The Toddler Project

I’ve gotten lots of emails asking about how my New Year’s Resolutionto do three intentional activities with Thomas every day is going. And in general, I’d say it’s going well. It’s been a good reminder to me that just because we’re together all day long, doesn’t mean that I don’t need to put effort into the things we do.

First, let’s do a quick break-down of our parenting style or daily routine to set the scene. Mr. B and I have chosen not to introduce Thomas to TV at this point (though football’s usually on in the background on a Sunday) – mostly because we recognize our own weaknesses and think it would be too easy for us to decide we were tired one day and just put T in front of the TV (plus, when he sees our iPhones he goes crazy and knows how to work them, so we’re pretty sure he’s a kid we’re going to need to monitor tech time with in the future, and we think (though we don’t know) that no TV now will help that in the future). So, all that is to say, when I need to do something around the house, Thomas does it with me or plays quietly on his own. Every morning after breakfast, T and I clean up the house – put dishes in the dishwasher; if the first floor needs to be vacuumed we vacuum together. I give T a Swiffer duster and he goes to town dusting (God knows it doesn’t clean the house, but it gets him involved). If I need to shower in the morning (normally I do this before bed so that it’s a non-issue, but sometimes a girl needs clean hair), Thomas showers with me. So we’re together a whole lot, but I believe that kids need specific, kid appropriate, attention from their parents, too, and that’s where my New Year’s Resolution comes into play.
I don’t always plan my three intentional activities out in advance, but I make myself put thought into them nonetheless. At this point our schedule is pretty flexible, and we like it that way. Thomas goes to our neighbor’s on Tuesday mornings so that I can count on a few hours of uninterrupted work time, and our neighbor comes to our house on Thursday mornings so that her mom can do the same. Thursday afternoons we go to a music class (we are a one paid, scheduled activity at a time family right now), but otherwise, T and I are free to do what we want (my work schedule works around T’s sleep schedule right now), and I attempt to make each one of our activities fit into each of these categories:
Something Active
We try to get outside every single day. It doesn’t always work with weather, but if we can’t get outside, we run laps around the house with Casco or T and I go downstairs and he rides his trike in the basement. We play soccer and football in the house when it’s cold outside, and take advantage of the backyard and neighborhood parks whenever we can. Thomas is content to read and do puzzles a lot of the time – but he also has lots of toddler boy energy that he needs to burn, and I think it’s important for kids  to get outside as often as possible.
Our rec center has a free indoor toddler gym that I need to go look into because there are days when I just need to get out of the house to break up the routine. But in general, as long as I remember to get outside (or get active inside if the weather’s dismal), we have a much better day.
Something Thoughtful
This one’s a no-brainer for T, we read books throughout the day, so while sometimes I sit down in a comfy chair with him and make a point to read to him for 30 + minutes straight as our activity, most of the time books and reading are just a normal part of our day – not my planned out activity. So beyond our normal reading, I want to do an activity with him that gets him to use his mind – in ways way he’s inclined to use it naturally and also in new ways. Puzzles, shape sorters, block building and books are his comfort zone. When those are our activity, I sit with him and we talk about everything he’s doing – teaching him his numbers, letters, colors and shapes. Arts and crafts – coloring, finger painting, and play dough, for example – aren’t a subject area he’s naturally inclined to (Thomas prefers to stack his crayons in their box than use them to color – I have a feeling he’s got his daddy’s engineering brain), so we mix that in at least every other day. And we try to go to the library to read books or listen to story time – and then bring home new books – once a week.
Some of our favorite books:
Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs
The entire Llama Llama series
Lost and Found
Charlie the Ranch Dog
Duck and Goose (and the accompanying seasonal board books)
One Lucky Duck
Goodnight Moon
The Little Blue Truck and Little Blue Truck Leads the Way
Feely Bugs
Dear Zoo
Brown Bear, Brown Bear
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Any Corduroy book
Some of our favorite Puzzles:
I loved the Melissa & Doug big knob puzzles for 12-18 months (these are also my favorite first birthday gift to give). We have this one.
We also love shape sorters (kind of puzzle like). This one is good for T now, there are simpler ones for younger toddlers.
For small knob puzzles (good for developing hand eye coordination), I bought a 4 pack that came with a puzzle rack at Target (no link) and this set of Melissa and Doug Puzzles. Whenever I’m at TJ Maxx or Kohls, I check for Melissa and Doug puzzles at good prices – they usually have a pretty good selection.
Something Fun
On top of his books and puzzles, T loves cars, trucks, trains and balls. Sometimes we just drive trucks all over the house. Sometimes we build block towers and knock them down with big sound effects. As a special treat, I’ve filled a bucket with water and taken off T’s clothes and we just go to town splashing inside the house. We play with his toys, we have a parade, we dance to music (Raffi’s a big hit), we play instruments, we set up the train track and play – and derail – trains.  Sometimes our fun activity is also active – lots of boy energy, lots of need to run, jump, swim and play!
So that’s my Toddler project. I don’t think that our day to day routine and activities have changed drastically since my resolution kicked in, but I’ve become more cognizant of focusing on Thomas while he’s awake rather than fitting in parenting with everything else on my plate.


  1. I’ve been trying to do the 3 intentional things too after I saw you mention it a few months ago, and I definitely think it works well when we do it. Lizzy loves it because I tell her it’s “school”, and I find myself being a lot more intentional with those three tasks, and then I ALSO feel like I can get things done around the house without feeling bad that I’m not giving her my full attention.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! I definitely need a kick in the pants to be more involved- it’s just so hard when there is laundry to do, etc. I especially appreciate the list of books since I am getting a bit tired of our current rotation of the little truck books, llama llama and chugga chugga choo choo…..

  3. Great post Emily, I have been wanting to do more structured activities with Jillian on my days off but admittedly it’s hard not wanting to just sit in front of the TV with her while being of with #2. I think if I focused on at least one 30 minute activity a day outside of books and puzzles, I would be happy. You are doing a great job!!

  4. This is awesome! I love how your favorite books are totally different from ours, with the exception of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” which C calls “grape” for some reason. We love Curious George books, Thomas the Train Books, Karen Katz’s lift the flap books, and most recently fell in love with “A Plane Goes Ka-Zoom.”

    We do let C watch TV, usually a 23 minute Curious George episode while I eat breakfast and clean up dishes in the morning. He also plays in his bed while I shower; this is with lots of books, blocks, animal friends and music. He is NOT a fan of showers and I’m not a fan of showers at night, so this works for us now that he’s down to one nap a day (when he took two, I just waited until he was sleeping to shower).

    Since I’m pretty much always with C, I don’t excel in the structured, intentional activities department. I do much better when we have scheduled things to do out of the house (music class, story time, errands, visiting friends), but we stayed home all day Monday and spend the morning cleaning. C helped me vacuum, Swiffer, and steam the kitchen. He’s also a great duster!

  5. Great post!

  6. What a great mom you are! It sounds like you guys have a great time together. Chester and I run laps around our house too (he likes to be chased while carrying a to)- you guys (Big C too) are welcome to join us any time!!

  7. This post is just chock full of good info! Sometimes I start feeling guilty, like did I do enough “stuff” with Gabe today but I feel like we just have a flow. I mix our errands in with trips to the park, cleaning in with playing. I’m sure sometimes I leave the TV on a little longer than I should but overall, I think we have a good balance.

    You know what I’m not good at though? Classes/Group Activity type things. Like the ones you have to register and pay for? I have such a hard time justifying that cost. Do you guys do anything like that? I’m thinking now that he’s getting older I should be socializing him more but man, I’d rather do it naturally, ya know?