• Sophie Smith

60 Simple Activities for Young Toddlers

Updated: Feb 25, 2019

Do you ever have those days where you feel a little short on inspiration for what to do with you toddler? I was always looking for ideas and one of the things I did wrong, was to try and do fancy crafts or activities with a kiddo who was just too young to really enjoy them. I wish I had just kept it simple and saved the fancy stuff for when she was older, but #firsttimemom!

When it comes to keeping my kids stimulated, I live in a tiny Eastern Cape town, with barely a grocery store, and certainly no exciting outings like the aquarium or even a playground. We don’t have a TV, and although I have a few episodes of Postman Pat on my laptop, we try and keep screen time for emergencies or suicide hour when I desperately need 10 minutes for us all to regroup and calm down.

I found that there were lots of Pinterest ideas for older toddlers, but not much for children between 1 and 2 years old, added to that, I didn’t have much access to arts and crafts supplies, and I normally hadn’t thought far enough ahead to prep anything fancy. Despite this, we still managed to find all sorts of fun things to do without going very far, spending much money, or too much preparation.

Babies change a lot in their second year, so you will need to gauge if the activities are appropriate for your toddler.

Exploring outdoors

We often hear how important outdoor play is, but sometimes getting outside can feel like a chore. Richard Louv coined the term "Vitamin N" to highlight just how crucial the role of nature is for kids to fix many of the problems we see with children today. It is good on so many levels - from sensory experiences, risk taking, gross and motor development, investigation and learning to love and respect the natural world. But aside from all the theory, I can tell you from experience, that getting outside does magic. By about 8:30am my kids are starting to get cranky or irritable and getting up to mischief, so the sooner we roll on out into the garden or for an outing, the better. Not only do they play harder, shout louder, run further and get full of fresh air, they also sleep better - bonus!

1. Visit the park or a playground

2. Swing on the swing - if you can get a swing in your garden or on your verandah, it is the best. And then choose some swinging songs - Lexi loves Old MacDonald!

3. Sandpit - get in the sandpit too and get involved. Try burying balls or toys and then digging them up.

4. Collect treasures in a bucket - treasures can be so simple; seed pods, sticks, leaves or berries

5. Stick towers - collect a whole pile of sticks and make tower or a teepee or a little house.

6. Making mud

8. Digging in the dirt - hands work well but a little spade and a bucket are even more fun.

7. Walking along a balance beam - this could be a log or a plank or we used a concrete fence dropper. Hold hands at first but with time, your child will get more confident.

9. Hunt for insects or early morning dewy spider webs

10. Mud kitchen - we build one but it can be as simple as little table with some pots, pans, and spoons.

11. Food colouring - clear tubs of coloured water which they pour together to make new colours.

12. Pick a bunch of flowers for someone - learn about why flowers need to be put in water, as well as the joy of doing something kind for a friend or teacher or relative.

13. Swimming - or just paddling in a tub of water on a hot day.

12. Stomping on mole hills

15. Climbing trees - this one obviously requires a little help and supervision but is fun to do from very little

16. Picking fruit or veggies - if you have fruit in your garden, or live near a fruit farm, this is such a fun one. You could also plant fruit like strawberries. Be sure to teach your child that they can only eat certain fruits and berries!

17. Stomping in puddles - A rainy day doesn’t have to mean staying indoors, it just means you need the right gear. We love our gumboots and MuddieBuddies.

16. Throwing a ball through a hoop - hold a hoola hoop, or hang it on a low branch.

17. Playing with ice

18. Simple obstacle course - Use bricks, a hoola hoop, some bean bags, a plank of wood and create a simple course to do with your kids.

19. Colour scavenger hunt

20. Gardening - grow flowers or veggies, water them and watch them grow

Messy play

The trick to messy play is to prepare for the worst. We are lucky enough to have a big garden and a garage, but a tiled bathroom, or even the bathtub is a great place for messy play and easy clean up.

21. Chocolate mud - make yummy mud using boxed chocolate pudding, or I prefer healthy chocolate mousse, and let your plastic animals or dolls have fun in the "mud". For a full guide, click here.

22. Cleaning up the animals/babies - after the chocolate play, comes the clean up. You can bath, dry and moisturise your babies without the chocolate stage too.

23. Putting moisturiser on baby and mom - a nice one to do after a shower in the bathroom, just be sure to use a nice, family friendly, chemical free cream.

24. Coloured rice - this has been a long term hit with Lexi, I used this method

25. Painting - Paint pots work well to contain mess, or you can embrace the mess, get them naked and let them go wild on the garage floor.

26. Blowing water with a straw - you can just practise sucking and blowing, or if you are ambitious, try and make an artwork with water colours.

27. Dry Spaghetti - one evening I was trying to prep supper so I let the kids attack the cupboard where they found, and opened a pack of spaghetti which they loved

28. Cooked Spaghetti - I then swept it all off the floor, cooked it, and put the pot and the children out in the garden with it, but you could also do the bathtub. They loved it!

