6 educational toddler activities that also let you get stuff done
Whether you’re home schooling by choice, facing down the long summer holidays or stuck at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, every parent will have times when they want to keep supporting their toddler’s development but also need to get things done. Finding the right activity to keep little hands busy can be tricky – we recommend tailoring it to what you need to do, and saving sure-fire distraction techniques like snacks or screen time for when you really need to concentrate or are at your lowest ebb.
1. Let them do chores… but only if they want to
Kids definitely slow you down but if your kids want to help with what you’re doing, you have to choose: do you let them get involved, tell them to go away or set them up with a different activity – maybe screen time? By giving them some small part of the job to do (‘can you find all your socks?’ ‘can you fetch me a tin of beans?’) or something age appropriate to play with (the peg basket, a wooden spoon and empty bowl) hopefully either they’ll start to learn these essential tasks, so one day they’ll do your laundry, or they’ll get bored and wander off to play independently.
2. Paint the yard
Encourage mark making, fine and gross motor skills and keep kids entertained for hours with no mess… It’s not a miracle product, it’s a set of chunky paint brushes and a cup of water. Let your kid potter around ‘painting’ everything in sight (fences, patios, paths and rocks work very well) while you get on with raking leaves or other tasks. Chalk is also a great low-mess option, particularly for older preschoolers who want to make more elaborate pictures.
3. Set up their own workspace
Little kids love paperwork – and destroy it, rapidly. If you’re working from home, studying or simply need to sort out family paperwork and life admin, consider keeping a special ‘grown up’ set of stationery for your toddler to use only when you’re working. A cheap spiral bound notebook and a free click-button pen may be enough to get your child solemnly sitting making marks, drawing or practicing writing their name. If you need an extra diversion, ‘find’ a surprise sticker sheet in your papers or hand over something you don’t need any more to be drawn on.
4. Create an ‘invitation to play’
You can buy a kid a thousand toys, but you can’t make them play with them quietly while you’re on the phone. However, kids are attracted to novelty, so you can encourage quiet, independent play by creating a space which has existing toys arranged in a new way. A low table or tuff tray is an ideal space as it both contains and elevates well-loved toys. Spend just 5 minutes and set out a little scene – for example, a barn and animals play set comes alive with some sheets of green paper as fields, a tractor from a different play set and a handful of shredded paper as ‘hay’. If you’re looking for some other great ideas on how to occupy your toddler be sure to check this blogpost by Heidi Miller-Ford from The Unexpected Homeschooler. Pinterest and Instagram are also packed with elaborate ideas, but quick is best as otherwise you spend more time than you win back.
5. Make a den
Throw a few blankets over some chairs, the back of the couch or a washing line, and create a secret space just big enough for a toddler. Encourage them to decorate it themselves, and maybe make beds for their favorite toys or dolls. You’ll need to accept a certain amount of untidiness – and perhaps every towel, cushion and blanket going into the den – but with a few prompts such as ‘would Teddy like a bed in your den?’ or ‘do you need to take a picnic camping?’ you can encourage problem solving and creative play while still making dinner or writing a report.
6. Set up a scavenger hunt
Tailored to the age of your kids, this is the perfect educational activity. For younger toddlers, you could hide a certain number of soft toys in a fixed area – peeking out from couch cushions, sitting in the highchair. For older toddlers, you can set out sheets of colored paper, plastic bowls or other markers and ask them to go find something that matches (‘can you find something blue?’). The next step is to replace the colors with letters (‘can you find something beginning with T and put it on the right card?’) and once they can read instructions can be more elaborate (‘Please find: 1 blue thing, 2 things beginning with C, 3 things with wheels, 4 things with legs’) – create your own ahead of time or look online for examples.