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Keeping Our Toddler Busy

Filed in:Alexandra

Keeping Our Toddler Busy

February 15th, 2005  · stk

New ideas are continually added to the bottom of this growing list, in red, as we try them out. Click "Read full story", at the bottom.

Because I'm "Mr. Mom," the burden to keep our toddler busy during the day falls on my shoulders. She will often entertain herself for an hour or so at a time, but just as often, she's bouncing off the walls, getting into so much mischief. She REALLY wants to go outside, but with temps hovering at -20°C, with snow and ice covering the ground, outside just isn't an option, in Edmonton, during the winter. She's getting cabin fever, just like we're ALL getting cabin fever! (It's our first Edmonton winter & Rachel is from British Columbia and I was raised in sunny southern California ... so ... the adjustment has been difficult, at best).

Finding new stuff for Alex to do has been a challenge, but if I don't, then she's down eating cat food out of the cat's dish, or pulling of wads of toilet paper off the roll and stuffing them into the toilet bowl, or pulling pots and pans out of the kitchen cupboards, or pulling books off the bookshelf!! It's enough to drive me crazy.

She has toys, but "That's old stuff, Daddy," she seems to say. "I want something NEW to do!"

Rachel bought me a Valentine's Day gift, a book titled "The Toddler's Busy Book" (containing 365 creative games and activities to keep your 18-36 month-old busy). Many of them are geared toward the older kids, but it does provide many good ideas. My goal has been to do something new with Alex, be it big or small, every day.

I need your help! If you have any ideas to keep our 15-month-old toddling girl busy, please email your idea! (or add a comment, below)

So far, the things I've done to help spice up Alex's play have included (a growing list):

Alex's "New-Activity" List

1.  "Threaded String" - I took a foot and a half's worth of string and threaded it through a colored block having a hole in its center. I tied off the block and threaded several more blocks, giving it to her to explore threading and unthreading. (She was pretty keen on the threaded string, but didn't fully grasp the 'threading' process. However, she NAILED the whole 'unthreading' thing right off the bat and within about 2 minutes, had all of the blocks off the string.) Later, we discovered that the front end of the string was too limp, so we attached a thin plastic rod, like an oversised needle. This helped a LOT!

2.  "Balloon Stick" - (I thought this one up myself, thank you very much! ;) ) It's kind of a spin on a ball and paddle. I tied a bunch of rubber bands together, until I had about a foot's worth. Then I blew up a birthday balloon and tied it off at one end. I attached the other end to a 10-inch-long colored stick & gave it to Alex, to explore 'bouncing'. (She really liked grabbing on the rubberband and pulling on it AND the balloon, but the bouncing part, while fun to watch Daddy do it, was a bit beyond her grasp. She enjoyed watching the balloon on the end of the string, however, and hauled the whole thing around for some time.)

3.  "Milk Jug Bucket" - (Another original!) As we just ran through 4L of milk, I rinsed out the plastic jug and cut a hole in the upper portion, leaving the spout, handle & lid intact. The opening was large enough to allow some objects through, but only to a certain size. (She stuffed it full of giant legos, then hauled it around the house with her all morning. I emptied it for her, when it was time to put the legos away, so she can start all over again tomorrow).

4.  "Food Boxes" - OKAY, I kinda cheated today. But I did say 'big' or 'SMALL' and this one definitely fits in the "small" category! I gave Alex an empty cereal box (big 750g box) and an empty 1kg 'animal cookie' box. Don't laugh! She loves boxes, so I knew that they would be a big hit. (She puts all of her blocks into them, shuffles them around, dumps them out ... she's quite the little organizer!)

I took her to the 'Dollar Store', to load up on inexpensive supplies for her 'new activity a day' thing. She had fun, making eyes at a 4-5 year-old boy & following him around. "Why is she following me?" the boy asked his mom. "Because she likes you," she replied. Boy did she! I had to go pick her and put her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes, just to get her to stop following this poor boy. (Alex loves people). We picked up a variety of goodies - blocks, colorful plastic containers, crayons, toy cars, colored twine, magnetic letters, balls, etc. All for about $10.

At the suggesion of one of our readers, I bought some inexpensive Scotch tape, which is reported to entertain for hours. (Unrolling sticky, inexpensive tape has GOT to be better than unrolling toilet paper and stuffing it into the toilet). THANKS for the suggestion, Ann! I'll let you know how it works out.

