Entertaining a toddler can be hard work at the best of times. But during a national lockdown in the middle of a pandemic? Yikes! That is why I have put together this list of my Top 10 Activity Ideas for Toddlers.
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Why Top Ten Activities for Toddlers?
My toddler is 20 months old. He is energetic, curious and cheeky! Regardless of the number of toys on display, he always wants something more. Usually that something is one-to-one attention from another person. And I completely understand and accept that. However, it doesn’t mean to say that I find entertaining him, 24 hours a day & 7 days a week, easy. Especially as I am now also back at work, blogging, studying online and volunteering.
And even if I wasn’t doing all of these things, I would still need time for essential self care (or in other words – time to wash, eat and pee!). So one of the things I have found, to make motherhood more manageable, is an activity set-up. I look for inspiration online, then I list or mind-map my activity ideas and try to come up with a rough plan for our week. It doesn’t always go smoothly, and sometimes all of the activities end up happening in one single day, but it does give me a sense of achievement. Not only that but it also ensures we get that special, quality time together even in these strange, lockdown days.
My Top Ten List
So I have written this list in the hope that I can pass on some of our tried and tested activity ideas for you to try at home with your own toddlers. As always, my aim is to make motherhood manageable. So take the ideas you like and leave the ones you don’t. This isn’t a check list or itinerary – it is simply inspiration! I hope you enjoy my top ten activity ideas for toddlers. You can also grab my FREE Toddler Survival Kit here.
Top of our list is Water Play!
No.1 Water Play
Water Play is at the very top of my list and for good reason. Water Play is a fantastic way for toddlers to explore their imagination, learn about the properties of water, consider mathematical concepts like volume, and even experience different temperatures! We love to play with water in the bath, the sink, in bowls and jugs, and even frozen as ice cubes.
Remember, water play isn’t just for the Summer! If you pop the heating on and keep a change of clothes and a towel close by, then water play can be a great activity during the winter too. You could even give your bath-time routine a makeover with some glowsticks and a bubble machine! Don’t be afraid to get creative. If you are worried about the mess, then only put out as much water as you are comfortable cleaning up. To boost your creativity, I have shared my top three water play ideas below!
Here are three of my favourite water play activity ideas for toddlers
A traditional Halloween game in Scotland, “dookin’ for apples” is a great option when exploring water. In the photo above, you can see we also included balloons in our play setup. I filled these with cornflour and rice, as well as blowing them up so that they would float. This meant Joseph could explore the different weights, sounds and textures of each balloon. I also included utensils which added another element to this activity by encouraging Joseph to develop his fine motor skills.
Paddling pools are a fantastic water play experience. We snapped this photo in August while we were celebrating Mr Blake’s 30th birthday in the garden. Joseph loved filling the jug and pouring the water back into the pool, as well as using a sprinkler cup and floating his football around the pool.
My final water play example is washing your toys! Get your little one involved in the housework and give the toys a wash. I often include Joseph in washing his bath toys as it makes a mundane task more fun. We put soap in the water and make sure there are lots of towels close by. I have also popped our Tuff Tray underneath to save the floor from getting too wet. Don’t worry if you don’t have a Tuff Tray, anything plastic will do! Why not try an old shower curtain or a few bin bags?
No 2 on our list is Messy Play!
Next up is Messy Play! I am experienced in early years, so messy play was always going to be part of my play repertoire as a Mama. But if you are a bit uncertain about letting your toddler loose with the paint, rest assured you can contain the mess by making these activities as big or as small as you would like. Toddlers will still love exploring these activities on a smaller scale.
Here are three of our favourite Messy Play activity ideas for toddlers
Create a beach in your living room with just two basic ingredients!
Flour and Vegetable Oil are all you need to make this soft, taste-safe and mouldable Moon Sand. The amount pictured above was 2kg of plain flour mixed with 400ml vegetable oil. We paired it with all of Joseph’s beach toys and his sun tent! This was in January so of course we did it all inside and had a roaring fire at the same time. What could be better?
The clean up is pretty simple too as we popped all of the sand on the Tuff Tray with a splash mat underneath. Now, of course, nothing with a toddler is straight forward. So we did have to clean up the odd sand pile after Joseph ran giggling from the room clutching handfuls of the stuff – but hey, that’s just toddler life! We have also enjoyed Moon Sand with our farm animals and a Christmas snow scene. The best part was that I could scoop it all off the tray and put it in a tub to play again another day. Try it out and let me know how you get on!
Cornflour & Water
Cornflour and cold water is a magical combination.
It creates a gloopy mixture that is both liquid and solid. It is a fascinating combination for little fingers to explore. I like to include utensils too! I don’t have a recipe per-se, as I tend to free pour. But if you want to experience a very solid layer, then be careful with how much water you add.
We all have cereal in our cupboards and it actually makes a fantastic, taste-safe play material.
