Toddler Ideas…again.

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  • MamaSnow

    OK, I know this isn’t a new subject, and there are lots of ideas out there. Unfortunately, lots of the ideas I’m finding don’t fit our situation very well. I have a 19 month old who recently gave up her morning nap. So, we are working on training her to stay out of trouble while I am doing school with my kindergartener. (We’ve tried doing school during the afternoon nap, but that REALLY doesn’t work for us.) Said kindergartner needs my focused attention for just about everything still, so I am looking for non-messy, quiet things that a 19 month old can explore independently. What I’d like to do is make up a couple of boxes of things we can rotate through that only come out during school time.

    Some of my limitations:

    – We are getting ready to move overseas so we don’t have and don’t want to aquire a lot of toddler “stuff” that we have to move with us.

    – Alot of the ‘toddler ideas’ out there are not things a 19 month old can do on their own – things like crafts, puzzles, lacing cards, etc would all need my input (which is great for other times, but not what I’m looking for to put in these boxes)

    – I don’t have older children who can ‘entertain’ her. (I do have a 3yo, but they tend to clash, so sending him to play with her would be a recipe for disaster. And he’s already well-integrated into our school time anyhow.)

    So…help? Crayons and stickers are about all I’ve got at the moment, and those only give me so much mileage!!




    I find that my 2 year old generally likes to play stuff she has seen me do.

    What about something like kitchen measuring cups/spoons and a bowl to stir. Put a block or something in there to give her something to stir up?

    Playdough takes a lot of time for us. Granted being 19 months old you may not want to give it to her if you think she will eat it. My 2 year old is generally close enough that I would see her eat it if she tried and I have reviewed not eating it enough that she doesn’t even try. Personal decision. If you do go with playdough though a few things that extend the activity for us is cookie cutters, rolling pin and plastic knife or spoon. I almost never help with this activity although I am nearby.

    Do you already have other manipulatives you use your older child? For example, I have some little counting bears. My 2 year old loves it when I allow her to play with the bears. She just sets them up and “plays” with them. Blocks are the same way as are stacking cups.

    What about a box of nature stuff you find outside – pinecones, leaves, sticks things she can pick up and feel.

    A chalkboard with chalk. We just use a washcloth to erase. Again, use discretion based on your child.

    My 2 year old also enjoys playing with real things such as a makeup brush, mirror and hairbrush.

    A calculator is a fun toy for all of my children.

    Hope that helps get your creative juices flowing. 🙂


    Thanks Queenybell…those are brilliant. A good start towards filling some boxes for her anyhow, that we should easily be able to reconstruct when we go overseas without having to take a lot of extra “stuff” with us in our luggage. Anyone else have ideas along these lines, PLEASE chime in. I’d love to have more inspiration. =)




    My littles also always loved to have “toys” that looked like our things. I had a low cabinet in the kitchen that I kept filled with plastic dishes, cups, etc, that the younger children used and could reach, but that was fair game for taking in and out, pretending, etc. Small wooden spoons, tin measuring cups and spoons, little pans, were stored with my baking things but just right for little hands. Mine “cooked” many acorns with these. 🙂

    A sink full of soapy water and some of these treasures also kept certain children of mine busy for long periods – providing I didn’t mind changing their clothes and mopping up some water when they were finished. Even bins of canned goods can be lovely fun if they are taking out specially for little one to play with, stack and sort.

    Rice bins can be very messy depending on the child, but in terms of having less to pack and cart with you, it might work out. We had a rubbermaid bin I emptied a big bag of rice into, set on a tablecloth in the middle of the kitchen, and it became a sort of sandbox for trucks and cars, and a cooking station used spoons and measures. Any throwing of the rice, and it was put away. I believe when I tried it, we had two three-year-olds and they had too much fun giggling and making messes, so that became a toy for the back deck!

    Soon, perhaps, dot paints might work out. They are like a giant marker with a big dot tip, and they sell coloring books especially made for these. My youngest is 8 now, and our three youngest came home between two and three years old, so my memory may be foggy – forgive me if these ideas are too “old.”





    I think this is my first post on these boards, but this is a question I’ve dealt with and actually know something about, so here’s my 2 cents.

    Have you seen some of the Montessori type activities?  I haven’t done much yet, but here are some ideas I’ve read about:

    practice pouring rice or beans back and forth between two small pitchers

    transferring beans from one bowl to another with a small spoon (or with fingers if the spoon is too advanced). 

