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 toddler while you get some chores done on the weekend or you're searching for a long list of kids 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 25 easy (and cheap!) things to do with 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.
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. Make a fort
All you need to create a magical fort is: couch pillows, blankets or sheets, and a flashlight. Set one up and let their imaginations take flight.
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
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!
23. Give them an assignment
Make them feel empowered—and in charge—by giving them a simple assignment or task. Example tasks that use brain power include: asking them to help you sort blocks by color, stack all your round tupperware together or even bring toys from one room to he next. These simple (and yes, mundane) tasks will help give them purpose and feel like they have a job to do.
24. Have a dance party
If you're tired of Raffi or "Wheels on the Bus" you're not alone. Turn on some dancing music and let them get their energy out with some new music.
25. Write a letter
Ok, they may not actually be able to write a proper letter yet, but break out the crayons or markers and have them create a drawing to give to a friend, your garbage person or family members.
This article was originally published on November 13, 2019. It has been updated.
Jamie Orsini also contributed to this post.