Thursday, September 15, 2011

Activities with toddlers: inside

If you've come across a great resource for easy activities to do with toddlers, or have ideas on things to do to keep them occupied, please share by leaving a comment.

We sing, dance and read a lot, but I thought I'd attempt to capture some other ideas too.

I'm no authority on the subject of toddlers, and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but here are some cheap and/or easy strategies I've learned along the way from other parents, and ideas that have kept our kids gleefully occupied in and around the house while having fun and learning. I hope this helps an overwhelmed parent to claim a few moments of sanity!


Divide their toys into tubs/baskets/containers so they don't have access to all of their toys every day. Hide them in a closet or a room they don't have access to. Out of sight, out of mind. Then rotate the toys. I bring out a different tub every morning or whenever they become whiny/bored and it works wonders because they have renewed interest in their toys. I've found that at least 4 days is the ideal amount of time to "hide" a toy.


Sometimes I change where the toys are kept that they have access to. I'll switch the contents of cubbies and containers around, or move the ballpit balls from one place to another. They often play with toys they haven't touched in days if they discover it in a new spot. It's fun to watch them "find" and rediscover forgotten items.

I often change which toys are kept in which room. Since we have 3 toddlers, we have childproofed our living room, our enclosed porch and a part of our lower level. When they start to get antsy, I herd them outside or into a new space with other toys. Often, changing the environment helps as much as changing the activity. More on that in part 2 and 3 of this series of posts.


Before naptime and bedtime, we sing a clean-up song while I try to put things away. They don't always help me, but they're starting to help more often and for longer periods. Oh, those short toddler attention spans! Sometimes they'll put things away without prompting, and say in a sing-songy voice, "clea-mup... clea-mup!" just to dump them out again. This, of course, is what toddlers do best and is a worthwhile endeavor too. Just not as much fun for me.

But I do think it's starting to sink in. It helps them "categorize" and learn to search for items, and follow instructions. E.g. "Let's clean up all of the blocks. Oh, look, there's a block behind the teddy bear. Can you bring it to me?"

Let's pack up all of the red balls! (Hold up a red ball.)

Oooh, can you find all of the teddy bears among the soft toys?

This game is endless, depending on the characteristics you point out and your level of patience.


Our kids have way too many toys, but sometimes all it takes is a bunch of plastic containers. It can be your Tupperware, or not. Sometimes the bigger yogurt containers make excellent toys, because they can:

- fill them and dump the contents
- attempt to open and close the lids
- bang on them like a drum

Plastic bottles.
We rinse small soda/juice bottles, remove the labels and lid (choking hazard) and hand them a bunch of straws. Our kids have spent a solid 30 minutes inserting straws into soda bottles and dumping them out again. Great for dexterity and working on fine motor skills. Of course, this is a closely supervised activity because of the straws.

Wooden spoons. These make great mallets to bang on stuff.

Stainless mixing bowls (oh, shiny object!)

Measuring cups. They have three different sets of stacking cups, but my measuring cups are more interesting to them because they are stainless steel and have handles.

Colorful tins with pictures.


Keep big boxes. We go through so many diapers (sorry, planet Earth, as much as I wanted to, I ended up not having it in me to clothdiaper three). We always have big diaper boxes on hand. These make awesome toys to climb on top of, sit on, climb into, and dump stuff into and out of. We've pushed them around the house in the boxes too, making swoosh!, zoom!, brrrm! and beep beep noises. They also like pushing them around more than their expensive push toys.


In our former life, we used to go camping. Now the air mattress is an excellent way to spend 30 minutes on a rainy day getting some exercise. Jumping at this age is a critical skill to learn, and when your kids have gross motor delays, it serves a very important purpose while having fun.


We purchased a play kitchen from Craigslist for $60 (it retails for over $300.)


