Let me start off by saying that I am a stay-at-home mom who works from home part-time, so being at home with my 2.5-year-old and 1.5-year-old is nothing new to me. However, having my husband try to work from home while my kids and I cannot leave our house or spend time with other people has been extremely challenging.

There are days where my husband and I need a break from our kids, and sometimes even each other. Most of my empathy, however, is outpouring to my kids.

They are so young that I think people often overlook how difficult this “new normal” has been for them.

Their routine has been completely turned upside down. Their daddy is home all the time, but can’t play with them all the time. They see their friends in their driveways playing when we take a walk around the neighborhood, but they can’t go near them or play with them. They haven’t been touched or hugged by anyone but my husband and me in weeks. I can see their hurt, their pain, and their frustration, and my heart breaks for them because they don’t have the vocabulary to express it.

I have shared this pain with my mom tribe, and they’ve agreed their younger kids have similar struggles. I am forever grateful for these wonderful mamas in my life, because in our supportive spirit, we shared different ideas and activities that are safe to complete with our toddlers during this time. Some are activities we can do together, and others gave us that precious break we so desperately needed.

Here are some of our successful ideas that brought our young ones joy and reprieve in this stressful and uncertain time.

1. A Butterfly Garden 

My 2.5-year-old is obsessed with the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so when my friend sent me pictures of the butterflies they recently released from their butterfly garden kit, I knew we had to order one as well. The kids were so excited to wake up every morning and check on their caterpillars, witness them build their cocoons, and then release them in the yard when they emerged as butterflies. My friend has a 4-year-old, and she had him draw pictures of the changing stages he saw every few days. It was a great way to incorporate something educational into such a fun activity!

Two toddlers with Butterfly Garden
Image via Katelyn Cushey

2. Food-Making Kits

Many of our restaurants have developed kits families can buy to make their food at home, and my kids have really enjoyed it! One of our local pizza places sold a pizza-making kit complete with the dough, sauce, and toppings. A donut shop sold a donut decorating kit, and this was a child-favorite in our household. It was a nice change of pace and made mealtime a more enjoyable family affair while supporting our local restaurants.

Image via Katelyn Cushey

3. Laundry Sorting/Outfit Changing

It sounds so simple, but my kids absolutely loved this. I picked out a handful of their clothes and told them they could try on different outfits. Considering we don’t usually allow them to change their outfits multiple times, they absolutely loved it. They took their clothes on and off for almost 30 precious minutes. When they grew tired of that, I told them they could be big helpers and fold their clothes. This gave me another 15 minutes before they had finished “folding” them. Almost an hour of independent play from them! How can people say miracles don’t exist?!

4. Washing Their Toys

We’ve had such gorgeous weather, so my kids desperately want to go outside. We try to do a walk around the neighborhood once a day, but I wanted something we could do outside in our driveway that would occupy them and give them a break from their normal activities. My husband gave me the idea one Saturday when he decided to wash the car. The kids loved “helping” him, so later in the week, I put them in their bathing suits, filled a bucket with water and soap, gave them some washcloths, and let them go to town on all of their outside toys. They. Were. Obsessed. They washed their toys (and themselves) for an hour and a half. Yes, you read that correctly. My 2-year-old and 1-year-old played independently together for over an hour. To say I was thankful would be the understatement of this quarantine.

Kids washing toy car
Image via Katelyn Cushey

5. Indoor Scavenger Hunt

When we don’t have great weather outside, or we’re all just feeling an indoor day, I set up a scavenger hunt around the house. I show my kids five of their toys, and then go hide them around the house. If they can find all the items, they get to pick a special surprise (one extra story at bedtime, five extra minutes in the bath, etc.). It usually takes them about 15-20 minutes to find the items, so this is a great one I pull out of the bag if I need some extra time to finish the dishes, get a meal started, or just take a much-needed breather.

One day (hopefully sooner rather than later), we’ll all be able to safely gather again, and my kids can reconnect with their friends and old activities. Until then, I’m thankful that this time alone with them has given me the opportunity to help them find more innovative and creative ways to have fun.

Katelyn Cushey

Katelyn is the lucky mom of two sweet children, Spencer and Delaney. She lives with her kids and husband in Florida. She loves to share her stories with others through writing in the hopes of helping at least one person realize she is not alone. You can follow her on Facebook and on her personal blog, A Perfectly Messy Life.