5.  "Sheet, A Fort!" - Rachel doesn't have classes for a week (UofA is having a "Reading Week", whatever the heck THAT is?) Anyway, she's home and it was laundry day. Mr. Mom was off the hook for a day, but Mrs. Mom is 'into' this whole new-thing-a-day! She took some living room furniture, re-arranged it a bit, then hung sheets off of it to make a cotton fort. Alex played in it a bit, but it doesn't look like she's keen on forts yet. A+ for effort, though, Mom! We'll have to try it again in a few months, as she may have more of an interest then.

6.  "A Bobbing Oop" - For the 4th time in her life, Alex went swimming! Rachel bought a community-league membership for $15CAD, which gets us into various natatoriums around town for free, a couple of hours a week. The nearby pool had a community swim from 12-2PM on Sundays, so we bundled the Oop up and went. She loved it! She was sent down the kiddie slide a few times, with much delight (until Mom tried from the very top & on her way down, Alex fell backwards and bumped her head. Then Dad missed the catch and the precious, but very unseaworthy baby, sank rapidly. Coughing a sputtering, she was rescued from the depths & the episode soon forgotten. (Only the parents remembered how clumsy they were)!

Rachel has informed Scott that "reading week" at the University of Alberta was started some 40 years ago, in an effort to relieve mid-winter stress & an attempt to reduce student suicide rates. Now you know.

7.  "Day Care Girl" - For the 1st time in her life, Alex spent time in day-care! (It was very EXCITING for the Oop, and very NERVOUS for the parents. :-/ All day, we said, "I hope she's OKAY." "Think she's OKAY?" "I bet she's having fun!") We needn't have fretted, she had a great time. In fact, she was so excited by all the new things and people, that she didn't go down for a nap. (She made up for it when she came home).

We dropped her off at about 10:30AM and picked her up at 4:30. It gave us some needed time. Studying for Rachel (midterm the first day of classes after the reading break) and web-stuff for Scott (embedding Flash Audio).

8.  "Tube Necklace" - The best toys are the ones that come free, so we make an effort to recycle a product, before we put it out for recycling! ;) In this case, it was the cardboard tube from the center of a paper towel roll. I cut it in to 1-inch sections and strung it along a bit of twine. Ales plays with it now and again (but I'm having to pick up cardboard rings, as she pulls them off).

9.  "Paper Towel Drawing" - I got this idea out of the book. I sat Alex in her high chair for her very first 'art project'. I gave her some highlighter pens and a paper towel, letting her imagination run wild. Unfortunately, the project lasted too long ... I had to go to the bathroom. When I returned, the artist had decided to eat the tips off of 3 pens. Quite amused, she showed off her flourescent 'lipstick', with a grin. :roll:

The efforts of her first colored drawing are presented on the right! (Which reminds me ... I need to add an entry: a list of her "firsts".

My mom also sent a recipe for edible playdoh, which I'll have to try (er, I mean, let Alex try). Can't imagine it tastes good, but I'm sure it will end up in her mouth. Thanks for the idea, mom!

10.  "Milk Jug Sprinkler" - I got this idea out of the book. I took a plastic milk jug and drilled a bunch of holes in the bottom. Then, when Alex was taking a bath, I gave it to her and let her fill it with water and sprinkle it about. (Only mildly entertaining for her. She much preferred "washing" the bathtub rim with a sponge, her hand or the washrag ... splashing lots of water OUTSIDE the tub. In turn, these antics were only mildy amusing to Dad!)

11.  "Floor Art" - We took a 3-foot by 3-foot piece of paper and taped it to the kitchen floor. Then I gave Alex a bunch of crayons and let her draw all over the paper and the floor. (She was pretty good about the latter, but needed some encouragement with the former). She doesn't quite grasp the whole "drawing" thing, yet, so dad had to lend a hand (and drew a very nice picture, by the way)! It stayed on the floor for a few days, as we all admired dad's handiwork and Alex's scribbles. Michaelangelo may have had the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but Alex had the floor of the kitchen!

12.  "Sink Play" - Alex loves water (and water loves Alex). We got this idea from Alex's Gran. We let Alex stand on a chair and fill the kitchen sink a third full of water. Then, we give her various kitchen tools - that she's seen us use - and let her explore their interaction with water. She fills, pours and refills ... she stirs, pokes and floats the tools. (Of course, we have to remind her that the water is supposed to "stay in the sink" and she has a tendency to get the front of her clothes wet, but hey ... she's has fun and plays contentedly for an hour, if we let her get her fingers all 'pruney'!

