We are parents of the most wonderful little girls. We love spending time with our kids, and coming up with new fun things to do with them.
Entertainment for You and Your Toddler
Playing with your children can be the best part of your day. To make playtime special for you and your child, you don't have to spend a lot of money or go anywhere. As we all know: There is no place like home.
The ideas in this article are divided into two sections:
These ideas feature activities that are free or inexpensive, and a lot of them can be done with things that you already have in your home.
Maybe you were thinking of investing in a new toy for a while. And while some of these items are quite pricey, with good care they can be passed on to next generations.
Whether you choose a new Brio train as your child's fun activity or spend the day making hats out of paper for dress-up, what really matters is that you have fun!
These activities are fun, easy, and cheap—or even free!
Who doesn't like Play-Doh? When I run out of ideas for what to do, I open our Play-Doh drawer and start forming away. It generally doesn't take long for my toddler to join me. And there we sit, making "pancakes" and "cookies" or using a Play-Doh Frozen set, using all the molds to form the popular characters.
The best thing about Play-Doh is that you can pretty much get it at any supermarket for a low price. You also don't need fancy equipment for it. My toddler loves to use a plastic knife and cookie cutters, plus an empty cardboard roll from aluminum paper to flatten the dough.
You Cannot Go Wrong With Play-Doh
Cloud dough is a somewhat messier alternative to play doh. Despite of its messy nature, cloud dough is tremendous fun for toddlers and can be made completely non-toxic with items almost everyone has readily on hand.
I used this recipe to make our cloud dough. I recommend using 3-4 drops of dye instead of the suggested 1-2 drops.
Everything is possible when it comes to dress-up and pretend play. Use whatever you have handy, like hats, dresses, necklaces and bracelets, blankets, or even something simple like paper. Create your own unique costume, or find ideas on the Internet.
We have a bunch of pretend-play items, like tiaras, princess dresses, a first aid kit, and various headband bands with animal ears. But my toddler is also perfectly happy with a handmade mask.
My children live through music. They love everything about it: They can make it, listen to it, and dance to it. And best of all: Music can be one hundred percent free—just use your own voices and sing.
We like encouraging our toddler's musical interest, so we acquired several instruments over the years. While these are not cheap, they are the ultimate fun for your music-loving child.
Making mix CDs for our kids is always fun, especially picking out the songs. In our home, popular selections include country songs like "Cowgirls Don't Cry" by Brooks and Dunn and the classic song "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" by Manfred Mann.
Arts and Crafts
There are literally thousands of ideas on the Internet for toddler-friendly arts and crafts. Here are some craft staples that can come in handy for future projects:
- pipe cleaners
- googly eyes
- popsicle sticks
- wooden clothespins
- colored card stock paper
- glue/hot-glue/glitter glue
- pencil crayons
- non-toxic paint
- assortment of paint brushes
- toddler-safe scissors (and scissors for you)
Things You Can Find Outside
- pine cones
I find that some of the best craft supplies come free with other things you buy, like egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, cardboard, or bubble wrap.
Stickers and sticker books are a very versatile and cheap source of entertainment for your child. Most sticker books have corresponding scenes included, but stickers by themselves can be lots of fun, too.
When drawing, we use stickers to complete our pictures, or make funny faces with stickers of eyes, mouths, etc.
My toddler also gets great pleasure out of putting stickers on our arms and hands, pretending they are "tattoos".
Over the last few weeks we have colored hundreds of pages in coloring books. The Christmas themed ones were a hit over the holidays, and currently we are working our way through horses, fairies, and princesses. But also vintage cars are popular.
Buy coloring books with themes that your toddler loves most, and make sure you have good quality crayons/ pencil pencil crayons on hand for the maximum coloring fun.
Books are one of my toddlers most favorite things. She always want us to read to her, from morning until nighttime. And when we don't read to her, she looks at the pictures, and makes up her own stories.
In one of my other articles, I give a more detailed list of some of our favorite toddler books, but here a few suggestions:
- Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch
- Mother Goose Treasury
- Cat in the Hat
- On the Night You Were Born, by Nancy Tillman
- Little Golden Books
Our Favorite Mother Goose Treasury
Magnetic Drawing Boards
Magnetic drawing boards are a good option when you just want to doodle, because there will be no paper waste afterwards.
The magnets that come with the boards are fun to use, especially when you make funny people or animals with them.
Cooking and Baking
Cooking and baking can be lot of fun for your toddler. But don't expect your child to whip out cups and bowls to cook a five star gourmet meal. Instead, start with something simple, like cookies or biscuits. Pre-measure all ingredients for your toddler and let him/her put everything in in the bowl and mix it. Naturally you will have to handle the oven/stove part.
And the best part of this idea is that you can eat it.
