20 Creative Activities That Have Actually Kept My Toddler Busy for More Than 20 Minutes
We're well into our second month of quarantine, and I think we've all learned some things — about ourselves, about our kids, about just how many things you can do with tape ;) At the beginning of our stay-at-home life I put together this post of a few ideas I had for keeping our 3-year-old busy. Now that it's been a few weeks, I thought I'd share the things that have actually worked!
Before getting to the activities, one game-changer that I know a lot of people have been doing has been a schedule or chart of activities. For us, I created this out to sticky notes so we can move certain activities around each day, and because my kid is 3 and can't read, I drew pictures that signify what each part of the day actually is. I had no idea how helpful this would be! She legit will say "let's check my list" to see if it's time for a snack or if it's time to do arts-and-crafts.
You can recreate most of these activities, crafts, and games using household items and DIY supplies. Hope this list helps you get through a few more 20-minute chunks of time :)
Window Painting Station: An amazing artist mom friend of mine Dev Heyrana has been doing a series of murals with her daughters, which inspired me to go larger scale with our daily art projects. I was nervous about paint getting all over the walls at the large scale so took it to the window instead. Taped up a few pieces of paper, draw a few flowers and plants in black marker, and let Anokhi get to work. We've done a mix of freestyle and coloring and, of course, so many rainbows.
Alphabet Game: Probably the invented activity that I'm most proud of because it legit lasted over a week! We usually played for two 20-minute chunks each day, and only stopped because we ran out of cut-outs to tape up. I put sticky notes up of each letter of the alphabet. Then I scavenged in my house for magazines and catalogs and cut out all sorts of things. (If your kid is skilled with scissors, they could take this task off your hands!) Set out of the pile of cut-outs and have your kid identify what each thing is, and what letter it starts with, then tape up under that letter. It's fun because she was able to practice her A,B,C's and learned lots of new words and concepts along the way.
Animal Bath Time in the Backyard: This is a classic I've seen a lot of people do their version of, but listing it anyway since it's been part of our weekly routine! We bring two big bowls or buckets outside and set up a station. Put the toy in the first bowl, then squeeze on soap and use sponges or brushes to make sure the toy is super clean. Then rinse in a second bowl, then place on a towel to dry. If only bath time for toddlers was this easy… ;)
Construction Paper Tunnels: When rolling a ball back and forth or sending a car up and down the hallway is losing its novelty factor, add paper tunnels! So easy, and at least 30 minutes of new fun. Found this idea on WhatShouldIDoWithMyKid.com. [Insert praise hands emoji]
Pom Pom Run: If you aren't following @busytoddler yet, you need to. This miraculous mama has SO MANY creative ideas for keeping your toddlers busy using household materials like tape, sticky notes, toilet paper rolls, and, yes, pom poms. The pom pom run is made using paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls. Tape them up, drop the poms in, and let 'em run! It's fun to make a couple different runs so you can race the pom poms. I'll admit, this activity lost its newness appeal after a couple weeks, but then we created a new run (same materials) on a different wall and we were in business again.
Hand-Sewn Paper Creatures: I don't know about you, but I'm continuously impressed with my toddler's ability to learn and excel at brand new things. Case in point, sewing! I assumed this would be a super challenging task for her but she loved the task of bringing the plastic needle up through the bottom, down from the top, and so on. She had homework to make a banana slug, so I figured let's add sewing to her list of newly acquired quarantine skills. We painted two pieces of paper, then I cut out the pair out together, then used a hole punch to create holes along the outline of the shape. I used a couple pieces of tape to keep the pieces together while Anokhi sewed around the edges. We stuffed it with a few cotton balls, and voila, a paper banana slug is born.
Nature Treasure Hunt + Collage: Everyone loves a treasure hunt! At least a few times a week, we set out with a basket and collect leaves, moss, sticks, fallen flowers, petals, and so on. Then we get home and glue our favorite pieces to paper to create a collage. I've found that adding the art element after the hunt seems to keep Anokhi engaged more than just picking up pretty leaves.
Find the Rainbow: Related closely to the treasure hunt is the rainbow twist! I got this idea from internet friend Joya Rose who did this activity with her toddler. Draw a rainbow together, then draw each color in a little swatch. Then head outside and find all the colors!
Build an Epic Fort: Turns out, you can actually build a new fort EVERY SINGLE WEEK. Take it to the next level with swaddle blanket room dividers, chip clips to add in lots of fabric layers, and so on. Have fun with it, and then build it again. And again. And again :)
Music Time with DIY Drums: Who doesn't love banging a wooden spoon on whatever they can find? We made our own drums using formula canisters and adhesive wallpaper. You could easily use contact paper, or even construction paper or magazines with glue. Fill them with beads to turn them into shakers, rotate between the plastic top and the metal bottom as surfaces to drum on, and so on. I'm not pretending it's rocket science here, it's good old DIY drums.
Printmaking with Random Materials: Acrylic paint plus anything plastic = makeshift printmaking! In this example, I took some plastic packaging and brought it outside to our painting station. We swirled colors together and then pressed paper over each "bubble" and made prints! If you try this with bubble wrap, you can create really fun dot patterns.
Rainbow Sponge Painting: I picked this idea up from the B+C archive, and it's been a huge hit around here. Squeeze colors onto a sponge, then paint across a big piece of paper to create rainbows, colorful stripes, and more.
Build a Restaurant, Then Cook In It: Two for the price of one! Building blocks are obviously a daily staple at this point, and all little humans love faux cooking. To get more out of each of these regular activities, I encouraged Anokhi to build a restaurant out of blocks, cook in her kitchen, and serve the food she made at the restaurant. It lasted for an HOUR. For real. At one point she urgently told me she needed oven mitts, and luckily the socks I was wearing also happened to be oven mitts! (Parenting is a forever improv act, amirite?)
Feeding Baby Sister: As heart-melting as it is borderline insane, we cut up a bunch of blueberries or spaghetti and have Anokhi feed each piece one by one to her 8-month-old sister Indira. Cuteness overload. A dinner without interruptions. Bliss.
Rainbow Color Sorting Wall: Related to the alphabet wall is the rainbow wall! I put stripes of washi tape on the wall, then cut all sorts of colorful things out of magazines. Color sorting is pretty basic, but Anokhi was into the fact that she could find things and put them up on her own, and then graduated to being able to find colors in magazines and cut them out herself.
Gardening Clean-Up: If you haven't turned your child into a landscape designer / weed puller / petal pusher yet, the time is now. Kids love getting dirty, putting things into piles, and sweeping!
Daily Coloring Pages: In the past couple weeks, I've taken to creating a daily coloring page for Anokhi that she works on in the morning after breakfast. I tape a big piece of paper to the counter, draw a few shapes or creatures and then let her run wild with it. It's hard to keep up daily, but if you like doodling it's sort of a nice thing to zen out on after the kids go to bed. Anokhi is always surprised and delighted by the new things she gets to color.
Washi Tape Road: This is another classic that has more legs than I ever thought it would. And the Magnatile village is where all the cars rest, obviously.
Dance Run: I don't know if this is an activity worth sharing but you know, it's a crowdpleaser so here it is. We put on loud music and dance and run back and forth over and over again in the house. The combo of dancing and running makes it feel like a race. A lot of high fives are shared. Chasing ensues. And we usually listen to Song 2 by Blur.
Nap Time for Everybody: Is my daughter the only one obsessed with making everything in our house take a nap? She makes us rest, puts blankets on us, and then sits there like a tiny babysitter. She also puts many of the objects in our house down for nap all over the place. This seems to be a universal obsession with toddlers, so use it to your advantage.
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