I spent a long time away from Pinterest (no matter of conviction, really, just lost interest for a while), but I’m using it regularly again for homeschool ideas and resources. (Again, don’t get the wrong idea. We have not done Thirty-Three Handprint Projects for Fall or Sixteen Frozen-Inspired Science Projects. But it’s quite useful for getting ideas for simple age-appropriate unit studies and lots of free printables.)
But none of that is the point I’m going for today. I’d like to talk frankly about two-year-olds and “busy bags.” And all of that other stuff that, according to the Gospel of Pinning, I’m supposed to be doing to enrich my child’s mental and fine motor development. They’re just not working in my house.
When I do a search for “Activities for Two-Year-Olds,” my results usually fall into the following categories:
1) Giant-Mess-in-a-Box. These posts usually begin “Fill a shallow tub with water/rice that you have dyed in various rainbow colors/pom poms/sand/flour mixed with baby oil/small beads/popping corn, etc.,” followed by promises that playing with a few plastic toys in said tub will entertain my toddler for HOURS.
My objection to all of these (usually classified as “sensory play”) is simple: I know my child will not be entertained by this for hours. He will run his hands and plastic cars around in the bin for approximately ten seconds, and then he will dump the whole bin out onto the floor. (Even if I have had the foresight to set this activity up in the back yard, it’s still a lot of material going to waste).
2) “I-Spent-16-Hours-On-This-So-You-Better-Like-It” I love the pictures of homemade felt busy books, elaborate toilet paper roll marble mazes, and giant butcher paper maps of cities for toy cars to drive on as much as the next mom. And maybe if I lived in a land of 300-hour days, I’d be on board with these ideas. But these days I’m barely finding time to sit down and pay bills on time, and I’ll be durned if I’m spending all my precious hours from 8-10 PM creating activities that may or may not entertain for my fickle preschooler the next day. Because if our nightly Dinner Showdown has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t have the first clue what my kids actually want or like, and they have no respect for my time and effort.
3) “Your Kid is How Old?” Nothing sends me to the therapist faster than these posts. These are the ones that suggest that my two-(okay, maybe three)-year-old can and will create a beautiful suncatcher out of torn scraps of tissue paper, color in a daily journal, or make cute creatures out of paint and rocks. These posts always have pictures of these virtuosos in action, so I know they’re totally real. Meanwhile, I look up from my pinning to see my own child dumping a whole box of Cheerios on the floor with nary a thought of stringing them on a piece of yarn to create an edible necklace.
So the little happy scene of Jem working quietly with his busy bag while I cook dinner or review math facts with Abby has never materialized. But this is not to say I’ve never had a moment of productivity without the World’s Cutest Barnacle hanging on my leg. In these moments, my own two year old is usually occupied with one of the following:
1. Destroying something. I have an elaborate algorithm that I work through to determine that accomplishing A is worth the time of repairing or cleaning up B.
2. Eating. This also usually involves a mess, so the algorithm from 1) applies here, too.
3. Watching television. We do have limits on screen time, and even Clifford’s Puppy Days doesn’t hold Jem’s attention indefinitely. This is my ace that I try really hard to save for the hour before dinner.
4. Sleeping. These golden moments are becoming rarer, but the days when he takes a nap are spectacular gifts.
5. Accidentally engaged in independent play using toys as they were intended. These moments are rare, and never ever happen at my prompting. But sometimes I’ll notice that Jem is occupied with his Little People Zoo or a game of pretend with Abby, and I know to spring into action! (Or, you know, spring into my recliner so I can drink a Dr Pepper in peace!)