Keeping Toddlers Busy


If you've ever spent time with toddlers, you know they like to keep busy! They're constantly exploring everything in sight with their attention shifting from one thing to the next. The key to keeping them occupied is to provide them with interesting things to tinker with and to break up the day with different types of activities.

Here are eight activities to help fill up the day spent with your favorite toddler.

Blocks and Building Toys

toddler playing with blocks
toddler playing with blocks

Toddlers in all age groups love to build things and to knock them down! From wooden blocks to Legos to Tinker Toys to magnetic blocks, there are plenty of choices here. Tegu has a set of wooden magnetic building blocks for one-year-olds and up that are more versatile than traditional blocks. For children ages three to six, Blockaroo even offers a set of magnetic foam building blocks that are waterproof and double as bath toys! For four and ups, Lakeshore Fort Builder allows kids to build forts that won't collapse under blankets, says Janelle Randazza at USA Today. Marble runs, like Couomoxa's, are another variation of building toys suitable for older toddlers. The choices really are limitless!

The rule of thumb for choosing blocks is that "the smaller the block, the older the child should be before they play with them," according to Maya Polton at Verywell Family. Kids should be able to stack and sort blocks between the ages of one and two years old. Younger toddlers may find smaller pieces like Legos difficult to use, while older toddlers will probably get tired of jumbo blocks and will want more complex building tools. It's also important to check for small pieces that may be choking hazards for younger toddlers.

Building with blocks can be an opportunity for either independent or collaborative unstructured play. You can watch and comment on your toddler's progress in building their own little city or join in and build something together. After a big storm or rambunctious dragon knocks down their castle, your toddler may ask you to help rebuild. Blocks with letters and numbers on them may inspire singing the alphabet song or counting from one to ten.


Image by Aaron Amat via Dreamstime.

toddler drawing
toddler drawing

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Linda Rodgers at What to Expect writes that "most toddlers are ready to start coloring and scribbling between 12 and 15 months." At first you can expect "random arcs, blobs and unintentional scrawling." By 18-24 months, your toddler's strokes will begin to represent something to them, and by age 3 they will draw more recognizable shapes like circles.

You can start with introducing chunky crayons to younger toddlers. Make sure art supplies are non-toxic, as toddlers will most likely chew on them. What to Expect recommends staying away from pencils and pens because they are sharp and supervising your child.

As with blocks, there are so many options to choose from these days. Your little one can take chalk to a chalkboard or the sidewalk; paint with non-toxic, water-based paints or finger paints; or draw with crayons or water-based, washable markers. The Artful Parent recommends Tempera paint sticks, which come in vibrant washable colors, glide smoothly with little pressure, and work on paper and cardboard. You can give your toddler a blank piece of paper, or they might enjoy trying to color in the characters in coloring books. Just don't expect them to color in the lines! Liquid chalk markers can be a great chalk medium for toddlers to try out on chalkboards or even on your windows! Just make sure they're easily washable and that you supervise your child. Bathtub play chalk or bath crayons are also available, turning your tub into an artist's studio!

Window art is a whole subject unto itself. There are many window art craft kits available on Amazon that allow your youngster to make suncatchers, decals, and window clings. Happy Hooligans describes a great simple window art activity using non-adhesive foam shapes, water, and some paintbrushes. Toddlers just wet the foam shapes with a paintbrush dipped in water and stick them to the window, creating any scene they choose. You can also buy foam letters and numbers to work on early literacy and math. Foam sticks well to tile and can also be used at bath time. It's also incredibly easy to clean!

Art can be an independent or joint effort. Toddlers will inevitably be proud of a creation they make on their own and will love to show it to you or gift it to family members! Drawing together opens up space for some conversation, and your toddler may tell you about what they are drawing or begin to ask you some of those hard-to-answer life questions that have been on their mind.

Physical Activity

toddler at the park
toddler at the park

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Jennifer Kelly Geddes at What to Expect says to aim for at least 30 minutes every day of planned physical fun: kicking a ball, riding a kiddie trike or climbing on the jungle gym. If you don't have a yard, the local park is a great place for toddlers to explore, run around, and interact with other kids. Getting outdoors is also a great way to break up the day and to avoid cabin fever at home. Simple games like tag or Red Light, Green Light are a lot of fun for little ones and will definitely get them moving!

When you have no choice but to stay indoors, there are physical activities you can do inside too. Kristina at Toddler Approved goes on a daily hunt with her toddler, like a Flashlight Hunt: searching for an item in a semi-dark room with a flashlight. She gives ideas for creating other types of hunts with learning elements like a Color Wheel Hunt for color matching. If you're more ambitious, you can create an indoor obstacle course for your little one. Kristen McCarthy at Love to Know recommends simple tasks for toddlers like crawling under chairs lined up in a row, hopping over a line of stuffed animals, or pushing a toy car along a line of tape on the floor. Indoor play gyms and obstacle course components are also available for purchase.

Printable Activities

When your little one has already played with every toy in the house and you can't think of anything for them to do, printable activities will definitely keep them busy, at least for a little while. You can get printable activity sheets for free or buy them online. My Bored Toddler offers both free and buyable printables such as dab-a-dot sheets, scavenger hunt activities, coloring sheets, card templates, counting clip cards and bingo games.

Busy books or quiet books are filled with activities to keep toddlers occupied. Some are made of fabric and contain zippers, buttons and other interesting things to pull, touch or tie. Others are laminated paper activity sheets that are bound together. They often include matching, sorting, or counting activities and come with cutouts that you can velcro onto the book. These books are great for keeping your toddler busy while traveling or holding their attention while you sit for a moment or two. There are many available for purchase on Amazon and Etsy.

