I can’t be the only toddler momma that did a dramatic, slow-motion “OH-NOOO” when the world shut down almost a year ago. My little girl was exactly a year and a half old when things went nutty and had just recovered from two brain surgeries so, honestly, our isolation has felt even longer. We had JUST started rejoining her activities like gymnastics, we finally started going out as a family again, and we learned we’d be welcoming our second little girl in September of 2020. Back to normal, right? Then BAM, lockdown.
I have reality show-worthy hard pregnancies and I immediately freaked out thinking “what on earth am I going to do to occupy my toddler in this house 24/7 while I’m constantly sick and exhausted growing another human?!”
So, of course, I filled the house with energy burning toys in hopes I’d keep my sanity; a mini trampoline, a climber/slide, a water/sand table, so much stuff in my living room that we just dubbed it “Ellie-palooza” and let the growing hoard of toys take over.
They were great for a bit, they served their purpose in helping me keep her busy throughout the day. (Spoiler alert) They got old fast. And, if I’m honest with myself, I felt guilty that I wasn’t as engaging as I had been up to that point with crafts and activities. Yet, I’m also realistic and needed activities I could easily and quickly put together without spending a ton of money.
Virtual School Effect
I have seen the momma struggle over the last year with kids learning virtually and not only am I empathetic to the struggle, but I also commend you mommas who have made virtual schooling work every single day! But, what about our kiddos that aren’t in a virtual school, that don’t have a chunk of their days occupied by educational activities and group learning?
I had that in mind when creating this small list of activities. It is geared more toward our younger little ones who may be along for the ride when you’re devoting time to your older kid’s virtual schooling, working from home, or like in our case, just have little ones that need their minds and bodies actively stimulated to keep things fresh!
Now, we have TWO little minds to help grow while staying safe and healthy inside, so this momma went on the hunt for engaging, easy, cheap activities. Again, this is a small list with easy options for different age groups. We have tried these in our home, and they are big hits! Even the activities geared more toward 4–5-year-olds, my toddler gets a kick out of, so they were worth throwing in. That said, the age recommendations are just suggestions- you know your kiddo better than anyone, and if you think they’d enjoy it, TRY IT!
I’ll also clarify that these activities should be supervised, of course. But don’t lose the opportunity to get a task done or take a well-deserved mommy moment to just chill while they play!
Sure, you can go scour pinterest for activities but, it is overwhelming, and a huge overflow of information thrown at you (in my experience) made my goal in this article clear: concise options for various ages. No fluff. Just give them a try and let me know what your little ones thought of them! If this is helpful or your family used any of these activities for playtime, please don’t hesitate to let a momma know! Share a pic or some feedback as I’d be happy to make this a monthly thing with different activities each month!
Yogurt Painting (Suggested age 9 months+, safe to eat)
- Plain or Vanilla Yogurt
- Food coloring (baby safe)
- Small canvases (5 below has a ton, or thick paper will do also)
- Paintbrushes (optional)
Simply mix 2-3 drops of food color into various small bowls of plain, white yogurt and mix. Set your babe at their highchair and let them go wild! Let their artwork dry thoroughly before setting upright to avoid drips. Doesn’t get much easier than that, right? And it may even have bought you some time to prepare lunch or do a load of dishes so double score, you productive momma!
Jell-o Dig and Clean (Suggested age 1-2)
- Box of Jell-o mix
- Small, washable toys that have been cleaned with soap and water before going in the jell-o (examples- plastic figures like little people, mega blocks, kitchen measuring cups)
- A storage container or bowl, as big or small as you’d like
- A separate bowl with just a bit of water, soap, and a sponge
Okay, I’ll be honest, this one takes prep the night before so the Jell-o can set- keep that in mind. But it’s still super easy and a fun way to get your babe playing with different textures. Just mix the Jell-O according to the package, pour into the small storage tote or bowl you’ve chosen, and drop the (CLEAN) toys inside while it’s liquified. Put it in the fridge to set overnight.
When you’re ready for fun, lay a towel down on the floor with the Jell-O toys and the separate bowl of soapy water. Give your kiddo a quick demonstration and let their creativity do the rest! The Jell-O is edible, of course, so it is very possible your little one may just eat their way through to the toys… this happened in our house… But, once the Jell-O was taken care of, my girl got right to scrubbing her little toys with the soapy water and momma got a chance to fold some laundry.
*The only modification I would make is taking away the soapy water aspect of cleaning the toys for a child who may put everything in their mouth; just offer plain water instead and clean them more thoroughly later.
Let’s Be Animals! (Suggested ages 2-3+)
- Large pad of paper
I have to admit, this one is my favorite. Did the fact that it only needs two materials to give me away? HA, kidding, kind of. This activity genuinely cracks my little girl up. As a former actress, I try to get her to exercise her imagination every day and we’re learning animals along the way.
For this, I like to put on some music in the background, nothing too distracting like nursery rhymes or anything, just maybe some Disney toons. I start to draw an animal that Ellie is familiar with on the large paper pad and she shouts out what it is when she recognizes it (which is usually why it cracks us up because I am NOT an artist, by any means). If she doesn’t get it, I finish drawing and give her a few chances to guess before letting her know what it is.
This is when I get to make a complete fool of myself and she LOVES it- then I act out the animal and she follows along, learning from me what that animal may act like. Sometimes it’s for two minutes, sometimes she doesn’t want to stop, and we’ve spent twenty minutes pretending to be dogs. It’s an activity that keeps you on your toes and is definitely more involved (no coffee break for this one, mommas, sorry) but it’s a hoot and the best way I’ve found to get my toddler active with purposeful movement.
Post-Its Color Scavenger Hunt (Suggested age 3+)
- Various colors of post-it notes (Amazon has an 8-pack including pink, yellow, orange, green, blue, and purple for $7)
- ScotchBlue Multi-Surface Painters Tape
This one is super simple, gets your kiddo moving, and gets them thinking. I’ll preface with this advice- place a finite amount of post-its in each color! You do not want to be finding random posts it’s for the next week and you also want your kiddo to know when they’ve all been found so they don’t keep searching. (On second thought… maybe it’s provided you some much-needed “you” time and you don’t in fact want them to stop searching, even when there are no more to find.)
First, hide the post-its. Maybe start with hiding 5 of each color and the next time you play this activity place 6, then 7, and so on. Place the tape on a clean wall in either column ( |||| ) or across (+, if you’re only using 4 colors). I’m a spazz and don’t trust even painters tape not to leave damage. I usually run the sticky side of the strip over the arm of my couch to reduce the adhesive just a bit. Place one post-it of each color at either the top of each column or the center of each square in your cross.
Let your kiddo know that they have to go on a magical scavenger hunt to find these post-its and when they find one, come place it with the color that it matches. I like to get extra creative and create a little fantasy lore (ex. these post its are gems for an ancient society of unicorns, you must find them all and put them with their match to help the unicorns on their quest!) which my toddler may not quite grasp entirely but, it makes my nerdy momma heart happy.
I hope that one of you mommas out there gives one of these activities a try! Please, share any feedback you’re comfortable giving. May it give you a moment of peace or productivity, whichever you may need that day. And let it get your kiddo moving, thinking, and meaningfully occupied while they’re safely inside!