Preparation and participation are key to making the most of your toddler’s time during the winter season.

Old Man Winter comes knocking at the door a bit harder at the start of the new year, forcing parents to get creative when entertaining their curious and energetic toddlers indoors. Parents and other caregivers should prepare for hunkering in ahead of time.

Just as important as going to the store to buy eggs and milk in preparation for being cooped up inside the house, is planning children’s activities for the long winter months.

Be flexible

While preparation is important, remember to not overschedule. You want toddlers to take the lead on how much time to spend on each activity. One great way to keep activities varied and spontaneous is to create a treasure chest or game box where new ideas can be drawn at will.

When making a winter checklist, keep in mind ways to diversify the types of exercise. For example, move from sitting and coloring or reading to an activity with more movement, such as block-building or playing dress-up. Be flexible to avoid children getting fatigued.

Educational learning

Toddlers learn by doing. Even the smallest and most seemingly insignificant activities can help them progress. Simply drawing a picture teaches hand-eye coordination and motor development. Playtime is learning time.

Be present and involved. Shy away from hardcore flash cards or focusing on the end results of learning, such as figuring out how to read or spell. Remember that process is the most important part of development. Look at and discuss books together, allowing your child to learn how to read through this interaction. Children are more likely to retain information and enjoy learning when parents approach it like exploration.

The digital age we live in makes avoiding screen time difficult, but it’s a good idea to limit it to one to two hours every day. Screen viewing should also be educational, child-friendly programming that is interactive. Choose TV shows that spur children to repeat after them; when toddlers participate, they learn. A great option for parents who do not have time to physically sit down and read with the child is to film themselves reading a story. This way the child can still see them and hear them reading — and watch their favorites over and over.

Don’t forget: Being stuck indoors with a toddler does not always mean you have to be at home. Remember to plan ahead and sign up for classes at a local gym, visit museums or go to the library.

Exerting energy indoors
Try these indoor ideas that won’t take up too much space but will keep them active:

  • Practice rolling and throwing a soft indoor ball.
  • Make an obstacle course with couch cushions to crawl over and through.
  • Build forts and tents using sheets and blankets to pretend you are camping out.

Jennifer Shu, M.D., FAAP, is a practicing pediatrician and author in Atlanta, Georgia. A frequent guest on national and local television, radio and web-based programs, Dr. Shu completed her internship and residency at the University of California in San Francisco, and received her medical degree at the Medical College of Virginia