1. Rice/bean bins. All you need is a bin, some rice or beans, and some scoops or cups. Beans are easier to clean up than rice or sand. Holiday Themes, story telling, role playing social skills/emotions etc. Click here for my post on how to make Colored & Scented rice. Click here for my post with story telling idea using sensory bin and clothespin dolls.
2. Water bins/tables. These require a nice day and a deck. Again, fill up a tub with water and provide scoops, bowls, and a few fun trinkets (some that float and some that sink) and let kids play ’til their heart’s content. Add a few drops of food coloring for extra fun! Use Tapioca colored bubble tea balls (they are edible) for extra sensory play or dish soap for bubbles or Foam or Ice (make colored ice cubes for extra fun). Set up Sensory fun in your bathtub!!!
3. Paint with water books. Yes, they still exist and yes, they are still a great way to get some exploration going with less than half the mess of the full-fledged version.
4. Puzzles. Use the manufactured variety or try making your own by cutting up pictures your child (or a sibling) has drawn. OR decorate puzzle pieces to create a family artistic puzzle project! – when finished sand the edges so the pieces can be put back together. (buy a cheap puzzle at the dollar store to decorate)
5. Special Play Boxes. The idea is that you only take these special boxes of toys out for a set amount of time and only on special days. These are special treats. Change them up every few weeks or so depending upon your younger child’s interests. Check out the dollar store or the dollar area at target – fill a small container with items to keep your child occupied. OR have a few pre-made special sensory bins ready.
6. Stickers. On paper, on clothes, on favorite chairs…
7. Clothes Pins. Print a color wheel and ask kids to place the corresponding clothes pin on the wheel. If your child isn’t ready for numbers yet, try putting colors onto the wheel and colored dots on the clothes pins for kids to match. If your child is really young, try just giving them clothes pins with a variety of things/materials to attach them to.
8. Legos and blocks. These are great all by themselves, but can also be used in conjunction with props like dolls, cars, shoeboxes and paper towel rolls. What can kids make with them?
9. Tweezers and pom poms. Provide some multi-colored craft pom poms and ask kids to sort by size or color. If the child is still very young, take away the tweezers and give them a yogurt container with a small hole cut in the top to stuff pom poms through. When they are done, open the container and start again. Instead of tweezers have them use a spoon, soup spoon, chop sticks etc.
10. Toddler sewing basket
- small embroidery hoop
- large plastic sewing needles
- colorful yarn wrapped around wooden clothes pegs (pins) to make yarn dollies
- large spaced stiff netting cut into various sizes and widths (find in the kitchen section)
- felt shapes with small holes snipped out using scissors
- thin ribbons
- large buttons & beads
- embroidery thread
- metal embroidery needles (they are not sharp)
- small block of styrofoam to hold the needles
- various fabrics to stitch on:
- a few pieces of plastic canvas (available at most craft stores)
- a green rubber “grip pad”
- a square of mesh
- a piece of cardboard with holes punched in it
- a square that I cut from a styrofoam meat tray (run your meat tray through the dishwasher first, to sterilize it or use one from vegetables!)
11. Pipe cleaners in containers. This is a variation of the pom pom suggestion: cut several small holes in a yogurt or coffee container and ask the child to stick pipe cleaners into them. For added challenge, color hole-reinforcers (like you use in three-hole-punched documents) and ask the child to match the pipe cleaner color to the hole reinforcer color. Make crafts with the pipe cleaners – use them as props with play dough! Use foam to stick the pipe cleaners in upright and have kids sort beads by color. Use an empty parmesan cheese container and turn pipe cleaners into “sprinkles,” Use a strainer to create some fun pipe cleaner art!
12. Magazine scavenger hunts. Really young kids can just rip up the pages, but slightly older toddlers can search through pages to find items you ask for, like pictures of smiles, flowers, a Mommy, etc. Here are some more ideas:
13. Alphabet or picture tracing sheets. This is as easy as laminating an alphabet practice sheet and providing dry erase markers. All done? Wipe and start again.
14. Egg cartons filled with plastic colored eggs. Fill these eggs with little trinkets that will make noise in the eggs. This is enough for young kids. For slightly older kids you can ask them what they hear in the eggs, then have them open the eggs on their own to see if they were correct. Fill pairs and have kids match the pairs! Sensory Easter Eggs!