Weetabix, porridge oats, rice crispies and shredded wheat are a few of our favourites. I tend to crush the bigger cereals to make them safer for my toddler, as he still puts everything in his mouth! We have used cereal for pouring and scooping, as well as making bedding for our toy animals. At the moment, Joseph is enjoying feeding his animals by scooping the cereal into miniature barrels and troughs. Cheerios are another favourite in our house and if you blitz them in the food processor they will give you another edible alternative to sand!
No 3 Outdoor Play
Next up on the list is playing outside! And it is so important for getting that Vitamin D into our little ones.
It’s also important for teaching our children about nature and the world around them. My family is incredibly lucky as we live in a rural area of Scotland. We have a big garden and there are fields full of crops, farm animals and wildlife right on our doorstep. But you don’t have to live in the country to benefit from getting outside.
Fresh air, sunlight and a change of scenery are important for all of us. It improves our health, boosts our mood and helps us get more sleep. For toddlers, being outside is a play opportunity in itself. The outside world is full of new and exciting things to explore. No matter where you live, the sky changes colour, the weather defines the day, and the flora and fauna move with the seasons.
Think about where you live. What plants can you see? Where might you find bugs? Do you see neighbours walking dogs or seagulls eating dropped chips? All of these things are fascinating to toddlers and offer lots of opportunities to learn new language too.
No 4 is Music Time with Instruments
When we are talking about improving our toddler’s language skills, we have to mention music! Singing songs and nursery rhymes is one of the best ways to increase our little one’s vocabulary and articulation. In fact, one study showed that children who knew six nursery rhymes by the time they started formal education had a life long attainment advantage. Learning the lyrics to nursery rhymes helps to develop our child’s memory as well as their language skills.
It is sociable to sing together and we can use rhymes to introduce ideas we may need in other areas of our lives. For example START and STOP nursery rhymes, like the popular ‘Sleeping Bunnies’ tune, help our children to learn what STOP means and how to do it even when they are having lots of fun. We can also develop our child’s turn taking skills by sharing the verses of a rhyme like ‘Round & Round The Garden’ and letting one person do the actions before the other person has a go.
Music is a wonderful way for our children to get creative while also learning about rhythm or ‘time keeping’. I love to put on a children’s CD and encourage Joseph to play along with his own instruments. We use egg shakers, maracas, bells, a tambourine and rhythm sticks to keep time. He also loves to play on his electronic piano, glockenspiel and toddler drum. This activity is also great for babies who are just starting to develop their fine motor skills and to learn about cause and effect. If you need some inspiration check out the Royal National Scottish Orchestra Astar app, the Mama Lisa website featuring nursery rhymes from around the world, or the BookBug YouTube Channel run by the Scottish Book Trust.
Baking is another ‘Toddler Joe’ approved past-time. We love to bake brownies, muffins, pizza and naan bread. We have even become pretty darn good at homemade garlic dough balls too! I have always involved Joseph in these activities – whether it was carrying him around with me in the sling, giving him a spoon to play with in the bouncer chair, or starting to mix up ingredients in his own bowl – ensuring Joseph has a part to play made us both happy. Joseph loves to practice pouring, stirring and especially licking!
He now knows that the oven is hot and that we need flour for most of our recipes. Baking has also been a great way to introduce lots of new vocabulary, such as the names of the ingredients and utensils, verbs describing our actions (stir, sift, roll, cut) and adjectives (gently, hot, quickly, cold, squidgy). Not to mention generating the cutest moments, like when Joseph started asking for ‘cuppy and chocolate cake’. Like anything with toddlers, baking is LIKELY to be messy and UNLIKELY to produce award winning traybakes, but it is another fantastic activity to enrich your time together.
No.6 Practical Life activities
‘Practical Life’ is how Montessori-following parents like to describe any activity that focuses on building life skills. These are the skills we need every day to manage our home, our family, our money and our job. It is actually really important that we encourage our toddlers to take on more of this type of responsibility. Not only are we equipping them for life as an adult, but they also learn what is expected of them as a member of the family from a young age. This will (hopefully) make it easier as they get older. And you may be surprised to hear that toddlers generally enjoy it!
Some of our favourite activities are preparing vegetables, putting rubbish in the bin, loading and emptying the washing machine, taking care of a baby doll, cleaning, and last (but definitely not least) is carrying things. Trust me – Joseph likes nothing better than wandering backwards and forwards with a bin or a washing basket. And it’s a great way to use up all that toddler energy while also building his gross motor skills!
Please remember it is essential that you supervise your toddler when they are practicing life skills. Especially if this involves being near anything with small parts, sharp objects or toxic substances. Self-adhesive child locks on cupboards and drawers work a treat! When considering the task you would like them to help with, try to break it down into very small chunks. This will make it more manageable and maximise your toddler’s chance for success.
no.7 Parachute games
Next on the list are Parachute Games! I know not everyone has a parachute at home. Spoiler alert: neither do we! But when you think about it, a parachute is one of the easiest, early-years props to replicate with household items. We love to use blankets, bedsheets, towels and even clothing as makeshift parachutes (or even tents) in this house.
