Many families are finding themselves quarantined with children of all ages during the Covid-19 pandemic. Finishing schoolwork at home in a virtual environment, keeping kids entertained when they’re not at “school” all while maintaining regular household tasks and perhaps your own work is a challenge. Having toddlers to entertain, however, is in a challenge category of its own.
Toddlers, defined as children between the ages of 1 and 3 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, require special attention. They are in a exploratory stage of development but don’t yet have the caution and dexterity that older children do. This requires care givers to make sure toddlers are kept safe while they explore and become familiar with the world around with them.
What if that world is facing a global pandemic, though, and you can’t take your toddler out? In this scenario that most of us are faced with now, at-home activities that are toddler-approved are a must. Working from home while having a toddler can be a challenge as well. Some ready-to-go activities for your toddler are a necessity during this time. This article will explore some activities to do with your toddler during quarantine.
How to Decide on Activities for Your Toddler
There are some things to keep in mind as you are planning out activities for your toddler.
- Safety first. Toddlers are at a stage where they like to put things in their mouth, open drawers, climb, and get into everything. This can pose major safety hazards at home. During quarantine, you may find yourself playing with your toddler in rooms rarely touched before. Remember to install safety gates, childproof locks, outlet covers, and sharp corner protections where needed. With being home quite a bit, now is a great time to go around your house to see which areas could use child proofing. Keep small objects that your toddler could choke on out of reach as well. If you have older children who play with small objects, such as Legos, ask them to remain diligent about cleaning them up after they are done. One small Lego or marble left out or rolled into a corner can mean a trip to the hospital for your toddler!
- Toddler abilities. Don’t expect too much from your toddler too soon. According to Brain Balance, the attention span of a 2-year-old is around four to six minutes. While educational activities are certainly beneficial, don’t expect your toddler to sit for schoolwork with their older siblings for any length of time. If you are working from home, time management and time blocking are going to become crucial skills with a toddler under foot. Your toddler is at a stage of exploration and the last thing they want to do is sit still and watch others “play”, whether it’s work or school.
- In the zone. It helps to keep activities and toys for your toddler in each zone of your house. My house has the kitchen/breakfast nook/dining room zone, office/living room zone, backyard zone, and upstairs zone. I have bins of toys in each zone and other activities I can put together using items within each of those zones. This helps especially as you are cleaning house or need to work in an area you normally wouldn’t with your toddler underfoot.
- Babies and toddlers thrive on routine. If you didn’t have a set routine for eat, sleep, and play before the quarantine, now is the time to create one. If your child was attending daycare before, ask them what their routine was. While it will be hard to emulate an exact routine at home, it can help to have an idea of where to start.
Sample routine for a toddler
Our schedule isn’t perfect and there are some days my toddler refuses a nap or gets thrown off routine. That’s ok! Develop a routine that works for your household and try to make the timing predictable. Your toddler will lean on this pattern to feel safe enough to explore and grow more independent.
21 Activities to Keep Toddlers Busy
Now that you have considered the things to keep in mind, here are several activities to keep your toddler entertained during quarantine!
1. Put It in the Bag
My toddler loves to play with anything not meant for her. Cell phones, computers, tablets, you name it. If she’s not supposed to have it, she wants to play with it. I have tried purchasing her toddler versions of these items to no avail.
Finally, after a day of taking things away, I gave her one of my old purses filled with random items and it has become one of her favorite activities!
Find an old purse or tote bag you aren’t using anymore. Put an empty wallet (the more pockets, the better!), pencil, small notebook, old keys, and other items inside. The best way to get your toddler to play with their new “purse” is to act like it’s yours first. With my daughter, I took out the pencil and pad and started writing. I then put it back in the purse and gave the whole thing to her to play with.
Show your toddler how to take items out and put them back in, how to zip and unzip pockets, fasten hooks, open the wallet, etc. They will love getting their hands on something they are used to seeing adults use.
Sometimes it is the simplest items that will keep toddlers entertained forever!
2. Stickers and Tape
A quick activity that will help keep your toddler entertained (and quiet if needed) is to let them play with stickers or tape.
Fold a small piece of scotch tape over on itself with the adhesive facing out. Place the piece of tape on a few of your toddler’s fingers. While this may seem like an odd activity, look at it from your toddler’s perspective. They more than likely haven’t had anything stuck to their fingers, so this new experience will keep them occupied for a minute. They will get to exercise their hand-eye coordination to try and get the tape off their fingers.
Provide them with a piece of paper to put the tape on as well. This activity is great in a pinch!
