Keeping Your Toddler Busy at Home
This past winter was a doozy. Up here in northern Michigan, it snowed straight through the first week of May. And while I personally didn't mind the quiet coziness of watching the snow fall on the trees in my backyard, my two small children were starting to go stir crazy, and I knew that watching Netflix and snacking on popcorn was only going to get us through so many days stuck inside our condo. Needless to say, whether it's below freezing outside or you just don't have the energy to head out with your kids every single day, it's good to have an arsenal of creative things to do with kids at home.
So, here's my giant list of fun year-round activities to do with kids without having to leave the house.
Toys, Games, and Other Supplies Every Kid Should Have to Stay Busy at Home
- A bucket of sidewalk chalk
- Sandbox or sand table and sturdy toys to explore with
- Kiddie pool or water table
- Dolls and a dollhouse to encourage imaginary play
- Age-appropriate puzzles
- Sidewalk toy (like a trike, scooter or another wheeled toy) and properly-fitting helmet
- Flashcards to encourage conversation
Mess Free Activities
Video Chat With a Friend
There's nothing my kids (and I) love doing more on a snowed-in evening than FaceTiming their cousin. To be extra-awesome, you could make video chat play dates with friends to give each other a spare 15 minutes to put the dishes away or blow dry your hair. Just set aside a half an hour and have each adult take turns overseeing that chat while the other gets a sweet break.
Download the PBS Kids App
Already consumed with cleaning up messes? Park your kid in front of the PBS Kids app where there are tons of free videos, games, and activities starring your favorite PBS characters (yeah, even that asshole, Caillou) that encourage development while giving you a break from the crayons and markers.
Invest in Mess-Free Art Toys
Do a little searching and you can come up with some wonderful, kinetic and colorful ways to let your kid explore without making a mess or spilling a bunch of tiny pieces. Products like Crayola's Mess-Free Touch Lights, Melissa and Doug's On the Go Water Wow! painting books, and Etch A Sketch Freestyle are all great options for getting creative without a mess.
Throw on some Spotify (we love The Crane Wives, Breathe Owl Breathe, or just some good old fashioned Taylor Swift pre-1989), grab some silk play scarves, and get the wiggles out.
Awesome and Educational Kids Shows That Are Streaming on Netflix and Amazon
Every family has their own standards/tolerance for television. But if you're up for letting your kids enjoy some good ole' fashioned TV, these titles are tops in my book (and my kids' too!):
On Amazon Prime Video:
- Tumble Leaf: Whimsical forest creatures explore the world in unique animation.
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie: Mouse finds himself in silly, mixed up situations that he works out with the help of his friends in this adaptation of the children's picture book series.
- Guess How Much I Love You: From the beloved children's book, Big and Little Nutbrown Hare share adventures that will charm both you and your tot.
- Creative Galaxy: Similar in theme to Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Arty the alien learns important life lessons with guidance from his parents with the added bonus of live-action kids crafting art projects that your toddler can also create.
- Puffin Rock: Narrated by the ever-charming Chris O'Dowd, Puffin babes Oona and Baba explore Ireland's coast in this sweet show about family.
- Llama Llama: Llama learns about school and friendship with the help of his busy and professional mama Llama, voiced by Jennifer Garner.
- Sarah & Duck: Two besties meet new friends and adventures in this quirky BBC program. Who cares that only one of them can speak human?
- Word Party: Diapered animal babies sing their way through manners and other basic tot-friendly social concepts.
- StoryBots Super Songs: Why is the sky blue? Why do cows moo? The StoryBots will answer these questions and more through hyped up songs that'll cheer up any kid on a rainy day.
They'll need a bath after these.
Finger Paint the Bath
This one is super messy but if it's bath time anyway, squirt a few puddles of finger paint straight onto the bathtub, then let your little Picasso go nuts! It's best to do this activity in an empty tub, since sitting in paint water probably isn't great for their skin and you'll need to watch your little one well since paint + bathtub = slipping hazard. Still, this is a project my oldest daughter loved as a toddler and we did it often during the winter months. Once she was all done, I just turned on the water and rinsed her and the tub off so clean up isn't a total bummer on this one.
Make Pizzas Together
Whether you have a brand new toddler or an older kid, throwing fixings on a pizza is fun for all ages! I like to pre-chop everything and then section it out in an appetizer tray or in small bowls and let my girls go wild from there. You'll definitely need to vacuum and wipe down the counters afterward, but it's a fun and rewarding stay-at-home activity and you'll have dinner when you're all done!
More Messy Activities
- Trace with shaving cream in the bathtub
- Bath crayons (I like making messes in the same place I gotta clean the kids up, obviously)
- Cake decorating: I just buy a cheap ole box cake, bake it up and then let my girls frost and decorate with a couple cans of Funfetti.
- Soapy storage container: When you're just not in the mood to do a bubble bath, fill a plastic storage container with soap and warm water, set it on a big bath towel and throw in some toy boats to keep your toddler busy.
