Check out this list of non-screen activities for lots of fun ideas of how to keep toddlers busy at home!
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For almost a decade now, I have had at least one toddler in the house, and for the past few years we have been homeschooling with at least one toddler at the table.
The toddler years are such a fun age because toddlers are adorable and inquisitive and eager and affectionate.
…But we also know the toddler years can be challenging because toddlers can also be demanding, and are still learning to be patient and have impulse control (two things that take time and practice to learn).
Finding ways to help toddlers stay active, providing opportunities for them to explore their world, and giving them a chance to be a part of what everyone else is doing is key to their development and your sanity.
How to Keep Toddlers Busy At Home
I know I’ve titled this how to keep toddlers busy at home, but truly all of these activities and tips work for school-age children too.
You may be primarily reading this post because you’re trying to find ways to fill your time with your toddlers and preschoolers, or maybe because you’re trying to find ways to keep the littles engaged while you do school with your older children.
So, while I hope these ideas help you with keeping your toddlers busy, I hope that you also find new ideas for activities for your older children too. We often use these activities to keep the kids hands busy while I read to them or while we listen to audiobooks. They’re also simply great ideas for quiet play at other times of the day too.
FIVE FIRST TIPS
- Create an invitation to play. Instead of asking your child(ren) what they want to do, or giving them a handful of options, set out the toy or activity in an inviting way. This gives them an opportunity to see the potential fun/creativity, and also keeps them from being overwhelmed by decisions.
What this might look like: Start the process of building a block tower and leave it for them to finish. Draw a line of grass and the outline of a flower and let them create the rest of the drawing. Leave a book open to a fun page.
- Stay in one place. Keep the activity in one place. If you start playing at the table, then you stay at the table. If you start playing in one spot on the floor, don’t carry it to another area of the house. This really helps to make clean-up easier and prevents the “pieces” from being lost or scattered throughout the house.
- Keep activities easily accessible. This tip is HUGELY IMPORTANT because if the activities are not easy to get to in a high traffic location, then you will either forget about them, or won’t want to “bother with getting them out”. If these are going to be used to do during school time, keep the activities very close to the school supplies so you don’t waste time leaving to get them.
- Store in ziplock bags/zipper pouches. This tip is twofold. First, storing the activities in zipper bags means that you and your child(ren) will be able to quickly see what is available. Second, the bags will not take up too much space, and you will only be able to fit so much inside (because often less is more).
- Use activity trays. I have been recommending these activity trays for years because they are just one of the BEST things to have on hand! They’re perfect for containing small pieces, for containing potentially messy activities like painting and play-dough, and they are great for neatly setting out a variety of different things on the table (this is very helpful if you want to set out a few different activity choices that kids can rotate through during school time, and/or for organizing paper in one, pencils in another, etc, for a specific craft). AND, as if that wasn’t enough, we also use these trays whenever we go on long car rides to use for toys and meals in the car.
20 ACTIVITY IDEAS
Oil drip pan with magnets or magnatiles.
This is fun on its own, but it can also be a great way to do a simple learning activity by putting animals into groups, putting beginning sound letter next to each animal, etc, counting the magnets, etc.
- animal magnets
- letter magnets
- oil drip pan or this metal sheet you can mount on the wall
- double-sided tabletop easel (this looks super fun)
Play-doh with tools.
Play-doh never ceases to entertain my kids, especially when they’re given a fun new toy or shown new ideas to create.
- Frozen 2 Olaf’s Sleigh Ride (comes with five regular sized containers)
- Play-doh letter stamps
- Play-doh breakfast bakery (comes with play-doh & fun tools)
Counting bears & containers.
These are both fun, and great learning toys! Sort by color, count them, add them, etc.
Books with sounds.
Of course, any great pictures books can be engaging, but books with sounds are especially exciting!
- Sounds of Nature: World of Forests
- Sounds of Nature: World of Oceans
- Sounds of Nature: World of Birds
- Eric Carle Sounds of the Farm (30 button sound book)
- Story Orchestra: Nutcracker
- Story Orchestra: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons
- Story Orchestra: Carnival of Animals
Dry Erase Books/Boards
These books/boards are perfect for young children who want to join in on “school work”. I love that they are reusable.