Kitchen Activities for Toddlers
In the past, my time in the kitchen has been spent doing dishes or cooking. During these chores, I usually had my toddler strapped in her highchair. But now that she’s getting older and I use the kitchen table to work at times, I had to come up with some activities for her to do in the kitchen that would keep her busy body occupied. While some of these activities can be loud, it’s a great way to help your toddler explore.
The following are great kitchen activities for toddlers:
3. Scooping Beans
Fill an old Tupperware container with dry beans.
Give your toddler an empty loaf pan (or similar item) and a large spoon. Your toddler can then move the beans between the two containers. Note: Supervision should be used for this activity as beans are potential choking hazards.
4. Sensory Play with Rice
Fill a container with rice and bury small objects within. Have your toddler use their hands or a large spoon to find the items. You can also give them a fork to rake the rice and dig. This is a great sensory activity for toddlers. Note: Supervision should be used for this activity as rice is a potential choking hazard.
5. Play with a Mixing Bowl and a Spoon
Sometimes simple is best! They can pretend mix with the spoon or turn the bowl upside down and use it as a drum.
6. Stack Measuring Cups and Spoons
Take a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons and have your toddler stack them in order. This is a fun nesting activity as well.
7. Get a Play Kitchen
Toddlers love to mimic activities their parents do, especially when it comes to cooking and cleaning. A good toy kitchen can keep a toddler busy for a while.
Outside Activities for Toddlers
Some of the best parenting advice I ever received was “weather or water.” If your toddler is experiencing a tantrum, one of the best ways to curb it is to take your toddler outside or let them play in water.
Here are some great outdoor activities that will keep your toddler happy.
8. Collect Rocks or Other Items
Walk around your yard and find rocks, shells, and other items of various sizes to collect in a bucket. Your toddler doesn’t know that the small rock is just a piece of landscape material. To them, it is treasure! Afterward, wash the treasure inside and let them play with their finds!
9. Find Leaves of Different Sizes
During the spring and summer, trees, bushes, and flowers are in full bloom. Take your toddler around and find leaves of all sizes to collect. Then, make leaf impressions using paper and crayon!
10. Play in the Water
Outdoor water toys are popular with toddlers for a reason! They love to get wet! Throw on a bathing suit and play with them in the sprinklers, kiddie pool, or water table. Note: Always supervise toddlers as any amount of water presents a drowning hazard.
11. Take a Walk
Sometimes a simple walk down the street is best for your toddler. Make sure they stay on the sidewalk or hold your hand and take a walk. Point out different objects along the way or play a game of I spy. I take my 15-month-old on a walk down our street each day. It’s usually an extremely slow walk, and we stop every ten feet to look at a caterpillar or other item, but it’s just enough exercise to keep her active and helps her expend energy as well.
12. Go Get the Mail
While this sounds trivial, a trip to the mailbox can be great fun for your toddler. When the four walls of your home start to close in, a short chore of getting the mail turns into a welcome reprieve from being inside all day.
13. Swing on a Swing Set or Tire Swing
If you don’t already have a swing set or play gym in your back yard, consider installing a plastic swing or tire swing to a tree. We have a simple plastic toddler swing secured to a tree limb with a 2×4 piece of lumber and my daughter loves it!
14. Play on a Toddler Slide
Since going to the park isn’t an option for most people right now, consider getting a slide for your toddler that can be used either inside or outside. These units are usually light enough to be moved around so you could move them depending on the weather. A slide can keep a toddler busy for a good chunk of time.
15. Color with Sidewalk Chalk
This trend has taken off as families search for things to do with children. Purchase or make your own sidewalk chalk paint and let your toddler doodle all over your sidewalks and driveway. You can also use sidewalk chalk on fencing! It will wash off in the rain and provide an artistic outlet for your toddler.
Homemade Sidewalk Chalk Paint Recipe
- ½ Cup Cornstarch
- ½ Cup Water
- Food Coloring of your Choice (as needed)
- Use paint brushes to apply paint to sidewalk or concrete surface. Store leftovers in airtight container for later use.
16. Take a Bath
If it’s rainy outside and your toddler needs to let some energy out, let them play in the bathtub! It doesn’t have to be right before bedtime. Fill the bath to your desired amount but remember to supervise your toddler at all times while they’re in the tub. I usually fill the tub with just enough water to cover my 15-month-old’s legs.
Add food coloring, bath bombs (watch for skin sensitivities), and toys for them to play with. For added fun, let them draw on the tub walls with shaving cream or water safe crayons. You can also add activated glow sticks and turn off the lights for a fun glow in the dark bath time experience!
