(Adapted from and inspired by Playskool Toddler’s Busy Play Book by Robin McClure.)
finger paint pudding
Prepare instant vanilla pudding and let set. Divide into separate small bowls and mix in food color. Kids can finger-paint on a cookie sheet or on a piece of paper. For a fall craft, they can use apple slices as stamps.
Spend some time observing squirrels with your toddler and teach her/him the song “Children of the Goddess” by Squirrel. Gather acorns or nuts and have child pretend to be a squirrel. Hide the nuts/acorns and let the child find them. Help the child create a squirrel burrow.
fun with pipe cleaners (chenille stems)
Help your toddler create pretend glasses from pipe cleaners. You can make ones that look like Harry Potter glasses. Make cheerio/fruit loop necklaces and bracelets by threading the cereal onto pipe cleaners and twisting the ends closed.
Create a large moon calendar out of scrap paperboard to chart the cycles of the moon.
On a warm day, let kids go outside in their bathing suits and paint themselves using this easy to wash off formula- just mix baby shampoo with powdered tempera paints.
Turn on some music and everybody dance. When you stop the music, everyone has to freeze like statues. Whoever is caught moving after the music stops is the next one to start and stop the music.
Make a time travel watch or machine (cardboard box or closet). Pretend to go back to different eras of history. This can really be fun played outside.
Create capes and superhero names for each family member and a secret family code name and handshake. Each family member should also get a super power.
Make some paper fish, also an old tire, a shoe, etc. Place them in a cardboard box. (You can paint blue waves on the outside of the box, if you want.) Tie a string to a stick and tie a clothespin to the end of the stick. Have your toddler cast the line into the box, and you (or another child) can clip the “catch” onto the line.
nature queen or king
Cut a strip of poster board or scrap paper board (curving up into a point in the front) to fit your child’s head and glue the ends together. Have child help in finding things to glue on it and arranging them. You might want to start with a fine layer of sand or even grass clippings, then add leaves, dried flowers, etc.
Create a handpringt plaque avery year on your child’s birthday. You can make these with clay or salt dough.
Plant sunflowers (or corn) in a circle to create a special play area or nature sanctuary.
teddy bear picnic
Have a teddy bear/stuffed animal picnic to create a special memory for your little one.
Find the best places locally to watch the sunrise and the sunset. Have sunrise and sunset picnics frequently, especially on the solstices and equinoxes.
Designate a time of the week/month to have a trash walk with your kids. Put on gloves, sharpen the end of a stick, bring along bags, and walk along your neighborhood or park clearing litter.
Mix 2 parts white glue and 1 part liquid starch in a bowl. Let it dry until the putty is workable. Adjust recipe until desired consistency is reached. Store in an airtight container.
quiet time goodie bag
Stock a drawstring bag with “quiet time” items and stash bag in a glove box, tote bag, or your purse. Reserve it’s use for times when you need your toddler/preschooler to sit quietly (like at a meeting, wedding, etc.). The contents should be changed out frequently- it’s better if they are a surprise. Here are some ideas:
tiny toys from gumball machines, crayons and a small pad of paper, sugar-free gummy candy, picture books/magazines/comics, homemade putty, magnets, pipe cleaners, and homemade play dough.
for night-time car trips
Stock up on inexpensive glow in the dark toys to get out for night car trips to help distract your toddler if s/he gets scared in the dark. Stash them somewhere in the car so you won’t forget them when you need them.