We have tubs with:

1. Small animals.
Some are finger puppets, some are plastic toys, some are bathtime animals, and some are soft toys.

2. Tiny little books.
They love books and have board books out all the time, but what makes these books special is that they're tiny and fit neatly into a tin that I wanted to discard but decided on a whim to keep. The tin has kept them almost as busy as any other toy, trying to open and close it, bang it, put other stuff in it. And they discover these books anew every time they play with this tub. Because there are sooo many of the little books, they never get tired of them.

3. Wooden blocks and stacking toys.

4. Puzzles with handles.
They still can't get them in by themselves, but we talk about the pictures on the puzzles (mostly anmimals) and try to match them to their "friends." I make silly farm animal or wild animal noises, tell them about the animals, and talk about what each animal eats or does.

They now get it right 100% of the time, although for the longest time I thought they weren't really into puzzles. I just kept at it and now they love it. Don't expect them to finish the puzzle, but praise praise praise if they point to the matching object, or attempt to bring the piece to where it belongs. The girls occasionally get a piece fully into the puzzle, and they're so proud of themselves when it slips into place.

5. Hand puppets.
Some are cheap washcloth "mittens" with animals on them (duck, seal, frog), but we also have an "Assemble a monster" toy. It's a velcro hand puppet made of fleece with different eyes/noses/horns/arms/legs that you can velcro anywhere on the hand puppet.

We make funny noises for each monster. Their monsters give hugs and kisses, are fed "milk" and whatever they can dream up, and sometimes do unexpected un-girly like things, like burp and then we giggle and talk about what to say. "Monster, when you burp, you need to say, 'Excuse me!' Teaching the monster is so much more fun than whining at my kids about manners! And they learn without feeling like I'm admonishing them. Goodness knows, they get preached out all day long, "No! Don't touch that!" "That's not a toy!" "That's dangerous!" "That's sharp/hot/dirty (fill in the blank)" so it's a wonderful change of pace when I discover a fun and effective way of getting the same message across.


- Backyard activities with toddlers

- Activities in the community

- I'd like to compile a list of their favorite purchased toys (with links to examples) and will post that soon.

With the girls' 2nd birthday coming up soon, what were some of your kids' favorite toys at age 2? Or if you have a toddler or are around toddlers, what have you seen them play with most?

>> If you have any tips to keep toddlers occupied, please share. We're always on the lookout for ideas. My sanity depends on it. (Yes, all about me.)


Kate said...

My K is only 18 months, so no great suggestions for what a 2yo might love. It might be worth seeing if your public library has any books on activities to do with kids. I've come across books like "365 Games Toddlers Play" and similar things.
You sound like you've come up with some good ones on your own though...

Gil said...

My little one just had her second birthday and of all the items she received, she really loves the Fisher Price Magical Tea for Two (tea set) best. The next one on her list is probably one of her "babies" (dolls) and a play feeding set. She's very much into pretending these days. She likes to help me cook too, and she got a play pretend set with a chef's hat and an apron to help me in the kitchen. Just a few suggestions. I know the birthday will be wonderful!

Twingle Mommy said...

I keep the boxes from Costco trips and let my kiddos color all over them. They have a great time and it keeps them busy for at least 30 mins.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Yes, Messy Stuff! Especially with Winter coming! Time to begin some Chocolate Cake Baking Momma --- Pilsbury will the bag and get toddler to tip the contents into the bowl, help them crack the eggs into a small dish and then add them to the mixture, some oil, water and then the fun begins....stirring with a big wooden spoon and then pouring....and then (supervised by Mommy or Daddy only) putting the cake into the oven....and then smelling it bake. Once baked and cool....frosting comes next.

This along with the tea set (you can get those "natural ones" from B&N) - they are plastic - some are green, others pink or can have a blast.

For A's Second Birthday we had a Teddy Bear "Tea Party" --- downloaded heaps of teddy bear songs from Itunes....."Dancing with Teddy..." "If you go down to the woods today...." etc.....Fun, Fun, Fun!

Lots of blow up beach balls are cool too - indoor wintery games!

Lots of washable paint and let them go wild in their pull-ups/diapers - paint themselves, each other or huge pieces of paper....or supervise those crayons/markers...

