22 simple ways to entertain your toddler

For those days when your little one has lots of energy—and you don't.

Toddler-taking-a-bubble-bath
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The toddler stage is incredible and challenging. We love our increasingly independent kiddos for their curiosity, enthusiasm, and humor. But let's be honest: it can be hard keeping a toddler entertained long enough to get anything done around the house.

Whether you're looking for a handful of ideas to entertain your little one while you get some chores done on the weekend or you're searching for a long list of activities to help with those longer days, we've got you covered, mama.

For all their energy, toddlers are often easily distracted. Use this to your advantage, mama, by switching up these toddler activities and ideas and doing them all over again throughout the course of a day.

Here are 22 easy activities to entertain your toddler—bookmark this list for your next long day at home!


1. Play with toys

Break out the cars. Dump out the blocks. Grab some Barbies or trains or animals or anything. It may make a mess, but it's easy to clean up and will keep your little one occupied for a minute at least, maybe two if you make cool crashing noises with the cars.

2. Feed them snacks

Toddlers not only get hungry quickly, but they also get bored easily—snacks are a win/win. Feeding them snacks keeps them from getting hangry, and at the same time, it gives them something to do. Plus, trying to pick up little cheerios is great for their fine motor development. Score!

3. Take them on a walk in the stroller

Sometimes a child just needs to sit buckled in a stroller so they can't run rampant, causing havoc wherever they go. They may even sit willingly if they are distracted by all the cool stuff outside. They can hear the birds, feel the wind, and see the flowers. Point out different things you see and hear. Bring snacks and toys if you want them to last longer on the walk. Keep moving so they don't get bored. And seriously, buckle them in. Not for safety reasons per se (although that really is the main reason), but for containment of the ever escaping toddler.


4. Take them on a walk to the mailbox

Other times they need to get out of the house and get their little legs moving. Take a walk over to the mailbox. Let them help you get the mail. Walk back. That should cover at least a minute or two and get them to move around a little bit. You can even do this multiple times in a row. Have you toddler make laps around the mailbox if you have to in order to get them to burn off some energy.

5. Take them to the park

This can be either amazing or not. It all depends on if there are swings. A trip to the park is glorious when you can sit there and do nothing while your toddler runs and climbs and gets all his energy out. It's not when you have to do all the work swinging him and he just sits there, relaxing. So, it may be a good idea to avoid parks with swings if at all possible until they're old enough to swing themselves.

6. Play in the backyard

Sometimes this is all the outside time you can muster, and that's OK. Take a book out in the backyard and read while your child plays with toys, digs in the dirt, or pulls old, curdling milk jugs out of the recycling bin. OK, I don't really recommend allowing that last one, but if your child is anything like mine, it's inevitable. So be prepared to hose down the cement and your child if this happens.

7. Give them a bath

You don't even have to wash them, just let them play in the water. It's like a trip to the pool, but without all the hassle of sunscreen and bathing suits. And cold water. And life jackets. And the fear of drowning. And having to be in public with other people. And pool monitors who think you're the worst parent in the whole wide world. Yes, baths are a great substitute for taking a toddler to the pool.

8. Play-Doh

A little messy, but always interesting. Give them some forks or cookie cutters to cut and smoosh the Play-Doh, or popsicle sticks and beads to stick into it. A lot of fun can be had with a jar of this stuff. But don't make it from scratch. It's only 50 cents to buy it at Walmart, and the store-bought kind is much softer.

9. Wash dishes

My toddler LOVE LOVE LOVES to play with water. Standing on a chair in front of the sink while the water runs on a trickle keeps him occupied for a good, long time—like three minutes, at least. He just fills a cup and dumps it out over and over and over and over again. Just keep towels on hand for when your child dumps it on the floor over and over and over and over again.

10. Tickle them

This can even turn a grumpy mood around when tickling turns crying into laughing. Of course, it could always make it worse, so prepare to bail on this idea if that's the case.

11. Chase them

All my kids have loved the “I'm gonna get you" game. When my oldest was about four, he called it the “crawl guys eat you" game. I guess because dad would crawl around on the floor, chasing the “guys" (the two and four-year-olds) and pretend to eat them when he caught them. It's not as creepy as it sounds, I promise.

