12 activities with a toddler


Our toddler, S, has started to show the effects of feeling a bit displaced by the arrival of her little sister earlier this year. Of course we make sure our eldest still gets lots of attention, but after being the ‘one and only’ for two and a half years, it is only natural that she has noticed a change.

We like to get out of the house and do various activities during the week, but we have started to realise that sometimes she just wants to be at home with one of us, doing simple things that ensure she gets plenty of one on one time.

We most definitely are not perfect parents, and do find ourselves wondering what to do with a spare hour or two (the time between the afternoon nap and tea time is definitely the time we struggle with the most). Rather than rushing out of the door in an attempt to entertain us all, we will be making an effort to slow down, and enjoy the simple things at home. Hopefully this will help S to feel more secure, and not be as tiring for her at a time when she needs a lot of comforting and reassurance.

It feels like autumn is on the way, and soon we will no longer be able to rely on spending an afternoon in the garden. With this in mind, I have made a list of simple things that we are either already doing, or are going to make an effort to do more.

  1. Baking – S loves helping in the kitchen and we have an Ikea step stool so that she can stand at the worktop. We like making (and eating) cakes, and also like to get her involved in cooking where possible. Yesterday she enjoyed helping to make pizzas, spreading the tomato base on and choosing her own toppings. S never really seems that interested in food, and one of the best parts of cooking together is that she is much more likely to eat and enjoy a meal if she has helped to cook it. She even enjoys washing up although it’s fair to say that this skill requires some development!
  2. Painting – this is an activity that I can find a bit stressful, mostly in terms of the clearing up. However, S loves painting and enjoys painting herself more than painting the paper. This may be because we have periodically printed her hands and feet as keepsakes since she was born! Over the summer we did some painting in the garden, but now that the weather is less reliable we will cover any surfaces with an oil cloth and do the painting indoors.
  3. Play Doh – S loves creating simple ideas out of Play Doh. Her auntie gave her a great Play Doh set at Christmas and she has enjoyed rolling, cutting and stamping the brightly coloured dough ever since. I can see this becoming even more popular as she becomes more creative and capable in this activity.
  4. Making popcorn – we bought a bag of kernels from our local supermarket and cooked them in a saucepan before sitting down to watch a film on the TV. This was a really simple activity that made S feel special as it meant she had a lot of time with me all to herself. I will be making an effort to do this again soon.
  5. Going to the shops – even if it’s just to pick up a pint of milk, S loves feeling important. Finding the aisle, helping to choose the right milk, going to the check out and paying the checkout assistant gives a lot of time for chatter and laughter. S enjoys being the one who hands over the money and takes the change. We are going to make much more of an effort to make a quick trip to the shops more of an opportunity for S to have some individual time with one of us.
  6. Doing a sticker book – these can be picked up quite cheaply in supermarkets or budget book stores, and are often branded with their favourite characters. We’ve had a lovely farm sticker book from Usborne, one of the Twirlywoos, and a Peppa Pig Treasure Hunt sticker book. They are quite educational for little ones and may involve identifying colours, counting, or recognising letters. S likes it if we sit down at the dining table with her and guide her through the book, especially as she gets a lot of praise for doing a great job.
  7. Reading a story – this can be something that is forgotten until bedtime, but S does like to choose a book and sit on a lap for some quiet time in the middle of the day. I find this is a really nice time for bonding and enjoying the words and pictures together. S is now at the age where she can recite whole pages of books, which is wonderful to hear. I hope she grows up with a love of books and will definitely be nurturing this. She is currently enjoying And Tango Makes Three (Richardson and Parnell), Room on the Broom (Julia Donaldson),  and Lost and Found (Oliver Jeffers).
  8. Doing a puzzle – S has only recently become interested in puzzles, and now there’s no stopping her. We found a bumper pack of ten puzzles in the Early Learning Centre during their summer sale. The puzzles are of varying difficulty, so she can do some of them by herself, and will ask for help with the others. I can see these puzzles growing with her; as she gets older we will be able to talk in more detail about what each picture shows (each one shows a different country or city), and she will become more confident and independent with the puzzles that have more pieces. She is always very proud of herself on completing a puzzle, and it is nice to encourage her with this new found hobby. We also find that taking a puzzle into the bathroom whilst one of us has a shower keeps her occupied and out of trouble for five minutes!
  9. Making birthday cards – we have been lucky that both sets of grandparents have given S some art and craft materials, including blank greeting cards. We did some bubble painting recently, loosely following these instructions. We then let the paintings dry and stuck them onto the greeting cards to use for family birthdays. So far they have been well received!
  10. Bug hunting in the garden – S loves nothing more than hunting for worms, wood lice, snails, slugs and anything else she can pick up in the garden. I have to admit, I am not particularly keen on these creatures, but seeing S’s love of the garden offerings I have put my dislike to one side and encourage her to pick up and inspect them if she wants to. On a dry day, we can spend a fair bit of time seeing what we can find (exploring under plant pots is a firm favourite), and this can also extend to the park or anywhere else she happens to find some wildlife. It has also been good for encouraging her to be gentle, and to put things back where she found them. She always reports that she has “put them back with their friends”.
  11. Choosing something to watch together – like most toddlers, S has days where she seems very tired. On these days, we often spend some of the afternoon snuggled up on the sofa watching a programme or film together. We have recently invested in Amazon Prime, and so far I am really impressed with the selection for children, and our little one seems happy too. Like most parents we try not to let her watch too much TV, but do let her watch it when she is in need of some relaxation and quiet time. We don’t let her watch anything on the iPad as we have found this ends in a terrible tantrum when we turn it off!
  12. Make a den – my wife is much better at this than me, and she has found draping a blanket over two dining room (or garden) chairs makes an excellent den. Our little one enjoys taking cushions and toys in there, and it’s amazing how much fun she can have in her new small space. The den can also be turned into any number of places; a shop, a café, or a greengrocer, and we pretend to be customers so that our daughter can “make us a coffee” or choose our apples for us. She enjoys these impromptu role plays and amazes us with her imaginative play.

I will be using this short list as a prompt when I am having difficulty thinking of simple activities for us to do. Please let me know of any other ideas in the reply box below, or tweet me @workinglife2016.

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