13.  "Helping" - This is sort of the "Granddaddy" of all of Alex's activities. It takes a tremendous amount of patience on our part, but often the rewards in watching Alex more than make up for it. We let Alex "help" with chores that we are doing around the house. Unfortunately, Alex's enthusiasum isn't often matched by productivity, but hey ... she's not even two! She helps mom vacuum, cook and fold laundry. She helps Dad in the yard, with building and repair projects. She loves "contributing" and hanging out with her favorite parental units is a bonus. She laughs, giggles, struggles and sometimes shows Mom & Dad some new tricks. (One of my favorite was when she turned folding laundry into a "fashion show"!)

Reader Contributions

A.  Poker Chip Piggy Bank - Clean and rinse out a used, plastic butter (or margarine) tub and cut a slit in the lid, like a "piggy bank". Give your toddler some poker chips and show them how to put the chips in the tub. (Sometimes, when our 18-month-old son is finished putting all the chips into the bucket, he'll push it around the house, because he hasn't figured out how to open the container yet. He loves this activity!).

B.  Dancing - Every day I have "dance time" with my 18-month-old toddler. I turn on the radio and we just dance around the house together. He enjoys dancing - a LOT!

C.  Toddler's Kitchen Cabinet - We have explored all of the low cabinets under the kitchen counter and I've explained why Mommy says not to go into this cabinet and that cabinet. But we have set aside one cabinet, which we've filled with extra plastic-ware that our toddler is allowed to open and use for play. (Kid-proof latches are recommended for cabinets that are home to items that might harm our toddler and are watchful, whenever our toddler is playing with the allocated cabinet).

C.  Toddler's Kitchen Cabinet - We have explored all of the low cabinets under the kitchen counter and I've explained why Mommy says not to go into this cabinet and that cabinet. But we have set aside one cabinet, which we've filled with extra plastic-ware that our toddler is allowed to open and use for play. (Kid-proof latches are recommended for cabinets that are home to items that might harm our toddler and are watchful, whenever our toddler is playing with the allocated cabinet).

D.  Chase - We play a tag version of "follow the leader". Because we have a sectional couch, we go around that. I let my 18-month old boy (who doesn't like to listen, still can't tell me anything and does a lot of screaming) chase me around the couch till he stops chasing me. Sometimes, we chase each other around the island in the kitchen (but because the floor is tiled and slick, we have to be carefule when we're doing that, as I don't want him to lose his footing and fall).

Looking back, Alex loved to play 'chase' games too! Our home had a circular path from the entry hall, living room, kitchen and dining room. When Alex was 2 or 2-and-a-half, we'd chase each other round and round. Sometimes I'd chase her and sometimes she's chase me. She giggled and squealed a lot, as she tried to get away or catch me. (She's now 5-and-a-half and still loves chase games!)

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1.flag Karen Lovegrove Comment
Showed Alex to Grandma. We celebrated her 95th with dinner here tonight.
Grandma got your card. Grandma says to teach her to say Grandma Milly.
2.flag Bonnie Comment
As the mom of 3 kids 3 years old and under, I feel your pain! It's so hard to keep them occupied when they're so young! One of my kids' favorite things to do is to help me clean. When I'm dusting and wiping up, I give them each a washcloth and a squirt bottle, filled with 1/4 white vinegar and 3/4 water... a natural, non-toxic cleaner! They go crazy cleaning everything! I have to go behind them and wipe up after, but it keeps them busy for a while!
3.flag Davina Comment
Why dont they have a big indoor play club thats a drop in centre no commiment required for toddlers thats only like 2$ a kid when you come like a daycare that you can go to with your kid big indoor park for cold and lack of a better word crappy days. There really are very few fun things to do with your toddler outside of the home in the winter.
4.flag Misha Comment
Have you checked with your local community centre? The centre across the street from me has a $1 drop in (10-2) many days of the week where they set out indoor toys such as slides, balls, hockey nets, ride-on trikes and cars, etc. I took my son there when he learned to walk (around 11 months old) and even at that age he loved it. You'll meet other parents too and maybe you could start a playgroup. For some reason, other people's houses/toys are SO much more interested to them than their own. Good luck :-)
5.flag stk Comment
Misha - LOL ... The only thing across the street from us at our new house is a wooded lot. The community is 8 km away and is too small to have a community center.

