Coming up with enough toddler activities to keep your little one busy all day is definitely a challenge. I mean, how often do you find yourself laying down to sleep at night thinking, “I can’t wait ’til nap time tomorrow!”
You love her dearly. You want her —and you—to make it through her childhood. But after playing two-person “Duck, Duck, Goose” for two hours, reading Goodnight Moon twenty times, and washing three loads of banana-crusted onesies and bibs–all after only three hours of sleep last night–you desperately need a few moments to yourself.
So, what do you do?
If you’re like me, you had tons of great ideas for kid activities BEFORE you had kids, but now that you’re so tired, your brain is blank.
Once in desperation, I called a radio host who was discussing this exact topic. My question: “What do you do with a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and two three-week-old twins?”
Yes, that was my life. I desperately needed something for my toddlers to do in between naps.
Are you in the same boat? Here are some tried and true ideas to give you some relief.
Think Inside the Box
The talk show’s answer to my panicked plea? Refrigerator boxes.
“Where in the world will I get refrigerator boxes?”
Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.
- Call your local appliance stores or delivery companies. Most big chains send their boxes to recycling centers, but “Mom and Pop” stores are often glad to give you theirs.
- Check with bicycle shops, cabinet shops, furniture stores, and building contractors.
- Go dumpster diving! New subdivision going up near you? That means lots of new appliances; often, they throw the boxes into large dumpsters in the driveway.
Once you have these precious cardboard commodities, here are several ideas to get the most out of them!
Toddler Activity #1: Coloring Caves
Set boxes up with tops open, put your kiddo in with a set of crayons, and let him color on the “walls” to his heart’s content.
It’s amazing how much little kids love to draw on things that aren’t paper. If you’d rather not use a plain old box, there are some pretty cool coloring playhouses available:
Toddler Activity #2: Playground Tunnels
Once you have those boxes, the sky’s the limit. Tape cardboard to cardboard, making tunnels for your little adventurer to crawl through. Color the outside. Color the inside. It kept my kids busy for hours!
Easy Make Believe
Kids already have it: imagination. It comes naturally to them., so why not use all that creative energy to your advantage with a few simple toddler activities?
Toddler Activity #3: A Tricycle Re-Imagined
I recently asked my kids what they remembered doing when they were young; they immediately mentioned a super simple game that I actually discovered when I was young.
Flip a tricycle upside down on its handlebars, crank the pedals, and, voila! She’s got an ice cream machine… or Sleeping Beauty’s spinning wheel… or whatever else her creative little mind dreams up.
This super simple activity will keep her busy, spark her ingenuity, and works indoors or outdoors.
Toddler Activity #4: Indoor Bowling Alley
We often think we need to buy expensive games with bells and whistles. But for little ones, it’s almost more fun creating the games. Set up nine wooden blocks in a triangle, step back a few feet, hand your little pinster a ball, and you’ve got your own indoor bowling alley. STRIKE!
Toddler Activity #5: Dress Up
Next time you plan to take a shirt, dress, or suit to Goodwill, throw it in a costume bin for your kiddos instead. They love dressing up like Mommy and Daddy. And with hems twice as long as their little legs, the pictures are priceless!
Create a Masterpiece
If you’re like me, even the idea of finger paints and watercolors is exhausting, creating visions of scrubbing every inch of their little bodies… as well as tables, floors, and ceilings!
But what kid doesn’t love creating with a beautiful rainbow of colors? These fun painting activities will allow your little Picasso to create a masterpiece with minimal mess.
Toddler Activity #6: Watercolor Pencils
Watercolor pencils are going to be your new favorite art tool. They look like colored pencils, but your future Rembrandt will use them to create vibrant paintings without all the extra mess.
- Color a picture, then dip a paintbrush in water and run the brush over the coloring.
- Actually dip the pencil in the water and color with it.
- Dip a paintbrush in water, run it over the paper, then color on top of the water.
Adding a plastic tablecloth or mat under the paper makes cleaning-up so simple, a toddler can do it. *wink*
Toddler Activity #7: Bathtub Paints
If your toddler still longs for finger paints, make the bathtub his canvas!
Then throw him in the bathtub and let him paint the bathtub walls and himself with no extra work for you because it’s really soap. If you’re feeling ambitious, check out this post and try cleaning both your toddler and bathroom in just nine minutes.
Put Those Toddlers to Work!
Young kids LOVE to help Mom. So enjoy it while it lasts! We aren’t talking about breaking any labor laws here, but there are several tasks even your two-year-old can get into:
Toddler Activity #8: Emptying the Dishwasher
“Morning” sickness? Right…more like all day! When I was pregnant with my twins, I realized there were certain tasks I just couldn’t do. One of them was emptying the dishwasher. Something about the motion of going up and down and twisting just made everything want to come up…
Enter my toddlers. They could pick up plates from the dishwasher and hand them to me to put in the cabinets. They could also move forks and spoons from basket to drawer…and loved every minute of it.
They liked it so much, that we kept it up even after the babies came.
Toddler Activity #9: Wet Wipes Race
When you notice the kitchen floor could use spot cleaning but you just don’t have energy to mop, take two wipes, hand your toddler one, and tell her you’ll race her to see who can clean up more spots. More than one youngster? Let them race each other.
Toddler Activity #10: Kitchen Floor Skiing
If you do pull out the mop, follow it up by grabbing some towels. Let your child stand on them and “cross country ski” all around the floor! Your floor will be buffed dry in no time, and the giggles will make your heart sing.
Honestly, while these seem like jobs to you, your little ones will see them as games.
As a mom of a toddler, there are undoubtedly mornings when you wake up and think, “How on earth will we survive ‘til nap time?”
You are not alone! But with a few of these activities, you can fill the time fast. Then, after all that playing and imagining and creating and working—and laughing and giggling and bonding—your toddler should be tired enough to take a nice long nap!
And *hopefully* you will have a few sweet moments of peace and quiet as well.
Tomorrow’s a new day! Which of these toddler activities will you use tomorrow to get you through ‘til nap time?
Have You Read These Yet?
- Dear Homemaker: Use These 70 Life-Hacks to Steal More Time
- 5 Things About Your Toddler’s Development That Will Surprise You
- 4 Proven Stress-Free Secrets to Bathing Your Baby and Toddler Together
- Surviving ’til Nap-Time: 10 Simple Toddler Activities to Entertain Your Tot
- Keeping Your Toddler Happy on the Plane (The Mary Poppins Way)
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With 5 kids, Elizabeth was at one time a member of the “4 kids 3-yrs-and-under” club, holding a personal record of eight diapers in one hour. Now, as
an older mom, umm, a mom with older kids, she has a passion for moms who desperately want to feel successful in this fabulous but tough job called mothering.
When she isn’t teaching or writing, …who are we kidding? Her kids say she’s ALWAYS talking about teaching and writing… With a degree in education and 20+ years of experience in school as parent and teacher (including 11 years as PTA President), she also loves reading, singing, creating art, and just trying to stay ahead of the stories churning in her head. Read more about her at elizabethdaghfal.com.