I’ll be the first to confess, I’m not the best at make-believe. Maybe it’s because I lack childlike wonder and an active imagination, or maybe it’s because on any given night I can be found shuffling back and forth between my room and the kids rooms, repositioning blankets and administering post-nightmare hugs and snuggles.
Like all parents of toddlers everywhere, I’m just really damn tired. So when my boys look at me with those sad little eyes, repeating the familiar refrain, “Plaaaaaaaay wif meeeeeeee,” my heart sinks as I try to muster the strength to play “rockets” or “dragons” one more time. Behold, a list of ways to spend quality time with your kids, when you just can’t bear to “play” with them.
1 | Play a board game
I know, I know, I said this would be about ways to not “play,” but somehow board games don’t count. Even the youngest toddlers can manage a rousing game of “Chutes and Ladders” or “Cootie.” We recently got “Don’t Break the Ice” from a thrift store and my son’s eyes are full of wonder and joy as we pound our plastic hammers into those fake ice cubes.
Even if they’re not really playing the game correctly, getting used to taking turns and learning game-playing etiquette is a valuable skill for any kid. Bonus: there’s a lot of sitting involved in board games which is a total plus for exhausted parents!
2 | Have a dance party
My days sometimes turn into long, dragging blurs of dishes, diapers, and repeated attempts at discipline. Sometimes I find myself staring at the wall in my kitchen with no idea how I got there or what I was trying to do.
One thing that always helps and my kids always love? DANCE. PARTY. I pull up good ol’ YouTube on the AppleTV and put on whatever fast-paced song my kids are into at the moment. We dance, we scream, we laugh, we go bat crap crazy and have a good time. No “playing” here, but definite family fun that offers us all a shot of adrenaline and endorphins to keep bad moods and whining voices away (for another hour or so).
3 | Bake something
My kids are still little (3 and 1.5) but they love to help me in the kitchen. Even though they make a huge mess and can be caught eating raw flour or dipping their fingers in raw eggs, baking with them is still worth it. My dear mother-in-law taught my husband how to bake and I’m determined to have my boys be competent in the kitchen as well. Yes, it’s a bit of a hassle, but after just 10 short minutes of bake time, everyone gets a cookie!
4 | Go for a nature walk
Like many American families, we live in a suburban part of town – full of houses, parks, and the occasional grocery store. That doesn’t mean there isn’t nature around, though! Play “I Spy,” or see how many unique types of flowers you can find, search for ants in a line or crickets or deer or whatever nature-y type stuff is around your neighborhood. Even in big cities there are different types of trees, birds, grass, etc. Seeing your surroundings through your children’s eyes can be so refreshing. And a little Vitamin D always does a wonder for crankiness!
5 | Build a fort and have a “sleepover”
Kids of (almost) all ages love forts. Take a few blankets and some living room furniture and get building! Somehow just sitting inside a fort is fun for kids. Bring a pillow and a blanket inside and it’s fun for me, too! I always tell my kids, “It’s a campout, a sleepover!” For some reason, they seem to buy it. And I get to hang with them in a pile of blankets! I might even be up for “roasting” some pretend marshmallows with them, if they place their cards right.
6 | Random bath time
This one I use only when absolutely desperate. It’s 10 a.m.: the kids are going crazy and the house is already destroyed? All children strip down and get in that bathtub! We’re one of those families that doesn’t do a bath every night in the wintertime so this one is especially fun on cold days when we’re stuck inside. It works in the summer as a (lame) substitute for heading to the pool, too. A warm bath at a random time seems fun and wild and they basically entertain themselves when given enough plastic bath toys.
7 | Read-a-thon
We read before naps and bedtimes, but I’ll take any chance I get to bury my own nose in a book. Bring a huge pile of books to a new place (living room, master bed, backyard patio, etc.), plop them down and tell them to go at it. You can read to them or bring a book of your own and insist everyone reads something until the timer goes off. Chances are, if the pile is big enough, you’ll at least get a few moments of “togetherness,” and if you’re among the luckiest of parents, perhaps just a bit of silence, too.