When we arrived home on March 11, 2012, I stressed out about how to keep our little Henry entertained. I searched the Net and my registered forums, and then I asked the ladies on Rumor Queen where I received plenty of great suggestions and ideas, so I’ve consolidated and condensed everyone’s responses and listed them below in two categories: "Home Activities" and "Outside-the-house Activities." I have also included several of my own but please feel free to leave a response if you have additional ideas, and I will update my list periodically. While I’ve been working on this task, I realized how many more activities we haven’t yet tried!!
There are so many things to do, events to attend and local attractions to visit; just Google “things to do for toddlers” (or something similar) and include your city! Some sites also offer creative home activities with your child but you really have to search around and use the correct keywords.
Good luck and have fun! (Will try to add more photos later.)
Home Activities for Young Toddlers:
A. Let’s get messy
- Play with sand box / play-do / shaving cream finger-painting / sidewalk chalk or paint. You could use cheap vinyl shower curtains to protect any surface you want to keep clean!
- Make some Jello and have child squish it; great sensory activity (need to try this).
- Blow some bubbles: easy, cheap, and wonderful for development as they are learning to track the bubbles with their eyes and then develop coordination to catch them. The bubble guns are the best especially for outdoor use or carpeted rooms.
- Fill some large buckets with water and add plastic cups, containers, toys, etc. Also add food color or bubbles for variety. In indoor weather, use a big bowl of warm water in the kitchen sink (have old towels on standby!).
B. Let’s make lots of noise
- Beat the bottom of pots and pans with some spatulas or wooden spoons.
- Make vroom-vroom and bibbing noises while child
rides on riding toys.
(Henry loves his train car and little motorcycle, but killed my back when he needed assistance riding a couple of laps around the room!)
- Sing children's songs that have hand movements.
(We usually listen to and sing songs during breakfast and during bath time.)
- Fill plastic container with clothes pegs, large dry pasta, baby spoons, small toys, etc., to dump out and put back into the container; then, put lid on, shake container, lid off, pour contents out, put them back in, etc.
C. Let’s expel some energy
- Put on some music, hold your baby, and dance
(With my son in my arms, we turn, spin and dip across the living room floor, which he absolutely loves.)
- Climb over and roll around in pillows and
sofa cushions as an “obstacle course” on the floor; add step stools, kids' chairs, and small benches when your child is ready; have your child complete one piece of an easy/small puzzle every time s/he gets to the end of the obstacle course.
(I sometimes ask Henry to find a toy hidden under a pillow at the far end just before nap time; other times I’ll throw in a thick quilt, which he loves to dive into.)
- Throw or kick a soft soccer ball and chase the ball around the room.
- Climb or “creep” (on his belly) up the stairs, and
creep back down, if willing.
(Now Henry is getting heavier, I have him creep up two flights of stairs if we need to go up a floor or if it’s nap time.)
- Blow a balloon or two and have him hold, hit and
chase the balloon.
(On Mother’s Day, I asked my husband to take Henry to the grocery store to buy a Mother’s Day helium balloon for Henry, and then I tied the balloon to a chair. While I carried him in my arms, I had him punch or hit the balloon while we counted; this game became so popular that I had to move it down so he could hit it himself!)
- Bounce on the master bed with your toddler.
(Henry LOVES this game! We either bounce together or I hold him from the floor while he bounces; he usually likes to end the bouncing with diving into our pillows.)
- Play Hide and Seek in the living room.
(When Henry starts whining and feels extra needy, I pretend to run away and hide behind the sofa or dining table or coffee table or kitchen island, and I ask, “Where’s mama?” His face will light up and he’ll crawl at high speed to find me. When he gets close, I make a silly run to my next hiding place and we repeat this no more than three times or he gets bored!)
- Scribble and draw on a large drawing pad (with multiple pages) with crayons or easy-to-hold markers; draw around their little hands or make hand/foot prints with paint; color in free coloring pages printed off the Internet or scribble over unwanted magazines.
- One mom suggested cutting a window and a door of
a large box and play peek-a-boo.
(When Henry is a little older, I’d like to utilize the large shipping boxes I receive from online shopping, and turn them upside down and draw/paint/glue stuff on them!)
- Another mom suggested tearing and scrunching different types of paper (wrapping paper, cellophane, catalogs, etc.) and putting the pieces in an empty tissue box and then pulling them all out again.
- Paint with washable kids’ paint in the bathtub
just before bath time.
(I have the paint, the bath tub and the kid – I’m still waiting for the right time :).)
