Before I had my daughter, Sasha, I'd always assumed that entertaining a young child was a no-brainer. After all, this is the age group known for its love of crumpled paper and empty boxes.
But as the mother of a 1-year-old, I've learned that while babies may not be picky about their playthings, they have the attention span of your average housefly. They get bored and cranky fast, and if you don't have a few tricks up your sleeve, you'll never make it out of the supermarket or get through a rainy day with your sanity intact.
The following ideas will keep baby occupied in any circumstance. And you won't need to go broke in a toy store.
1. Pass the Cookie. After I spent several rainy days stuck inside with a restless baby, I understood why the Cat in the Hat wreaked so much havoc. Dreary weather and the same collection of tired old toys can send my sunshiny daughter (and me) into a real funk, so that's when I pull out all the stops and try to engage her in out-of-the-ordinary games. A game of "pass the teething biscuit or cookie" is one way I jolly a cranky kid into a giggly mood. Here's how to do it: Put one end of a biscuit in your mouth and lean toward your child. She'll take the other end in her mouth. Then lean in and take the biscuit back with your mouth. Pass it back and forth until baby gets the giggles.
2. Crawling Race. Sheila Ellison, mother of six and author of 365 Games Babies Play (Sourcebooks, 2003), is a fan of the crawling race. "Turn on a musical toy and hide it somewhere nearby," she recommends. "Then, challenge baby to a race to find it." Not only does it keep kids occupied, it gives them the physical release they need.
3. Pantry Discovery. "Your pantry is a great source for unusual playthings," says Louise Jones, mother of two and founder of Sydney's Playground, an indoor playspace in New York City. "Fill bowls with uncooked rice and dried peas," she says. "Kids love feeling all the textures." I know mine does!
4. Messy Crafts. Baby-friendly crafts are a rainy-day hit, too. I tint yogurt with food coloring, lay butcher-block paper on the floor, and let Sasha "paint" (and eat). And when we've really hit a wall, we have a bathroom beach party. For some reason, getting wet when it's not bath time is a novelty for little kids. We race bath toys in the tub, blow bubbles, or use baby bath to make lots of suds.