Toddlers are busy little people with seemingly limitless energy. Caring for them is incredibly joyful, but can also be exhausting in the best circumstances. This winter, there are no library story-times, no playgroups, no music classes, no trips to Target just to stroll the aisles and get out of the house…it’s just me and my toddler hanging out together inside our home for days on end.
If you told me one year ago that this was what winter would look like, I would have panicked and said something like, “This sounds like a recipe for making me go crazy — there simply aren’t enough Daniel Tiger episodes to get us through!” Instead, to my great surprise, having everything canceled has instead forced me to get creative and resourceful when it comes to indoor activities for my little one. As a result, we’ve been enjoying our winter days together at home (honestly!) and I know you can, too.
Here are some screen-free suggestions to keep your little ones engaged while hanging out at home.
Indoor Water Play
This is my “we’re all going stir-crazy” go-to. Toddlers love playing with water. Just because summer is over, doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to let your child have fun getting their splash-on inside.
- Go fish! Pick up a magnetic bath-time fishing set, or get creative and make your own, and let them go to town rescuing the floating fish out of the tub.
- There are no rules that say you can’t take a bath in the middle of the day! Fill up the bathtub with water, get some plastic scooping tools they can play with (cups, strainers, bowls, etc.), and let them play away in the tub. Mom Tip: I like to do this one after lunch and before nap time; I also throw in some calming bubbles at the end so they get squeaky clean, relaxed, and ready to nap.
- Get a stool that helps them reach the kitchen sink. Fill it with some soapy water and let them have a blast washing their plastic dishes. Or simply let them have fun pouring and scooping their little hearts out. Mom Tip: This activity is great to do if you have some cooking or prepping to do in the kitchen. They will be entertained and you will be close by to make sure everything stays safe.
- Let them help water your house plants if you have them — and if you don’t, get some! Mom Tip: My little guy is a bit overzealous with the pouring, so I recently got a small fine mist spray bottle and let him mist them to his heart’s content. It ends up being a longer lasting activity and saves my floors from a flood.
- Audio books and podcasts for kids are amazing. My son is currently obsessed with Thomas the Train. I found a storytelling podcast that reads the Thomas books with different actors doing the voices for the different characters. He requests to listen to this non-stop, and I love seeing his little mind working to picture in his head the story he is hearing. It’s entertaining, stimulating, and encourages active listening and imagination.
- Music is always a great way to keep little ones busy. I’ve made a few different playlists of songs for particular toddler moods: “get the wiggles out,” “calm down,” and “learning.” Sometimes, we will turn the music on and have our own little music class, dancing and singing to the songs. Other days, I put music on to help teach a new skill like counting or the ABCs. Mom Tip: Pick up some egg shakers, or make your own noise makers for your little one to use while dancing along to the beat of the music.
- You really don’t need anything fancy. Just a surface to draw on (that is not your walls or furniture), and some washable markers/crayons/pens. Get them started by showing them how it works then let the tiny artist explore. Mom Tip: I bought a big roll of paper from IKEA and like to roll it out of the floor giving my little guy lots of space and mobility for him to draw.
- Recycle. Crafts are a great way to repurpose items you might regularly discard: old yogurt containers, toilet paper rolls, Amazon boxes, egg containers, and kleenex boxes to name a few. Over the last few months, we have made rocket ships, robots, train stations, and music instruments. In truth, I’ve enjoyed these projects as much as him!
- Kids scissors. I picked up a few pairs of toddler-safe plastic scissors and my son gets a lot of joy from cutting a piece of paper into little pieces. It’s a great fine-motor skill to learn and keeps him engaged for a while.
- Make gifts. Making things for others is a great reason for crafting and teaching your child the value of doing nice things for others. We make cards for our neighbors, decorations for various holidays, pictures for Grandma and Grandpa, and things to put in our windows to bring cheer to those who pass by. These little projects bring my son a sense of pride, teach him the value of giving and are fun for both of us.
Toddlers love to help. My little guy gets the most joy and satisfaction out of doing anything he sees me doing. He loves to be helpful. One of the easiest indoor activities is to have your littles ones help you out around the house with your daily activities. It’s a win-win. Having your toddler help you empowers and engages them and also builds connection between you both. Yes, completing the tasks might take longer, but with a little patience, you do get things done and teach your child invaluable skills.
Some great helpful activities to try
- Dishes. Let them take the dishes out of the dishwasher and hand them to you to put away. Or play a game and have them point to where the dishes go as you put them away in the hard to reach spots. You can also let them put away their plastic dishes in a cabinet or drawer that is easily accessible to them.
- Cooking and baking. My toddler loves to help me cook. We both put on our aprons, I get out his counter height stool and give him some basic tasks like pouring, mixing and taste testing. Mom Tip: This can also help picky eaters feel more motivated to try new foods if it’s something they made themselves.
- Sorting laundry. It seems like we do laundry every other day in our house. To make this task a bit more fun, this is one of my go-to daily activities with my son. We play a game where he takes the clothes out of the hamper piece by piece and runs and puts it into the laundry basket as fast as he can. Or we play a sorting game where every time I pick a piece of clean laundry out of the basket I ask him who the item belongs to, and he puts it in a separate pile for that person: Mommy, Daddy, or him. I’ve also taught him about matching by having him help me find and match the seemingly countless pairs of his tiny socks. I also put a stool next to our laundry machine, and he has a blast throwing the dirty clothes in one item at a time and then pushing the buttons to start the machine. I hope making this chore fun will translate into him taking on responsibilities around the house as he gets older!
- Sweeping. During almost every meal, my toddler skillfully makes a mess of crumbs under his chair. We’ve started a new activity where, after he is done eating, he gets out a hand-held broom and dustpan and cleans up whatever is on the floor…his favorite part is bringing it to the trash-can — a clear example of how little it takes for toddlers to have a good time.
What are you doing to pass the time with your little ones on these cold days? I’d love to hear your screen-free indoor activity ideas!