Simple, at-home activities for babies and toddlers that don’t cost a fortune

Simple, at-home activities for babies and toddlers that don’t cost a fortune

Once you emerge from the “survival” phase of parenting (sometime around 3 months), you may be wondering what to do now with this little creature who wants to do more than eat and sleep. Since our specialty is in finding and suggesting activities for the under 3 set, we thought we would take a stab at some at-home activity ideas for your babies and toddlers. These activities don’t require much in terms of set-up or materials and if they do require materials, most of them can be found from what you already have in your home. We hope you find these suggestions helpful!

Babies love water play, and it’s pretty low cost!
  1. Music (newborn and up). Music has many benefits for babies, some of which include early language development, pattern recognition, fine and gross motor development, and listening skills (source: Kindermusik). Plus, it’s fun and can be accomplished with the things you have in your home. If you have instruments at home, you can give you child the gift of live music! Play tunes on your guitar, piano, violin, saxophone, or whatever instrument you have. If you don’t have any adult-sized instruments at home (and don’t worry, we fall into this category as well), you might have a xylophone or tambourine or maracas/rattles. Play a song on the xylophone, bang the tambourine, shake the maracas (if your baby is old enough, they’ll likely want to do this, too!), bang on pots with wooden spoons. Rattles also make excellent maracas, so don’t underestimate their use and importance!
  2. Singing (newborn and up). Singing to your baby/toddler has many of the same benefits as music. Yes, singing is also music (and can be combined with instrumental music), but we decided to include it in a separate category since singing involves actual language. Some popular songs in English include: “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, “The Wheels on the Bus”, and “Old McDonald Had a Farm.”
  3. Reading (newborn and up). We strongly encourage parents to read to their children starting from birth. Newborns will gravitate to books with black and white or other high-contrast images, whereas babies 3 months and older will be attracted to books with color images. Babies also love books with photos of other babies. If you’re at home during the day (whether due to heat or cold), reading is a great way to keep your baby or toddler entertained for a period of time. Please see our previous dad-themed book round-ups here for ideas!
  4. Sensory basket (6 months and up; can be applicable for a younger baby if he/she is already sitting up). Gather up 5-10 (baby-safe) items in your home, preferable of the same texture, put them in a basket, and let baby explore!
  5. Water sensory tray (3 months and up; or whenever baby is stable on his/her tummy). You don’t need an expensive water table for this. All you need is a glass pyrex container (or even just a bowl or whatever you have on hand). Fill it up with water and put different baby-safe and waterproof objects in it! Fun items to try: bath toys; seashells; sponges.
  6. Blowing bubbles (newborn and up; recommended 3 months and up). We recommend this activity for babies 3 months and older since at that age they are able to follow the bubbles. This activity builds baby’s eye-tracking skills, gross motor skills, and teaches them cause-and-effect (what happens when you touch the bubble? It pops!). More than that, it’s fun and low-cost!
  7. Block games (6 months and up). Chances are, you probably already have a set of blocks lying around from the baby shower and hopefully don’t need to buy these. Show your child how to stack blocks. At 6-9 months, they may not have the coordination to do this, but they are watching you and learning. On top of that, at this age, they *can* knock the blocks down, and they will do this and they will enjoy it!
  8. Play dough (12 months and up; recommended 15-18 months and up). As we get into the toddler age, your child’s skills are increasing and you will be able to do more activities with them. One highly recommended activity for this age is play dough. Depending on where your child is developmentally (and whether or not they have an older sibling who is already playing with it), your child could be ready for play dough anytime between 12 and 18 months. At 12 months, we recommend showing them how it works – have them watch you roll it, flatten it, make it into shapes. Invite them to touch the play dough and push down on it with their finger. Another activity at this age (12 months) could be to roll the play dough into small balls and have your child put them back in the play dough jar. This will help develop their fine motor skills and pincer grip.
  9. Drawing/Painting (12 months and up; recommended 18 months and up). Again, depending on your child’s interests and development, they could be ready for drawing or painting anytime between 12 and 18 months. All that’s required are markers, crayons, paint, paintbrushes, and paper. We prefer to use Crayola, which can be easily found at most stores.
  10. Practical life activities (12 months and up; recommended 18 months and up). If your child is at a Montessori school, you’ve probably heard this method tooted as a way to raise independent children. We agree. Plus, speaking from personal experience, very young children love to help out, so definitely let them help before they get older and don’t want to help anymore! You could start with letting them wipe off surfaces that you’ve sprayed (and letting them spray when they’re a bit older, around 2 years old), asking them to bring you clean, freshly washed utensils from the dishwasher (but not before removing all the sharp items, of course), watering plants, helping you pull dry clothes out of the dryer, and sweeping the floor.

We hope we’ve given you some ideas to start with! And of course, the outdoors is a great place for children as well. But if you’re stuck inside because of the extreme heat or cold, these activities may come in handy!

Did we miss anything? Please feel free to chime in with your activity suggestions, too!

