Updated: Oct 21, 2021
When your little one is a baby, you can carry them with you to do everything that you do. But once they get mobile, it is a whole different ball game! My oldest didn't walk until she was 13 months, but my younger one started when she was barely 9 months. I hadn't even baby proofed anything yet! My boyfriend was out of town, and I had to put up baby gates, and put all my breakables up onto high shelves.
It is around this age, when your little one first starts getting mobile, that it becomes important to find things to keep them entertained, and out of trouble.
This may seem like a daunting task at first, when your little one makes the change from crawling around slowly and shaking a rattle, to being mobile and taking everything off the shelves. The good news is, since little kids are just seeing the world for the first time, they can be kept entertained for hours with simple things.
Little kids can be kept busy with cardboard boxes for hours. Have you ever noticed that, sometimes when you give them a present, sometimes they will play with the box before they play with the gift?
These days, most of us have tons of boxes around the house already, from things that we order online. My daughter loves to play and hide in boxes. When she was really little, we would pull her around in the box and call it "River's train ride." Now that she is 4, she likes to make houses out of them. She will put some blankets and pillows in there and pretend she is going to sleep. Or she will pretend that it is a castle, or her new house.
Kids love smaller boxes too. My daughter will hide treasures in there, or put her "secret stash" of candy inside. Small boxes can also double as houses for dolls, a base for a craft, or a stage to perform a puppet play.
The real trick is trying to get rid of any boxes once kids have discovered that they can play with them! (I recommend doing it when you do a weekly cleaning and have them "help" or when your kiddo is out of the house to avoid tears.)
Building with blocks is a simple activity, that can provide hours worth of fun. As you can see with my daughter, she has played with blocks since before she could walk, and still enjoys it at age 4.
In addition to fostering creativity for your kids, building with blocks also helps kids learn fine motor skills. They can learn to stack them more precisely, and in bigger stacks, the older they get.
You may also find that it is fun to be the builder yourself, and that your child will enjoy knocking down your tower. My daughter did that a lot before she got good at building her own tower. A game like that can also help them prepare mentally for later on when a beautiful creation of theirs comes crashing down. Seeing the blocks fall in fun beforehand helps them to understand that even if the blocks fall down, you can build them back up again.
There are many types of blocks out there, from the simple wooden squares that my daughter started with, to complicated sets of tiny lego's as they get older. They can play with blocks that have letters, blocks with shapes and colors that fit into special holes, duplo's, or magnetic blocks.
The blocks with different shapes and colors can teach your child the different types of shapes and practice their colors. As they get older, they can learn to short by shape and color too! These are all important toddler skills that can easily be built into a fun game!
One of the favorites in our house is magnetic blocks. We got a small set as a gift for my daughter's first birthday, and they are great because the magnets make them easier to stack. We have found those to be more of a favorite so far than either legos or duplos, because of all the variety of things that you can build out of them. Typically, that is one of the toys that is out in the living room at all times. My daughter loves to build tall towers, castles, and houses for her toys out of them.
There are other skills kids learn with blocks too, like spatial awareness, size, counting, and the importance of building a big structure on something stable.
Kids love to blow bubbles, sometimes they love running around and popping them even more! It takes a while for them to understand how hard they have to blow to actually make a bubble, so it can help to get a bubble maker (like the one in the picture - only $7 at the supermarket) or a long bubble wand that they can wave around until they can grasp the blowing thing. I think my little one figured it out about age 3.
There are tons of different bubble devices you can buy, even at the dollar store. Or, if you like to make things at home, you can make bubbles yourself by mixing dish soap and water. Then, you can make a bubble wand out of a metal coat hanger. Depending on the shape, you can make some really big bubbles that way.
In addition to being fun for kids, I have found blowing bubbles to be relaxing for myself. I think it's because it encourages you to breathe deeply, which has been shown to lower stress and anxiety.
The other fun thing about bubbles, is that the toddler friendly bubble wands usually come in packs of 5 or 10, so that the whole family can play with them at once. In our house, there was one day that my little girl had her dad and her godfather taking turns blowing bubbles with her for over an hour! (If you know anything about the typical toddler attention span, they usually burn out on an activity in about 15 minutes or less, so an hour can feel like forever!)
Playing with Puzzles
Puzzles can also keep kids busy for hours, although sometimes you will wish they didn't if someone happens to buy your child a puzzle with sounds.
You can start out easy, with puzzles that have only 5 or 6 pieces, that go into clearly defined spaces. My daughter has a farm puzzle, where each animal and the farmer go into their own little place.
As they get older, they can move on to gradually more complicated puzzles with more pieces. This Frozen 2 puzzle that River got from her Nana even has plastic stickers that you can use to decorate the puzzle when you are finished putting it together.
Puzzles are also great because they help kids to learn problem solving, shape recognition, and spatial awareness. A lot of people will start with the edge pieces first, since those are easy to recognize. On character puzzles my daughter will start with the faces, since they are easier for her to figure out.
When she is getting stuck on how the pieces go together, I will prompt her to look for similar colors. Like in the picture, the colors of Elsa or Anna's dress. Other times, I tell her to turn a piece around because it can fit in all different ways. I usually try not to actually do the puzzle for her, because that helps with her confidence and her problem solving ability.