- "Build a car" using a large cardboard box.
(When the car below was finished, it was in bright red color, and included spinning wheels made of paper plates, steering wheel, fake buttons, and even an Apple brand sticker on the back!)
E. Let’s play / learn / ride / help mommy!
- Clean-up bucket game: Henry has a plastic bucket, which contains “small things” that I tip out across the living room and dining room floor. To strengthen his legs with squats, I have him “clean up” by picking up each object and putting them into the bucket while holding my hand; we count or identify objects and he loves carrying the bucket himself.
- Fill and throw/drop items or small toys into a bucket or large bowls from a high position such as kneeling and crouching over the arm of the sofa (or from the stairs through the spindles).
- Throw/drop items into the bath tub: to strengthen my son’s legs, I have him hold onto our large bathtub with one hand and pick up small toys/items from plastic bowls on floor level with the other hand, and then drop them into the bathtub (I love it when he stands on tiptoes!).
- Identify pictures of family, animals, vehicles, objects, etc. on high chair tray (if you have one of those clear tray covers over the main tray). Henry sometimes gets bored during feeding times so I decided to print images of mom/dad/baby/pet and have him identify everyone on his tray. When he was ready to move on, I replaced the images with a few animals (because he knew how to make some animal sounds); then I’ll move on with new pictures.
- Let’s look out the window for daddy: when my husband worked close to home and rode his scooter to work, he would text me before he left work so I’d know when to get Henry ready. A couple of minutes before he came home, we’d look out of the window and wait for daddy; while waiting, we’d watch the cars/trucks/motorcycles drive by and I would say, “That’s a blue car…there goes a red truck…look at that green motorbike” or “Wow, that white car is going way too fast!” or “Is that daddy? No, that’s not daddy!”
- Tour the body with a small toy car: Henry loves this game because it tickles him! Roll a toy car across your child’s head and body and tell him where the car is going so he learns preposition words and body parts such as "over the head, near the mouth, behind the ear, across the shoulder, under the arm, down the back, up the leg" etc.
- Read and look through fun and interactive books.
- Play with peg boards and big shape puzzles where the pieces have the knobs on them.
- Sit and ride on riding toys and pick up “friends” (stuffed animals) and drop them off around the room.
- Office chair ride: if you have wooden floors, hold your child on the chair with wheels and roll around the room slowly and describe what you see inside the room and outside the windows.
- Empty the dishwasher with mama: as soon as he hears me empty the dishwasher, I can hear Henry coming at high speed on his hands and knees! After I take out the knives first, he will pass me the fork or spoon in the utensils rack and anything light on the bottom rack. Sometimes he just wants to touch and look at all the small components of the dishwasher and even tries to climb on top of the door!
- Help mama with laundry: when Henry’s not playing with his magnets on the washer and dryer, he’ll pass me each item from the laundry basket. I may say, “Thank you for passing me Henry’s shorts” or “Could you please give me dada’s underpants?”
- One mom suggested putting your child in a sling and taking care of some chores (unfortunately, my son is too heavy for my petite frame!).
Outside-the-house Activities for Young Toddlers
|Henry and daddy at a soccer game|
- Children's museum.
Since becoming members at the Children’s Museum of Houston, we visited the museum once a week but I got bored so we now go biweekly. This one closes on Mondays, and it appears that Fridays are very busy…although during the summer, it seems to be busy every time we go! Great covered parking lot across from the museum but you can also park on the street. Oh, and if you don’t want to wear their hospital booties, bring a pair of socks!
- Local bookstores.
Our local Barnes and Noble has a weekly Story Time event. The first time we went, there were about 8 other kids and the “teacher” played music and had the kids sing and dance with her, and then read a book. After that, we made Mother’s Day cards and the bookstore provided paper, crayons, glue, and scissors. The second time we went, it was crazy busy because I think kids were off school! There was a different teacher and she seemed a bit overwhelmed and not very enthusiastic. Henry wasn’t feeling it so we played on the train table with a couple of other kids.
- Library programs and events.
My local library offers several toddler-friendly events such as Baby Time, Toddler Storytime (to 3 years), Baby Yoga, and even Bedtime Storytime in the evening! I didn’t make it to Baby Yoga last week but we’re going to give it a try!
- Play areas in malls.
