My post 45 Things To Do With A 6-Month-Old Baby turned out to be pretty popular (thank you, Pinterest!), and I figured it was time to revisit. Dylan is two and a half now, and the things we do look a bit different. I love toddler play, so this was a fun list to create. Add some of your own ideas in the comments!
Note: I use the gender-neutral pronoun “ou” throughout this piece when talking about your child, whose gender I don’t know. “Ou” rhymes with “you”. You can read more here about my decision to use it.
Create a collection of sensory tools that can be used to explore different materials. Some ideas: small cups (I like to save the lids from liquid laundry detergent), a serving spoon, a spatula, measuring spoons, measuring cups, a small plate. Sensory play can happen in lots of different locations, including spontaneously in the dirt and mud. Having a set of ready tools makes it easier to find great sensory moments.
Playing with your food - Toddlers are already playing with all their food, but some foods are more awesome than others for playing. Crackers can be stacked, lined up in a line, or broken in pieces. Any small thing, whether it’s grape pieces or goldfish crackers can be fun to count or place into and pour out of a small bowl. Then, of course, there’s things like mashed potatoes and pudding, which are the gooey winners of any play with your food contest. If you don’t want to encourage playing with food at the kitchen table, have an occassional food fight day where you take the meal outside, go crazy, and hose off afterwards.
Bath - Playing in the water is already a sensory activity, but it’s fun to dress it up with artistic extras. Our favorite is shaving cream paint, made from food coloring and shaving cream. Dylan has little paint brushes he uses to paint the walls and himself. You can also get bathtub markers. I can tell you NOT to use chalk. I thought chalk would easily clean off, but it left stains behind.
Mirror art - For more fun in the bathroom, hop your 2 year old up on the counter and make art on the mirror. You can use water or shaving cream. Draw faces, big circles, handprints, and draw your outline.
Water table - Expanding water play beyond the sink and the tub, a water table is a lot of fun. You can buy commercial versions, of course. Joshua built Dylan a wooden table that two plastic bins fit down into. You could also use an under-the-bed plastic storage bin. Your 2 year old isn’t picky, but he or she will love being able to play in the water.
Sandbox/table - Sand is another awesome substance for kids. I remember enjoying my sandbox as a kid, and I love the combo sand/water tables I see these days. Dylan has so many things to play with and in here at The Wallow that we probably won’t invest in a sandbox, too. We did enjoy some homemade moon sand recently for some sand play without the commitment.
Goops and doughs - Speaking of homemade, you can buy Play-Doh, of course, but you can also mix up your own. And after that, there’s an endless variety of homemade mixes that are fun to play with. My favorite is Oobleck, although it’s more appreciated by older kids. For toddler fun, try out rainbow slime, salt dough (the classic Christmas ornament material), finger paint, and Koolaid playdough.
Mud - And then there’s the original sensory goop – mud! Find a patch of ground in your yard or at the park. Add water. Enjoy! You can make mud pies right in your own pie tins. Sand play toys are fun in the mud – buckets, shovels, cups, etc. You can lay out plastic (like a tarp) for making mud sculptures, then leave them to dry in the sun.
Bubbles - Bubbles are super-easy and always a favorite. You can blow bubbles while your toddler chases and pops them. You can start helping him or her learn to blow. There are bubble juice holders that help keep from spilling. You can experiment with making your own bubble solution. You can play with creative bubble blowing toys. You can get a bubble blowing machine so you can both dance around together in the shower of bubbles.
Open-ended art/craft exploration - You’ll notice that there are no real “craft projects” on my list. Craft projects are cute, but they often involve way too much parental guidance for my tastes. What toddlers really love is freely explore their world without a lot of instruction and expectation. Art materials are a great opportunity for that. Pick a few supplies, set them out, and let your kid do whatever. Sit nearby and do your own exploration to provide an example to get things started. Help when help is requested. Otherwise, try to avoid setting up expectations – there are no wrong ways to use art materials. Some ideas for things to offer: different colors and textures of paper, crayons, makers, colored pencils, paint, brushes, sponge pieces, chalk, glue, yarn, magazine pictures or whole magazines, a hole punch, a ruler, scissors, felt pieces, feathers.
Painting - Have an easel, a wall outside to hang up paper, or other large surface safe for painting. Get big paper, large paintbrushes, and no-spill paint cups. Let child freely explore. Also show different ways to use brush – slow strokes, dabbing, flicking, etc. Also use different utensils – spoons, smaller brushes, finger, sponges, etc.