Playing Dress Up
Whether they are dressing up like princesses, zombies, or the bandits from Fantastic Mr. Fox, kids love costumes. We are lucky that my older daughter and I have done cosplay at conventions for years, so we have a ton of them lying around.
If you don't have actual costumes though, even just ski hats or your old clothes will work! One day a couple of weeks ago, my daughter got into my dresser and tried on every t-shirt in my drawer.
Depending on how brave you are, you can also let your little one play with your make-up. River will usually sit still for her big sister to do her makeup, but there are times she decides to do it herself, and gets lipstick all over her face, her body, and the walls.
In cases like those, it is good to have some makeup remover near by. (Make-up remover cloths are the easiest.) Also, you can get makeup off of walls if you use windex and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. (And no, this isn't a sponsored post.....but it could be! Give me a call Mr. Clean!)
Let Them Style Your Hair, or Play Beauty Salon
Haven't you always wanted a hairstyle like mine in this picture? All you have to do is let your toddler play with your hair, and you will have beautiful, Insta-worthy pictures like this in no time!
I'm not sure what the draw is for kids, but ever since I cut mine short, the girls want to play with it. Bonus if you have hair wax. Then, they can re-style your hair a bunch of times in a row. Typically for us, it doesn't really start off as a structured activity either. I can be sitting on the couch or at the kitchen table, and one of the girls will just come over and start playing with my hair. Then, inevitably, I end up with weird little pony-tails on the top of my head.
Other times, River will ask me to sit down at her beauty shop, and pretend that she is coloring my hair. She has lately taken to playing that we are at the spa too, complete with back rubs and hot towels for on your face. I think she might have snagged the idea from an episode of My Little Ponies.
Have a Tea Party!
When we were kids, we had tea parties with our dolls and a little tea set, then we got older and had tea parties with our little friends. This is something I tried with my daughter this year, and she loves it!
Tea is pretty easy to make, but if you set out some fancy cups, and snacks on special plates, it makes a fun activity for little ones at lunch or snack time.
My only recommendation with little ones is that if you make hot tea for them, that you give them a cup full of ice too, so that they can cool it down to a drinkable temperature. For even smaller kids, you can actually make tea using the bottle in the bottle warmer (not too hot that way!).
With the tea party, the preparation is half the fun. Sometimes, we will bake cookies or muffins specially for our tea party. Other times, we will dress up like princesses in fancy dresses with tiaras.
If you kids aren't into tea, you can also have birthday parties for their dolls, or have a picnic in the back yard. Kids love making food, and feeling like they are eating something special.
Ride a Tricycle
Riding a tricycle is great for kids, because it does two of my favorite things with kids: getting them outdoors, and getting active.
Kids can start with a bike that just has wheels and lets them push with their feet about age 1, and they can learn to pedal a tricycle at 2 or 3. Learning to pedal is great for coordination too, and they learn spatial awareness by practicing going backward, forward, and around obstacles.
Trying to pedal correctly does take some time to learn, and you may need to push them around at first, or circle their feet with your hands to help them get a feel for the motion.
Once they get proficient, you can also have them ride their tricycle to the park or to a friend's house. This can help them feel self-sufficient, like they can go places on their own.
Kids also love to build elements of pretend play into riding their tricycle too as they get older. My daughter will pretend that she is going to the store, on a trip, or moving to a new house. They can also pretend that they are delivering the mail, the newspaper, or that they are a police officer chasing a bad guy. The possibilities are endless!
Play a Board Game
There are many different board games that kids can start to play around 2 years old. In this one, she puts the colored pegs in the little holes to complete the picture.
Some favorites for little ones are Candy Land, Memory and Chutes and Ladders, but there are many other games out there. Typically, I will look at the age recommendation before buying something, to make sure they aren't too hard. Some games can be found in your supermarket, or you can get them at thrift shops too!
Playing board games can help kids learn to follow rules, wait their turns, as well as simple number sense. Many beginner games will have spinners, dice and cards with colored squares that have them move their player forward. Once they learn to count, they can also play games with numbered dice.
When they get a bit older, they can learn to play more family games like Clue, Life or Uno.
In addition to the skills they gain from playing games, kids also learn prosocial behaviors, like how to lose gracefully. If they are really competitive in nature, they also may ask to keep playing again until they do win. Depending on how many players there are, letting each kid win once may keep you playing a game for quite a while.
These are some activities that I have found that my kids enjoy over the years. I have also found that once you introduce a new activity that kids enjoy, they will ask to do it again if they really like it. We like activities that combine fun, learning, and family together time.
What kids love most is getting to spend time with the people that they love, so devoting some time to a special activity with them always goes a long way to making them happier, and I have found, more well behaved too.
Little kids are just learning about the world, so even a simple activity can excite them. They are like little scientists, discovering how the world works. It is always fun for me to see how much they get into their activities, and the directions that their creativity will take them!
If you like this post, let me know in the comments! Also, let me know other fun activities that you like to do with your little ones, so we can share with other mommas!
Here are some other posts I have done on Kids activities if you are looking for more!
Feel free to share this article on your socials if these tips resonated with you!