Have you really lived until you've attended a teddy bear picnic?
While keeping your toddler entertained this summer might seem like a daunting task (I know, believe me), there are plenty of cheap and free toddler activity ideas out there if you look hard enough—and luckily for you, I've already done the research! These summer activity ideas for toddlers are great for motor skill development, toddler learning development and just plain fun, which is the best part of all. Plus that "free and cheap" part.
From scavenging the shelves at your local Target and ordering online, to getting creative with items you may already have around the house, get ready for a super fun summer with your toddler.
Here are 15 toddler summer activities and product ideas that are cheap, or better yet, FREE. Have fun!
Free toddler activity ideas:
Teddy Bear Picnic
Whether you picnic outdoors or on the living room floor, use pretend food or serve peanut butter and jelly, your toddler will love including their teddy bears or favorite dolls in on the fun. Help develop your toddler's imagination and creativity as you plan your picnic and decide who will be on the guest list. Just don't forget to pour teddy some water, he gets thirsty, you know!
Paint seashells or rocks
A wonderful way to explore nature and creativity at the same time, painting rocks or seashells can be a fun activity for at home or while you're on vacation. All you need is some washable paint, paint brush and a sharp eye for spotting rocks and seashells that would make a great canvas for your child's creation.
Visit the library
Thankfully, libraries are on their way back after COVID-19 closed so many during the pandemic. Check your community's local listings, but libraries are a wonderful resource for toddler story times and checking out books year round (while the AC makes it a relaxing and calm atmosphere for hanging out in the summertime).
Finger painting with pudding
Embrace the messiness, mama. Finger painting is a wonderful sensory activity for toddlers, but there's always the danger that little hands will start to get licked. Make it safe (and yummy!) by creating edible pudding paint. We love this recipe from Raising Little Superheroes which uses vanilla pudding and food coloring.
Water sensory bin
Sensory bins are a great way for toddlers to practice fine motor skills, language development and sensory exploration. And making a water sensory bin during the summer is a great way to cool off, too! As Lisa from Biscuits and Grading writes on her blog, "Sensory bins are great ways for your toddler to explore different materials and textures, and they're a great learning experience. Plus, they're usually relatively easy to set up, store and take apart. And they often are filled with normal items that you can find around your house!
Edible sand play
While yes, toddlers love playing in the sandbox, parents don't always love having to clean up the sand that inevitably travels into the house afterwards (or gets accidentally swallowed along the way). What about creating edible sand? We love Wholeheartily's simple instructions using graham crackers, oatmeal and a few easy additional items for creating edible sand that's toddler and parent-friendly.
Popsicles are a favorite summertime treat for toddlers, but they sure are messy. Busy Toddler has taken away the mess and kept the excitement by creating "popsicle bath time", which is one of the best ideas we've ever heard, quite frankly. Enjoying a popsicle in the bath keeps the mess contained, makes toddler baths calmer and last longer, too. Love it!
Cheap toddler activity ideas:
Toddler busy boards do just that, which makes them such a lifesaver for parents! This particular design comes highly-rated on Amazon, and includes a strap so you can take it on the go (making it great for any kind of travel). Your toddler will practice their fine motor skills as they play with 10 different buckle toys, ties, zip, laces, snap and buttons with multiple colors that emulate real world challenges (like learning to tie shoelaces). The board itself is made of soft fabric and rounded corners, making it a safe and easy toy for on the go.
There's a great scene in "Knocked Up" about kids and bubbles that I always think about when I see toddlers playing with bubbles. They absolutely love them! This patented no-spill design by Fubbles makes bubble play lots of fun but without the mess (parenting win). This award-winning toy includes 4oz of non-toxic bubbles and is easy to refill, working with any kind of bubble solution.
What can you say about Play-Doh except that it's kind of a toddler play rite of passage? While entertaining, Play Doh is also great way for toddlers to practice their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and is a calming activity throughout the day. Just don't forget to close the lids tight when you're done playing!
Sidewalk chalk is another summertime no-brainer toy that toddlers will enjoy for years to come. This super value pack includes jumbo size chalk great for little fingers and is non-toxic. Try kicking things up a notch and make a mosaic chalk art design using painter's tape (we love these easy instructions from The Pragmatic Parent).
A sprinkler in the summertime is a must, and we love this highly-rated one from Scientoy that blends water fun with learning possibilities! Made of durable and non-toxic PVC material, your little one can learn their ABC's, animals, shapes and colors while splashing around and having fun.
Poppin' Pipes are a highly-rated fun and functional sensory toy that "pop, stretch, and connect making these pop tubes the go-to toy for playtime", according to Amazon. These sensory tubes provide tactile stimulation and fine motor skills for toddlers and are just plain fun.
This STEM educational puzzle for toddlers is made of high quality wood and non-toxic water-based paint. The 4-in-1 gear jigsaw puzzle allows for 4 ways to play, as gears work like magic, spinning around, allowing for lots of imaginative and creative play.
Yes to sprinklers during the summer! This one in particular comes highly-rated on Amazon, and toddlers will love that it features 6 "dancing" soft tubes with streams will go in all directions and spray up to 8ft high (depending on the water pressure). Easy to set up and take down, this is a safe sprinkler for kids with an affordable price point, too!
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