Play With Fairy Lights
Have an open package of birthday balloons in the junk drawer? Blow a few up and toss them around with your tot. Experiment with fans or the A/C to learn some simple physics.
Borrow Digital Material From the Library
Sign up for any digital programs your local library offers, like Hoopla. You can borrow kid-centric storybooks, documentaries. and music without ever leaving your house!
Turn the Windows into a Canvas With Washable Window Crayons
Dig for Treasures
Bury toy animals or any object that's safe for your kid (read: not a choking hazard) in the sandbox or sand table and have your little one dig for treasure.
In the Yard
Collect a handful of rocks then break down a cardboard box and paint your new finds in the sunshine. You'll be able to contain the mess while getting some fresh air and doing a unique art project with your kids.
Collecting Leaves for Nature-Inspired Art Projects
Scour your backyard for leaves for leaf rubbings, bouquets or fairy houses. As you go along, use Google to identify trees and figure out which leaf came from which tree to really extend the outside opportunity of this perfect fall activity.
Too muggy to play outside today? Get up before the heat sets in and have breakfast on your patio. Spread out a blanket or set out a folding table and enjoy a great start to the day so you don't have to feel parent-guilt all day about not getting your kid outside enough.
More Fun Outdoor Activity Ideas
- Play yard games: Brands like Melissa and Doug and Hape have awesome outdoor games like croquet, hopscotch and bean toss games that can be easily stored away.
- Bubble machine: Buy a bubble machine from Amazon or your local delivery service and make homemade bubbles using dish soap (Method and Seventh Generation liquid dish soaps both make awesome and lovely smelling bubbles) and water to keep your kiddos busy catching, popping and chasing bubbles when the weather's nice.
- Draw people with chalk: Have your little one lay down on the sidewalk or patio and trace them. Then, hand over the chalk and have her color in her features, adding eyes, a nose, mouth clothing and whatever else she dreams up! This is also a great time to talk about colors and anatomy.
Questions & Answers
Before I had my daughter, I thought I’d be one of those moms that’s always out doing fun things with her, taking her to events, out to eat, to the park, on playdates. She’s three, and I’m totally exhausted. We probably only get out two or three times a week. I’m a SAHM, so she’s not in daycare or even preschool. I’m feeling major mom guilt. How often do other stay at home moms get their kids out of the house? Am I normal?
Being a stay at home mom is no joke. There’s a lot of pressure to take care of your home and your family, and suddenly there’s a lot less time to take care of yourself. I don’t think that most moms get out with their kids as often as you’d think, especially if you’re just staring at someone’s Instagram feed or scrolling through their Facebook. Remember that at this point, most parents are probably Instagramming every little outing they take with their children, which makes their lives look a lot more epic than they really are. The truth is, once you have kids, getting out of the house takes much longer and isn’t always realistic or worth it.
Yes, taking your kids out to experience the world is important, but you shouldn’t expect to do it every single day, especially when they’re young.
Something I do to make our outings (which are also only a few times a week, and maybe only twice during the harsh winters) is to create a routine even around those outings. We try to get to the library at least once every other week. This also gives us more to do when we’re at home, since we have a big pile of books to read. At the beginning of the week I’ll also look ahead to see what the weather looks like and pick the most pleasant evening for my husband and I to take the kids to the park after he gets out of work, so our kids can socialize and interact with people besides us.
Remember too that outings don’t have to be some crazy adventure. Sometimes, for me, the hardest part about getting my kids out of the house is feeling too tired to talk too much with other moms. You can make simple things into a fun outing - grab a drive-thru dinner and take her to a quiet, nature-y area to eat her meal or go out to public places during less busy times of day, like after dinner. Most of all though, don’t let yourself be consumed by mom guilt! It’s not helping anyone, and you deserve a break! Life after kids is not equal to life before kids. Don’t try to live up to that old standard of living.Helpful 1
How can I prevent my toddler from watching TV on rainy days?
To avoid defaulting to TV time on an at-home day, just unplug it! It'll hold you accountable when you mindlessly go to switch it on, and you'll be reminded that there's plenty else to do like rock your little one in a rocking chair, read stories, bake together or color in a coloring book on the living room rug.
What kind of toys should grandparents have around for toddlers?
Toys that don't have a lot of pieces are always a winner since you won't have an epic mess to clean up when your favorite little people head back home to their parents. My top toys for grandparents to keep around for their grandchildren to enjoy are:
- Fisher Price Little People sets. My kids get many hours of play from these dolls and their various vehicles and sets, plus they're large enough not to be an obvious choking hazard and will last for years.
- A rocking horse or zebra, etc., or something your grandchild can hop on and use to get the wiggles out before you send them home.
- Washable paint. The most reliably washable brand I've found is Crayola's classic washable watercolors. Along with a big pad of blank painting paper, this will keep your grandkid busy long enough for you to fix them a snack.
If you have the space to store them and the time to engage, my kids also love it when I join them to play pretend with their play furniture, especially their toy IKEA kitchen, put together puzzles, or read them pop-up books.
© 2018 Kierstin Gunsberg