Four Ideas for Thriving Through a Pandemic Winter with a Toddler

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When COVID lockdown started in March of 2020, managing an 8-month-old while working from home seemed like a breeze. Spring was starting to pop up in Indianapolis, and the cabin fever felt so….temporary. (I know, I’m laughing aloud at my total naivety back then too!) Fast forward a few months, err…almost a full year later, we have a walking, spirited, fearless, full-blown toddler who is as eager (read: desperate) to return to pre-COVID normal as the rest of us. And he will break every last wine glass in my china cabinet if that’s what it takes. 

I’ve never been a huge fan of midwestern winters. Unless there’s skiing involved, I used to use Indiana snow as an excuse to hibernate and watch TV. Becoming a mother and the ongoing global pandemic has certainly softened my view a bit. Winters have recently evolved into an exploration opportunity, albeit a cold one at times. These four ideas have been helping us save our sanity…and our glassware! Here are some ways you can survive a pandemic winter with a toddler.

Opt outside with a child-led walk

Yes, I lead with the craziest idea first! Even when the temperatures outside seem unbearable, I am constantly reminding myself that making an effort to bundle up is always worth it, even if for just a few minutes of fresh air. I’ve recently discovered the magic of the child-led walk. These types of walks serve the dual purpose of allowing my son to drive his own exploration while he’s developing gross motor skills. We usually start at our front door and let our son determine when and where we stop and go. We often talk about what we see as giving him the freedom to follow his curiosity within safe limits. Some days, we make it down the street to a local playground. Other days we don’t make it past our own yard, with our chicken coop as his frequently chosen main attraction. Another fun feature of child-led walks is that they can be as long or as short as we want, and I can always jam them into a hectic daily work schedule. 

Spread art with snail mail 

In the internet age, snail mail seems like our last resort in terms of communication. But in these days where we are so often “zoomed out,” grab some crayons and paper and whip up some fun art to mail to friends and relatives near and far. If you are more brave and less type-A than me, your child can even help place the stamp and put the envelope in the mailbox.   

Bonus idea: Looking to spread even more joy through the mail? Local nursing homes and care facilities are always looking for pen pal mail to brighten the day!   

Sensory bins

I know what you may be thinking…” are you insane? I can’t turn my child loose with a bin of dry beans!” If parenting is in part an ongoing exercise in personal growth, we can all grow together because, hey, desperate times! Sensory bins are a great way to survive this pandemic winter with a toddler, believe it or not!

The best sensory bins use whatever you have on hand, which also makes them super budget-friendly. We’ve successfully used an old plastic storage bin, a foil roasting pan, and even a shallow cardboard box to serve as our sensory bin. Next, start with your base material. Our toddler-approved favorites are rice, dry beans, and pasta. You could add in buttons, beads, foam shapes, pompoms, magnetic letters for added color and texture. Although sensory bins are meant to be, literally, hands-on, adding tools and instruments is another element to encourage fine motor skills and foster imagination. Scoops, measuring cups, spoons, tongs, silicone muffin cups, and toy cars are frequently in our sensory bin rotation. The possibilities are limited only to your imagination and what you have on hand! I love being able to keep our sensory bin exciting by quickly changing out the materials. Finally, my pro-tip to minimize the mess is to put down a sheet or a blanket to make cleanup a breeze. Messes are memories, right? 

Virtual storytime

There are opportunities abound for virtual storytime, but why not add a twist…and read with a special guest! We’ve leveraged Facetime to meaningfully connect to grandparents, aunt and uncles, and friends all across the country. It feels natural to add storytime to our digital socialization routines. My parents have delighted in sharing books from my childhood bookshelves with my son. Digital books available through your local libraries are awesome and *completely free* ways to discover new reads too!

Bonus Idea: If your child is a little older and/or a beginning reader, read with a dog! Here in Central Indiana, one local organization, Paws & Think, offers virtual storytime with a therapy dog. For more information and to sign up for a slot at one of the virtual venues, visit the Paws to Read program here.

These are just a few of our favorite ways to kick the COVID winter blues with our toddler. What activities are your favorite to shake the toddler winter blues and survive a pandemic winter with a toddler?

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