29. Corn flour and water - Lexi has spent hours playing with cornflour and water, and even better if I add food colouring for her. The goopy gloop is a wonderful sensory experience.

Exploring indoors

Although intentional daily outdoor play is vital, there are days when it isn’t possible all the time either because of horrible weather, or you need to be inside for a while, especially if there is something on the stove (story of my life).

30. Mom’s toiletry bag - you may want to clear out any fancy make-up, but unzipping zips and opening tubes and bottles is great entertainment and fine motor skills.

31. Dad’s tool kit - again, maybe remove the saw and the wire cutters, but hammers, nails, screwdrivers, and all the goodies in a tool box are great fun to play with under supervision

32. Emptying a cupboard - There are a few strategic cupboards in our house that I don’t mind being raided - my clothes & shoes cupboard, the tuppaware cupboard, and the broom cupboard.

33. Bubble sink bath - this is a great one for after messy play, while you are prepping lunch or a snack.

34. Building blocks - we had a set of big soft blocks and then Duplo

35. Stacking paper/plastic cups

36. Read stories - try and do this every day!

37. Hide and seek

38. Noisy play -this could be banging on pots and tin cans, or a collection of musical instruments

38. Activity boxes - I like to keep groups of toys hidden away in boxes for special days, that way there is less mess, and rotating through the toys keeps them exciting and new. We have a puzzle box, a music box, a craft box, a dress up box, amongst others.

39. Dress up

40. Obstacle course - a simple indoor obstacle course can be such fun, crawl under the table, over the chair, around the couch and jump on the cushions.

41. Play dough - Lexi loves making play dough cupcakes in silicone muffin cups with candles

42. Dance party

43. Make popcorn - it’s pretty healthy and the anticipation of the pops is always fun

44. Visit the local library

45. Blanket fort or Teepee picnic - our Totem Teepee is an absolute favourite indoor and outdoor play, but it’s a real lifesaver on a rainy day in the lounge.

Helping with chores

If you are serious about getting chores done as quickly and efficiently as possible, a toddler is not a good idea, but if you have time and patience, including children in basic chores is so important and can be fun. Remember, what you tell children, they believe about themselves. The more I have involved Lexi & Finn and praised them for being so helpful, the more they have wanted to get involved.

46. Wash the car

47. Wash the dishes - a step or stool will help, and then prepare for mess with an old towel on the floor and a change of clothes ready. A double sink also makes a big difference, one side for you to wash, and the other side for your child to rinse.

48. Simple baking - when baking with toddlers, I love recipes that you can just throw everything into a blender or one bowl and then into the oven like these banana muffins.

49. Sweeping - we got a small broom for the kids, and although they make more mess than anything, they love helping to sweep.

50. Chopping fruit/veg - My dear friendJax, of Jax of the Bushveld, got Lexi a plastic knife and board and she loves helping me. Bananas and mushrooms are great soft options.

51. Hanging up or taking down the laundry - if you have a drying rack, you can let them hang things there if the line is too far away.

52. Tidying up toys - this is so simple, and seems boring, but if a parent gets involved it can be really fun, and is such a good life skill to teach from very early.

Simple crafts

One of the things I learnt with Lexi is that there will be plenty of time in the future to make and create fancy projects. I am a creative, and a perfectionist, and so I really struggled with the mess and scribbles, and brown mixed up paint that always happened when attempting a Pinterest worthy art project. It is SO important to let children's creativity grow naturally, not try and teach them or tell them what or how to create. So I have seriously down graded my craft efforts, but SO look forward to seeing Lexi's personal creativity emerge, as well as doing more elaborate projects in the future.

53. Drawing - have a few jars of different materials - pens, stamps, khakis, pencil crayons to mix things up. 54. Cutting paper - children’s scissors aren’t as dangerous as everyone thinks. If you sit your child on the floor with some scissors and colourful paper or an old magazine, you may be surprised how long they are entertained.

55. Collage - we had tons of old baby magazines which I would cut pictures out of and Lexi tried to glue them to paper. It is a great way of developing new vocabulary and of course those fine motor skills.

56. Cutting tape and sticking it down - Lex was a little bit older when she got into this but a box of washi tape, scissors, and some coloured card made beautiful cards.

57. Making butterflies - paint, paper, scissors, a loo roll, and a pipe cleaner & googly eyes if you have some, can make a really simple craft that you could even spread out over a few days. Draw a butterfly on a sheet of A4 paper. Let your kiddo go wild with paint, glitter, stickers etc. Once dry, cut out the butterfly. Let them paint loo rolls as the body. Stick on or draw some eyes and maybe some pipe cleaner feelers, and ta-da! (Photo above)

58. Make crowns - let your kiddo go crazy with paints and glitter, then cut out and glue together a crown.

59. Make bracelets - this could be as simple as gluing strips of coloured paper around your wrists, or threading big beads onto a string.

60. Water on sugar paper - if you paint with water on sugar paper it shows up beautifully but there is no messy paint and you can dry your paper and use it again.

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© 2019 Sophie Smith