- Low-Odor Fine Tip Dry Erase Markers
- Dry Eraser (erasing is half the fun)
- Crayola Dry Erase Activity Center (the ones I have are older and discontinued, but I linked a newer version)
- Alphaprints ABC board book
- ALEX ABC and Numbers dry erase activity book
- Highlights Write-On Wipe-Off Let’s Trace
- How to Draw Dry Erase Book
Blocks are some of the best toys because there’s an infinite number of ways to play with them! I love smaller sized blocks like our Jenga set and our Kapla blocks because they don’t take over the table and are easy to store.
- Timber Tower wooden blocks (48 pieces, same size as Jenga, comes in different styles/colors)
- Kapla blocks
We have a felt playhouse that fits over a folding table. I made it several years ago and it has gotten so much use! I love how easy it is to set up and put away. Another idea would be to make a simple fort by draping a sheet over one end of the table or across several stools. I’ve found that most of the time, our toddlers still want to be nearby, but having a place to play in the same room is a good compromise.
Colored pasta and yarn/pipe cleaners.
This is such a simple activity that helps your toddlers to work on fine motor skills. Plus, you probably already have all the supplies on hand!
Tip: Use hot glue to make one end of the yarn hard so that it’s easier to thread.
Scoops and beans/rice.
Playing with beans and rice can tend to be a bit messier, but because we only do it every so often, it’s exciting when we pull it out. Activity trays do help to contain the mess, but a quick sweep or vacuum afterwards makes it a manageable activity. (Some people like to put a sheet down, but this method has never worked well for me).
My kids love playing with fidget spinners, including my toddlers. They can keep toddlers engaged for a while, and can also double as a fun “timer” for practicing math facts (“see how many you can get right before the fidget spinner stops spinning!”).
We have bought our fidget spinners in a variety of different places, but you can shop for them on Amazon here.
Plastic container and coins.
This is another activity that can be done with items you likely already have on hand. Pushing pennies into a slit in a container is so satisfying for little fingers.
We have several tubs of thinking putty that all our kids enjoy. There are different styles (magnetic, hyper color, transparent, etc). I love that it never dries out and that it is mostly mess-free (just don’t get it on your clothes).
- Blue magnetic putty (my kids love making it move with the magnet)
- Cosmic Northern Lights (includes a light that makes it glow– another hit with my kids)
- Super Illusions Super Scarab
I have written a post about getting started with watercolors. You can find all my recommended supplies there. Watercolors are great for toddlers because it takes so little effort to set up, and it is so simple for them to create and explore.
Stacking pattern blocks.
My toddlers love playing with these cubes– stacking them together, making patterns, sorting them by color, etc.
I am a huge fan of wooden toys because of how well they hold up and how nice they are to play with.
Rolls of craft paper + Crayons, Chalk, Stamps, Etc.
Such a simple way to give kids a place to create, and can be a new and fun alternative to a plain piece of paper.
Board Games/Game Pieces.
Whether or not your toddler knows the rules of the game is irrelevant when they just love playing with the pieces! Otrio (pictured above) is so fun to place the circles around the board. A wooden connect four game is fun to drop the pieces into the slots. Our toddlers also enjoy playing with an old set of Trivial Pursuit pieces because they can put the wedges into the pie piece.
- Connect Four
- On the Farm (“board” game for toddlers) (we have this game. highly recommend)
- Trivial Pursuit game pieces
Setting aside “special” toys to be only used at certain points in the day (like during school time) can be really helpful in keeping toddlers busy. We keep a train set in the dining room and I will sometimes set it out as an invitation to play before we start school. You can see some of our other favorite toys in this post: Best Toys for Kids 10 and Under: 50 Toys that Last.
Ping pong balls and cups.
I hope that this list gives you a LOT of inspiration and ideas to keep your toddlers busy at home!
If you share this on social media (which I hope you will!), don’t forget to tag me (@thispilgrimlife). I’d love to see what your littles are up to!