DIY Moon Sand
This activity is more on the messy side, but it's great fun for children aged 8 months and up. We poured our sand in a baby bathtub and set it inside our shower to contain the mess. To avoid a sand disaster completely just let your kids play with it outside.
Use molds to build sand castles or hide little plastic animals in the sand and let your kids dig for them.
I used this 2-ingredient recipe and subbed the baby oil with coconut oil to make it more baby-friendly.
Bath time comes around, and your toddler doesn't want to get in the tub? Make it part of your fun time, and use bath toys, like crayola bath paint, sieves, cups, funnels, a magnetic fishing toy, or a bath time doll. My toddler also likes blowing bubbles in the water with a silicone straw.
Toys don't work? Then maybe bath bombs, a bubble bath, or a new shampoo with your toddlers favorite scent will convince him/her to take a bath.
In case you only have a shower, buy a baby bathtub that fits inside the shower, and make sure to close the doors when the splashing begins.
Games are another way to entertain your toddler. Although there are many options available, we like sticking to classics, like card games.
Most of all we like:
- Go Fish
- any toddler-friendly memory game
Recently we discovered "Has the Cat Got Your Tongue", for us. It is a game for children 4+, and similar to snakes and ladders. You answer "who", "what", "when", "where", "why", and "how" questions before you roll the dice, which are easy to answer and relate to daily activities. There are also star-cards that make you do silly things, or tell you to move back or ahead a few steps. These additional activities make it more engaging and fun, especially for toddlers with a low attention span. (This game is more on the pricey side, though).
But there is no need to buy games, as there are lots of ideas for DIY games on the Internet.
Entertain your kids with science. With science projects you and your child not only play, but learn together.
We have a science kit from "Tech Will Save Us" for toddlers four years and up. What I like about science kits for toddlers, is that there are simple but you can experiment with them in many ways. Science kits are a great way to encourage your toddler to act on their curiosity to learn new things.
Store-bought science kits are great, but it is even more fun to create your own. Conduct an ice melting experiment, explain and show the phase transitions: melting, boiling, and subliming to your child, and do many more amazing things with science.
There are coloring books available that are designed to use with water only. Dip your paintbrush in water and see the color appear on the paper.
These are very handy when your toddler wants to paint, but you don't want to clean up the mess it can make.
Putting puzzles together can improve a child's physical skills from holding puzzle pieces and turning them until they fit, emotional skills, as they learn to be patient, and are rewarded by finishing the puzzle, and cognitive skills, trough problem solving.
Pick out puzzles with bigger pieces and pictures that are easy to identify to avoid frustration and maximize the fun. Choose picture themes that your toddler likes most.
These are great items you can buy for your toddler. While they're more expensive than the DIY activities, these are high-quality toys that are long-lasting. You can often find bargains by shopping for second-hand items.
Is your child a passionate cook? Buy him/her a play kitchen. Our toddler still loves her kitchen a year after getting it, and plays with it almost every day. Play kitchens offer a lot of benefits for your toddler, like sparking their creativity.
There are many different types of play kitchens available; some are a fridge, stove, and sink combination, and some others come with all the bells and whistles you can think of. We bought a $400 wooden play kitchen second-hand for $80 that only needed minor repairs. Our model has a stove, fridge, sink, microwave, washing machine, and even a pretend ice-cube maker. You can definitely make a bargain when it comes to expensive toys.
Duplo is the perfect toy for all ages. You can be creative building anything you want, like houses, animals, pyramids, horse stables, or combine it with a train set to make hilly tracks.
What I like most about Duplo is that there are lots of different sets available featuring your toddler's favorite characters.
Most wooden train sets don't come cheap. But as I previously mentioned, a wooden train set can be passed on to next generations. Most of our Brio train parts are second-hand (or third-hand!), and are more than thirty years old, and still in like-new condition.
When the train comes out, the whole family sits on the living room floor, adjusting the track here and there to make it just right. And after the building fun comes the enjoyment of watching our electric engine go, or taking our manual engine out for a spin.
To make your train even more entertaining, use adjustable parts like a draw-bridge, or roadblocks.
Our Favorite Wooden Train Set
Wooden blocks are a classic must-have toy, that has been around for hundreds of years for a reason. Toddlers not only play with them, but at the same time improve valuable skills like their attention span, cognitive skills, and fine motor skills.
We have a set of colored wooden ABC blocks, that is also a wonderful toy for spelling, and learning colors.
Play tents are lots of fun and come in all sorts of different shapes, colors, and sizes. We chose a pink princess castle tent for our toddler, and she loves it!
Depending on what kind of theme your tent has, play knights and princesses, or maybe it looks like a garden shed, so put pretend garden tools in it, and "garden" with your toddler.
Sometimes it's nice just to sit in the tent and read or take a little nap.
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