parts genius and manipulator.
I’m slowly coming out of the newborn fog and before David completely loses all capacity for imagination and independent play, I’m looking for some new activities to replace the TV. Mary Virginia usually takes a really good morning nap, and I want to be intentional with that part of the day. We go outside, we go to the park,we run errands, we have play dates, we play blocks, we draw, we play play dough. All of that takes 5 minutes or less. So I need 100 ideas to get us to 8:30 a.m. without Elmo.
The first thing I tried was a box of water beads, otherwise known as a hundred tiny balls. David’s head almost exploded at all the sensory and tactile possibilities.
Water beads are awesome, wet-feel balls. I bought mine at A.C. Moore. They bounce around like bouncy balls if they’re dropped, so they go all over the place. I added a baking sheet under the bin to help contain them, which sort of worked. Once I have a crawler this activity will be shelved for a while; these things are the definition of a choking hazard.
I gave him a bunch of scoops and he was happy scooping and pouring for about 20 minutes. Education!
It took me at least twice as long to chase down all the balls, but it was worth it.
The next day I gave him a dry box. I grabbed all this stuff from our cabinets and dumped it in a Tupperware. I used rice, some of Tom’s daal (don’t tell Tom), and black beans (Organic! Grown in our back yard!)
Again, I gave him some scoops and he went straight to work. It’s really cool watching him, because I didn’t have to try to get him interested, he really wanted to play and scoop and pour.
When his interest started to wane, I gave him a few trucks to let him try scooping and dumping the rice.
The rice made a pretty serious mess. The pan helps, but rice still went everywhere. Post-play vacuuming is necessary.
When he finished, I was this close to turning on a show I could clean up his room. Apparently David isn’t the only one with a habit to break. But, ok, let’s all admit that TV isn’t all bad. For example, David knows all his numbers. ALL OF THEM. And it’s not because I taught him; Elmo did.
The last thing we tried was cloud dough. This recipe is all over Pinterest, and for good reason: it’s fun, mostly clean, and really easy to make (8 cups flour, 1 cup oil, and stir. We used vegetable oil, but you can use baby oil, olive oil, or even coconut oil if you’re fancy.)
We went outside and I put him on a plastic table cloth. He needed a little help because it isn’t as easy to scoop or pour. He liked stirring, because he saw me making it.
I showed him how to squeeze it in his fist to make a ball, which turned into, “Na-ee make ball? Big ball? More ball? More ball? Na-ee ball?”
I showed him how to pick up a handful and drop it “KABOOM!” in the bowl. He loved that, and it gave me a break from ball-making duty.
It also took some encouragement from me to get him to roll his trucks in the dough. The irony, I realized, is that we have a big pile of dirt in our yard right now. David loves playing in it with trucks and needs no direction. I guess this stuff is cleaner than a pile of dirt. But, then again, most things are.
Once we were done, I was cleaning up and David played in the yard. He gathered up some leaves, piled them in his stroller and pushed it around. That’s the best sort of sensory activity, right? Independent play with materials that are texturally, audibly, and visually appealing. The difference is Mommy didn’t have to do any work on the front end or clean up after. That must be why “making a pile of leaves” doesn’t have a fancy name.