Our littlest learners can be the hardest to engage, that’s why I believe that toddler activities should be simple, fun and most importantly super quick for us adults to set up!
Toddlers are typically able to concentrate for 2-5 minutes per year of age and so creating elaborate play activities for them really doesn’t make a heap of sense. Aim to create activities that take 5 minutes or less to put together.
How often should you do activities with toddlers?
Before we delve into the activities, I want to stress this: please don’t spend a whole entire day going from planned activity to planned activity with your littles. They also need the time and space for independent play. In my course, Your Playful Home, I teach my students about the importance of establishing a daily rhythm – planned activities should really be done at a time when you are all well-rested and your child is at a loose end. If they are fully engaged in independent play, then there is absolutely no need to interrupt them to do an activity.
For toddlers, one planned activity per day is more than enough.
The toddler activities featured here are generally suitable from children aged 2+. Please use your best judgement when following these activities and consider the needs and capabilities of your own child.
All of these activities should be done under supervision. Keep an especially close watch if your toddler still has a tendency to mouth things.
A note on themes
The themes I share in some of the activities featured here are ones that appealed to my children so you don’t need to follow them exactly. Take note of what really appeals to your child and adjust accordingly.
For example, with the ‘wash the cars’ activity – you could do ‘wash the babies’ or ‘wash the animals’ instead.
Sensory play is hugely beneficial to little learners and does feature prominently in this post. Generally speaking, the more exposure a child gets to each sensory experience, the better so don’t be put off if your toddler is initially disinterested.
If you’ve never tried sensory play with your toddler before, start off simple with coloured water with scoops and cups.
I’ve tried to order these toddler activities on a sliding scale from simple to adventurous!
Yes, we are starting off this simple! Toddlers love to help with daily activities and at times, this can feel frustrating for us adults especially when they are getting in to everything. But here’s the thing, it’s an excellent opportunity to work on language development! You can:
- name the foods as they come out of the shopping bags
- talk about textures, colours and smells
- talk about how heavy/light an item is
The more you allow your toddler these opportunities to help, the better they become at them too. It helps to make them feel like they are an important part of the family too, which will minimise struggles over getting them to help when they are older.
Wash the Cars
All you need is a dash of dish liquid in a tub of water. Add the cars (or any other item that your toddler is obsessed with) and let them loose! Here we also added food pouch lids for Mr 2 to push along, but I would only recommend doing this if your toddler is way past the mouthing stage.
Tip: Do this activity in the bathroom, kitchen or ideally outside, if the weather is warm enough! Place a large towel beneath the tub to catch any overspill.
This is so simple to make and looks really pretty too! All you need is:
- 2 tbsp of dishliquid
- 2/3 cup of water
- splash of food colouring
We made this batch in a food processor, but whisking by hand works just as well.
When first introducing a sensory play set up like this, just keep it simple: the foam is more than enough. Once your toddler is used to the texture you can add other items like the ocean life figurines shown here.
Paint Squish Bags
This is one of the easiest ways to introduce babies and toddlers to paints. Place a dollop of non-toxic, washable paint into a sandwich bag and let your toddler explore – it’s a great way to help them learn their colours. Start of with the basic primary colours, before moving on to the concept of colour mixing and secondary colours.
Tip: seal the top with tape or even tape the entire bag onto a try – as you can see from the photo on the left, the paint can come out of the top!
Play dough Poke & Pull
Place some craft sticks into a ball of play dough and invite your toddler to pull them back out again – this is a brilliant activity for developing hand strength and fine motor strength!
As an added challenge, place food pouch lids on the sticks for your toddler to pull. This is a precursor to threading activities
Play dough is an enormously satisfying activity to make with your toddler. You can download our recipe here.
Pompom Sensory Bin
Pompoms make a great sensory base for toddlers. They are easy to clean-up and can be used in a variety of different ways. In the photo on the left, Mr 2 was posting pompoms and on the right, using them to push with toy diggers.
I’m sure we all have one of those Fisher Price shape sorters lurking in the toy room! You don’t just have to keep the shapes for their intended purpose though – try this shape rescue activity to add a problem solving element to play.
