Entertaining the Easily Distracted… Our Top Toddler Activities

color sorting

Between the snow, the cold and the recurring bouts of congestion, this winter has seen far more days spent indoors than I generally enjoy.

Obviously, we’ve crafted with abandon but our crafting is a team effort that requires careful supervision, regular reminders not to eat the materials and lots of dialogue. Part of the reason I love crafting with Mateo is the conversations that ensue. The end results are generally adorable but the process is what makes my heart swell. It’s a bonding experience involving laughter, messes and the occasional naughty word mumbled under mama’s breath. Enjoyable? Yes. Independent play? No. Absolutely not.

Any mom will attest to the fact that there are many, many hours in a day and any opportunity to get their kids to play on their own for more than 5 minutes is a welcome one. My particular tiny human revolts at the idea of playing without mama. Sadly, I have a house to run and sanity to keep in tact. Therefore, I’m on a never ending quest to find activities that will keep him occupied and happy and playing on his own safely.

To achieve this, I will do almost anything and tolerate nearly any level of mess. An hour of independent play while I get stuff done or simply sit down with a cup of coffee is worth 20 minutes of cleanup for me. Hands down. So, without further ado. Here are our favorites.

Water Play 

trains water play

Water is some form of toddler crack. Adding water is the easiest way to take a morning from ho hum to “WHOA NELLY” in my kid’s eyes. He loves nothing more than getting his hands in there, reveling in the cool feeling of being wet and sifting water from one bucket to another over and over again. He also lives for trains. Therefore, our two favorite water activities are train oriented. In the above pictures, he used triangle blocks to send his trains into the pool before using a kitchen spoon to move them from one bucket to the next. Both activities were huge hits. (Please note: he did then GET IN THE BIG BUCKET) the minute I turned around. In the picture below, we made a car wash for his trains with bath soap and a paintbrush. He used the brush and soap to clean his trains and then dried them off with his big boy towel. An hour. This occupied him for an hour.

Pantry Fun

pantry fun

This is our go to favorite and is absolutely NOT for the mess adverse. It is by far the messiest of our activities. It is also his favorite thing in the world. In a nutshell, I lay a sheet down and fill bowls and his pots and pans with anything from my pantry that I have no immediate need for. Flour is favorite. But everything from oatmeal to spices and pasta works perfectly. I give him four or five ingredients and he will entertain himself for absurd amounts of time. The cleanup is extensive for this activity. But, for an hour of solo play, I’m fine with that. My mom, on the other hand, would have a heart attack.

Play Dough Counting and Sorting

play dough counting activity

Play dough is his jam. We play it multiple times a day. So, in an effort to combine something he loves with some numbers practice, we tried counting with play dough balls. I made a dozen or so little balls and asked him to put the appropriate number of balls on the appropriate rectangle. He enjoyed the activity and got the counting correct about half the time and them tried to eat one of the paper rectangles. This is less of a solo activity than the others since we are working on counting but, after a few practice runs, I let him play with the circles and place them where ever he wanted. Which he happily did for a half hour.

Sponge Painting

sponge painting

This is an experience rather than a craft. Adorable results were not achieved. Nothing was hung on our fridge but he has a blast and it couldn’t be simpler. I simply laid out three colors of paint and gave him a sponge brush. After a brief tutorial on how it worked, he got the hang and really enjoyed seeing how the sponge made cool effects on the paper. I finished an entire cup of coffee and did the dishes while he worked on this!

Shamrock Rice Krispies 


We bake A LOT. Not because I particularly love to bake. But because he adores the activity. It involves pouring and mixing and laughing and pots and pans. It just includes so many of the things he enjoys. And it kills a solid hour. We bake everything from pancakes to muffins. Pictured above, we made green Rice Krispy Treats in the shape of a shamrock for St. Pat’s day. Some tips for baking with a wee one.

  • Pour everything in advance to measure. I’ve taken to measuring out the ingredients and placing them in bowls prior to involving him in the process.
  • When cracking an egg, have your little one crack into a bowl and then pour into the mix to avoid egg shells in the batter. (A tip a friend was nice enough to pass along to me).
  • SUPER VISE THE HECK out of this. This is not independent play and it’s also one of the areas where Mama doesn’t play. If you cannot listen, you cannot help. The reason for this is fairly obvious. We are baking — which involves being in close proximity to the stove. Strangely, Mateo enjoys helping so much that he is remarkably well behaved when we bake together.

Here are our top activities. Lemme know what you and your littles are up to!

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