Entertain Me, Mom!
So, your adorable baby has turned into a walking, talking, yelling, emotionally volatile, endlessly curious, tyrannical, hilarious, charming, little tornado of energy! Now what? While toddlers are truly amazing little people, your average two-year-old can probably reduce you to an exhausted, desperate, frustrated mess in about 15 minutes flat. For those days when your little one has worn out your brain and bedtime is still 10 hours away, here are 25 ways to entertain a toddler nearly for FREE.
Like so many toddler games, this never get sold. Take couch pillows, chairs, tables, the crib, blankets, sleeping bags, etc., and suddenly you have a cozy, enclosed space that is perfectly kid-sized. Bring in books or stuffed animals, and your toddler may even stay there long enough for you to get something done.
Sink Water Play
Why do toddlers love playing with water so much? Who knows? But we'll take it! Have your child stand on a chair or step stool at the kitchen sink. Plug the sink and fill it halfway. Add anything plastic: measuring cups, bath toys, Tupperware, etc. You may want to place a towel on the floor to catch the splashes, and yes, getting soaked is part of the fun!
Easter Egg or Toy Hunt
Why wait for Easter? Hide plastic eggs or small toys around the house. Give your child a basket or a bucket and let the hunt begin.
Fun mama fact: When you're dead tired, listening to music actually stimulates your brain and helps you feel more energized. So, this one is a win-win! Turn on your favorite hits and get down with your toddler. She might even burn enough energy for a solid nap.
Hide and Seek is another game that will live forever. At this point, your toddler might have a pretty loose interpretation of "hiding," which makes playing "seek" that much easier and often hilarious. You or your child might be hiding pretty much in plain sight, but finding is still so much fun.
This one is absurdly simple, but around 18 months, my daughter couldn't get enough of it. Drape a blanket over your child. It should be large enough to cover most of her body, but small enough not to trip her when she walks. It's best if the blanket has an open weave or sheer fabric. Let her walk/run/tumble around semi-blind and pretend to be a "ghost". Keep a close watch, so she doesn't crash into walls or anything dangerous.
Many toddlers seem to have a shoe obsession that rivals adult women. While your little one might not be ready for a full on dress-up box yet, clomping around in Mommy or Daddy's shoes is so much fun and doesn't require princess dresses or superhero capes… yet. We know it's coming!
When the weather permits, take your little artist outside and decorate the patio, driveway, or sidewalk with chalk drawings .Yes, colored chalk dust will get all over everything, but it's easily washable. Just make sure your little one is able to use chalk without eating it. (No judgment!)
Be a Gardener
Whether you're cultivating an actual garden or just trying to keep a few house plants alive, toddlers love digging in the dirt, "helping" to water, and touching leaves and flowers. If you're a total black thumb, don't worry! You can take a plastic watering can (empty) on a neighborhood walk and pretend to water other people's greenery. They might think this is adorable or bizarre, but hey, some people have cold, stony hearts.
Puddle Jumping or Leaf Crunching
There's no need to go stir crazy on rainy or windy days. You can still get outside with your toddler. Put on waterproof rain gear and go puddle jumping! Or stomp around crunching ALL the dry leaves. Even better if you can rake up a big pile and roll around.
Is your little angel refusing to eat lunch at the table, or has he suddenly developed a high chair phobia? Try serving a meal as a picnic in the backyard or even in your living room. The novelty of eating on a blanket on the floor and pretending to feed dolls or stuffed animals might just turn a mealtime battle into a fun game.
Remember blowing bubbles? Yup, it's endlessly entertaining. While you might recall the little bottles and plastic wands of your youth, the bubble industry has moved forward! You can find cool, large-scale bubble-making equipment at the drug store or even make your own wands out of wire, pipe cleaners, straws, string… Pinterest is definitely your friend for this one.
Don't feel comfortable letting your future pacifist play with water guns or other play weaponry? No problem. Spray bottles are the answer to letting your active toddler go on the attack in a fun and safe way. On a hot day, your toddler can battle her siblings or friends with spray bottles, releasing energy and cooling off at the same time.
Scoping out your neighborhood for interesting stuff can give you great destinations for walks with your child. These could be chickens in someone's front yard, a fountain in front of an office building, or even a construction site. Somehow my daughter's attitude does a 180 when I change "we're going on a walk" to "we're going to see the house with the weird sculptures."
Pet Store "Zoo"
If the zoo is too far away, expensive, or exhausting to visit, guess what? Your local pet store is pretty much a toddler-sized zoo. And it's free! Your child can get up close to fish tanks, birds, snakes, mice, turtles, puppies, and more without spending hours in the car or a hefty admission price.
Not all museums are free, but many have a suggested donation, a weekly or monthly free day, or a special deal for kids. Yes, some guards might give you the side eye as your toddler runs through the galleries, but pay no attention! None. Your kid is soaking up culture, and you're getting out of the house and doing something you probably enjoyed before you had kids. It's so worth it. Be sure to check out any kid-friendly exhibits or outdoor play areas.
Library Story Time
Story Time at the library has saved so many moms on those frustrating days. It's awesome and it's completely free. Find one near you ASAP!
Wonderful things about malls. 1. They are air-conditioned on hot days and heated on rainy/cold ones. 2. They have escalators. (Toddlers love escalators!) 3. They usually have play areas or climbing structures for kids. 4. These are usually located near food courts with coffee and snacks for you. Everybody wins!
Mini Beach Day
Since your toddler is probably still taking a (sacred) midday nap, she might not be ready for a full day at the beach. But if you are close enough to any body of water, spending an hour or two splashing and playing in the sand is a great summer adventure. Hilarious toddler sunglasses are optional.
Unless you own one of those kid-carrying backpacks, going hiking with your child might still be in the future. But if you live close to nature or even a large park, you can still take a stroll and explore the outdoors together. Your toddler can collect rocks or leaves to bring home, and you can always snap photos of anything you would prefer to leave outside.
Take Them Shopping
This one is dependent on finding clothing stores that look kindly on rowdy toddlers. But trust me, they exist! And who wants to shop at those snobby stores anyway? When you're desperate for a wardrobe upgrade, you can totally bring your little one along. Before you head for the dressing room, find some stuff for your toddler to "try on": hats, scarves, gloves, plastic jewelry, anything she can play with safely while you wriggle into those hot jeans
Because, sometimes, Mama just wants to lie down... Remember playing"Doctor"? Yup. This time, you get to be the patient. Lie on the floor and let your toddler "fix" you with various toys and "medicines". "Sick" people even need to close their eyes for a few minutes. It's a medical fact.
Eating out with little ones can be a big challenge. But sometimes the joy of not cooking or cleaning up completely outweighs an embarrassing moment or two. Here are a few tips for making restaurants more enjoyable for everyone. 1. Go early. 5:00-6:30 p.m. is your sweet spot. 2. Bring supplies. Crayons, stickers, small toys, whatever your child is into right now. 3. Order fast and eat fast. 4. Be considerate of other diners, but ignore anyone who gets judgmental or rude. Either they have memory loss or someday they will be you.
Clean the Kitchen
So many toddlers love to clean. And they're adorably proud of their accomplishments when they can "help" you with a household task. If the state of your kitchen is making you twitch, bring out a play broom or even just a dishtowel and let your child "clean"while you tackle the dishes.
Feeling the need to get moving? Lace up sneakers. Put child in stroller. Open front door. If you have one of the jogging strollers, you can train for a marathon! But even just brisk walking while pushing 30 something pounds will still get your heart rate up and boost your mood.