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!
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!
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.”
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
It’s October, which means that Halloween is coming up! If there’s any holiday associated with candy and all those sugary treats that your baby isn’t allowed to eat yet, it’s Halloween.
But even if your baby isn’t old enough to stand (much less go around the neighborhood trick-or-treating), there are still things you can do to celebrate the holiday and enjoy yourselves! Starting with…
Dress Baby in a costume. Probably the most obvious, and the one parents are most eager to do, is to dress Baby in a cute costume! Luckily, costumes of all kinds can be found at stores, or you can make one of your own. We dressed our son as a Totoro last year – I took the lazy approach and sewed ears on a white hat, then dressed him in a white hoodie and white sweat pants.
Visit a pumpkin patch. If your baby or toddler is already walking, they will be fascinated by the pumpkins and their vibrant orange colors! Ours ran around pointing at the pumpkins and making fascinated sounds of approval. Even if Baby isn’t walking, it’s a great excuse to get them out into the fresh air! They will be fascinated by the pumpkins, and it will be a great experience for them. Every new experience helps develop Baby’s brain, after all! (Rad Dad tip: dress Baby in orange for color-coordinated photos!)
Create a Halloween keepsake. There’s more to Halloween than just candy, as we’ve already established! So make your little one’s first, second, or third Halloween memorable by creating a keepsake. We’ve included a pumpkin keepsake kit for our subscribers in our October Rad Dad Box (and will include a photo tutorial soon), but check out this article from Parents Magazine for more Halloween craft ideas for toddlers. It’s also a great way for dad, mom, and Baby to have fun together!
Decorate a pumpkin. You may not want to wield a carving knife in front of your baby or toddler, but there are lots of ways to decorate a pumpkin without sharp objects. Buy some baby-safe paints and paint a face on the pumpkin. Make a teal pumpkin. You get the idea!
Tell ghost stories with a flashlight. If you haven’t done it yet, flip off all the lights in your house at night. Then light up the flashlight. Your baby will love it! There’s just something about babies and lights… Tell ghost stories, Great Pumpkin stories, or other Halloween-themed stories and, if your baby is old enough, give them the flashlight to play with. They’ll enjoy it!
Bake sugar-free Halloween cookies. If you’re a baking dad (or mom), you can find recipes here and here.
If they are old enough, enlist their help in handing treats to trick-or-treaters. Most babies love interacting with older children, even if they don’t quite grasp the concept of play yet. It’s also a good social exercise for the baby. Answer the door with your cute costumed baby in your arms, and have baby hand out candy (or other treats) to the kids at the door!
Take them trick-or-treating, but don’t let them eat the candy. This will be fun for both babies and toddlers! If your baby is younger than one, you can probably get away with this without inciting any tantrums. If Baby is older than one (that is, if Baby is a toddler), they may realize that candy is food and want some for themselves. Try to encourage them to play with the candy, but not eat it. Put the candy in a bowl, for example, then take it out. Use the candy to help them learn how to count. Then hide it away and give it away at your office (or eat it yourself :D). Yes, I know we’re sounding like those adults who gave out apples to trick-or-treaters when we were kids (and whom we all probably hated), but it’s for baby’s own good!
What are your plans for a sugar- and candy-free Halloween? Please share in the comments!
Obviously, most people who are coming to visit new parents know to ask about the baby, the birth, and mom. However, each of these topics can take a while to discuss, so it’s not surprising that most conversations never even touch on the new dad and his well-being. We’ve found through our own personal experience, though, that just one or two questions or statements can make dads feel much more appreciated. So, if you’re talking to a new dad, or will be visiting a new dad soon, here are a few things you can ask him:
“How are you?” It’s a simple question, but asking this makes a world of difference to a new dad. Everyone asks after the baby and Mom (understandably, of course), but most people don’t even think about asking Dad how he’s doing. If the new dad you know is anything like today’s dad, it’s likely he’s just as sleep-deprived and exhausted as Mom is. (In fact, some would argue that Dads are even more sleep deprived than Moms.) Ask him how he’s doing, and he will appreciate the attention.
“You’re doing a great job.” Dads need encouragement, especially in the early days. He’s still learning to be a father and is most likely shouldering most of the household tasks while Mom is recovering from giving birth. It’s during this period where he’s the most insecure about his parenting abilities and the most stressed out. Telling him what a great father he is will give him a much-needed boost of confidence.
“How’s the experience?”/”What’s fatherhood like for you?” Moms aren’t the only ones who like to talk about how it feels to be a mother. Becoming a father is just as much of a life-changer for men as becoming a mother is for women. Asking a new dad about his experiences so far as a father shows that you acknowledge and recognize the importance of this change for him.
