Adults look at a lawn of seeding dandelions and see weeds about to spread. A three-year-old is delighted by picking a bouquet of yellow flowers. You pick a round-seeded head of dandelion and invite her to blow, and the little parachutes take off in the breeze.
2. Splash in puddles
It had been a long time since I splashed in a puddle. Wear rubber boots, and then stomp, laugh, and watch the water fly. Jump in the next puddle. Pull up one foot, then the next, like marching.
3. Play with Oma’s buttons
My mother clipped buttons from clothing before she threw the clothing away, or saved the scraps to braid a rug. I asked for her jars of buttons when she died, and have added to them. I never have to buy buttons, and I can find buttons from my spring coat in sixth grade, my brownie uniform, and the wooden buttons from a funky favorite blouse. I see the buttons from her winter coat, the one with the little mink collar, that she liked so well.
My granddaughter loves to play with the buttons, too. We can sort them into colors, big and little, shiny and plain. She scoops them up and lets them fall from her fingers like treasure.
4. Take out your old toys
I saved some toys and picture books from my own kids, and I delight in watching her push the train around the tracks, just like her father did as a toddler. She might not be enthralled, her attention span is short, but I am enthralled.
5. Play animal charades
This game is a never-ending source of hilarity, great for playing with multiple people, like with her parents after dinner and me. Slither like a snake, meow like a kitty, or make a trunk with your two arms and trumpet. The laughter comes from watching adults (and little people) be goofy.
6. Hide and seek is great for small children
You can hide in really obvious places, like behind the curtain. Or they can hide in really obvious places, and you say, “Oh, I wonder where she can be?” And she might say “I’m right here, Grandma!”
7. Play with costume jewelry or scarves
Ah, I so seldom wear scarves or jewelry anymore, now that I don’t work. But I take out those storage boxes or drawers, and we drape ourselves in scarves and beads and are gypsies twirling.
8. Paint fingernails
I use real nail polish, like her parents would never do, and we put paper over the table, and paint our nails. She loves painting my nails and having hot pink nails to flash. Hint: use bright colors.
9. Eat animal crackers
You can still buy those silly little animal cracker boxes, like Barnum and Bailey train cars, even though the contemporary child has no idea that is what the boxes are. It is very satisfying to bite off the hippo’s head, attack the giraffe with the lion, or have the antelope run away. Play with your food.
10. Make a fort
Take blankets and shawls and pull out dining room chairs, and drape the chairs or the table. One can bring things into the fort, like a flashlight and a bowl of healthy snacks — grapes maybe — and make it a special place.
The joy I gain from time alone with the grandchild is using our imagination to have fun. The toys are good for novelty, although having certain toys only at Grandma’s house helps. But the return to finding joy in three-year-old activities is great, and encouraging imagination is fun, and using silly voices to make the stuffed animals or doll talk brings me back, and forward. I love making old things new, and delighting in my grandchild’s delight of how I used to play — and now have permission to play again.