how to connect with your kids when you hate playing toys

Ah, parenthood. There's nothing more magical than watching your offspring grow into a kind, brave, and happy child. There's nothing less magical than getting on the floor and playing toys with them. As much as I love my children and acknowledge the importance of imaginative play for their development, I find it incredibly mind-numbing as an adult. 

Related: Things All Moms of Young Kids Can Relate To

I can't be the only mom who feels this way. Something about your child asking you to play toys with them suddenly makes even dishes and laundry appealing tasks. Plus, we shouldn't just be playing with our kids because we "have to." I don't think begrudgingly "playing" while constantly checking the clock is doing anything to deepen our connection. 

{By the way, this article on playing with your children from Psychology Today is fascinating!}

So what's a mom to do? Especially if you're home with your kids the majority of the day, and they don't have access to other kids to play with, your son or daughter will be looking for a playmate and by default, you're it! 

I have two thoughts on this:

1. My children need to develop the skills of independent play and figuring out how to entertain themselves when they feel bored. They can't always depend on me to direct them, especially in imaginative play. 

2. There are so many ways for me to spend time with my kids where I'm excitedly engaged in the activity. I think they can sense the difference, and we truly bond during those times. 

So I have a few suggestions for activities you can do with your kids that don't involve imaginative play or toys. I think you'll really love some of these, and I can't wait to hear what your suggestions are in the comments!

What to Do with Your Kids When You Hate to Play Toys

1. Put Together a Puzzle

Moms of toddlers - I know this is the worst. Those clunky wooden puzzles with knobs are not very exciting for the adult, although excellent for hand-eye coordination. But I promise - putting together puzzles gets way more fun when your child reaches the age of 3 or 4.

In fact, I often ask my 4-year-old daughter if she wants to put together a puzzle with me because I enjoy it so much. It's an intellectual challenge for both of us, and we love to chat and problem solve together. I also love the feeling of pride and accomplishment when we're able to conquer a tough puzzle! 

A few of our favorites:

Any of the Melissa & Doug giant floor puzzles, but especially this Map of the USA Puzzle. We love pointing out where all of our friends and family live, chatting about the pictures on each state, and now quizzing each other on state capitals. 

This spelling puzzle

This Jumbo Alphabet Floor Puzzle

2. Read Aloud

Yes, this can be boring, too. Children love to repeat the same books over and over. I've even been known to hide some of my kids' favorite books to avoid having to read them again.

My suggestion is to use the library and your network of fellow moms to find books that are fun for the parent to read, too!

Anything by Mo Willems is hilarious - Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Knufflebunny, and the Elephant and Piggie series are great! Pete the Cat books are fun, too, though I sometimes suspect Pete is involved with mind-altering substances. The Gruffalo, The Pout-Pout Fish, and The Story of Ferdinand are other great options. 

Also, the day I realized my daughter was old enough to understand chapter books was probably one of the happiest days of my life. We're diving into The Magic Treehouse, American Girls, Junie B. Jones, The Boxcar Children, Mercy Watson, lots of Beverly Cleary, and maybe even the Little House on the Prarie series soon!

3. Exercise Together

My kids absolutely love working out with me! Plus there's nothing funnier than watching a toddler do squats. You can have them join in whatever workout you're doing, or you can do a special workout session for kids. Cosmic Kids Yoga and Fitness Blender have great exercise videos for kids. 

Another fun way to do this would be to put together an obstacle course. This can be done inside or outside. Crawl through a giant box or pillow fort, jump over couch cushions, crab walk or bear crawl across the living room, etc. 

4. Go on A Nature Walk

You can make this as educational or as informal as you want. If you want to be really intentional about it, print off a checklist of items for them to look for: a leaf, a rock, specific types of trees, pine cones, birds, clouds, etc. 

By the way, kids are sponges, and you can really teach them anything! Get specific about the names of items found in nature, and don't be afraid to use big words. I've talked to my kids about the process of photosynthesis, how our bodies fight germs, what an adhesive is, and how a fulcrum works. They had no problem understanding these things, and it's adorable to hear them use the correct scientific words. 

If you want to make it informal and relaxing, just go outside and ask them what they notice! Use your 5 senses to guide the discussion. Or, you know, just let kids be kids and play in the dirt.

Related: Dear Burned-Out Mama of Young Children

5. Bake Together

Guys, I know some parents hate to do this just as much as I hate doing crafts with my kids. Don't feel guilty about skipping this if having your kids in the kitchen with you gives you anxiety.

But, baking with kids can be a really fun way to talk about measurements and nutrition. It also makes kids feel really proud to eat their own creations. One trick I use is to lay out and pre-measure all the ingredients so I don't have to leave my kids alone on the kitchen counter without my supervision while I hunt for something in the pantry. We love making banana bread, mini muffins, and protein balls or bars

I would love to have one of these kitchen helpers someday, too!

6. Learn Memory Work

I've been teaching my kids a simple Bible verse each week. At first, I make it a chant, break it up into chunks, and teach them a little bit at a time so it's easy for them to learn. Once they seem like they have it down, we recite the whole thing together. Occasionally throughout the week I'll start the verse and let them finish it while they're playing or eating.

You can also do this with things like the 50 states in alphabetical order, the presidents in order, teaching them a foreign language, the planets, poems, the catechism, the preamble to the constitution, or even quotes!

7. Have Music Time

I don't have a musical bone in my body, so music time at our house looks like a dance party in the living room. Sometimes my daughter puts on a performance for me making up her own song. (She got this microphone for Christmas, so these are quite legitimate performances). 

Sometimes we just rock out to pop music or princess songs, and other times I try to make it more educational with Spanish songs or the Fliegerlied dance!

If you're much more musical than I, you could teach them basic songs, chords, or scales on an instrument or how to read basic notes. The sky's the limit!

8. Have Office Hours

I got this tip from one of my work-from-home mom friends. Get your child set up with a clipboard, notepad or notebook, reusable sticker books, pens, and pencils. Let them "work" while you get some work done or read a book. Sit next to each other, but each stays focused on your own thing. Play some soothing classical or praise music in the background.

9. Color Together

I truly hate arts and crafts with every fiber of my being, but coloring is something I can get on board with. And obviously, you've already thought of doing coloring books together. But that can get old after awhile, or you might have coloring books full of one or two crayon marks on each page that your kids refuse to use because they're "already colored." Let's introduce some novelty!

Grab an old cardboard box (I knew those Amazon deliveries were good for something), and decorate the box with crayons, stickers, and markers if you're brave. Spread some butcher paper, newspaper, old wrapping paper, or kraft paper across the kitchen table, tape it down, and go to town making the table look like a graffiti wall.  

10. Coffee Chat

My kids see me sipping my coffee every day and they want in on this grown-up activity! I pick a mug I'm not particularly attached to (in case it breaks) and fill it with milk and a dash of coffee creamer. Then we sit at the table or on the porch and have a coffee date! I ask them questions about themselves (favorite color, what they like to play, favorite food, etc.) and they like to guess my answers, too! 

This is one of my favorite ways to bond with my kids. I get to share something I love and they feel grown-up and special. Of course, you could also do this with tea, lemon water, or any other beverage of your choice if coffee isn't your thing!


We all know the importance of connecting with our kids, and probably feel frequent guilt about whether we're doing it enough. I firmly believe that spending time with our kids doesn't have to be organized, a fancy Pinterest activity (unless that's your thing!), or boring. It happens in the small moments throughout our day. 

Related: True Confessions of a Mom and Her Guilt

What are your favorite ways to bond with your babies beyond imaginative play or toys?

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