15. Play-Doh filled balloons. Roll the play dough into a “snake” – stretch the balloon to get the play dough inside. You can use the small tubs from the Dollar Store. Alternatively fill balloons with flour! Click Here for my post that includes instructions on making these stress balloons. Click here to see an infographic I created for making stress balloons or sensory balloons.
16. Pool Noodle Stringing. Cut up pool noodles and provide yarn for little kids to string together. Make a boat with Popsicle sticks. Have some fun by blowing up balloons. Make light sabers. Can be used as stress balls (“rings”). Make a garland. Stick some toothpicks in them!
17. Magnetic Magazine Face-Making. Cut out eyes, ears, mouths, noses, etc. from magazines, laminate them, then glue magnets to the backs & have fun making faces on baking sheet. This activity would also work great on road trips! Additionally you could do the same with cut outs to be used for story telling!
18. Lacing boards. These can be made with left-over cereal boxes, or can be purchased. You punch several holes along the outline of a shape, and ask your toddler to weave shoestring in and out of the holes. Don’t expect perfection unless you are giving instructions- just let them do it on their own.
19. Felt Face-Making. Same idea as above, but you use felt to create facial features and let little hands assemble the faces as they will. This idea can be adjusted to fit any theme you’re working on. Cupcakes, ice cream cones, firetrucks, fish… the list goes on and on. Just create one large, major shape and provide lots of smaller shapes to adorn.
20. Soda bottle filled with glitter, oil, and water. Grab a two-liter and fill it with these ingredients for fun. Roll them, shake them and put them into containers. Remember to glue the cap on before you give this to your child!
- Click here for my post with instructions on how to make Lego Calm Down Jar using Glitter Glue. Simply shake and wait for the calming to begin. Also instructions on making a bedtime glow bottle!
- Click here for my post on how to make a 5 minute Calming Glitter Jar – secret ingredient to get the glitter to settle SLOWLY!
21. Button Snake. Tie or sew a button onto a piece of ribbon and provide felt scraps to thread onto the “snake.”
22. Clothesline Play. String up a pretend clothesline and provide a few socks, some felt clothes cut-outs, a few scarves, etc. plus a few clothespins and let younger kids have fun hanging up the wash.
23. Bathtub painting. Let a squirmy toddler paint in the bathtub with tempra or other washable paint. Just strip them down and let them go to town, then use the shower head to rinse it all (including what’s on their bodies) down the drain. Use 1 can shaving cream, muffin tin and food coloring. There are lots of variations!
24. Ziplock bag painting. Fill a bag with paint and tape it up to a window or wall or table. You will need large gallon size Ziploc bags and tempera paint. Choose to use primary colors to explore color mixing. Just quirt 3 “piles” of paint in your ziplock bag, make sure all the air is out, and carefully seal your ziplock bag. Now, using painters tape, tape the bag to the surface you want – this allows painting without the bag moving around.
25. Giving babydolls a bath. This isn’t so gender-specific as you may think. You might be surprised at how many boys enjoy a small tub of water, plastic baby doll, towels and soap. This is another activity which may require a full wardrobe change, but is well-worth the effort. More pretend play. Encourage imagination!
26. Stamping. Ink pad or paper plate with paint on it, paper and a variety of stamps. Make foam stickers into stamps!
27. Color scavenger hunt. Give your child a paper bag with a color scribbled on the front, or a colored bag, and ask them to run around the house until they find items of that color to put in the bag. This can also be done outside in your yard or while on a walk… Variation – give kids nature scavenger hunt with a printed list or visual list of items to find! Download and print this visual nature hunt list here: Nature-Scavenger-Hunt
Here are other free printable Nature scavenger hunts for kids:
- Written (not visual): first version- Nature-Scavenger-Hunt-2-2 second version- Nature-Scavenger-Hunt-2
- ABC Scavenger hunt – find something for each letter in the alphabet – draw it. ABCNatureWalk
28. Bottles and cap matching. Take a bunch of used bottles (washed, of course) and let children match the caps to the bottles. Added bonus? This is a self-correcting activity, so when they get to the end and all the caps don’t match, they know they’ve made a mistake and can go back to find it.
29. Rubber-band shoebox guitars. These are fun to play, and fun to make. Just a couple of shoeboxes with rubber bands around them create music (but not too loud) and lots of opportunity for exploration.
