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Note from Lisa: If you’re trying to get work done with a toddler in the house, you know how hard it will be. That’s why I’m thrilled to share this guest post from Lauren Barrett with you. Keep reading to discover 10 fun toddler activities that’ll buy you 20 minutes of time to get stuff done.
Take it away Lauren…
I just need 20-30 minutes to work on something important, I think as I stare lovingly into the eyes of my 2-year old son.
His sweet little face is hard to say no to sometimes, but how am I going to get anything done if he keeps climbing all over me and I succumb to his every wish to play with him? I muse even more.
If this is your situation, first know that it is okay to set aside time to work on what you need to do whether you are working remotely, a work at home mom, or a stay at home mom who needs to do work too.
As moms, we sometimes wallow in the guilt that we need to be our children’s personal entertainers from the moment they wake up to the moment they sleep. I know I have.
But Dr. Harvey Karp in his book “The Happiest Toddler on the Block,” states that when children, even toddlers, play on their own, it is a good thing. It fosters creativity, imagination, and patience. After reading the book, I have adopted a strategy called time-ins.
Once you have taught your child how to do time-ins and established a routine, I have 10 activities that are proven ways to keep your toddler busy for that 20-30 minutes you need to do your work. And then after that, you can return to your toddler refreshed and with the feeling of accomplishment knowing that your child and you were both working on what you need to in order to thrive as an individual.
1. Gel Clings
You can find gel clings for only $1 at Target and usually they correspond with the season or holiday. Buy a couple packs at a time, open them up for your toddler, and then place them by a window or even a baking sheet.
Toddlers can easily spend 20-30 minutes putting them on and peeling them off. On a recent flight, my son played with them, and only them, for almost all four plane rides. He loved putting them on and taking them off.
Plus, the Halloween themed gel clings were a hit because we had been talking about Halloween and seeing Halloween decorations out and about. Granted they were only $1, so we had to throw them out when we got home because they had fallen apart and were dirty, but still well worth it.
And when you are able to join your toddler again, you can do storyboards with them, practice the ABCs or numbers, and teach about holidays, animals, transportation, etc.
2. Color Sort
I recently saw on Days With Grey’s Instagram page an activity she does for one of her popular Breakfast Invitations (no need to be only at breakfast) and decided to give it a whirl with my toddler. First, gather your red, green, yellow, and blue dominant colored toys (blocks, cars, shapes, balls, etc) and place them in a large bin.
Secondly, take four large pieces of white paper and draw large colored squares, one for each color, on the four pieces of paper. Next, show your toddler that a red toy would go on the red square or a blue car would go on the blue square. After modeling what to do, allow your toddler to sort the objects to match the colors while you go do your work.
When the 20 minutes is up, check to see how he or she did. This activity works best independently for 3-5 year olds.
3. Duct Tape Racing Track
For this activity you will need hardwood floors, different colors of masking tape or duct tape, and toy cars. Using the tape, build a racetrack zig-zagging throughout your home. Feel free to get as creative as you like. Adding bridges, ramps, and other roadway features is optional.
Again, make sure to show your toddler what to do first with the cars. Then, sit back and work as he spends the next 30 minutes racing his cars along the speedy racetrack.
4. Play Dough Animals
I decided to be adventurous and make my own playdough following a Pinterest recipe, but store bought playdough works just as well for this next activity. You will also need animal cookie cutters. I got a whole bin full on Amazon. Also, you can buy playdough utensils like a knife and roller to make it more fun.
Once you have all the different color playdough laid out on a baking sheet, your toddler can spend the next remaining 20-30 minutes making different animal shapes. For added creativity, you can get animal habitat scenes, so your little one can place the animals in the rainforest, ocean, desert, or grasslands.
5. Food Coloring Ice Bucket
This fun toddler activity is a little messy, parents, so I apologize in advance. However, to ensure this goes off without a hitch and as little mess as possible, prep your space ahead of time with towels, waterproof blankets, or tarps.
Get a few tubs or bins from the Dollar Store and fill each with ice or only water if you are worried about ice being a choking hazard. I then squirt a few drops of food coloring into the tubs and place cooking items such as spoons and plastic measuring cups.
My son has fun stirring the ice or pouring the water from one bin to the other and seeing the colors mix. It’s a guaranteed 20 minutes before he gets bored.
6. Sequencing Puzzles
My son has a train sequencing puzzles that probably stretches out as long as he is. He really enjoys putting it together and then sliding it around like an actual train.
A quick Google search shows me that there are a variety of these kinds of puzzles out there. Putting these together and then playing with them is entertainment for 20 minutes at least.
7. Card Drop
This next activity requires some upfront work on the parent’s part, but it’s well worth the 10 minutes of set up for 20-30 minutes of future independent play time for your toddler.
Find an old container that you don’t need anymore. Tupperware, an empty oatmeal can, or a cereal box can work for this activity. Cut a slit in the lid, making sure it is wide enough for one card from a deck of cards to fit through it.
Once that is done, give your child a deck of cards and show him how to fit the card through the slit. When all the cards are done, model how to open the lid and take out the cards to do it again. Then, sit back and get some work done while your toddler practices his fine motor skills with this fun activity.
I was trying to avoid activities that involve screen time (We will save that for when we run out of activity ideas), but storytime is such a hit in our household.
Log on to your local library’s, or any library for that matter, site and pull up toddler storytime. Then, get to work as your toddler enjoys talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing with their favorite librarian.
If your library doesn’t have any online storytimes, feel free to go to Wake County Public Library and borrow some of ours.
9. Ball Pit
For this next activity, we are going to recreate the ball pit at Chuckie Cheese from our childhood. But this time, it will be without all those germs.
Get a big cardboard box, storage container, or a laundry basket, and fill it up with colorful balls. Your toddler will have a blast jumping around inside.
For added enjoyment, get an ice scooper and have your toddler shuffle the balls from one bin to another. And if she is capable, she can even sort the balls by color to different bins.
10. Letter Match
This next activity can be done in a number of ways, but the point of the activity is to get your toddler matching letters on his own.
One way to do it is to write on a long sheet of paper the alphabet on the top and bottom. Your child will then draw an arrow from letter to letter to match them. If you have an older toddler, you can do an upper and lowercase match.
Another way to implement this activity is to write each letter on its own individual object (piece of paper or foam, extra jumbo popsicle sticks, wooden spoons, cutout shapes, etc). Then, your toddler will take those foam bathroom letters or the refrigerator magnet letters and attempt to place them on the correct match.
Even if your toddler doesn’t get them all correct, she will have fun sorting the letters.
Give the Fun Toddler Activities a Try
I hope these activities have helped you gain those 20-30 minutes of time you needed to work. Try a variety of these activities and take note which ones gave you the most time of independent play.
Then, you can rest in the knowledge that your toddler is learning a valuable skill while you are checking off your to-do list.
Keep Reading About Working from Home with Toddlers…
Lauren Barrett was born in New Jersey, grew up in West Virginia, went to college in Pennsylvania, and now lives and works in North Carolina. She is a high school teacher of the Deaf and hard-of-hearing by day, a cross country coach by the afternoon, a writer by her son's nap times, and a full time mom to an amazing toddler. She loves her faith, running, visiting MLB stadiums with her husband, chocolate, scrapbooking, pretending she would actually do well on the Amazing Race, re-watching The Office, listening to Bobby Bones, and helping out all moms. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, James, and son, Henry.