“May I take a picture of you and your baby/of you and your family?” No one wants to look back on their photos one day and find that there are no pictures with Dad or no pictures of the entire family. If you are visiting in person, ask the new parents if they want you to take a picture of them with the baby. They might complain that they look awful, fat, or whatever, but they will thank you later.
Give the baby a sponge bath. Parents are advised to give babies sponge baths until the umbilical cord falls off (usually within the first two weeks). Sponge baths are a great way for dads to begin to establish their bond with and feel more attached to baby, while also giving moms a little time to rest and recover. This article from Johnson and Johnson gives you a handy step-by-step guide on how to give sponge baths. From our personal experience, you can never have too many washcloths during this period! (In fact, this is why we include an organic cotton washcloth in our Rad Dad Newborn Starter Kit.) We also want to warn you that this is not always a pleasant task, as many babies seem to hate sponge baths!
Once Baby’s umbilical cord has fallen off, give Baby a regular bath. I will be honest, Mr. Rad Dad bathed our baby until he was 7-8 months old – basically, until he could sit up on his own. I wasn’t strong enough, especially in the early days, to hold the baby under running water and my hands and arms weren’t big enough to support his head and neck *and* bathe him at the same time. Also, if bathing the baby requires you to kneel down, remember that it is very difficult for Mom to bend down when she is still recovering from giving birth. Bathing is a much more pleasant experience than sponge bathing, and it can really help new dads feel more involved and have fun with baby at the same time.
Spend some skin-to-skin time with your baby, or just hold them as they are napping. Since newborns sleep almost all the time, one way for Dads to bond with their babies is to have some skin-to-skin time with the baby. The physical contact, the feeling of warm skin, and a beating heart is very soothing for babies. If you don’t like the idea of constantly dressing and undressing yourself and the baby, then simply holding the baby while they sleep works just as well. Trust me, as your baby gets older, they will never fall asleep in your arms the way a newborn does – so take advantage of this and enjoy while you can!
Help baby with tummy-time. Tummy time is a great opportunity for dads to be involved from early on, especially as parents nowadays are encouraged to start tummy time as soon as they come home from the hospital. Tummy time is the practice of placing the baby on his/her tummy and practice lifting their head and exercising their neck, shoulders, body, and their eye muscles. Moms are encouraged to lie down and place the baby on her stomach or chest as early tummy time practice, but we would actually encourage Dads to do this as well. Doctors suggest starting off with 3-5 minute sessions, 2-3 times a day, although from our personal experience, we did this once a day during the first two weeks of our baby’s life, and usually stopped when he started crying. Read more about tummy time on WebMD here.
Rattles and Baby Paper are your best friends. Newborns aren’t very interested in most toys, but if you want to try to play with your newborn, they do react to toys that make sound. We recommend rattles, as they are also good for development and have a long shelf-life as toys, as well as Baby Paper, which is crinkle paper sewn into fabric. Babies LOVE crinkle paper. And make sure to have a camera handy to capture your baby’s first reaction to the rattle!
Be involved with breastfeeding, especially if your partner is struggling to breastfeed the baby. Contrary to popular belief, there ARE ways that men can help with breastfeeding. If your partner is having trouble breastfeeding, you can sit with her while she’s breastfeeding, help her position the baby, check on latch, and you can attend sessions with the lactation consultant and read up on breastfeeding so you are well-informed to help in this aspect. If your baby is nursing like a champ, there are still ways you can be involved: washing the pump parts, bringing your partner water while she’s nursing, and making sure the remote and phone are nearby.
Bottle-feed the baby. If you and your partner aren’t averse to it, bottle-feeding the baby pumped milk or formula is a very nice way for dads to bond with the baby – while also giving Mom a break! Nowadays, medical professionals recommend waiting four weeks before introducing a bottle to prevent nipple confusion, but do what you think is best for your baby. If your baby is having trouble latching at the breast or your partner’s milk supply is still coming in, it doesn’t hurt to supplement with pumped milk or formula in a bottle. Fed is best, after all!
Take the baby out for walks. This can be done with or without your partner, but taking the baby out for a walk is a great way for Dad to spend time alone with the baby or for the entire family to get out of the house for a little bit and spend time together. Each new experience helps develop the baby’s brain, and you will be fascinated by how your newborn baby observes leaves, trees, houses, and takes in everything around them.
Cook. If you don’t have any family members helping you out, cooking is one thing you can do to allow your partner more time to recover. Your partner is probably exhausted from giving birth, breastfeeding, pumping, and waking up at all hours (especially if she’s decided to exclusively breastfeed), so why not take one thing off her to-do list and do the cooking? Think about it this way: by making sure your partner has enough to eat, you are also ensuring that your baby will eat well! If you can’t or don’t want to cook, no judgment! There are also frozen meal and delivery options. Taking care of the food area, whether through cooking yourself or ordering out, makes one less thing for your partner to worry about. Less stress for your partner = faster recovery!