All you need is a tin and some elastic bands. The deeper the tin, the harder it is – same goes for the amount of elastic bands you add!
This is so much fun for toddlers who are in the trajectory schema! Wash out egg shells and use a toy hammer to smash them – honestly, it’s quite therapeutic! The crushed shells can be used in soil to help plants grow – waste not, want not!
Mirrors add a different dimension to play – quite literally! Add loose parts or favourite toys for your toddler to explore.
Note: whilst this activity does work really well outside, do avoid placing the mirror in direct sunlight.
This is such a fab activity for developing fine motor skills. Place the pegs on a cup or utensils caddy for your toddler to squeeze and remove.
As a mum, I have my fair share of coffee carriers and food pouch lids. Both of which can be used for colour sorting activities.
Paint the coffee cup holder (or an egg carton) with primary colours and once dry, invite your toddler to sort the colours. If your little one is entirely new to colours, you can do the activity in reverse. Just keep repeating the colours, each time they pick up a lid to help reinforce for language development.
Here we added a fine motor scissor scoop, but to begin with keep it simple and let them use their hands!
Sensory Scoop and Pour
Dried kitchen goods such as lentils, polenta and rice make a great sensory base for a whole range of toddler activities. I recommend starting very simple with a few spoons and dishes so your toddler can transfer the contents between containers.
Transferring activities such as the ones shown below are brilliant for:
- Hand-eye coordination
- Understanding capacity
- Crossing the midline
- Fine motor skills
Feed the farm animals
Once your toddler has gotten used to the textures of different sensory bases, this ‘feed the…’ activity is a great extension to try. It doesn’t have to be farm animals of course – it could be feed the dinosaurs or feed the safari animals instead!
In the photo on the left, we used old kitchen staples that were going out of date and on the right, a selection of lentils.
The animals featured in both photos here are from the Little People range by Fisher Price. Use a glue gun
Okay, so rainbow rice does technically take longer than 5 minutes to make BUT once you’ve made a batch it lasts for months. You can find out how to make it by downloading my Playful Days at Home guide.
Play dough small world
There’s nothing quite like making a fresh batch of play dough. Whilst the box featured below was based on a farm/construction theme, there’s no end of possibilities – just go with what your toddler loves.
The IKEA GLIS box featured here is perfect for a ‘take and play’ activity for road trips.
Pompom Rescue & Post
The IKEA Flisat table is a brilliant purchase for the play space, particularly if you have more than one child. Here I used painters tape over one of the trofast tubs so the children could ‘rescue’ the pompoms – it just adds a little extra challenge to help develop hand-eye coordination. They then posted the pompoms the other side – posting activities are great for helping children understand object permanence.
Mark making is an early precursor to writing. But this isn’t the only reason it’s beneficial: mark making is also a good physical and sensory experience for little learners.
Below are two examples: ‘snow’ tracks with shaving foam and tractor driving through a (polenta) field.
Understandably, it can be pretty nerve-racking when you introduce paint to your toddler. To help reduce the stress a little, start with homemade paints – yoghurt paint and the flour paint pictured below are a good way to expose your toddler to the many benefits of creative sensory play.
To make flour paint you need,
- 1/2 cup flour (bake on a low-temp – approx 170c for 5 minutes to eliminate germs)
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/2 cup cooled boiled water
Blend the flour, salt and water together until smooth. Divide the mixture into cups and add a dash of food colouring.
If your toddler tends to mouth everything, omit the salt. Just be mindful that the paint will need to be thrown after use (the salt acts as a preservative).
Okay so baking with toddlers might seem like a nightmare waiting to happen but it is such a good learning experience for them. It helps with early math skills, coordination and also makes toddlers feel like they are contributing to the household.
You can read more about practical life activities with young children here.
I’ve saved the messiest activity for last! If possible, take this one outside or alternatively, have do it close to a sink for quick clean-ups!
To make the mud, here’s two options:
- Coffee grounds
- Chocolate mud (2tbsp cocoa powder, 1 cup flour, 3/4 – 1 cup water)
If you loved these ideas…
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