I take Henry to two local malls close to our house. The one at the “posh mall” (Galleria, second floor) is quite large and includes climbing blocks depicting the buildings of a mall. It also offers several rubbery cars/SUVs for climbing as well as wall activities for younger kids. I have to keep a close eye on Henry when the bigger kids jump and hop across the blocks (no shoes allowed but it’s not monitored). The other play area is the Children's PlayCastle (Memorial City mall), which is very cool, colorful, and guarded by a security employee. You must remove your shoes and your child’s shoes before entering; I wear socks but I let Henry go barefoot to get a better grip on the "soft play area." This place gets pretty busy so I have to constantly move Henry around to the quieter areas.
- Mall events.
One mom mentioned a monthly morning club in her area, which offers free children’s events such as puppet shows, crafts, magic shows, Cat in the Hat, etc. I need to find out if we have something similar!
Our local Houston Zoo is wonderful. During our first visit with Henry, he seemed to just want to watch the people standing next to him. At our second visit, he was actually interested in the animals but was hesitant about the Wildlife Carousel ride! I haven’t made it to the Children's Zoo section where you’ll find the petting zoo, play area, and the Butterfly Pavilion to watch a show because I admit, I couldn’t find it :O (I’ll report back next time we go). We’ve just become members but again, the summer weather prevents us from visiting on a regular basis. Although Henry will now wear his baseball cap, it’s still pretty toasty out there. We do try to go on a cloudy day.
- Kids’ playgrounds.
We have a few decent playgrounds nearby and we used to head out mid-morning to play on the swings and climbing frames. Now in the summer, we’ll wait until it cools down again (Henry loves the swing!).
- Public parks.
We have some great parks in Houston. In the Fall, I’m going to take Henry on a park trail (Memorial Park’s 3-Mile Loop), where I think he’ll enjoy people-and-dog watching. I may need a beefier stroller and a kid’s seat for my bike as we found a lovely bicycle trail. Discovery Green Park offers weekly events on “Toddler Tuesdays” but due to the weather, we haven’t attended any of the events. At Hermann Park, Henry seemed to enjoy the Train Ride and interactive fountains there. Of course, there’s the Miller Outdoor Theater, which offers free performances and shows for both adults and children.
- Parks and recreation.
One mom found cheap Mommy and Me classes, which included messy craft time and “fun-nastics” (need to look into this).
- Mommy and Me toddler classes (i.e. Gymboree,
Little Gym, etc.).
I really want to try the art classes at Gymboree so my son can make a mess there and not in our living room J. One mom said it could get expensive to continue so she took some of the ideas from one of the classes and applied it at home.
- Local moms groups, moms clubs or Meetup groups.
I’m currently not interested in moms groups but I did meet a stay-at-home dad at a mall and he was the founder/organizer of the Houston Stay-at-Home-Parents group, which I may join later down the road.
- Swimming / swimming classes.
This was a very popular suggestion by the RQ moms especially because it’s a fun activity, which allows the child to get used to the water, and also helps with attachment (lots of skin-to-skin contact).
- Music program.
Popular suggestion as a couple of moms said there was no pressure for the child. We haven’t yet attended any music classes but Henry loves music. He loves to swing his hips and sway side-to-side when I play our music on iTunes. The “123 Favorite Kids Songs” by Baby Genius is pretty good.
- Gymnastics lessons.
One mom said it was great therapy for her daughter, as she had no strength when she was home, but after a couple of weeks of class, she was running!
- Local farms.
We live in the city but someone suggested visiting the farm and looking at the cows. Henry would love that!
- Local church.
One mom mentioned looking into local church activities as the one in her community held a weekly drop-in playgroup where the kids played in the church nursery while the moms stayed with the kids.
- Grocery store.
I try to describe the food items I pick up and hand my son small things to put in the shopping cart; he wants to touch absolutely everything though and he can get quite demanding. If he gets fussy, I give him pre-chopped pieces of dried mango or prunes but at our last visit, I had to clean up pieces of dried mango on the floor because I didn’t tighten the container properly :/.
- Restaurant play area.
Someone also suggested trying out the indoor play area at Chick-fil-A; some of them are nice and clean.
- Attend a sports game.
I was hesitant about taking my 21-month old son to a (Houston Dynamo) soccer game but he loved it! We've been twice already and he's simply a trooper. He may be startled by the stadium noise or an enthusiastic supporter's yelling, but as long as I keep the snacks and drinks coming, and he has something to play with, he's one happy little chappy. (Just remember the sunscreen and insect repellent!) We're so proud of him!
- Local attractions for young kids.
Downtown Aquarium – still high on my list!
Moody Gardens – haven’t been in years so this should be fun.