Treasure hunt - Take along a basket or box, or use a big piece of cardboard and a brush-on glue. Walk around your backyard, your neighborhood, or try your hunt at the park. Let your toddler take the lead on what kinds of cool stuff to collect. Leaves, rocks, and sticks are obvious choices. Don’t be afraid of some kinds of “trash”. Bottle caps, for instance, are kind of cool.
Paint with water - Get big buckets or pots for water, plus big brushes, sponges, or washclothes. Use your deck, fence, driveway, or even the walls of your house as a big painting surface. Make big dots and swirls, see if you can cover the whole surface, talk about the different stages of wetness as different parts dry out.
Garden - It’s never too early to start gardening with kids. “Gardening” with Dylan right now mostly means he digs in the dirt with a trowel, throwing the dirt out of my nice neat garden boxes. I let him because his enjoyment of the dirt and the plants is way more important than anything else in the garden. When spring comes I know I’m going to lose some seedlings to his play, but it’s all worth it. Come summer he can help me pull weeds and eventually we can share the delicious bounty of our efforts.
Go for walks - Go slow. And I mean really slow. If you don’t even make it out of your own driveway, that’s okay. Go with whatever catches your child’s attention. Talk about what you see, ask questions, make up games. Or just meander on in silence.
Make a slip-and-slide - Lay out some painters plastic, wet it down from a hose, and get to slippin’ and slidin’.
Play in a leaf pile - Rake them up, jump in them, throw them in the air, pull child in a wagon through them, fill the wagon with them, try to bury each other in them – get creative!
Start a collection - When you’re out walking or at the park, ask your child to bring you the smallest rock ou can find or the biggest or the prettiest. Start a rock collection with the best ones. Or start collecting leaves. Find interesting ones, press them in a phone book or other large book weighted down, and then display them in a photo album.
Play in puddles - Jump in, kick the water, look at your reflection, toss in rocks. Make sure to laugh!
Musical pots and pans - Take your pots and pans outside and shoot them with a water hose (you need a sprayer attachment). Listen to the sound different pans make when you shoot them.
Getting Dressed – Have a fun time getting clothes on your 2-year-old. Talk about body parts and give little tickles. Scrunch up the arms and legs of clothes and peek at your toddler through them. Make silly sounds. Dylan isn’t really interested in picking out his own clothes, yet, but if yours is that’s a great way to hand over some choices. Use this everyday activity as a chance to connect and have fun.
Meal times – As much as you can, start letting your 2-year-old help with meals. Go slow, offer choices when you can, and help your child be involved in the process. Dylan likes to “help” by taking things out of the refrigerator. All the things. (Hint: it’s not very helpful!) But he’s starting to be able to set his own place at the table and carry his dishes to the sink after the meal.
Create a bedtime ritual – Bedtime is the perfect place for lots of toddler favorites – taking a bath, reading, singing songs, tickling, having a snack, picking out stuffed animals, etc. Creating a predictable bedtime routine will make bedtime easier on your toddler (which means easier on you!) Put the tasks you need to do in the order that makes sense to you, and add some special extras like a favorite book saved just for bedtime or a special goodnight song.
Bath time – Some toddlers hate baths, but Dylan has loved them since day one. He has little cups, the foam letters that stick on the walls, and I make him up some shaving cream paint that he really enjoys. Sometimes I stay and play with him, sometimes I let him play by himself, but it’s always a fun time.
Chores – The more you can involve your 2-year-old in your household tasks, the more fun it is for both of you. Dylan holds the dustpan when I sweep the kitchen. He plays in the sink next to me while I load the dishwasher. He makes a game of dancing around in front of the vacuum cleaner. Yes, sometimes letting your toddler “help” means that the job takes longer… or doesn’t really get done at all. But your child is learning a lot by participating in what you do, and the time together is precious.
OUT IN THE WORLD
New ways to travel – Take a trip in a different way that you usually do (bus, train, ferry, subway, taxi, etc). Talk about where you’re going, the different kind of transportation, and things you see along the way. When you get back home, tell stories about your trip to each other or to other household members.
Visit a farm - Check out Local Harvest for options, ask around at a farmer’s market, or look for people selling produce, eggs, or livestock on Craigslist. The field trip doesn’t have to be fancy. Just walking around pointing at and naming animals and equipment is plenty to catch a toddler’s attention.
Run errands - As much as possible, make errands an adventure you take together rather than a chore you have to get through. Have special songs and stories just for the car if needed. Linger at your stops letting your child participate as much as possible. Dylan’s favorite errand is to the post office. I give him a key and he has a blast trying to open all the PO boxes. I give him things at the grocery store for him to toss into the cart. Look for little ways for your child to interact with the things you have to get done.