    I’m sure you could do a search and find more.  If you have a child who still mouths everything, they would have to be right beside you, but it would keep them busy.

    When I really need to get my little one out of my hair, I throw her in the tub.  I start with just a little warm water, but leave the faucet running as slowly as I can get it so the water stays warm.  That way she’ll play for an hour with cups to pour, boats to float, plastic animals to bathe, etc.  My girls’ bedroom is within sight of the tub, so school can happen in the bedroom while little sister plays in the water. 

    My DD (now 25 months) will also spend quite a bit of time washing the walls, cupboards, chairs, tables, windows, or anything else in reach with a damp wash cloth.  Since that’s where the fingerprints are anyway…

    Playdough is also great.  If she still eats it, make it out of peanut butter mixed with enough flour to make the right consistency.

    Otherwise she just wanders around the room we are in pushing ‘babies’ in strollers or wrapping them up and carrying them around.

    Now, my only other comment is to remind you to make sure you are not making too much of ‘school’ for a kindergartner!  They should be spending the vast majority of their time exploring, especially outdoors.  My 6 year old is only doing about 45 minutes of sit down school, and that is even broken up into 2 or 3 sessions per day.  Last year we did even less.  At this age there is too much to be learned to waste too much time in formal studies!



    I have a two year old son and he enjoys the following activities during school. 

    * Playdough

    * Rice with measuring cups, funnel, etc. Rice is so cheap. I actually have a tiny blow up swimming pool that he plays with it in. That way the clean up is confined to the pool. If he throws any rice out of the pool, it is picked up and put away and he no longer gets to play. After several times of taking away the “fun”, he follows the rules now. 

    * Cotton balls. ( I cut a round hole in the top of a large sherbert container and covered the shrap edges with tape so he wouldn’t get cut. I place the lid on and he stuffs the container full of cotton balls. When he is done, I take off the lid, dump it out and he starts all over again. He will play with this for at least 20 minutes which is pretty long for toddler.)
    * Stickers and a large piece of poster board. I buy stickers and posterboard from the dollar store and just let him stick them on. I only allow him to do this activity at our coffee table, so I can moniter where the stickers go.

    * Dry erase board and markers. Target sold some lap size dry erase boards with three markes and a small eraser that just fits in his hand. He will draw and play with this for a long time. He is only allowed to play with this at the table. I place a towel under the dry erase board so that if he goes of the edge of the board, he doesn’t write on the table. Surprisingly, dry erase markers are tough to get off of wood. 

    Those are just a few of the activities that I use for my little guy. Hope one or all of them will work for you.



    I place a table cloth under the rice containers, but I bought a bag of 15 bean soup because of the different sizes and colors in the package.  I put bowls, measuring cups and sppons for them to use.

    You could make a box of rice full of small items for the child to find inside.  (kind of like a needle in a haystack)

    You can get foam pieces very cheap, those are fun.  

    “Tea party” with a little set and a cookie sheet to contain the water.  My dds love this,

    I second (or third) the cupboard with available kid “toys” – tupperware-type and lids work well also.


    Thanks all. School (the formal sit-down part at least – we have other things like Bible and read-alouds we do throughout the day) only lasts for about an hour right now, but this particular child is very adept at finding trouble and climbing things so I definetely can’t just let her wander, even for a relatively short time. I think it will be helpful for her to have things that are “OK” to redirect her towards. Thanks all!