13 Children’s Books featuring families with two dads

As we come to the end of June and Pride month, we wanted to take some time to highlight several children’s books featuring families with gay dads. We believe it is important to read and expose our children to books that reflect the diversity (in all senses) of the world we live in. It is also important for children from LGBTQ+ families to see their families reflected in the books they read. Although we do not yet have a box specifically for gay dads (we’re working on it!), we do make sure the books we choose are inclusive.  

Here are 10 children’s books featuring families with gay dads that we have read, enjoyed, and highly recommend:

  1. Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown. Mother’s Day is coming up, and Stella is worried because she doesn’t have a mom – she has Daddy and Papa. All of her other classmates have moms, and Howie even has two moms! Stella’s classmates are curious and ask her who packs her lunches or comforts her when she hurts herself if she doesn’t have a mom. Stella tells them that her dads do it and that that’s not the problem : the problem is she doesn’t know whom to bring to school for Mother’s Day. Her solution is funny, heartwarming, and touching.

2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Patterson, illustrated by Henry Cole. Based off a true story. Roy and Silo are two penguins living in the Central Park Zoo in NYC. They form a bond, and with the help of the zookeeper, Mr. Gramsay, Roy and Silo are given a penguin egg. When the egg hatches and a female penguin chick pops out, their family is complete! The zookeepers tenderly call the baby penguin chick “Tango”; hence, the title, “And Tango Makes Three.”

3. Bathe the Cat by Alice McGinty, illustrated by David Roberts. As with children’s books featuring African American children, it’s important to read books about two-dad or two-mom families in everyday situations, whose plotlines don’t revolve around the fact that the family has two dads or two moms. That’s what I love about “Bathe the Cat,” which is a hilarious children’s picture book about a family (that just happens to have two African-American dads) getting the house clean for Grandma’s visit. One of the tasks is to bathe the cat, but the cat is clever and constantly rearranges the refrigerator letter magnets to dictate the chores that need to be done – with absurd and hilarious results! Our six-year-old loved this book!

4. Families Can by Dan Saks. “Families Can” celebrates the diversity of different families: those with two dads, those with one parent, those with a mom and dad, multigenerational families. It teaches us, in gentle rhyming form, that each family is special and unique, yet at the same time similar and connected by love.

5. Papa, Daddy, and Riley by Seamus Kirst, illustrated by Devon Holzwarth. Riley loves her two dads! But when her classmate asks her which one is her real dad, she is confused. They’re both her real dads. This beautifully illustrated story is a sweet lesson showing the many different ways one can be a family.

6. The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner, illustrated by Mike Byrne. Noah wants to dress up as an alien for Purim, but all his friends are going as superheroes. What to do?! Daddy and Abba, his dads, help him find a creative solution and Noah learns an important lesson from them: “Sometimes showing who you really are makes you stronger – even if you’re different from other people.”

7. The Adventures of Honey and Leon by Alan Cumming, illustrated by Grant Shaffer. Honey and Leon are two shelter dogs who have been adopted by a loving couple. The dogs enjoy protecting their dads, but miss them when they (the dads) go away on long business trips. So, one day, Honey and Leon decide to tail their dads on their business trip to Paris! Little do the dads know, Honey and Leon keep them out of harm’s way during their time in Paris. The dogs are able to keep a low profile until the big night!

8. My Dads and Me, How Lucky are We by Cheramy Hassen, illustrated by Sergio Drumond. This is a story of a little girl who is adopted by two loving dads. The message is this book is an important one: families may look different, but what makes a family a family is love.

9. My Two Dads and Me by Michael Joosten, illustrated by Izak Zenou. Follow different dad families and their children as they go about their day, eating breakfast, getting dressed, playing in the park, having fun at bathtime, and singing a good night lullaby.

10. The Girl with Two Dads, written and illustrated by Mel Elliott. Pearl meets a new girl at her school, Matilda, and finds out that Matilda has two dads. After spending some time with them, though, she discovers that Matilda’s family isn’t so much different from her own!

11. My Dad is a Clown/ Mi Papá es un Payaso by José Carlos Andrés, illustrated by Natalia Hernandez. The main character in this book, a young boy, has two dads – one who is a doctor, and the other who is a clown. When one of his classmates angrily calls the little boy a clown, his doctor dad takes the little boy with him to the other dad’s work and they see what he does during the day. The little boy realizes that his two dads have the most important jobs: one heals the body, the other heals the soul. As with several of the other books mentioned above, this one is laudable in that its plot focuses not on the two dad family, but on a little boy learning about the importance of his parents’ work.

12. Adventures with My Daddies by Gareth Peter, illustrated by Garry Parsons. A book that celebrates the power of the imagination! As a little girl reads bedtime stories with her dads, the stories come to life and they encounter dragons, run away from dinosaurs, fly to the moon, and take a hot air balloon ride before settling down for the night.

13. Harriet Gets Carried Away, written and illustrated by Jessie Sima. Harriet loves dressing up in costumes. She even has a special costume prepared for her birthday party! But when she puts on her penguin errand-running costume to find something for her special day, she runs into real penguins and is literally carried away to their home. She must find her way back to her dads in time for her special day. Can she make it? Read the book and find out!