I guess everybody knows the situation: You have stuff to do at home and your toddler is, well, toddling around, being up to nothing constructive. So one of the potentially easiest things to do is to at least try to involve your toddler in your activities and have him help you. Mind you that chances are very high that you will end up taking two to three times as long and not get everything done, but…you will have made progress, your toddler will have been happy to have helped you with “grown up” stuff and it also is a valuable learning experience about how things are done and how things work. Note: At no times the toddler should be left alone during any of these activities, mind you, since safety always comes first!
Doing the dishes
We all know that dishes just will not go away (unless you have a dishwasher, but like in many households, the dishwasher is writing this post…) and it is something where you can’t just drop everything and run after your toddler at any given time. So why not make it an activity you can do together? Obviously for this one it helps, if your sink is positioned in a way that you can have a second person either across or to the left/right of you, because side by side things might get a little tight. What I found works best is, if you and the child each have their own sponge/dish rag, because I can assure you, sharing will not be a huge hit and wrestling for the same sponge will just result in a) delays, b) whining/crying/hitting and c) most probably some localized flooding in the kitchen.
Some other basics will also help you make this a success: Obviously no knives in the sink/tub allowed (depending on the child butter knives MAY be ok, but do not take any chances), try to put in a good mix of glass/ceramics and plastic, give the plastic to the child, you do the rest, everybody happy and even if the plate slides out of his hands, no big deal. Depending on the motor skills of the child (or the enthusiasm), this may directly lead into the next point:
Mopping the floor
You may already have plenty of water on the floor from doing the dishes, so why not make the most use out of it? With the amount of fairly easy mopping products (at least in North America we have the Swiffer WetJet or the Rubbermaid Reveal – and no, this has not been endorsed by anyone), even a small child can help you mop the floors, as long as you make sure the child will not accidentally use the handle to swipe the china off the shelves. Depending on how dirty the floors are, this activity also has a high potential for immediate reward, since the kid might be able to directly see the fruits of his labour with dirt disappearing right before his eyes!
While we are in cleaning mode, vacuuming and dusting also are two very easy activities to include your toddler in, especially since they will also come in very handy once he’s old enough to take care of his room by himself (up to a point). We have a fairly light vacuum, so it is easy even for a small child to manoeuvre (as with the mop, just keep an eye on the handle swirling around) and since it makes noise, it is a surefire hit with any toddler, that it also picks up dust and dirt is just secondary in this department. As for dusting, it helps to have one of those Swiffer duster like contraptions that will attract the dust into the fibres instead of pushing it around, like the old-style feather dusters, so you avoid dust getting into the kid’s lungs and causing issues. But a lot of areas of the house are in perfect reach for a yay-high cleaning crew and quite honestly, sometimes it is easier for him to reach than for the adult trying to bend in half…
Probably not what comes to mind immediately, but this one made the list more by coincidence when our toddler decided to join in the cleaning of the patio door with a tissue he snagged from the box. Obviously here you pretty much already know that you will have to re-do this, since the word “streak free” does not exist in the toddler language, but just to see him mimic your every move makes this one something to behold, even though it is more sabotage than help
We all have to assemble simple things sometimes, such as light shelves with metal tubes (see here for an example) or something along the lines. A perfect time to have your toddler join in and help with different things: unwrapping things, bringing them over, holding screws or even using an electric screwdriver to help put things together, so as a side effect, you can even use this as a fine motor skills lesson!
Washing the car
If you live in an area, where washing your car in your own driveway is prohibited, this one obviously is not going to work, but if your community allows it, the easiest way is to put a foamy sponge into your toddler’s hands and just let him go at the car. You might be surprised about how good of a job he can do, especially once he sees the difference he makes. We have a white van and after a winter you can imagine what it looked like, so when Nico went over the first part of the wheelcase and it suddenly turned white, can you imagine his excitement that he just did that? Just expect him to get at least as much water and foam as the car.
This one has plenty of potential to keep the toddler busy and kind of help you as well. It starts with collecting laundry and putting it into a basket to bring to the laundry room. Putting the laundry into the washer will only work with a front loader, but since the laundry already is dirty, you don’t really have to worry about it going somewhere else but the washer, right? The transfer from the washer into the dryer works similar, just hand over the clothes and off we go. Taking it out of the dryer you’ll just have to be a little more careful, so that the clothes don’t fly everywhere, but it works pretty well to have the child take one piece at a time and giving it to you (or grab an armful and run out of the laundry room as fast as he can…).
If your child is like Nico, chances are that he’ll climb into the dryer after to inspect that everything is out, but that’s a completely different story.
Cooking & baking
Under supervision, cooking and baking are some of the most varied and ultimately most rewarding activities a toddler can help with. Nico has been helping us in the kitchen for a long time now, he gets pots out of the cabinet, drags stuff out of the pantry (and sometimes puts whatever he took out first back in, too), he pours dry and wet ingredients into bowls and pots, stirs mixes, pots and pans with either a spoon or even a hand mixer (especially with the latter be careful that he doesn’t get too enthusiastic and redecorate the kitchen), cuts anything from onions over peppers and apples to sausages (plastic knives are the safest bet), he loves to season things (just make sure you only give the child the appropriate amount of whichever herb or spice you want to see (mostly) in your pot/pan) and more. This also carries over into pretend play (click here for an example), where he uses all kinds of kitchen utensils in his toy kitchen or anywhere else in the house, mimicking cooking and baking and also transferring things from container to container or with kitchen tongs or other utensils, thus working on his fine motor skills and understanding of volumes. So you can see, this can be helpful in many ways!
Making the bed
Easy, right? Straighten out the pillow, pull the comforter, done. Sure, the pillow might be along the edge of the bed and the comforter pulled crooked, but it’s still an activity that they can participate in and that will help them get into the routine of doing this on their own on a regular basis.
Again, this is something that will not quite work well in a warm climate (so if you are in Texas, you might need to figure out a different activity, sweeping sand or raking leaves maybe…), but give your toddler a snow shovel that matches his size and let him to go at it. Children (mostly) love snow, so being able to help shovelling, play in snow and again see immediate progress will make this fun for all involved (unless you are on the receiving end of the shovelled snow, just into the path you had just cleared)!
Paying at the store/delivery guy
This is maybe one that you might not have thought of and I would assume that only few toddlers have such an avid interest in paying for things as our two-year old, but not just does he perform a very important task, but it also teaches an equally important lesson of having to pay for a service or a product (as in: Do not think that you can just take something and eat/use it without worrying about paying), so another multipurpose activity.
Scanning at the self-checkout at the grocery store
With more and more grocery stores offering self-checkout tills, this also is a very popular station for a toddler to help. Just make sure he knows, where the bar code is and he will just scan it.