It’s been a month of lockdown with my two-year-old. My wife is a preschool teacher and has endless amounts of activities to keep the toddler busy, but this has been a great time for me to step in and do fun dad stuff.
You’ve been in the same house, with the same people, doing the same stuff for so long. If some of those people are small serial spillers with an insatiable appetite for playtime then it can be challenging to find new ways to keep them entertained. Older kids have online learning to do or are happy to be left alone making TikToks and gaming. Preschoolers don’t typically spend hours in a room by themselves productively doing puzzles, messaging friends and rewatching episodes of Brooklyn 99. If that does sound like your under-five then you need to contact Harvard ASAP and secure that scholarship early. Preschoolers are generally a little bit more work. This is when dads get to be awesome and spend time entertaining and going on adventures with the little energizer bunny you call your toddler.
Mums can do all the things dads can do, of course, but there’s something special about the way that dads do stuff. For example, dads were a prime asset back in the olden days when we were allowed to visit playgrounds. They were the ones who set new records for the highest you can push a child on a swing. Dads were the first ones to let the preschooler mix their own drink at the free refill station. Dads would let babies sit on their laps while driving around an empty carpark. Even though dads are usually the ones to overestimate how far a toddler can ride a bike and underestimate how many snacks to bring, dads can be great with preschoolers during lockdown.
These mini versions of us are pretty adorable so almost anything you do with them is enjoyable if you’re just soaking in the moment. However, you can really start losing enthusiasm for singing ‘Wheels on the Bus’ after eight thousand repeats. Lockdown has certainly upped the quantity of time we have together, but that doesn’t automatically mean it will be quality time. The magic happens when you do stuff that both dad and toddler enjoy. Here are some tried and tested ideas for that entertain both preschoolers and dads.
Go outside every single day
The easiest way for a dad to entertain a preschooler is to take them outside everyday. Little grommets need to burn energy so that when it’s time to sleep, they are absolutely wrecked and can’t summon the energy to demand another story. Preschoolers are a bit like dogs. (Hear me out before you judge me. I can already tell people are offended at this comparison because it’s not fair on dogs.) You only need to say “Walk” or jingle the keys and open the door – they’ll immediately sprint around in circles knocking things over and run out the door with a leash in their mouth. And often dogs will do the exact same thing.
And you don’t need to wait for a sunny day. The hardy Scandinavians have an inspiring expression: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Bury them in layers of clothing (your kids that is, not the Scandinavians) and go out on an adventure, whatever the weather. This could include biking, skateboarding, running races, scavenger hunts, rolling around on the grass or playing fetch – I mean throwing a ball around. You don’t actually need ideas for what to do, just leave the house and see what happens. The toddler will take forever to get ready and take even longer to keep up once you leave, but that’s all good. It’s time spent doing something other than watching another episode of Little Baby Bum.
Drama and dress ups
Toddlers have amazing imaginations and you can spend ages playing with them if you just join in on their level. One simple way to kickstart a make-believe session is to play dress-ups. You could dress up as superheroes, scientists, firefighters, robots, animals, or a strange combination of all of the above. What you discover as you embark into the world of a kid’s imagination is this; a silly dad is a fun dad. The sillier you let yourself become, the more fun you will have.
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Take them to work
For the non-essential working dads (that sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it), you’ve probably set up a home office of sorts somewhere away from the disturbance of little and curious play-addicted people. One way to entertain the preschooler is to invite them to your home office for a visit. Sit them on your lap; you get to do some work (maybe?) and they get to sabotage your Zoom meetings. It will be incredibly disruptive but if you make time for them and give them attention, they will think it’s so special. You can give them an unplugged spare keyboard and sit them on their own chair. They’ll bash away at the keys, demand you play The Wiggles and ask questions like “What does this button do”? after pushing the off switch on your laptop. This sweet visit doesn’t have to take long, but your preschooler will really look forward to it. It’ll be annoying and fun.
Cooking anything with kids is fun but it’s better if it involves less cooking and more assembling. That’s why burgers and sandwiches are great. Give the tiny sous chef the challenge of building the ultimate sandwich. The ingredients are limited only by their imagination.The cool thing about sandwiches and burgers is that you basically just build a big tower of food. It’s like playing with blocks but you can eat it. The key to cooking with kids is lower your expectations – don’t expect it to look good or even taste good. In fact, sometimes the food ends up being such a disaster that it even grosses out the dog. That’s totally okay. The goal of making ultimate sandwiches isn’t really to eat stuff and mess up your house, it’s to have fun and connect.
You don’t have to watch kids’ shows
Some kids’ TV shows are trash (you know which ones). We worry a lot about how much time kids spend watching stuff but we forget to worry about what they are actually watching. Dads can spend quality time with kids when they are watching something both are engaged in. So what do you watch that isn’t going to be boring for the other person? There’s a middle ground between Peppa Pig and the PGA tour. You can do exercise classes or learn a dance routine, watch animal shows, magic tricks or first-person perspective videos of roller coasters. Watch science experiments and then try one yourself. Watch sports highlights and then play that sport. You’ll know if you’re watching something good; not if your kids are silently glued to the screen but if they are so inspired that they are compelled to stop watching and play.
We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Industries are collapsing and there’s no rugby to watch, yet for our children – this could be the best time of their lives. We’ve been given all this time together – we can either pass the time or use the time. There are many more ideas for entertaining toddlers, like reading books, building huts, dancing and singing, but the point isn’t just to keep our little kids busy. The point is to connect with them as much as possible. Dads are great at playing with preschoolers and we’ve never been given a better opportunity than right now.
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