7 Activities to Tame Your Toddler Like a Boss

Secrets to keeping your toddler occupied and you sane

By Julie Hall August 30, 2022

As a parent, I'm always looking for ways to keep my kids occupied at least long enough to drink my coffee before it gets cold, take a shower, make dinner or just sit back and watch my daughter play. I mean, how cute are these kids when they're playing happily? SO CUTE! 

So I thought if I'm asking myself how to keep my own kids busy without breaking the bank or spending 20 minutes setting up an activity (usually found on Pinterest) only to watch it either be destroyed or abandoned after 5 minutes, then other parents must be wondering the same thing. Right?

I know being a parent is a hard job, and toddlers, aka Tiny Temper Tantrum Throwing Tyrants, don't make it any easier. As a mom of four and a former preschool teacher's assistant, I've picked up a few tricks along the way, and now I pass them onto you. These activities are super inexpensive or free (the best) and take less than five minutes to set up. 

Of course, not all of these will work for all children – because that would be way too easy – but I'm sure that at least a few of them will bring you some much-needed quiet time, and if you're lucky, a shower!

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1. Water

I kid you not. I've been setting up my daughter with bowls and pitchers since before her first birthday. This is simple, quick, cheap and as a bonus, it will help develop your little one’s fine motor skills.

All you need is this:

  • Several bowls, buckets, pitchers – anything that holds water
  • Towels, lots of them
  • Water
  • Random waterproof toys
  • Liquid watercolor (optional)

I’m all about getting the most for my buck, so I get most of my containers at the dollar store. Set up your little one in an area of the house that you don’t mind getting wet, fill up some containers with water and sit back and relax. 

You can show them how to pour back and forth or stir the water around, but chances are they’ll quickly take the wheel and do it all by themselves. For children who are past the mouthing stage, you can add some animal figurines, glass gems, bath toys, or anything else you have around.

Sometimes I like to add a little color to the water, if you want to do that, I highly suggest using liquid watercolors over food coloring. Food coloring will change the color of the water, but it will also change the color of your child.

2. Cleaning

Before you skip over this one or call me crazy, just hear me out. This is a great activity to use while you’re trying to tidy up. 

Most toddlers want to help out. It makes them feel special and grown up. When I’m doing things like vacuuming, sweeping, or dusting, I’ll encourage my daughter to grab her child-sized broom, her toy vacuum, or a cloth. She feels so excited to clean like a grown-up that she now wipes up her messes when she spills water! That was an unexpected bonus and I make no guarantees. However, when it comes to cleaning up her own toys, well that’s a whole different story.

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3. Rice

This one is a favorite for everyone at home, even me. There’s just something calming and satisfying about running your hands through a giant pile of rice. It’s a great sensory activity and it even keeps my older kids entertained. I usually rope them into playing with the younger one, you know, to give me a coffee break. 

It’s even better when you add some color to it! Choose themes based on your kids' interests.

4. Pots and pans

I know, I know. You're wondering why I would ever suggest such a noisy activity. Because kids LOVE noise, especially when they're the ones creating it. And since none of the other activities I've suggested really stimulate hearing, I thought I'd sneak one in here. So grab your least favorite cookware, some wooden utensils, and earplugs, and get ready for a great show! 

This is a great trick to keep your little one from wandering away from you when you're stuck making dinner. If you're not in the mood for clanging, you can use some plastic containers instead. Add some play food in there and you might end up with an extra dish at dinner!

5. TV or tablet

Let’s be real. We all do it. And that’s okay. Your toddler is sure to have a favorite movie or show that they’ll watch over and over again. I don’t really mind the replay when the current favorite is a good movie. This is also a good opportunity to steal some cuddles and maybe even a nap! One can only hope.

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6. Modeling clay or dough

Oh my gosh! I can’t believe I almost forgot this one. I keep some on hand at all times. You can buy or make your own dough then get a rolling pin, some cookie cutters, and anything else you can get your hands on. Let your tiny tot squish, poke, and roll. 

Oh, and resist the urge to try to keep the colors separated, it’s just not going to happen.

7. The Macaroni KID event calendar

And of course, if you’re looking to get out of the house with your tiny toddler, check out your Macaroni KID event calendar! Find a Macaroni KID near you now! Don't have one? Consider becoming a Macaroni KID publisher today!