Sometimes the best, most creative moments present themselves when you aren't looking for them at all.
The other night Steve was late getting home from work and Silas and I were having a particularly hard time negotiating the dinner prep hour. I have a few strategies that usually allow me to get our evening meal on the table while also keeping him happy and occupied. First, I assess the menu and see if there are any elements that he can help with. If there's nothing that I can give him to do independently (or with minimal supervision) or he's not interested in helping in the kitchen, I try engaging him in some sort of other activity. Sometimes I dump out the blocks and we start building, sometimes I hand him a sheet of stickers, or sometimes I encourage him to cook his own dinner in his play kitchen. I sit down and play next to him for five minutes or so and by that point he's usually so engrossed that I can slip away and start cooking. If even that doesn't work, we have some special CD's and a "noisy book" that he loves, but that only come out at this time.
On this particular night, though, everything I tried was a miss. He wanted my full attention and would accept no substitutes. Sauteed turnips were on the menu and I had already cut off the tops, so I thought I would ask him to pull the leaves off the stems. I had him climb up in his tower and I got out two bowls and set it all in front of him all Montessori-style. He was game for a minute or two, but when I looked over and he was standing the tops up all in a row I knew that an opportunity was presenting itself for something even better.
So I ran (quite literally) to get out the play dough and some animals and gave them to him. No demonstration needed. He started putting the tops and the critters in the dough and started weaving a whole story about the animals in the forest, which he continued to talk about days later.
Sensory experience? Check. Fine motor skill development? Check. Creative play? Check. Dinner on the table at a reasonable time? Check. And all without a schedule, without an elaborate plan, and without spending hours online trying to find the "perfect" activity. All that was needed was to be in the moment, to pay attention to the interest my son was demonstrating, and to surrender and follow his lead.