For your toddler, anytime feels like playtime. Though your own schedule may not be quite as open, there's no need for the two of you to be at odds. Your typical day -- including chores or that dash to the store -- offers plenty of opportunities for on-the-go fun together. We polled busy moms to get their most inventive ideas.
Shake a Leg
There's nothing like an impromptu boogie session to put everyone in a good mood, says Emily Kenyon, of Columbia Cross Roads, Pennsylvania. "Sometimes we have a dance party in the kids' bedroom as I'm putting away their laundry or just when they're getting fussy," says Kenyon, mom of 11/2-year-old Haylee and 3-year-old Hunter. "It's also a great way for me to de-stress when I'm worried about how much I need to get done."
Do Market Research
Los Angeles mom Alana Prisco has turned shopping for fruits and veggies into a bonding experience. After she noticed Eva, 2, was entranced watching chef Giada De Laurentiis on YouTube, Prisco began taking her daughter to the farmers' market. They peruse the produce, taste samples, and play "I spy" with ingredients they've seen on the cooking show. "It's also encouraged Eva to try new foods," says Prisco. "Now she's excited about broccoli!"
Be a Clean Team
Housework has become a friendly competition between Chicago mom Jessica Boggs and her daughter, Isabella, 3. "It's all about beating Mommy," laughs Boggs. "She loves to help sweep, so I made our Swiffer shorter for her, and we see who can get around the room the fastest. She also helps me sort laundry. We talk about colors and sizes, but I think she just likes pushing the buttons on the washing machine!"
Make a Video
Next time you take your kid along on an errand, film it with your phone. Later, watch the clip together and ask him to recount your adventure. This exercise does more than boost memory skills. "Storytelling is a powerful way to make sense of the world," says Dan Siegel, M.D., coauthor of The Whole-Brain Child. "Kids absorb the stories and tell their own."
Have a Treasure Hunt
Spending time in the kitchen? Give your little one a mission. "Nothing says fun like bowls, spoons, and a big container of, say, dried lentils and hidden treasures," says Amy Hodge, of Mount Washington, Kentucky. She buries "prizes" such as fake bugs, action figures, and alphabet blocks among some lentils, then lets her 3-year-old son, Griffin, find them. "It is hours of entertainment," says Hodge. "He loves it!"
Try Yard Work
Dealing with the leaves on her lawn is one of Manteca, California, mom Michelle Montero's least favorite tasks. But her 11/2-year-old daughter, Madelyn, loves it. "I showed her how to pick up the leaves and put them in a bucket. As she did, I'd count each one. She smiled the whole time," Montero recalls. "She cleared off our lawn and then went next door to get the neighbor's leaves!" Finishing a chore and helping a friend? That's playtime well spent.
Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Parents magazine.