Do you have one or more kiddos in the toddler or preschool range? If this is you, then I totally understand where you’re at. Coming up with some toy-free toddler activities can be a big challenge. Kids this age have a short attention span, so it’s really easy to run out of ideas.
I know that the days can be mind-numbingly long. Like, L…O…N…G… The tasks of your day can be tedious. There are diapers to change, clothes to wash, meals and snacks to prepare, errands to run, toys to clean-up, baths to do, cheerios to sweep up and all kinds of other housekeeping tasks. And, it seems that the days just repeat themselves, over and over and over.
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It really does go on and on. And as much as there are plenty of duties to keep you busy, there are the long stretches of time between tasks. The time where you need to entertain your little ones — but the truth is — nothing keeps their attention for more than 5 dang minutes. So, what do you do with them?
My first baby experience was with twins, and then when they were 14 months old we had another baby. In a lot of ways, it was like having triplets. There were days we could leave the house, but that always required either an assistant (spouse, friend, or relative) and a stroller, or I’d head out myself with the triple stroller. Needless to say, getting out of the house was not an easy task, so we spent a lot of time at home.
By the time my younger baby was crawling, my twins were full-fledged destructive toddlers. They could climb bookshelves, open cupboards, empty drawers, and get through any doors. They could even flush everything down a toilet at lightning speed. I figured out that certain things were absolutely necessary.
(Keep in mind that at this age, kids are at all different levels of development. Please always monitor the things your kiddo is playing with and be cautious of choking. Use your judgment as to which activities are safe for your kiddo.)
Always Be Ready To Play
Control the space. The first thing I needed to do was to control my space. I had my husband put up a gate across my living room because there was no way I could nurse my baby with my twins having full run of the house. Can you imagine what kind of problems they could cause out of my eyesight? We had a wide entryway and had to get one like this one.
Set up zones. I actually had 3 different indoor play zones. The living room, family room, and nursery. In each of these zones, I had different toys. That way, once they (ok to be honest, I) got bored in one area we just picked up and moved to another room. Ta-da! It’s like going to a whole new playland.
Put away the smart-phone. At the time my kiddos were little, I didn’t have a smartphone, but they were completely aware if I was distracted, and would start to fuss and whine if they knew I wasn’t focused on them. You can always check your email and social media at their next snack, meal, or naptime.
Now that you’re ready to play, here are some great ideas to get you started:
Download The Toy-Free Activity Cheatsheet Here
Toy-Free Toddler Activities
Get Some Props – Sometimes the best toys aren’t even toys. I would gather random things (preferably in a theme) and bring them to our play area. You may be wondering what I mean. Here are some ideas: Put a couple pounds of beans in a Rubbermaid storage tub with some scoops, measuring cups and empty containers. You can all sit on the floor scooping and pouring away. When you’re done just put the lid on and put it in a closet. Sometimes it was just lots of different bowls – stack and pile them. Or, grab the boxes from Costco – pile them up, fill them, or make a train.
Read Books – We had some favorite board books that I read over and over and over every single day, starting when they were about 4 months old. If you read in a really animated way the kids are likely to pay more attention. They especially love books that show pictures of babies and animals. We even had these Touch and Feel Picture Cards they loved playing with.
Get Outside – If it’s rainy, or too cold where you live, pack them up and go to the mall. If there’s a break in the weather, get outside even if it’s just a few minutes. The fresh air is great for them and for you. A little bit of time outside is a great way to break up a long day.
Turn A Sheet Into A Parachute – If your kiddos can’t hold one side and wave it with you, then just have them be under it and you can wave it over their heads.
Build A Fort – Sometimes our forts were just blankets or sheets over the kitchen table. Then we’d go underneath and read, have a picnic, or play with dolls.
Make An Obstacle Course – We would pull cushions off couches, turnover chairs, layout anything to climb over, crawl under and jump on.
Dance Party – Put on the loud music and dance around. Be silly – you will hear giggles like never before. I just found the cutest little panda Bluetooth speakers ever, on Amazon. There are even multiple animals to choose from.
Play An Exercise Video – Have you been complaining that you don’t have time to exercise? Put on an exercise video and let them try to do it right alongside you. It may not be perfectly done, but you’ll have way more fun than if you did it alone.
Play Hide And Seek – I’ve gotten many 5-minute power naps playing this game. Use good judgment here … as long as you always make sure your kids are safe, this is a great way to get a few minutes of relaxation in.
Do A Craft – There are plenty of little crafts you can find that involve some cutting and gluing. You can even do stickers and stamps. My favorite is our Kiwi Crate boxes. They make a version called Koala Crate just for 3-4-year-olds.
Play Knock-It-Down – Alright, toddlers love to knock anything down. After you’ve tried it with the blocks and Duplo, try gathering cups and Tupperware, stuffed animals, pillows, boxes, you name it, give it a try.
Fingerpaint In The Tub – Buy some fingerpaints, get them down to diapers or undies and let them paint away inside the tub. This keeps them contained, lets them get creative, then allows you to turn the water on and wash them and the walls down all at once.
Cleaning – Need to do some cleaning? Give them a duster and let them dust away, or give them a spray bottle with water and a cloth and tell them what to clean up. We even bought a child-sized broom and dustpan so our littles could help out.
Pretend Bowling – Set up some empty water bottles and give them a ball to knock them over.
Let Them Play With Food – Kids really love to play with real, grown-up stuff. So, let them. Their play will last way longer if they’re playing with things that are usually off-limits. Get some cookie dough and let them roll it out and cut it, grab pre-made pizza dough and make pizza together. They won’t use proper hygiene, so in the end, you may have to throw it out, but it’s only a couple bucks to buy yourself some good fun.
Mix It Up – They could make up Chex mix. No need to cook, just get random cereal, pretzels, crackers, raisins, etc. and let them stir away. They could even make up some instant pudding. It doesn’t matter what they’re mixing, mixing is just fun.
Preschool Games – Play Ring around the Rosie, the Hokey Pokey, Duck Duck Goose, Leapfrog, Hot Potato, or Tag.
Water Play – There are many ways to do this. My three loved to stand on a bench at the kitchen sink and play with water and bubbles for long stretches of time. I always had to stand real close, because it got slippery and wet, but they loved it. You can also put a Rubbermaid tote on the floor and put a couple inches of water and soap in.
Play Stuff-It – I know, that may not sound nice, but the kids will love it. Grab anything with a smallish opening, like a clean milk jug, tissue box, Pringles can, etc. and give them something they can stuff inside. It can be pom poms, cotton balls, clothespins, dryer sheets, socks, whatever you can think of. You’ll watch them stuff and unstuff with some serious intensity.
Pillow Party – Grab all the pillows and cushions from the house. Build towers, make a trail to hop on, stack-em and knock-em down. Follow your child’s lead and see what they do with them.
With a little imagination, you can prepare for lots of toy-free toddler activities. You don’t always have to get the latest toy, there is so much you already own that can turn into a new and refreshing way to play. You may even find that you have way more fun when you’re not playing with toys, but teaching your child to use their imagination with all the things around your house.
Now, I know in those crazy moments, your little one is screaming and pulling on your leg while you’re in the middle of folding clothes or loading the dishwasher. Your mind goes blank, and you’ve gotta think quick of something to do, so download this Activity Cheatsheet and post it where it’s easy to see so you’ll always have an idea handy.
Free Toy-Free Activities Cheatsheet
For budget-friendly family activities read here and if you happen to be looking for just the right gifts for your little one that will provide hours of fun, check out 9 Perfect Gifts for Preschoolers.
Have fun playing – and share in the comments below what types of things you like to play with your kiddo.