Play “What do you see?” - While you’re driving or whenever you have to wait in line or sit in a waiting room, say, “What do you see?” or “What do I see?” in a big exaggerated voice. Then say, “Hmmmm,” in a curious, thinking tone while you look all around for something to point out. Act surprised, point, and say, “Look! I see a _______!” Encourage your child to point things out, to name things, or to spot certain things. This game turns into “I Spy” as your child gets older.
MUSIC and MOVEMENT
Sing – You can sing specific songs that you both like, but also try on the idea of singing as a casual, regular activity. Make up words, make up tunes. Sing “I love you, I love you” when you’re comforting your toddler. Make up songs to talk about what you’re doing, like “Now we go down the stairs, and here we go to the kitchen, do be do wah, it’s breakfast time!” Your songs don’t have to rhyme and they don’t have to have a snazzy tune. Just setting things to a beat and adding the lilt of your voice makes things interesting.
Dance – Dancing doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be kid songs all the time, either. Turn on your favorite station and boogie. I’ve picked up several new dance steps from Dylan, including his favorite stomp-stomp-stomp-fall-on-the-floor move.
Action songs – Songs with actions are particularly fun for toddlers. Itsy Bitsy Spider is a favorite of ours, plus The Wheels on the Bus and If You’re Happy and You Know It. Go googling around for songs you can learn together, and YouTube videos can be a fun resource for videos of kids singing and acting out the songs that you can play along with as you learn.
Invent new songs – Take a song you already know and make up new words together. Don’t be afraid to repeat lines or make up words. I use Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush as the tune for… everything! Pick a tune you like and have fun playing with it.
Play with a metronome - If you want to buy a metronome, they are very cool to play with, but you can also use an online metronome. Do different tempos. Name them. Clap along and dance. Play with different types of movements depending on how you feel about the tempo.
Make musical instruments – It’s great if you own some kid-sized instruments, but you can also make music with all sorts of household things. You can toot through paper towel or toilet paper tubes and you can bang on pots and pans. You can make a rubber band guitar. Play music while your child dances and vice versa.
Play with action words – Pick some fun action words and act them out together – stretch, leap, slide, run, crawl, fall, spin, jump, slither, slink, skip, turn, tumble. Do them together. Combine them into a simple routine, do them backwards or upside down. Use music or a metronome if you like. Play with rhyming words like fall/be small/be tall/act like a wall or swing/fling/cling.
Play the freeze & melt movement game – Freeze into different shapes and poses like up on one foot, standing like a tree, or zombie shape. Then melt in funny ways – slow, fast, jerky, etc.
Simon Says – Say “Simon says touch your toes,” “Simon says spin in a circle”, and so forth. Let your child say Simon Says for you, too. Try combining actions like, “Simon says stick out your tongue and shake your head”. Keep it light, silly, and full of motion. There’s no need to introduce the “gotcha” aspect of traditional Simon Says with little kids.
Move like animals – Run like a cat, slither like a snake, lumber around like an elephant, and so on. Add in the animals sounds.
Balancing body game – Try to balance on different body parts together – stand on one leg, the other leg, be on one knee, one foot and one hand, etc.
Wiggle dancing – Put on some fun music, and play with wiggling different body parts to music. Wiggle your hands, arms, legs, butt, head. Try wiggling one arm and one leg. Try wiggling all body parts but one.
Balloons – Blow up balloons and dance around with them, hit them around in the air, try to toss them in the air, and drop them from places. Talk about their different colors.
Imitate sounds – Imitate sounds that you are familiar with. Ring like the telephone, whoosh like the dishwasher, tweet like birds, and vroom like cars. When you’re out and about, keep an ear out for fun sounds you can play with later – such as a car honking, the squeaky shopping cart, or a crying baby. Let sound be another way you help your toddler interpret the world.
Fabric Dancing – Find some long, thin fabrics to play with such as wide ribbon or scarves. Play classical or other soothing, intricate music and dance with the fabrics. Swish around the room together, swinging your arms to circle the fabric through the air. Try it with quick movements or moving super-slow.
Different Voices – Pick a song you like a lot (my favorite for this is Itsy Bitsy Spider) and sing it to your toddler repeatedly in lots of different voices. Try a high-pitched squeaky voice, a deep low voice, a scooping drawl, sing it fast, sing it slow, etc.
Read – Most 2-year-olds will listen to as many books as you will read them. Pick ones that you like, too, so you don’t mind revisiting them over and over. Have fun with it! Make silly voices, read in different pitches and tempos. Act out the stories, if you like. Be patient when your toddler wants to talk about things on the page, skip pages, go back, etc. Reading is fun and exploratory; it’s not necessary to read the “right” way. Dylan’s favorite books right now are Red Wagon and My Little Train.
