Midwest winters are hard, especially for southern transplants like myself. The cold weather and icy terrain leave me feeling trapped. My once-docile baby is now an energetic toddler who needs to run, jump, swing, and climb. It breaks my heart when he presses his little face against the backdoor, repeating morosely that it’s too cold to play outside.
If I have to hear one more time that it’s not the weather, it’s my clothes, I will scream. And spending 30 minutes getting dressed and undressed just to be outside for 30 minutes still leaves me with a whole day to fill!
So whether you’re trapped inside by rain, snow, the sniffles, or worse, here is what saves my sanity:
Rotate your gross motor toys
While I regularly rotate our books and toys, my go-to indoor gross motor toy has always been our classic Little Tikes slide. It fit well in our living room, wasn’t too dangerous, and my son loved it. Lately, the slide wasn’t getting as much action, so when the Christmas tree went up, the slide went down to the basement. As I hauled it downstairs, our small children’s trampoline caught my eye. It would fit perfectly by the front door, and since we weren’t having many visitors these days would it really be that much of an inconvenience?
Bringing the trampoline upstairs was a game changer! My son loved bouncing, hanging, and practicing for gymnastics class. By the end of the month, he had taught himself to jump. Did it take up a lot of floor space? Yes. Did my living room look like an HGTV after photo? No. But did it help my son burn energy and learn new skills, thereby saving a small piece of my sanity? Very yes!
So far our indoor gross motor toys include the slide, trampoline, a Waldorf rocker, and soon a Nugget. Just like with my son’s other toys, moving them to different areas of the house, or simply storing them for a season and bringing them back out gives them new life.
Bring the outdoors in
Even before my son was a toddler, he loved to swing. As that first summer drew to a close, I knew we needed a way to swing through the winter. One quick trip to Menard’s and our problem was solved! We mounted some screw eyes in the basement ceiling to the floor joists above and could easily hang any of our outdoor swings. His favorite this winter is the rings. I also learned I could attach our camping hammock for a simple fabric swing!
(Disclaimer- I am not an engineer. I don’t know how much weight it can hold, the location or condition of your joists, etc. Be safe, y’all.)
When August’s Derecho disassembled our Step2 climber slide for us, I took it as an opportunity to wash the pieces and move it from the backyard to the basement. After discovering his old VTech discovery tree in storage, my son dragged it up top where he likes to perch precariously and push the buttons.
Some of our traditionally outdoor toys now roam the main floor (balance bike, mini skateboard). Some were quickly relegated to the basement (cozy coupe, soccer ball). Others were assimilated (our water table toys are now being used in our sensory bin or the bath). Whether it’s big items like a slide or small items like a ball, finding ways to bring our outdoor toys in for the winter increases our options for play and lets us revisit some of our favorite summertime activities.
Be open to innovation
Winter weather means less outdoor time for mama too. I love taking my son on walks in good weather, but there is no way I am pushing a stroller through the snow. This year we got a treadmill so I could at least still walk by myself. So far my toddler has used it more than I have, even though he doesn’t know it moves! My initial reaction was to make it off-limits, but I am so glad that I held my tongue and watched him explore. He marches on it, calling it his balance beam. He swings from the handles, calling it his monkey bars. In his imagination, it is an amazing new jungle gym that we got just for him.
I am constantly impressed by the innovation of a toddler. Unopened boxes of diapers become building blocks, stepping stones, and stools to reach light switches. The piano bench is always on its side as a poor man’s parallel bars. Tupperware and empty yogurt containers make the best towers. And of course, any box, bucket, or basket that can be sat in will be sat in.
Flexibility has never been a strength of mine; I prefer propriety and organization over chaos and clutter. But motherhood has a special way of shining a light on your weaknesses, providing ample opportunities to improve.
As I have paused to take a step back, to suppress my natural no’s, I have learned to see creativity and growth instead of just mess, to let my monkey be a monkey, and to be the Jane Goodall he needs.
What are your tips and toddler activities for those indoor days?
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