17. Phone a Friend
Where available, use video calling features to phone friends and family. Your toddler will love to see themselves in the camera, and family members you aren’t getting to visit will enjoy getting to talk with your toddler.
My daughter and I use Duo and Facebook messenger to call family and she loves using the filters to give herself bunny ears or a puppy dog face. Take pictures of the calls as well to save for a memory book later!
Activity Grab Bags for Toddlers
As I mentioned before, I like to keep boxes and activities assembled and ready to go around my house. Toddlers honestly don’t need fancy toys to keep them happy and entertained. A few activity grab bags strategically placed around the house will help immensely in keeping your toddler occupied!
18. Pipe cleaners and a Colander
Who would have thought pipe cleaners and a colander could keep a kid entertained for a long stretch? Just watch as your toddler threads the pipe cleaners through colander holes! You could also use a mason jar with holes poked through the lid, which is another great way to store the pipe cleaners when not in use!
19. Cotton Balls and Baggies or Containers
Throw a handful of cotton balls in a sandwich baggie and show your toddler how to “sort” the cotton balls. Take each one out and transfer it to another container. Believe it or not, this is one of my daughter’s favorite activities. You can also give them Q-tips and other soft items to sort as well.
20. Paint with Brushes and Water
Take cleaned make-up brushes or paint brushes and put them in a mason jar with a tiny bit of water. Let your toddler dip the brushes in water, then “paint” on pieces of paper. You can let them paint other surfaces at your discretion as it’s just water, just remember they may repeat this behavior later! This can be a great activity to do on a sidewalk as well.
21. Play in the Toddler Drawer
The toddler drawer. In both my bathroom and kitchen, I have a lower drawer completely dedicated to items my toddler can safely play with. In my bathroom, I have the cotton ball baggies, a hairbrush, a clean toothbrush, q-tips, and a few traditional toys as well. While I’m getting ready for the day, my daughter helps herself to this drawer which keeps her occupied and away from other drawers I don’t want her in. When it’s time to clean up, we make a game of putting everything back where it goes. If you don’t have the cabinet space to give your toddler a whole drawer, consider filling a plastic container with these items for her to play with.
A Note about Screen Time for Toddlers
The Academy of American Pediatrics recommends developing a Family Media Use Plan to determine what kinds of screen time you allow your toddler. The recommendation is to limit screen time to only video calling until a child is 18 months old, at which time high quality shows (like Sesame Street) are encouraged for no longer than one hour a day.
Whether you follow these guidelines or not, I do believe it’s important to develop a media plan for your household and to keep screen time engaging for your toddler.
I do allow my 15-month-old to watch television on occasion, but only when I can engage with her as we watch a show together. It gives me an opportunity to explain what’s on the screen and help her apply it in the real world.
However, with the current state of things, you might be working from home and needing another way to keep your toddler busy so you can focus on work. When it comes to screen time for your toddler, do your best to limit time your little one spends in front of a screen, but also recognize this quarantine won’t last forever. Giving your child a little more screen time might buy you a few minutes peace that you really need.
Tips for Parents Working from Home
Working from home with a busy toddler or preschooler can be incredibly challenging. Here are some tips that might help you manage.
- Work as much as possible when your young child is sleeping. If your job allows, try to work mostly when your toddler is sleeping. Early mornings, nap times, or evenings might be the best time for you to work so you can take care of your little one and get your job done without being distracted by either one.
- Coordinate with your significant other or older child to help with the toddler. See if your significant other can adjust their work schedule to help you get your work done. Older kids can often help with younger siblings for a short period of time so parents can get some work done.
- Make a plan for activities for your child and have them ready. Try prepping some activities for your toddler the night before so you don’t have to go searching for items for your child to play with.
- Be as flexible as possible. Toddlers don’t usually care about their parents’ agendas and they are usually quite inflexible. Make sure your employer, colleagues, and clients understand you have attend to your toddler as your are working from home. As many people are currently working from home with young children, hopefully those you work with will be understanding.
- Be patient with yourself and your child. Obviously, these aren’t ideal working conditions. Remember this is temporary and that your child doesn’t understand what is happening and he or she needs you.
We are experiencing unprecedented times. As quarantine restrictions continue for the safety and health of our communities, it can be a challenge to balance entertaining your toddler, your housework, your work from home (or work at the office), cooking, cleaning, and all the rest. Remember that though these months are long, this pandemic will be temporary.
In the day-to-day grind of raising a toddler, keep in mind to do a mental health check. If you are feeling anxious or depressed, seek help from a qualified physician. Talk to family and friends. And remember, you are not alone!
I hope some of these tips for keeping your toddler entertained work for your family and offer you a few minutes of peace.