If you've got a community center nearby, it can be a good solution. We do have play-dates with friends, to lighten the load, but Alex is almost 5, so she'll be starting kindergarten next Autumn.

6.flag Martin Comment
This one keeps my toddler entertained for a couple of minutes:
7.flag Marcela Comment
OMG ... You have some really good ideas. I stay at home with my 18-month-old because we can't afford day-care and well, we never have anything to do. I just feel like her having to stay with me is keeping her from learning, so your ideas have really helped. If you get any more, let me know, please!

8.flag stk Comment
Marcela - The great thing about toddlers is that they are just a sponge for learning. They love touching new shapes, textures and seeing colors. They can learn from what we would think are "ordinary" objects ... empty milk cartons, dish soap bottles, cardboard boxes. My little girl loved playing with plastic CD jewel cases (still does @ 5 years-old!) Check out your local library! I'm sure they have books on keeping toddlers busy and other fun things (that's where I got a lot of the ideas in this article). Good luck!
9.flag Audrey Comment
Hi, What a great idea, I loved reading your website! Oscar is 15 months old. A couple of weeks ago I made a really good investment. I bought some steps (it's like a mini ladder) so that O can stand at kitchen counter height and "cook" with me. Whereas before he'd be milling around my legs, alternatively whacking them with a wooden spoon or whining to be picked up and LOOOOK! Now, he's up there with me, I give him a pan or a bowl, a spoon, a whisk and then I put some of whatever I'm putting in mine. He absolutely loves it - I love it too. I tell him what i'm doing, and just stirs and bangs away. It makes a bit of a mess but it's brilliant - we both enjoy it, I'm getting dinner done and he's learning a valuable skill. For when they get older, get a book called Honey Biscuits, it's a lovely way to cook with them and the biscuits rock.
10.flag stk Comment
Audrey - Thanks for your comment.

Alex was 16 months old when I wrote this, close to Oscar's age. She's now older (5 years) and she'd love to make "honey biscuits"!

I've placed an order for the cute book you recommended. (Free shipping from Amazon - but since it's a U.K. book, it'll take a month or so to get here).
11.flag Jennifer Comment
I run parenting programs in BC and love the ideas you have here. Great creativity and every activity you do here is promoting Alex's brain development in key areas. What a lucky kid to have such a creative and attentive Daddy!
12.flag Jennifer Comment
I know what you mean. I have a 18 month old son who doesn't like to listen to me and since he still can not tell me anything, he does a lot of screaming and it is hard for me to think at his level and figure out new things to do with him.

If you have any suggestions for inside play please feel free to email me and share. This is a great learning experience and also a great way to support each other.
13.flag stk Comment
Jennifer (CA) - Thanks for the compliment!

Jennifer (USA) - Thanks a LOT for sharing some of your activities with us. I've added some of them to the list above, under a new section called "reader contributions".

