Down ’n Dirty
Toddlers know they’ve landed in heaven when they’re given a garden spade or some plastic kitchen utensils, a bucket or a few plastic whipped-topping or soft-spread margarine containers, and a chance to play in the dirt. Add to that a bucket of water, and they’ll probably be more contented than with any other toy. It’s a given that they’ll end up with some around their mouth; the challenge is to keep younger ones from getting too much in their mouth.
Children work out their understandings of relationships through dramatic play. If you step back and listen, you will hear how you speak to your spouse and your child, perfect in every tone and inflection! If you’re surprised by what you hear, you can always change how people speak to each other in your home.
Of course they’ll get dirty—make that filthy—but it’s got to be better for kids to wallow in nature than to stare passively at television. Certainly it’s easier to clean up their bodies than their minds.
Make a Sandbox
If you prefer a down-’n-far-less-dirty experience, sand is cleaner and can be more fun for toddlers to play in than dirt. If a traditional sandbox is too expensive, you can make your own:
Dig a hole six inches deep and line it with plastic. Punch holes in the plastic for the water to drain through, and fill the hole with sand until it’s level with the ground. Cover it with another sheet of plastic weighted with rocks to help keep out the rain.
If the homemade kind is too much work, look for a rectangular plastic storage bin at a discount store, pour six inches of sand in the bottom, and pop your toddler inside—leaving the lid off, of course!
Repurpose a Wading Pool
For a quick and easy sandbox, fill an inexpensive plastic wading pool with sand.
Keep the sandbox covered, as neighborhood cats or your own cat will think it’s a bathroom. And there are myriad summertime opportunities for water play with a wading pool. Keep it safe, though. Do not leave your toddler for a minute, even with just an inch of water in the pool.