If your toddler is anything like mine, destruction could be their middle name. My little boy has a knack for finding where the older kids store their markers, and then taking the lids off and coloring all over himself and the floor. Or emptying out the cupboard, gleefully rolling the cans across the floor.
And while we’re working on training him and teaching him more acceptable behavior, it’s really best just to occupy his mind in other ways. When my toddler is engaged in appropriate activities, he has way less time to go find something to do on his own. And that, is a great thing.
So, here are seven of my toddler’s favorite engaging activities. These things all keep him busy for at least twenty minutes at a time, which is an incredibly long time for an active toddler. You can get a lot done in twenty minutes when you can actually focus instead of trying to clean up after a destructive toddler in that time.
Give these activities a try, I hope that your toddlers enjoy them as much as mine do!
1. Free Play with Don’t Rock the Boat
One of my middle kids got this fun game for Christmas two years ago, but many of the pieces have since been lost. Since we no longer play it for “real” it’s the perfect toy for my toddler. And he absolutely loves it.
He doesn’t quite get the balancing aspect of the game yet, but he sure enjoys putting all of the penguins on the boat. He’ll get them on, and then take them off one at a time.
Some of the pieces are on the small end, so you will want to remove any pieces that you think could pose a choking hazard. I typically only let my toddlers play with this when they are sitting next to me at the table so I can keep an eye on them.
This isn’t the only game that’s fun for toddler free play. My kids also enjoy playing with:
- Tell Me a Story (my toddlers love the pictures)
- Jenga (the pieces make great building planks!)
If you have your toddler play with the pieces to a game, just make sure you help supervise the putting away of the pieces. Otherwise it won’t take long and there won’t be any pieces left…
2. Free Play with a Box
My toddler loves boxes. Especially if he can use crayons to color it. He’ll sit inside a large Amazon box for such a long time. And sometimes he can even convince his older siblings to push him around inside of it. He really likes that.
Playing with a box helps encourage pretend play, which starts to emerge during the toddler stage. It’s so much fun to watch them turn it into a rocket ship or boat.
You can also work together to turn some boxes into a playhouse by cutting out a door or windows. Just make sure you handle the cutting part. Turning a toddler loose with scissors is definitely not a good plan.
And you never know…your toddler may even decide to curl up inside their new box and take a nap. And napping toddlers are a beautiful sight!
3. Look at a Stack of Books
My toddlers love looking at books. One book will never work for long, but if they have a stack to go through, my boys will typically sit and flip pages for quite a while. Here are some of their favorite board books. Most of these are active, meaning they have flaps or soft spots or something to do to keep the kids engaged while they look.
- Fisher-Price Little People: On the Farm (Fisher Price Lift-the-Flap)
- Where Is Baby’s Belly Button? A Lift-the-Flap Book
- Are You There Little Tiger?
- Melissa & Doug Children’s Book – Poke-A-Dot: Old Macdonald’S Farm (Board Book with Buttons To Pop)
- See, Touch, Feel: A First Sensory Book
These keep my son’s attention even better if I read them to him first. Then I sit him down with the stack nearby while I get to work. He’ll sit and read for quite a while.
4. Get Time with a Hose
If you can get your toddler outside, they can burn off a lot of energy quickly. I always like to have my kids do some water play in the summer. We typically set up a little kiddie pool and bring out the hoses.
May I just say that a toddler in control of a hose is a terrifying sight…
He knew how to make his older siblings scream, and he had a lot of fun doing it.
By the time water play was over, he was ready to come inside and get cleaned up and tucked in for a nap. He was exhausted!
5. Ride Bikes Inside
While I don’t let my older kids ride their bikes inside, I will occasionally bring in the toddler bikes and ride on cars for some energetic play. We also have some “smart” ride on cars that just stay in the house year round.
This type of play seems to work best in the middle of winter or during our muddy season. Just make sure any outdoor bikes don’t have mud on it when you bring it inside…
Your toddler can ride the bike around the room. It’s a great way to get some energy out when you’re stuck inside.
6. Build a Fort
My toddlers love forts. They will sit inside of one and read or play or sleep for a long time. Especially if I give them a snack inside.
Forts don’t have to be Pinterest beautiful to be engaging. So don’t let your lack of fort building skills stop you.
Grab some chairs and toss some blankets up, like this:
It’s not fancy, but it sure kept my kids busy for a long time. They put blankets on the inside to sit on to pad the floor a little bit. Then they each got a bowl of trail mix. That takes them a while to eat, since my toddlers have to sit and look at each piece before they decide to eat it.
You can also make simple forts outside. Tossing a blanket over a clothesline is the easiest. You can also make a teepee style fort with some long boards and some fitted sheets, like this:
Seriously, don’t feel like everything you do for your kids has to be beautiful. They will have plenty of fun in a messy looking structure, and you’ll have a lot less stress. It’s a win win!
You don’t even have to take a picture of the forts you make. Just make one for your toddler and sit back and watch them play.
7. Play with Cooked Noodles
Your toddler can have a lot of fun with rainbow colored spaghetti noodles. But, you don’t have to take the time to color them to engage them in this sensory play project.
For an even simpler activity, just boil the noodles until they are almost done. Then, drain them and rinse them in cool water. Add some olive oil and toss them to keep them from sticking. Then serve them up for your toddler in a large bowl.
Give them some utensils, paper plates, and anything else you can think of. They will know what to do, and will have a blast doing it.
It’s so much fun to watch all that they come up with. My toddler enjoys putting his feet into the spaghetti. It must be really smooshy feeling.
What Activities for Toddlers Does Your Family Enjoy?
Do you think your toddlers would like any of these activities? They are all ones my kids really enjoy.
Just remember to keep an eye on your toddler. Even when they are engaged, you never know when they might decide to try something different. Like putting spaghetti noodles inside other people’s shoes or ramming their bike into the television stand.
Toddlers are definitely curious. So help give them appropriate ways to burn off all that extra energy.