30. Give them “work.” Give your younger child the same worksheet you give your older child and see what they do with it! The more authentic and identical the worksheet, the better.
31. Pudding/Yogurt finger-painting This is another activity which necessitates prompt bathing, but gives you peace of mind while you work with another student that your child won’t be ingesting paint. Tools like spoons and paintbrushes only add to the fun.
32. Cutting practice. While themed printables are fun, you don’t need anything that fancy. Just draw some wiggly lines across a page and ask your older toddler to cut the marks you’ve made.
33. PlayDoh prints. My kids will play with Play Doh for hours anyway, but they’re especially intrigued by anything that makes a print in the soft dough (think Legos, sporks, beaded necklaces, cookie cutters and little truck wheels). Click here for my post on Galaxy Play Dough. Click Here for my post with FREE play dough mats to print & laminate. Click here for my post with a 4 minute play dough recipe! Click here for my post on Mint Play Dough recipe – sensory aroma benefit! Click here for my post on a Lemon & Eucalyptus play dough recipe. Click here for my post on Kool Aid Play Dough. Click here for 2 additional play dough recipes (one using baby oil)
34. Sorting. Colored pasta, old keys, nuts and bolts. You name it, kids can sort it.
35. Balloons. They don’t even need helium- just blow them up and provide a pool noodle for hitting, or tie bunches of them up with a bunch of ribbon and let your kids try to keep them in the air. Try giving kids a straw and having them blow their balloons around the room. Use pool noodles and balloons outdoors for extra fun! Click here to see my post with 4 Family Activities using balloons! Water balloons are also fun!
36. Water transfer. This can be done with pipettes and small bowls of water, or with small pitchers. The key here is small amounts of water. Colored water is extra exciting.
37. Chalk. It’s versatile- if you have a chalkboard that’s great, but chalk can be used on black construction paper, on driveways and sidewalks if you’re outside, on rocks, on felt… Click here to see my post with 31 chalk activities!
38. Indoor Obstacle Course. You can tailor this to meet your child’s needs- put down a straight line and ask your child to walk/hop/skip along it. Create squares they must use to jump between, even adhere tape to the walls in a hallway and tell your child to try to go below the lines you’ve put up. Create an indoor obstacle course for your kids!! FUN!! Get CREATIVE!!! This would be a fun activity to do with your spouse after the kids have gone to bed – they wake up to an OBSTACLE course. Positive Surprises promote BONDING.
- Masking Tape
- Flag Tape (cheap on amazon)
- Pillows to jump or roll over
- Chairs and a blanket to make a tunnel
- A pool noodle to step over
- A large beach ball to go around
- Pillows, blankets and chairs to mark the edges of the course
- Hula Hoops
39. Pattern Blocks. The idea is to use a set of blocks and ask your child to create the same patterns with the blocks that appear on a form. This can be done by tracing blocks you already have.
40. Give up. Really. When all else fails give your babies the attention they need. Realize that you aren’t a superhuman and there is nothing so important that should make you ignore a young child who wants and needs you.
Links to Related Posts on my blog:
- Click Here for 5 Attachment-Based Activities, 15 Attachment Promoting Activities and MANY more Attachment & Connection Promoting Play.
- Click Here for Activities that Promote Learning & Attachment – link to website with activities listed by age (up to age 5 years but you can adapt for older kids)
- Click Here to see 100 ways to show LOVE to your child (includes free printable list)
- Click Here for 4 Fun Games that Promote Self-Regulation and practice listening & following directions skills
- Click Here for Relaxing Road Trip Activities for Kids (most can be fun to play inside at home too! like play dough mats, coloring sheets etc)
- Click Here for 20 Activities and Games to press the “reset” button when kids are getting silly or tough! (whisper game, kitchen stations, color their name, move slowly, read a book, take a bath etc.)
- Click Here for 8 Communication Games Help kids practice listening & following direction skills (Red Light Green Light, Mad Libs, Simon Says, Follow the Leader, Obstacle Course etc.)
- Click Here for 4 Family Fun Activities using Balloons!
- Click Here for 6 Self-Regulation Activities & Games for Kids (free printable explaining the importance of self-regulation)
- Click Here for 24 Gross Motor Activities that promote Parent-Child Connection
- Click Here for 31 SideWalk Chalk Activities for Kids
- Click Here for Parenting Tips on how to Improve & Grow Your Attachment & Connection with Your Child