Alex is now 5 1/2 years old and out of the toddler stage. She's a full grown "kid" now! Time flies by so quickly when they're young. Have fun and let me know if you've got any more toddler ideas!
14.flag Vicky Comment
This is awesome. I have a 4 year old and a 2.5 year old. They do grow fast. I stay at home during the day and work at night while my husband watches the kids. It's a chore to keep them busy at this age too. I know this was written a long time ago but I too googled "how to keep toddlers busy." We try to do something everyday. Mondays it's "watch a movie we haven't seen before" day. Thursday's it's "lets plan and cook lunch together." That's really it. None of the other days are set and it drives me crazy. Thanks for sharing all of these wonderful ideas.
15.flag Grandma Lizzie Comment
As the 10 hr a day "caregiver" for our 18mos granddaughter marching is a big hit around the house... if you know it sing the old Micjkey Mouse Club song then add march march march... also she loves the wooden puzzels with the knobs on them the shapes, letters and bugs are her favorite you can get them at a kids resale shop also string together macaroni for "pretties" bracelets, necklaces.... throw a sheet over the kitchen table and put a small chair under there with a couple of books Madi loves this too....
16.flag Jennifer Comment
I have a 15 month old and cant wait to try these new games with him. I think it is wonderful what you are doing!! Keep up the good work
17.flag stk Comment
Jennifer - LOL ... our 6-month-old is now six YEARS old! Too early to tell if all that pre-development stuff helped out in the old grey matter area, but regardless, it helped keep ME sane! Let us know what activities you're doing and which ones your son likes, then maybe we can help others keep their sanity. ;)
Many, many thanks for your wonderfully informative article!! I have a very busy and active 18 month old boy and found so many ideas to keep him occupied and out of trouble! lol! My 6 year old usually loves helping with him and will love these ideas, too!! :-) Thank you again!!
19.flag stk Comment
Ann - Thanks for saying! (You should contact my wife, Rachel, because she's a scrapbooking nut and - from a quick boo at your blog - it looks like we live in your neck of the woods - Nanaimo)
20.flag Ann Comment
lol! I used to own my own scrapbooking business, but just recently closed. With two active kids to look after, it was hard to find the time and energy to keep it up. Yes, I am in Nanaimo; I was surprised to find out you were from around here as well. :-)
21.flag stk Comment
Ann - LOL - yep (Yellow Point). I figured @ your own scrapbooking store. Rachel used to spend time at Island Scrapbooking, but they recently closed also. We've only the one kid (Alexandra, 6yr) but w/5-acres and a floating cabin ... lots on our plate as well!
22.flag Jackie Lee Comment
I'm a work at home mom and my daughter is let's just say "spirited". I had to come up with some pretty inventive things to get her involved and engaged while I tried to get some work done. You've got ideas I never even dreamed of here! Thanks!
23.flag Brian Comment
Thanks for all the tips! Hopefully this one can help someone else. Keeping toddlers busy in the winter is especially hard because we can't play outside. My boy is 15 months old, and sometimes when we can't play outside (his favorite thing to do) we find buildings to explore where we don't have to be quiet. Lobbies of government offices or a courthouse are always good because he really likes the decorative carvings, marble columns, and fancy patterns on the floor. Anytime we can find a wood floor like a basketball court he can entertain himself for at least half an hour just stomping around and making echoes. He also likes the kids section in the public library. He can follow other kids around all day, and there are plenty of things for him to look at and books to pick up and play with.

These don't help me get any work done at home, but they do help when he just needs to get some energy out.
24.flag Caitlin Comment
The other day we played with a carpenters measuring tape. Pulling it out far and letting it snap back. This was too funny for my son and kept him occupied for quite some time.
25.flag Treasure Hunt! Comment
Im obviously not a mum, but i am 12 years old and i have a 5 year old brother who i have to mind every day from 7-6.30 -.-
he is always bored and one day i thought, a treasure hunt!!!
it doesnt take long to prepare but it keeps them entertained and they love it. All i did was get some paper and write some clues on it. like this: 'This tool is normally in a shed but instaed look under you b_ _!' and hide a dustpan and brush or some thing under their bed! its so simple, so easy, and best of all its free! then in the end make sure you have a prize for them, e.g chocolate bar, colouring book, packet of sweets, bag, toy medal, certificate, or a goody bag with all of them in it!!!
26.flag Stacy Comment
Thank you so much for sharing all of these ideas. I am always looking for new things to try with my little one. I really like that you use a lot of common household items (milk jugs...we always have an empty one around the house).
27.flag Maria Comment
In my son's kindermusik class the teacher puts a tarp on the floor and then puts water in a rubbermaid tub and the children enjoy putting their hands or feet and splashing the water. Another activity they enjoy is sitting inside the tub and having mommy/daddy push them around.
28.flag Wendy Comment
Just spent 1 1/2 hours w/my 15 month & 4 year old granddaughters watching/listening to nursery rhymes on You Tube as performed by Hooplakidz!
29.flag DianaLB Comment
I have a 4yr old and a 2.5yr old.... I give each of them their own glue stick and a large sheet of paper. I then cut out lots and lots of small colorful shapes, such as hearts, dots, birds, triangles, leaves, flowers. The they will sit at the table for at least 30 minutes just gluing and arranging the shapes. When they get bored with that, I give them washable markers, and when they get tired of that I give them washable glitter glue. In the end they've got a colorful collage that really didn't require very much supervision, so long as I was in the same room cooking dinner or whatnot. But seriously, gluing things with a glue stick is a really great age appropriate activity for this age group.
30.flag Medea Comment
Wow, what a great dad! Sounds like you are doing a great job with your daughter. Suggestions to keep her occupied....indoor gymanstic. Supe fun!