Toddlerhood is rough. You find yourself asking the question, "Now what do I do with him?" They seem to need constant hands-on amusement and redirection. We have a small exercise trampoline in our basement, and we spent a lot of time there during the age 2s and 3s. Looking back now, that seemed to be the framework years for skill building. "Let's do 20 jumps on the trampoline," I'd say, and I'd count it out. Nowadays I call it "education", back then it was "survival".
Around age 2, I followed someone's suggestion to put beans in a container and offer up some measuring cups. I just needed 5 minutes to introduce a math lesson to the older bunch and I was feeling desperate. Within 1 minute, beans had been launched everywhere (not poured, or play with...launched), and the 2yo was bored. Cleanup took 10 minutes. "Ok everyone, find the beans!" We packed that amusement away for a much later time.
Around age 3, she discovered the beans herself. At this age, she could amuse herself for short periods of time with pouring activities, but it didn't seem to last the full 3 minutes (you know, 1 minute per year of age, which is the general rule of Toddler Attention Spans). Give her a glue stick, paper, and some beans, and you'll get an interesting mess that seemed to keep her busy for a good 2-3 minutes. Playdo was great for moments of desperation. Sometimes, I'd put a rubbermade container of soapy water outside on the deck and give her lots of different sized cups and scoups to play with. I just had to be in the right mood for this one, since she'd come in sopping wet and in need of towel drying and a change of clothing. In other words, any activity we picked at this age came at a Big Clean Up and High Level of my Attention pricetag. Hole-punching a paper plate and tying a piece of yarn to it for a lacing activity was another pastime. 25 piece puzzles that I mostly did. Math manipulatives and pattern blocks. Geoboards and rubber bands. These were all things that I pulled out for the 3yo, and was happy if it lasted her 3 minutes before we had to clean them up. Activities like the puzzles, lacing cards, and pattern blocks seemed to take more of my attention than I wanted to give (after all, this was meant to keep her busy so I could focus on something else, right?)
Age 4 brought some much needed Independence. All you need is a 4 year old and two French fries, and you have an Adventure! The fries start talking to each other, and eventually fly around the room, contained only by two chubby hands controlling them. It's awesome. I've even seen two fingers on that same chubby hand launch into conversation, with no rhyme or reason. She has different voices for her characters, she names all of them, and they have the most exciting experiences. I love this age. So take heart. It gets better.