Toddler activities can range from the simple to the utterly frustrating. Particularly when you’re trying to engage, educate, and avoid screen time, it can become difficult to stay creative.
Don’t worry, though. Here are some toddler activities to engage and educate your little one, while having fun and bonding, too!
Pro Tip: Hosting an Au Pair is a wonderful way to ensure your children are having less screen time and more free play while you’re away. Toddlers are often enthralled immediately by these eager, energetic young people who share a thirst for knowledge with your little ones. Host Families love to see their children engaging in songs and games from another culture (though Au Pairs want to learn American songs and games too).
1. Toddlers love to read a book and act out the story with toys.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget to include free play in your list of toddler activities. This is a great form of free play, and it allows you to engage and explain the story.
Stuffed animals are perfect for acting out kids’ favorite books, or you can use dolls, action figures, or if you have them, puppets. If you don’t have puppets, you could use old (but not too holey) socks to create silly characters that go along with the kids’ favorite stories and books.
Books can act as a jumping-off point for so many creative, imaginative activities to develop toddler language and thinking skills.
Pro Tip: Look for books about your Au Pair’s native country or books that are partially bilingual, like Adelita, A Mexican Cinderella Story, among others.
2. Playing hide-and-seek is a great way to engage with toddlers.
Not only is hide-and-seek a fun toddler activity, but it teaches counting and reasoning. This game also provides an opportunity to talk about safety. Teach kids never hide inside anything with a cover, under anything with wheels like a car, or inside anything like a cooler.
If it’s just you and the little one in your care, hide a stuffed animal, then count and go find it together. For advanced toddlers, teach them how to count up to 100 or count by tens. Hide-and-seek is another endless opportunity for language learning. Model for your toddler while you help him or her seek, saying, “Is it under here, on top of this, between these?”
3. One of the best toddler activities is building with blocks!
Boys and girls love to build! Plain old wooden blocks are perfect, though there are plenty of other options. Try to count out a certain number of blocks (10 or 20)and build towers or see who can build the tallest tower without tipping.
Use age-appropriate Legos, connecting, stacking blocks or building magnets as your toddler’s skills develop. If you have colored blocks, make a pattern and help your toddler continue or copy the pattern, then make up a new one! This is a perfect way to teach (and learn) counting.
Pro Tip: Au Pairs love to help kids learn to count in a new language and kids love to “teach” Au Pairs how to count in English.
4. Free play has to be one of the activities toddlers love most.
Let child(ren) direct what, where and how to play and you follow along. Think of this as “improv” for playtime! If your toddler leads play into the kitchen, play along and pretend to order food from the kitchen or pretend to be the chef by taste-testing the food and identifying ingredients. If your toddler leads play into the bedroom, pretend to be sleeping or to just waking up. This kind of free play is essential for toddlers’ growing independence, imagination, and development.
5. Role play is an activity that gives your little one the chance to follow their imagination.
Pretend to be the little kid and let your toddler pretend to be the grown-up. Kids will naturally emulate their own parents or caregivers, and the fun starts when mom, dad or sitter becomes the toddler! Think of all the fun your toddler will have to pretend to be a teacher, a police officer, or a doctor. The possibilities are endless, as is the imagination and learning potential. Role-playing can help toddlers understand the point of view of others, which is invaluable in learning empathy and kindness.
6. Cleaning together gives you a chance to bond with your toddler!
Crazy as it sounds, kids love to clean! They haven’t learned it’s a lifelong chore! You don’t need to buy child-size equipment either; give toddlers a clean dustpan and brush and they become little cleaning machines!
Need the coffee table dusted? Toddlers love to wipe with a damp cloth, just be sure to use plain water or a small amount of dish soap instead of furniture polish. Adults might need a quick do-over to get the edges or if using cleaners.
How much did you love your little bouncy-ball vacuum cleaner when you were little? If you do want to get “real” with your toddler’s chores, kids’ toy vacuum cleaners have come a long way! Department stores have affordable options too.
Pro Tip: Get your Au Pair involved in helping you instill good cleaning habits!
7. If you want an activity that’s FUN, try baking together with your little one!
Little ones really can do many steps in any cooking and baking process (just stay away from sharp objects and hot surfaces). Kids can hold measuring cups and spoons, stir, pour, scoop and roll. Try some simple recipes together for the whole family. Here is another priceless learning opportunity for toddlers, or kids of any age! Being in the kitchen together helps kids and caregivers bond while talking about healthy food choices, trying new foods and flavors, even counting (1 and ¼ cups of flour can become counting to five ¼ cups) and reading (numbers, sight words, following directions).
8. Toddlers love to draw, color, or use sidewalk chalk. Try this activity indoors or outdoors!
Not an artist? That’s the point. Toddlers are just learning to hold crayons or pencils correctly, so look for “chunky” ones just right for little hands. They don’t care if you can only draw stick figures. Toddlers can learn colors, shapes, numbers, and letters, in English and Spanish, or French or Afrikaans! Let your little one draw his or her favorite animal and tell you a story about the picture.
9. Messy play (play dough, slime, painting, mud pies) is entertaining for both you & your child.
Slime is all the rage these days. Make-it-yourself kits are not recommended for toddlers because of the potentially harsh ingredients.
I recommend getting the small tubs available at department or dollar-item stores. They come in their own container with a cover, have just the right consistency (which is not always achieved when you DIY), and are very reasonably priced. Cornstarch and water also create a slimy consistency which can be poured on a flat surface, spread and it even holds the form of letters drawn with little fingers.
Play dough is also very affordable and provides classic fun without too much mess. Cookie cutters can be used and toddlers can help wash them with sudsy water when they are done.
Finger paint is fun and messy, so cover the floor or do it outside on a nice day. Not all toddlers like to get messy and mud is the messiest! It is super, slimy fun, though, so encourage this type of sensory play, often used with children on the Autism spectrum.
10. Put the “active” in “activity.” Teach your toddler a sport, or learn one together!
Toddlers are naturally on the move. Why not channel that energy into toddler activities like learning a sport? Au Pairs can teach a brand new game or learn about your toddler’s favorite sport. The youngest toddlers might start out rolling a ball back and forth with their Au Pair, while older toddlers can learn to play toss, kick a soccer ball, or throw a basketball into a toddler-sized hoop.
Don’t bother too much with the rules of every game. Focus more on being active, having fun and taking turns, which is the goal of participating in a sport.
For toddlers, work is play. Through playful toddler activities, they learn about themselves and the world.
Au Pairs can expand the horizons of toddlers (and entire families!) with engaging toddler activities and exposure to foreign languages and cultures.
Simple toys for toddlers’ young brains are better than new-fangled devices in the same way that playing with a child is more educational than watching a television show. Active play means brain development, plain and simple.
Engaging caregivers like Au Pairs provide invaluable time and attention not available in most daycare or preschool settings. The live-in arrangement of the Au Pair Program also offers scheduling options for families with rotating or flexible work schedules. Whatever your childcare arrangement, have fun engaging your toddler with these activities!