Lots of fun seasonal activities to prepare for - Halloween Arts and Crafts (Apple Pie, decorations etc), Thanksgiving, Christmas...all have songs and arts and well as those visits to pick pumpkins, apples (orchards - Hay rides etc etc).....

Perhaps your gals have discovered lights already....flash-lights, glow sticks (supervised), glittery things.....a little bit of dress-up....try hide and seek - can be hilarious as they pretend to hide but stand right next to the seeker who is counting! Kind of a cognitive skill that has to be learn't - you know you say pointing "look at that" only to see your young child staring at your pointed finger.....

Games requiring an action (stimulus) to get a response....such as an automated dog - push the button on the lead to make it bark, sit, beg, walk etc...

And of course, Babies, Babies, Babies....Dolls....with the accessories.....bottles that seemingly empty themselves and then re-fill, sippy cups (doll ones), bags, bibs, strollers, high chairs, rocking chairs, cribs --- list is endless and they needn't be expensive - I think one brand is baby love --- will check it out....however, that can take up plenty of entertainment time.

If you have the kitchen - and the plastic food - how about a teller/cashier (oh those things they use at check out)! And a shopping cart - play shop!

Dolls house! Little people ones are fun at this age - depends how much you want to spend and/or invest.

And little people have cars, and other toys for both boys and girls.

Oh the list can go on and on and on....however, yes, toddlers are heaps of fun.....I think your babes might just get 'tag' around now.

Playdough - you can make your own, and "blubber" or flubber - made with glue and flour I think - the pre-schools use it a lot....and bubble pop plastic - stomping on the bubbles.....

One more --- Chalk boards......While it is still "cool enough" if you have some kind of driveway - sidewalk chalk is fun - if not an indoor easel is fun for lots of colorful coloring....

As are (supervised) stickers --- good for fine motor skills - I get T and A to stick them to paper....or to a sticker book!

Okay I need to stop and you are probably on top of all of these already --- do you have farm animals - plastic ones....great age for them to start imagniative games with those....A has a great Barn made by Melissa and Doug and then the animals can be bought in fairly big bags at a decent price....plastic horses, chickens etc.....Toddlers are a blast...from Kaleidoscopes, shakers, making your own musical instruments with rice in sealed bottles.....soon they will start with kiddie scissors and want to cut up as much paper as you have.......the list is endless....

Hugs XXX

Chelle said...

Well, as we approach the second birthday, I have been trying to think of good toys too. And wow, the anonymous poster really gave some good ideas!

Happy Birthday girls!

And to mama: Good job. You are a wonderful mother to your children. They are so lucky to have you.

Celia said...

The tea party set is pretty rockin.

My son is 18 months and loves.. junk mail, circulars, tupperware,oversized pillows,Daddy's baseball hats, and for whatever reason he loves our guest room. It's a boring and immaculate room with ZERO toys. He loves going in there and jumping on the bed or looking out the window. Maybe because it feels forbidden? He will easily play in there for 15 minutes at a clip. Also, pictures. He loves picture albums, but my neighbor suggested putting extra pictures in a box for him to play with/destroy and he loves that. It's totally awesome.

If you are feeling super brave, something I did with toddlers in day care and plan on doing with Peter this winter is hauling the water table into the house and putting down a tarp. Then I am making all the different colors of jello for him to squish and play with. Toddlers LOVE this activity, though it is not for chickens or people with fancy white upholstery. It's a great way for them to learn about textures and colors and flavors. And of course to make a screaming mess. I suppose you could do it in the tub, but where is the fun in that?

Celia said...

Don't forget forts either, we made our first fort last week and it was a big hit. You can even start out with a king sized sheet over the dining room table.

Celia said...

Also, someone who reads my blog suggested an awesome one, water painting. You give them brushes and water and they paint...nothing. Outside, they just dab their brushes all over getting everything wet. I have high hopes on getting my son to play with a feather duster so he can clean and play ;)