Sensory Bins

toddler playing with sensory bin
toddler playing with sensory bin

Image by Natalia Kostikova via Dreamstime.

A sensory bin is a container filled with materials, objects and toys that stimulate the senses. You usually start with a base material like rice, sand or water. Then you add objects or tools that your child can manipulate the material with. Whether you use measuring spoons, funnels, cups, figurines, or toy trucks, you can bring the fun of a sandbox indoors with a sensory bin!

Susie at Busy Toddler notes that a major benefit of sensory bins is that they can hold a toddler's attention for longer periods of time than other toys, giving parents some breathing space. There is a learning curve with sensory bins, including setting up and enforcing ground rules with little ones so they stay safe and don't dump the entire bin on the floor. Younger toddlers will most likely try to taste the base material, so they require edible materials, like cereal, and adult supervision. But, if you're willing to put some time in at first and don't mind a little mess, sensory bins can provide your toddler with an opportunity for unstructured independent play that will keep them busy for long stretches of time.

Board Games

mom and toddlers playing board game
mom and toddlers playing board game

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Rachel Ritlop at The Confused Millennial states that toddlers begin to enjoy board games that are also fun for adults around 3 or 4 years old, but you can introduce them to developmentally appropriate games as early as 2 years old. She recommends games that take less than 10 minutes to complete for 2 year olds. She also likes starting with cooperative board games to teach toddlers the basics of taking turns and winning and losing as a team. It's normal for kids to not like losing, but they can learn to lose gracefully by watching how you handle it. You can then introduce competitive games once you feel your child is ready to lose independently.

A good game to start off with is Think Fun's Roll and Play Game for 2 years and up. It comes with a big, plush cube and a set of cards. You roll the cube, pick a card that corresponds to the color it lands on, and do whatever the card tells you to do. Directions include "Wave your arms," "Sing a song," and "Find something red." Toddlers will love the action-based play and will learn the basics of taking turns, following instructions, and color matching.

First Orchard by Haba is a cooperative game for kids 2 years old and up. Working as a team, players roll the colored die and pick matching-colored fruit to put in the basket, but every time they land on the raven, it advances toward the orchard. The goal is to collect all of the fruit before the raven reaches the orchard. The included wooden fruit can double as food for a play kitchen.

Classic competitive games like Hasbro's Candyland (3 years and up) and Hungry Hungry Hippos (4 years and up) will work for older toddlers. If you like card games, Hoyle makes a 6 in 1 Fun Pack for kids ages 3 and up. It includes Go Fish, Slap Jack, Matching, Memory, Crazy Eights, and Old Maid. Think Fun's Zingo for 4 years and up is a bingo-style game that helps build language and matching skills. Pressman has a Charades for Kids game for four and ups that will work for the entire family. There's much more to choose from!

Screen Time

toddler using tablet
toddler using tablet

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Although not the first choice for engaging your little one's attention, screen time does provide a break for parents from the flurry of activity that is the norm for toddlers and gives kids some exposure to technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no screen-based media for babies under 18 months old except for video chatting with loved ones. For children 18 months to 24 months old, parents should choose high-quality programming and watch with their children. For children 2 to 5 years old, screen time should be limited to one hour per day.

Christin Perry at The Bump writes that owning a toddler-friendly tablet especially for your little one comes with some benefits: educational apps that come with the tablet, features that protect from age-inappropriate content, video chatting capabilities that can be used to connect with family and friends, and keeping your own devices safe from a toddler's rough-and-tumble play. Her choice for best tablet is the Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids. It comes with a 10" screen, a kid-proof case in fun colors, and front and back cameras for video chatting. Plus you get a year of free access to apps, games, books, videos and other content from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney and others.

Among Verywell Family's Best Apps for Toddlers of 2023 are ABCmouse and PBS Kids. ABCmouse was named Most Comprehensive App because it can supplement preschool education and help toddlers learn important skills from home, like math and reading. It is a subscription service and can be customized for your child's age and skill set. PBS Kids was named Best Free App. Full of loved children's characters like the Sesame Street cast, it has videos, games and other content for kids aged two to eight.

Reading Books

mom reading to toddler
mom reading to toddler

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At Na Children's Books, reading is our favorite activity for toddlers. It's never too early to introduce simple books with great illustrations, and there are so many benefits to reading to your little one. Healthline states that reading to your child is a great bonding activity. It increases listening skills and cognitive and language development. It's a great way to learn vocabulary and stretch attention span. It feeds creativity and provides life lessons. It also plays a part in social and emotional development. The list goes on!

Nemours KidsHealth recommends reading to toddlers often, once a day if possible, to develop early literacy skills. Choosing regular times to read, like before naps and bedtime, helps kids to get into a good reading routine. It's also OK if your toddler won't sit still for a book. Some little ones like to stand up while you read to them, and others like to look at a page or two before moving on to something else. The important thing is to have a positive experience with books.

Na Children's Books are designed for busy toddlers who like to move. Our books are full of action photography that your child can imitate while they learn simple verbs and how to use them in sentences. What Kitties Do features cats and kittens jumping, hiding, stretching and more and invites toddlers to join in. What Kiddies Do is a rhyming board book all about the things kids love to do, which your toddler will relate to right away and can imitate while being read to. To check out our books, go to or Amazon.