Lifting a piece of fabric up and down might not sound fun to you, but trust me your toddler will love it! Parachute games are a brilliant way to develop a wide range of skills and you can easily modify the activity to coincide with your child’s abilities and interests at the time. For example, very young toddlers can practice grasping the parachute while you do most of the movement and sing their favourite nursery rhyme. We have played parachute games with a fluffy blanket and put animal puppets in the centre. We lifted our animals up and down while we sang ‘Old Macdonald has a Farm’. The lifting and lowering of the parachute is a wonderful way to introduce rhythm keeping too. You can also reinforce concepts such as up and down, fast and slow, loose and tight, and so on. Get creative and tag me in your pics! I would love to see what you come up with!
No. 8 Den Building
Den building is an age-old play idea. Toddlers have been enjoying crawling under tables and blankets for centuries! While it might not look like much, Joseph loved these makeshift living room hideaways. It made the perfect spot for trying out our light-up Halloween bag and reading stories. Why not try building a pillow fort or covering your dining chairs with a bed sheet? If you are brave enough, you could even try sleeping in your den! Good luck with that though. Mr Blake and I once camped out under our Christmas tree and it was the most uncomfortable thing ever!
No.9 Arts & CRAFTS
I know what you are thinking – “Arts and crafts with a toddler? Is she for real?” – but hear me out! Art activities only need to be as messy as you make them. Sure, Joseph and I love a bit of finger painting, but I also have a tub filled with crayons and a freezer bag of washable markers. Sometimes colouring in is all I have the energy for, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. This week we read Super Worm by Julia Donaldson and I drew worms for Joseph to colour in. I also saved some big cardboard boxes from the recycling and let Joseph decorate them in the living room. You can keep craft activities simple by playing with pipe cleaners, stickers or even making paper chains. Painting can be less messy too! Why not try brushing plain water onto coloured paper? We also love the solid watercolour tablets which create beautiful pale colours when mixed with just a few drops of water.
If you do fancy a bit of mess, then I highly recommend collecting rocks from the garden and painting them as a different bugs or animals. We have a rock bug colony in the village and Joseph is only just old enough to take part. Even now we are stretching the definition of ‘bug’ as Joseph tends to finish the activity by mushing all the colours together and rubbing them onto the rock with his bare hands. But hey ho!
Joseph also loves to help wrap birthday or Christmas presents. I often ask him to write a message in the cards with his crayons. These early forms of creativity and mark-making are really important for building a foundation for your child’s artistic and literary skills later in life. But don’t worry, I won’t make you keep every piece of soggy painted paper!
We are nearing the end of our list now, but I couldn’t make an activity list for toddlers without including number 10…
no.10 Story sacks
Reading is my favourite activity in the world! That is why I have saved the best for last – Story Sacks! What could be more fun than sitting down to enjoy a wonderful children’s story with your toddler? How about adding a bag full of exciting props to keep their attention all the way to the end of the story?
Story sacks are as simple as they are genius. Pick a story, find objects around your home that relate to that story and pop them into a bag. Job done! A quick and easy activity setup that can be enjoyed in lots of different ways. You don’t even need to pull the items out in order. You can let your toddler empty the whole lot first and then search for each item in the book. Or you can try letting them pick one item out of the bag each time you turn a page. Some parents also like to leave the bag until the very end of the story as a nice way to finish the book. You decide! And if you need a bit of inspiration, here are four of my favourite story sacks right now!
Here are some of our favourite Story Sacks!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a classic. I very simply included some wooden food and two different caterpillar toys. We matched the food to the pictures and talked about which foods were our favourite. The soft and wooden toys allowed an exploration of texture, while the pull-along caterpillar also gave us an opportunity for movement. It is also good to note the difference in size between the caterpillar toys and liken it to how the tiny, hungry caterpillar grew into a big, fat caterpillar before entering his cocoon. Use your imagination and let your toddler lead the way!
Milky by Maria Betsworth & Agnes Saccanni is a lovely new book that I bought Joseph for Christmas. It celebrates the different ways babies can be fed human milk and features diverse families of all backgrounds. Joseph enjoyed feeding his baby doll with the knitted boob, before putting her on the potty and singing her to sleep with her teddy.
Another Julia Donaldson treasure, Fox’s Socks is a lovely lift-the-flap book. I popped this multi-textured fox toy into the bag, along with a vest and a pair of socks for Joseph to ‘find’.
What will you try?
So there we have it, my Top Ten Activities for Toddlers. What was your favourite?
I would love to know! You can leave me a comment here or why not join the At Home with Mrs Blake Community on Facebook? You can also tag me on Instagram and meet other Mamas through our Friendship Friday event!
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