Clean and do other chores. Speaking from personal experience and the experiences of other moms we spoke to, cleaning, sweeping the floor, washing dishes, doing laundry, shopping for groceries and other household tasks are all things that Dads can do in the early days that allow their partners time to rest and recover from giving birth.
Take care of yourself. Last of all, it’s important to practice self-care during this time. You will be tired from shouldering many of the household tasks and taking care of a newborn baby during this time, and possibly working full-time as well, so make sure you get a little rest and time to yourself, too.
So, Dads, we hope that this list will give you an idea of how you can be involved, how you can help your partner recover, and how you can bond with baby after you and your partner bring your little one home from the hospital! Experienced moms and dads, do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!
(Disclaimer: This post is written by Michelle, the mom behind The Rad Dad Box)
When I was pregnant, neither my husband nor I believed he needed to be involved in breastfeeding. While we both read parenting books to prepare for our baby’s arrival, I was the only one who read breastfeeding books, and I attended the breastfeeding and pumping classes offered by our hospital by myself. Apparently, we weren’t the only couple who thought that Dad didn’t need to be involved in breastfeeding: there were only two dads-to-be in the breastfeeding class, and none in the pumping class!
However, when our son was born and had trouble latching, and I was having issues with my milk coming in, we realized how important it was for Dad to be involved, too.
Now, if you’re one of those moms whose baby latched immediately and started nursing like a champ, and who never had an issue with supply, then consider yourself lucky: You can ignore this post! However, if you’re still pregnant or if, like the majority of women, you have struggled or are currently struggling with breastfeeding, please keep reading to see how your partner can help.
Attend breastfeeding classes with your partner. As a sign of how common our belief that dads didn’t need to help with breastfeeding was, there was a total of two men in my breastfeeding class. Don’t make the same mistake we did! Of course, as with most classes, you learn by practicing, but these classes will give you an idea of how breastfeeding works. The knowledge helps!
Help your partner position the baby to breastfeed. In the early days, I had a lot of trouble figuring out the best position for the baby. My husband would suggest a certain arrangement of the breastfeeding pillows, which hold he thought would be better for the baby to feed, and just stay by my side while I was breastfeeding the baby. It was reassuring to have him there – especially since we were basically on our own after we left the hospital!
Attend sessions with the lactation consultant. Before I became pregnant, I didn’t even know that this service existed. If you don’t already know, a lactation consultant assists women with breastfeeding. Lactation consultants perform an extremely important job, as almost all women struggle with breastfeeding in the beginning. During your sessions, she will watch you breastfeed, advise you on latch, positioning, and make sure the baby is swallowing and getting enough to eat. She also gave me advice on which nipple shields to use and how to eventually wean our son off the nipple shield. If you can, I would strongly advise Dads to come to these sessions as well.
Bring water while she’s breastfeeding. This is one of the easiest ways Dads can help with breastfeeding. It’s a fact: breastfeeding will make Mom thirsty! Have a glass of water ready by her side while she’s nursing, or get ready to bring one to her during nursing sessions. Making sure the phone or remote is by her side helps, too.
Wash the pump parts. During the first three weeks of our son’s life, my world was a haze of breastfeeding (45 minutes-1 hour), followed by pumping (15 minutes), followed by washing pump parts (5-10 minutes), and then getting maybe 45 minutes of work done before the cycle started again. It was such a relief for me when my husband washed the pump parts! It’s only a 5 minute task, but when you’re exhausted, even little things help a lot.
When baby wakes up for a middle-of-the-night feed, change the baby’s diaper before bringing baby to your partner. We spoke with several moms who told us that it was very helpful when their husbands would change the baby’s diaper before bringing the baby to Mom to nurse in the middle of the night. It makes sense: Mom is still waking up, and it’s hard to change the diaper *and* nurse the baby, so if one of these tasks can be taken care of by Dad, it’s immensely helpful to the mother. As I said earlier, every little bit helps! (My husband and I took 5 hour shifts in the night and morning, so fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with waking up every 3 hours to feed the baby, but I realize that this is not a possibility for everyone.)
Help with breastfeeding in public. I tried to avoid it for as long as I could, but inevitably, you will wind up in a situation where you will be breastfeeding in public. Some women are fine openly breastfeeding in public, but if your partner is not, there are many ways you can help her. First of all, you can help her adjust her nursing cover. If she’s having problems getting the baby to latch and needs to look at the baby, pull the top part of the nursing cover slightly away from her so she can see the baby but remain unexposed. If she’s getting the nursing cover on with both hands and baby is in her lap, hold the baby steady until she can hold the baby again.
Did we miss anything? Have any other tips on how dads can help with breastfeeding? Let us know in the comments!