      Here are a couple of ideas I used. besides the ones above. If she is still small enough I would put mine in one side of the sink and bubble water on the otherside. I would let her clean the sink. 🙂 and any plastic dishes. She would clean her toys. (The plastic ones) It would last for hours. I also had chores for her to do. She would wash the windows, doorknobs, fridge, dishwasher,and lightswithches with a diaper wipe. Now she just about washes everything. When the kids were younger I would dress them in their snow pants, boots, and mittens and fill the tub with snow. It was hours of  fun. That way they were safe and I could do alot!  Dress-up clothes and shoes are another idea. You can get these really cheap the day after Halloween. I just get mine at the resale shop all year round. We have a wonderful collection. Legos are not just for little boys!  I know she is a little girl but cars seem to be a hit with my little girl. My little girl still loves playing with the dry erase markers and board. Those magnetic  letters on the fridge are fascinating. You could use your old magnets that come in the mail and cut  pictures out of a magazine. Attach them to the magnet with double sided tape. I sort of laminated the clothes with packing tape before I attached them to the magnet with double sided tape or carpet tape. She can dress the faces with different pants, skirts, shirts,ect…   Electric Bubble blower is another idea if it is nice out. She can even do that in the tub. This doesn’t last as long as the sink full of bubble water but it still is a different activity.  I also recommend a sand and water table. You can put snow in that also with a little bit of powder lemonade to give it color and taste. Just put a plastic mat underneath and hours of fun there. Someone mentioned rice in the table that is a good idea also. Teach her how to keep it in the table. If she gets some out let her sweep it up. She could use one of those dust busters. Yes, there maybe a little mess at first but she will learn some very good skills doing alot of these things and she will let you alone long enough to get things done. Oh, I almost forgot. You might let her on the computer. I know she is young but you can let her go to and she can listen to the stories. You would be surprised at how much a young child can learn especially with older siblings. My sons taught my daughter how to use the mouse at a very young age. I was very surprised how quickly she could figure it out. Another thing my daughter loves to do is my hair. She crawls up on a chair behind me while I read or do the computer. She gets out all the hair scrunchies and the hairbrush and makes me beautiful. I hope all this helps. Good luck and Good luck over seas. 


    My little guy loves using tongs to pick up pompom balls that he puts in a plastic jar. great for coordination as well.


    Hello! We live overseas and try to remain as minimalist as possible as well. Also on short trips we don’t take but a couple toys and books so that we can take time to explore new things where we go. This way there is enough rhythm to give a sense of home and connection, as well as excitement for what we might find each day.

    i have a almost 2 year old and 4 year old. I have experience with Montessori, the Israeli and Japanese preschool system which are both beautiful, and lots of fun at home.

    ideas for Early Years (most of these work in different ways ages of 1+)

    —we do smaller scale scooping with different spoons – and handful of rice, and a handful of 1-2 types of beans. Rice and beans are quite expensive where we live and this makes the activity manageable almost anywhere, even at a friend’s house.

    —we also do play dough, and this blog encouraged me to do water activities more. There are some great “sensory soup” blog posts out there. A little more messy and hands on for you though.

    —here in japan they go “fishing” with handmade fish magnets and magnet fishing pole. Melissa and Doug sells a ready made puzzle one.

    —music time 10-30 min. pots and pans as musical instruments, as well as store bought or home made shakers, egg shakers, tambourines, oatmeal cylinder drums. Egg shakers and homemade oatmeal cylinder drums are especially nice if you’re doing school at the same time as they’re not too loud. Older kids can also make the instruments for the younger ones as a inclusive project. If you use sand it will also be a gentle sound.

    —a scarf and ribbon box. You can also do local material scraps if you are somewhere like Africa, India or Japan. 10-20 minutes. Super fun. I have always dreamed of making a local scraps play book.

    —ribbons for dancing to classical music. Our kids also love Watoto Children’s Choir. Also you can get your second langauge practice in here.

    —shaving cream painting in the bathroom or shower. Just spray shaving cream! Super easy to clean up! They need to know not to get it in the eyes, but they can use long paint brushes to make squiggles and dots and circles. Great sensory activity. I’ve also seen it done outside on whiteboards, where the shaving cream is applied on medium sized whiteboards and kids paint their picture.

    —make bread or cookies! Usually from the time my child is about 18 months I have them scooping, pouring and stirring. My 2 year old loves the smells of vanilla and cinnamon, and the taste of a little salt and brown sugar. It’s even ok for her to taste the flour. Don’t worry too much about germs as it gets all cooked out in the oven 🙂




    Couple more thoughts: Ultra washable markers are a life saver!! And my 23 month girl has just started water coloring. We also do rain painting where you color with washable markers on harder paper, place it on a plastic tray or metal cookie sheet in the rain for 1-2 minutes.

    I am studying Japanese, and I admittedly get an extra hour and a half of a day by letting my kids watch a movie. Sometimes we curl up on the sofa together while I study and they watch. We have so enjoyed Disney’s Bears documentary for kids 🙂 as well as March of the Penguins, and my older one (4 years old – loves princesses) was also surprisingly interested in the documentary on Kate, the future Queen of England.

    All that to be said, just be inspired by what is around you, and know that in going abroad your kids will already have world class opportunities of hearing another language, and experiencing another culture. Just get in there and enjoy it!!

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