Finding easy ways to play with your toddler can sometimes be a challenge. If you are like me, most days, I’m exhausted or distracted or, being an older mom, just not into getting down on the floor and playing.
But doing exactly that is what our kids crave from us.
Our kids want our attention and they love to play with us.
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As a child of the ’70s, I do not recall my parents ever playing with me. I remember tons of time spent alone in my room playing with toys or running the neighborhood with my older brother until dark. These are not things that bothered my parents’ generation.
This is probably why most days I also am clueless at what to do with my little guy.
He also has so much energy. Most of the time I’m chasing after him, cleaning up his path of destruction, not sitting down and actually playing.
Sure, I have a teenager so this isn’t my first rodeo (I love that saying). But I still struggle with finding easy ideas to keep my toddler entertained.
After many frustrating months of trying to find a way to connect and keep some sanity in our house, I finally managed to put together a list of easy ways to play with my toddler that don’t take much effort or planning.
Because low-effort is the best effort after working 10 hour days most days of the week.
Bubbles are cheap and easy. Who doesn’t like cheap and easy. And when it is below freezing outside, you can make cool frozen bubbles.
Chalk is also cheap and easy and really easy to clean off the sidewalk (hello rain!).
Hide and Seek
Toddlers love to play hide and seek. It helps them with counting skills and gives you a few minutes to check Facebook.
Any ride on toy is great for toddlers if you have decent weather. I have been known to let mine ride the scooter in the house, too. Or in the garage.
Walk the dog
The dog needs to be walked, the toddler has energy. Knock two tasks out at once!
Go to the park
We have some gorgeous parks near our house that are within walking distance. Heading to the park gets me a quick workout in and lets Evan run out some of his crazy energy. It’s also a great place to meet up with friends and socialize.
Go for a drive
Some days, I just can’t deal with the toddler life. But I can strap him into his carseat and go for a drive. This is also an opportunity to introduce them to your ’90s grunge playlist.
Get ice cream
Whether to buy some cheap popsicles from Wal-Mart, or hit up your local ice cream shop for some loaded sundaes, kids are always game for ice cream.
I taught my teen to bake when she was 18 months old. Not in a sweatshop kind of way, but she can turn out a wicked double-chocolate chocolate chip cookie from scratch like gangbusters. Her little brother loves to bake now. Bonus points because of measuring and math.
Build a fort
My older brother and I had some awesome fort-building skills. If you have a couch with cushions and a blanket, you have an instant spaceship, car, airplane, pirate hideout, just waiting in your living room.
Let your toddler play with some unbreakable dishwater and make you “dinner”. Extra points if you have a tiny apron to spare.
Paint with watercolors
I say watercolors because they are easy to clean up and aren’t bold enough to strongly saturate many surfaces. Turn on some Bob Ross and let your little one go crazy with some happy trees.
This can get messy, sure. But if you can find a way to contain the mess, kids freaking love finger painting. Just make sure you use water soluble paints and keep away from surfaces you don’t want painted.
Go to the library
Many libraries have toddler hours and story time. Just check your local library’s website to see what they have on their calendar. Otherwise, just show up and let your kiddo find their favorite books to check out and bring home.
Paper plate crafts
Grab some cheap paper plates and some crayons and let them make “art”. If it’s good enough for pre-school, it’s good enough for home.
Give your little one a verbal list of things to “find” and have them bring the items to you to put in a toy box. A creative way to clean the cluttered mess in your living room.
What kid doesn’t love Simon Says? My little guy loves this game and will want me to play for hours on end. Usually, I can only take so much and it transitions quickly into the next item on my list.
Did you know that when she isn’t spying on everything your family says, Alexa will play freeze dance with your kids?
For some reason, our family has enough dress up clothes to outfit a small community theater. Evan loves putting on old costumes and running like a mad man through the house.
Kids love nature. Kids love art. Why not let them gather some leaves and glue them to paper? Easy peasy.
If your toddler is anything like mine, they are the fastest person in the world. Let them show you how fast they are with some fun races in the back yard or anywhere you have the space.
Build an obstacle course
Usually our couch fort automatically turns into an obstacle course at some point. This is an easy one to distract them for a while so you can start dinner.
Go for a hike
Here in Northern Virginia, there are tons of places to get outdoors with your kids. Evan loves hiking and it is great exercise. I just try to avoid the haunted Civil War battlefields.
Play in a box
This is another one of those great Gen X childhood memories – boxes could be anything. One time when I was about 5, we moved into a new house and my brother and I made the most epic tunnel/fort out of about 40 boxes. Good times, good times. If you shop at Amazon as much as we do, it shouldn’t be hard to find 40 boxes lying around.
Tape race track
If you have hard surface floors, throw down some brightly colored painters tape and make race tracks for their Matchbox cars. Your 45 minutes of meticulous effort will be met with at least 7 minutes of play. Haha!
Really we all want to find simple ways to entertain and connect with our kids. Hopefully this list should give you some solid ideas for at least a week or two.