Make a family photo album – Include photos of your toddler as a baby and from the present, pictures of immediate family, extended family, and family members’ baby pictures. Talk about family and family words when you look at the book
Talk – Your toddler is busy soaking up all the words that you say, so go ahead and provide as many as you can. Whatever you’re doing, just narrate along, describing the things you’re doing, and your toddler will drink it up. As your child’s language picks up, you can also start engaging in real conversations. Even if I can’t quite understand what Dylan is saying, I try to go along with it, saying something like, “Oh really? Tell me more!” to encourage him and be receptive to his language, even if I don’t understand it all.
Expand the conversation - One way to build on the conversation with your child is to take something your toddler said and build on it with additional language. For example, your child might say, “I help!” when ou wants to put on ou own shoes. You can say, “Yes, you’re a big help! You really like to do things yourself. Look at you putting on your shoes! Here’s your right shoe and your left shoe.” Some people find it awkward to try to converse with their small children this way, but you get more comfortable with it as you practice.
Tell real stories – One of our favorite activities is talking about what we did today at the end of the day. This builds memory and storytelling skills while helping your child process the language needed to describe ou experiences. You can also tell stories about things you’ve done in the past. This is also the right age to start talking about things that will happen in the near future, like the very next day.
Tell pretend stories – Of course, make believe stories are fun, too. You can build off of your child’s favorite books, retell stories you remember from your own childhood, or just make up fanciful tales as you go along. The plots don’t have to be complicated. A story of just a few sentences long can be fun for your child.
Preposition game – Use string or yarn to tape a path around the house, making it go under, over, around, through, and behind furniture and other objects. Show your child how you can walk along the path, and encourage ou to do it, too. Call out the names of the places you’re traveling – under the table, over the chair, up the stairs, down the stairs, through the door, and so on.
Animals – Pretend to be different animals. Make animals sounds, move like animals. Make up stories about the animals.
Post office/mail box – Get the mail together. Mail your child a letter. Play pretend mail. Open your mail carefully so you can save the envelopes and use junk mail for play mail. Make your child ou own mailbox for ou room. Make one for your bedroom, too, for your child to leave you mail or other treasures.
Dress up – Keep a bin of old shirts, bags, belts, scarves, big jewelry, etc. Props are nice, too, like a camera, umbrella, briefcase, etc. Make up different characters, personalities, voices, and scenarios to go with different outfits. Try acting out parts of books or songs.
Doctor or dentist – Play doctor or dentist with a doll or stuffed animal. Put on bandages, wrap up a broken arm or leg, examine the “wound”. Talk about what’s happening and treat the doll very carefully. Try to draw on your child’s own experiences of being sick or visiting the doctor. Talk about getting lots of rest, taking medicine, getting a sticker at the end of the visit, and so on.
Make a cape – A cape can be made very simply out of a towel or part of an old sheet, and it becomes a wonderfully versatile pretend play prop. Make a cape for yourself and get in on the action! Go outside and run, and you can pretend to be a bird, a bat, a butterfly, a superhero, a dragon.
Charades – Reenact things that are part of your normal routine like eating, drinking, brushing teeth, getting dressed, getting in the car, etc. Don’t use props, just pretend to do them with big exaggerated motions. Try them slow, fast, silent, noisy.
Grocery store - Start a pretend grocery store or kitchen pantry from food containers from your own kitchen. You can use any item that came in a box or washable plastic container. When your child is young, this game can be as simple as locating the right item on a shelf and putting it in a shopping bag and talking about the different foods. As your child grows, it can grow to include things like play money.
Lie down close your eyes - Get comfortable together somewhere, on the bed or couch or outside in the grass. Talk about your breathing. Talk about what you can hear. Talk about what you did earlier in the day. Talk really slowly. Feel free to drift off.
Look in a mirror together - Talk about each other. Talk about your features. Try moving each of your facial body parts. Make silly faces. Dylan and I like to use the reverse camera on my phone. We can see each other’s faces on the screen and make silly expressions, and I snap some pictures.
Make mood faces - Sit across from each other, or use a big mirror. Make happy, sad, angry, afraid, and surprised faces. Take turns. Talk about feelings.
Hold hands - When you walk places together, ask your child if ou wants to hold hands. When you hold hands, it helps remind you to move as slowly as your child is, and it keeps you together and connected. As your child gets older and you carry ou less, holding hands is a great way to keep in touch.