I’ve been blessed over the last two years to spend a lot of time with my two little ones while working from home over the past two years. That has meant a lot more time making meals, driving to play-dates, and cleaning up. And I have a lot of fun doing it. Yes. Really.
It isn’t always possible to make routines fun - toddler meltdowns happen - but with the right attitude and a few tricks almost everything can be memorable and enjoyable time together. Here are things that have worked well for my toddler and preschooler:
Make it Musical
Almost anything is more fun with a bit of music. The light-touch method here is just to turn on a radio or a speaker. If the kids can pick the music, so much the better. We have a little Bluetooth speaker that syncs to my phone and the kids love to pick their favorite songs and videos from Spotify and Odysee.
Songs just for certain occasions can also be fun. We have a playlist of aquatic songs (e.g. “Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” and “Yellow Submarine”) that ease the transition to bathtime and I would swear that whoever wrote “The Clean-Up Song” was a wizard. If you’re feeling creative, you can make up your own songs for your toughest tasks.
Make it a Mission
My kids loving having something to accomplish. No matter what we’re working on, they want to help! (I’m not complaining, btw). Breaking whatever I’m working on into smaller tasks that they can accomplish is a fun way to get them involved. When they complete their objectives, we celebrate with a high five.
Make it a Game
Taking the mission concept a step further, slightly older kids often enjoy games. Turn your activity into a game to get them fully engaged and watch them light up. Give them a collection of tasks, count how many items they can complete/find/etc. You can score points or, if you don’t overuse it, set up a competition between siblings. Younger kids may need a handicap.
Make it Magical
There are also ways to layer imagination into almost everything your kids will need to do. Is it throwing your Kleenex away? Or… is it dumping the trash like a garbage truck? Is it getting dressed for school? Or… is it getting ready for a ball like Cinderella? You can fill in the scenarios with your kids favorite topics and subjects.
Make it a Lesson
My kids are curious. When we aren’t singing or making up dump truck games, my kids are interested in what it is we are actually trying to accomplish. I do my best to explain it. Obviously, language and context need to be age-appropriate, but to the greatest degree possible, I always try to answer the “what” and the “why” questions.
I have to be honest on this one, nothing will test your knowledge of a subject like trying to explain it to a 4-year-old. I’ve embarrassed myself a few times. But even then, when there is real interest and I get out of my depth, we have fun looking up the answers together. Then there are two lessons - a lesson about the subject and a meta-lesson about how to find answers. Don’t tell my kids…
Finally, parents, keep an eye on your own attitudes. If you’re having fun, your kids likely will too. I know, I know - sometimes easier said than done. Nights of interrupted sleep, temper tantrums, and colored walls are all waiting in the wings to try your patience. And I’ll cop to losing my cool a few times I shouldn’t have too.
But if you can, when you can, pick your battles, be flexible, and be kind. Don’t push your kinds on silly decisions - let them pick a goofy shirt and live with the consequences. When something takes longer than expected and you wind up late for a playdate, send a text and take a deep breath. I try not to make an issue of anything for longer than the underlying issue will take to fix.
Do I always live up to that? No. But I when I do, my kids have more fun and so do I. I think you and yours will too.
Do you have other ways you keep family time fun? Drop us a comment below - we'd love to hear about it!
PS - You can totally use the tricks above for getting kids to help you clean the crayons off the wall. ;)