12. Enlist other people, if possible

Have a playdate or meet friends at the park so you can have a little adult conversation while the little ones entertain each other. Or trade babysitting with a friend so you can take turns getting stuff done (or take a nap) without any kids.

13. Let them look at themselves on your phone

My child always grabs my phone and asks for the “baby." He loves to see himself. If you can record a video of your toddler looking at himself on the phone, even better, he'll love to watch it later.

14. Activity songs

My son loves “The Eensy Weensy Spider," “Little Bunny Foo Foo," and “This Little Piggy." Sometimes it calms him down when he's throwing a fit. Sometimes.

15. Read a book, or two, or five

Or read the same book five times in a row. My child loves Brown Bear, books with pictures of babies, and books where we make sound effects as we read.

16. Video game controllers

When the older kids are playing video games and the toddler wants to steal their controllers, we give him his own controller—usually one for a different gaming system, so he doesn't mess up what they're doing. He somehow still manages to, but it at least keeps him occupied for awhile.

17. Run an errand

If you're super desperate to kill some time and get out of the house, running an errand is a great way to serve two purposes at once. You get something productive done, and your toddler stops asking you to play with cars for the 395th time. Although, wrangling a toddler at the store is no small feat. I don't recommend doing this if you can help it.

18. Give them stickers

Stickers make for a great sensory activity for toddlers. Once they get the hang of learning how to peel the sticker from the page, toddlers enjoy plunking down stickers to make art and designs. They're pretty cheap, too, and easy to find in most stores. We like reusable sticker books that allow kids to move the colorful characters and shapes around.

19. Break out the puzzles

Who doesn't love a good puzzle? They encourage creativity and problem-solving—plus your little one will get a big sense of accomplishment when they actually finish one. There are several kinds, too: traditional wooden puzzles, large foam puzzles, even magnetic puzzles that allow your toddler to build some type of 3D structure.

20. YouTube Kids

If all else fails, pull out your phone and put on the children's shows that are on YouTube Kids. Sometimes—especially in the doctor's office waiting room—it's the only thing that will keep them entertained long enough to stop jumping off the furniture.

21. Lay on the floor and let them play on you

This is a legit parenting tactic. Just bring a few toys over and lay there letting them climb and play all over you. This works especially well when your child doesn't nap, doesn't like being left alone, and you are just plain out of energy.

22. Lay them down and hope they take a nap already

Even if your child doesn't like to nap, try it anyway. Maybe you'll get lucky and they'll fall asleep, or maybe they'll just play in their crib or cry for a bit—either way, you get a few minutes before you give up and rescue them. Or lay down with them in the hope that they'll eventually get bored and go to sleep. This is a long shot.

With their short attention spans, each of these ideas may only work for about a minute or two with your toddler, so having a few lined up for quick rotation is ideal. Toddlers are just developing their imaginations, so be sure to use your's and put your own spin on whatever works best with your child!

As mamas who've wrangled toddlers ourselves, we know it can take every trick in the book. So we've stocked the Motherly Shop with some of the most engaging, fun and high-quality toys to keep them entertained for hours.

Plan Toys fire truck

Plan Toys fire truck

Your little hero in the making will love pulling the truck around the room on exciting, pretend rescue-missions.

$120

Habbi Habbi Starter Set: Bilingual Books & Reading Wand

Habbi-Habbi-Starter-Set

Habbi Habbi Reading Wand & Bilingual Books are the easiest way to start your kids on Spanish or Chinese without the screen. Just turn on the Wand and tap anywhere in any Habbi Habbi book. Kids love the instant feedback and discovering the 'easter eggs', from hidden phrases to musical tunes. These fun books teach vocabulary, phrases and sentences, and the content is as intentional as the books are beautiful highlighting topics like emotions, female role models, and diversity.

$110

Plan Toys gardening set

Plan Toys gardening set

This wooden set includes a realistic flower pot, watering can, trowel, and hand fork that they can use to learn the joys of gardening. They'll love you for giving them a reason to dig in the dirt, mama.

$30

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This article was originally published on November 13, 2019.

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