I’m not gonna lie. Parenting a toddler is hard. They are fast little things, they don’t typically stop moving, and they’re so emotional! One key to making these years less stressful for a mom is to have an arsenal of things to do with toddlers. I’m talking about activities that not only will be fun but also teach them something and give you a little bit of variety in your day.
So we thought outside the toy box to come up with 10 things to do with toddlers that are simple but have a little twinkle of inspiration. The best part? Each activity is paired with a question you can ask your toddler to find out what’s on his or her mind. You might be the only one who understands the language your kiddo speaks, so listen and enjoy the chat! And tell us which of these 10 ideas is your child’s (and your) favorite.
I take my toddler on nature walks frequently to our local park. I make a short treasure hunt map with pictures to help him find specific things to look for while we are there. It’s amazing to me how quickly he is able to spot a red leaf, a butterfly, or an acorn. Once he finds an item, he puts it in a sandwich bag that I bring with us, and then he helps me cross out the picture of what we found on his treasure hunt list. It’s a great thing for them to be able to bring out at the dinner table to talk to Daddy about. We made the list for you, so print our free Nature Scavenger Hunt and go outside!
Talk about it question: What was the hardest item to find on your list today?
2. Animals and Sounds
The zoo is a great place to take a toddler. There is so much to see and explore there. We usually read a book about the zoo before going. I like to build up the outing and let him know what to expect before we go. We go over animal names and sounds. I pack a picnic for us when we go and we find a shady place to eat lunch and discuss what else he wants to see before we leave.
Talk about it question: What was your favorite animal? Do you know what sound it makes? Can you remember anything you learned about that animal today?
3. Ice Cream Social
Going for ice cream is always a win in my family. I take them in and let them pick out the toppings; I try to get the opposite of what they order so we can share flavors. We sit outside when we can so they can get up, walk around freely, and spill without stressing you out (because let’s face it, toddlers + sugar = movement and spills).
Talk about it question: How do you think ice cream is made?
4. Painting With the Composers
Most kids love to paint. Most moms are afraid to let kids paint. So I pack up paper and paints with snacks, we head outside, and I let them have at it. You can pick any classical song, but I pull up George Frideric Handel’s “Water Music” on YouTube and play the music while they paint with watercolors. I am always so impressed with how focused they become when I play music while they paint.
Talk about it question: How did the song help you decide what colors to pick or what to do with your paintbrush?
5. Buckets Full of Berries
I took my toddler to pick blueberries once. It was risky because he didn’t like blueberries at the time. I decided in advance that if we tried it and he just wanted to run through the rows instead, I would be OK with that. We went and he was hands down the best picker I have ever taken. He was focused on helping me fill up my bucket with berries. He even ate a handful without spitting them out.
Talk about it question: Did you know that each berry starts as a flower? What’s your favorite fruit?
6. Meet a Hero
Last weekend, I drove my toddler to the fire station. You don’t always have to call ahead and firefighters love visitors. They immediately put a jacket, hat, and pants on him. They showed him every single facet of the fire truck, let him turn on the lights, blow the horn, and play with ALL the flashlights. I loved watching him look up to the people who protect us.
Talk about it question: Did you know that firefighters have to practice saving people all the time so that when they need to save someone, they can do it as fast as possible?
7. Read Aloud Picnic
Having a picnic outside is so easy to pull together and never loses its charm. I usually get my toddler involved in helping me pack the lunch and make the sandwiches. We grab a blanket, sit outside, and eat together. I try to grab a short book so I can read to him for a little bit while he is sitting still. Afterward, I ask him to find a certain animal in the clouds. A picnic is one of those simple activities that are sure to make sweet memories.
Talk about it question: What do you think a cloud feels like?
8. Petting Zoo
Petting zoos are fun for getting up close to animals safely. I took one of my little guys to one where he was able to hold rabbits and catch and hold chicks. He had the best time exploring and touching them all. He didn’t want to leave.
Talk about it question: What sorts of animals would you get if you had a farm or a zoo?
9. Reading Zone
The library has been a favorite spot for all my kids (even up to the age of 8). There’s something special to them about getting to pick out a handful of books to bring home for Mommy to read to them. If there is a read-aloud time, I try to time our trip with that. A love of reading is such a gift to give a child. It opens their imagination to a world of possibilities!
Talk about it question: How many books do you think are in this library?
10. Camp Out Inside
Forget the blanket tents and surprise your toddler by setting up a real tent inside the house. I remember doing this with my daughter when she was 3. We pretended there was a campfire inside the tent and bears were walking around outside the tent. I brought in the lanterns, the sleeping bags, the whole deal. She LOVED it.
Talk about it question: What sort of noises do you think we would hear if we were camping outside at night?
What activity do you do with your children that brings in an element of learning as well as fun?