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Play ideas to keep toddlers busy

What should you do when your toddler or preschooler is bored that doesn’t cost a lot of time, money, set-up or clean-up? There are many exciting things you can do!

  1. Get a basic car track that you put together in a line. Then use pillows to make hills and valleys. See how far the cars will go!
  2. Let the kids try playing with their ride-on toys in the basement (if you have one).
  3. Make an indoor sandbox with a baby-sized swimming pool or tote bin. Use rice, puffed wheat, or lentils as the sand.
  4. Use a small stool as a play table in the bathtub and give them cups and bowls to practice pouring and catching water.
  5. Get a small trampoline to jump on (carefully, with supervision). Or, designate certain sofa cushions for jumping on and fort building.
  6. Give them blankets, pillows, and old sheets for fort building.
  7. Have a treasure hunt in the house. Hide small toys or print-outs and search around for them together.
  8. Have an easy-to-reach craft box of odds and ends: ribbons, cards, paper, markers, scissors, glue or glue sticks, glitter, paint, rulers, cardboard pieces, etc., so the kids can help themselves and create a craft that is unstructured and entirely of their own imagination.
  9. In the bathtub with no water, put your child in the tub dressed only with old underwear, and add bowls of colored pudding. Allow finger painting on the walls, tub and themselves. Much easier clean-up than finger-painting. Just hose down the walls and the child with a little soap and the showerhead afterwards.
  10. For children past the tasting stage, put small amounts of shaving cream in a muffin tin and tint with food coloring. Allow finger painting on the tub walls.
  11. Assemble a box of dress-up clothes and items for props. Check out finds from the dollar store and thrift shop for castoffs.
  12. Blow bubbles on the kitchen floor. Use the excess soap to clean the floor after.
  13. Spread the sheets out on the floor and have a picnic in the house.
  14. Make homemade playdough and let the kids press in different shapes and items such as rings, straws, etc.

World’s best playdough recipe

This recipe is courtesy of Parents and Children Together

  • 2 cups white flour   
  • 2 tbsp. oil
  • 2 cups water 
  • 4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • ½ cup salt   
  • 4 tsp. food coloring (optional) 

Mix salt, flour and cream of tartar in a heavy medium pot. Add water, oil and food coloring. Cook and stir over medium heat. When the mixture forms a ball in the pot, turn it out and knead on a lightly floured surface. Store the playdough in an air-tight container, preferably in the fridge. Serve with cookie cutters, rolling pins, necklaces and rings (for imprinting), cupcake trays, garlic press, etc.

Judy is a professional international award-winning parenting speaker, trainer, mom of five children, and author of the best-selling Discipline Without Distress: 135 Tools for Raising Caring, Responsible Children Without Time-out, Spanking, Punishment or Bribery. She specializes in 'Parenting the Digital Generation.' For more information, visit

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