When it's cold or rainy or you just can't get outside, it can be hard to keep thinking of things to do with a toddler who's raring to go all the time but hasn't got the concentration to stick with one activity for very long.
What you need is a whole stack of different activities – physical, sensory, arty, crafty, surprising, messy or just plain silly – to choose from throughout the day, depending on your toddler's mood and energy levels. So, we've come up with 26 tried-and-tested games – some of which need a bit of prep and some which need no prep at all – for you to have up your toddler-entertainment sleeve. Have fun!
Here’s our pick of the best games you can play with your toddler indoors
1. Follow my leader
Prep time: None | Materials: None
Get your toddler has to copy everything you do: jumping, crawling, patting your tummy, putting your slippers on your head – the sillier the better! Then it’s her turn to lead…
2. Rescue the animals
Prep time: 3 mins | Materials: Toy animals, masking tape
Gather up some toy animals (or cars or small dolls) and a roll of masking tape. Use strips of masking tape to stick the toy animals, one by one, to a window or a door. Then encourage your child to ‘rescue’ the toys by carefully peeling/pulling off the tape. It’s a fun game for toddlers that’s really good for developing fine-motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination. And MadeForMums superuser Abi, who shared this pic of her daughter Maisie playing the game, says Maisie also enjoyed re-sticking the animals back on the window, and asking Mum to rescue them for round 2!
3. Hunt for buried treasure
Prep time: 2 mins | Materials: Sand, toys, basin
You’ll need some small toys and sand for this one – either sandpit sand or, if you don’t have any, you can make super-quick play sand (with flour and oil). Put the sand in a washing-up bowl and hide the toys in it. Give your child a spoon and a sieve and set them off ‘hunting for treasures’. (You might want to put a mat/sheet on the floor under the bowl to catch any stray shovelled grains.)
4. Play Parcel Surprise
Prep time: 10 mins | Materials: Toys, newspaper, sticky tape
Use some old paper to wrap up a few of your child’s favourite toys (don’t use too much sticky tape). Then give one parcel to your child and ask them to guess what’s inside – is it Teddy? Or Dolly? Or Panda? Then let your child unwrap the toy (OK, tear off the paper) and enjoy the surprise of finding out.
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5. Sweep and dust
Prep time: None | Materials: Duster or toy broom
Toddlers love imitating grown-ups doing the routine household tasks that most of us grown-ups would gladly do without. So, give your child a soft cloth and go ‘dusting’ together. Or get them a mini broom or dustpan and brush – or even one of the little play vacuum cleaners that make brilliant, important-sounding suction noises – and spend some time making the floor all spick and span.
6. Do some magic painting
Prep time: 20 mins | Materials: White candle, paper, paints
Draw a simple design on paper with a white candle or crayon. Make up watery paint in a strong colour and let your toddler paint the paper. As they paint the paper, it will reveal the ‘magic’ hidden design.
7. Play musical bumps
Prep time: None | Materials: None
You don’t need to be at a party to play a simple, giggly version of this game. Play some music and dance around together, telling your child that you’re both going to sit down as soon as the music stops. Then press pause on the music and say, “Quick, sit down!” Once your child’s got the hang of the game, make sure you’re a bit dozy and slow at sitting down sometimes, so that they get a chance to feel good about beating you to it.
8. Pretend to be animals
Prep time: 15 mins | Materials: Card, straws, sticky tape
Draw an animal’s face on a piece of card or, if drawing’s not your thing, print one out (there are some great ones to download from Twinkl) and cut holes for the eyes. Let your child colour it, then attach a straw at the bottom so they can hold it in front of their face. Make several masks and take it in turns to pretend to be the different animals, with lots of moving around on all fours and growling/quacking/bleating noises.
9. Play postie
Prep time: 15 mins | Materials: Scissors, boxes, objects to 'post'
Posting objects into different shaped holes fascinates toddlers, and can keep them busy for ages. And the action of posting is great for developing fine motor skills (grasping an object, placing it over a hole and letting go) and also understanding that when you drop something into a container it doesn't go away. Try one of the 8 different posting activities mum and primary school teacher, Kate, describes on YouTube that feature everyday household items, such as milk cartons, cardboard boxes and gift bags.
10. Get potato printing
Prep time: 20 mins | Materials: Potatoes, cookie cutters, knife, paper, paint
This is one of those activities that toddlers love but many of us avoid because, frankly, who’s got time to carve a reverse 3-D shape into a potato? Well, we have a brilliant trick! All you need is cookie cutters (and a potato or two, obvs) and then...
- With a knife, cut a potato in half vertically, then press a cookie cutter right into one of the cut surfaces – so that you can only just see the top of the cookie cutter.
- Take your knife and make a cut into the side of the potato half roughly where the embedded end of the cookie cutter is. Stop when you feel your knife touch the cookie cutter.
- Cut around the rest of the side of the potato half in the same way.
- Peel off the strip of potato you’ve just cut, leaving the middle bit (inside the cookie cutter) in place.
- Remove the cookie cutter – and you have a perfectly shaped potato stamper!
Put some poster paint in saucers and let your child dip the potato in the paint and then make prints on paper. Alternatively, an older toddler could brush paint onto the potato stamper with a paintbrush before printing.
11. Make a toy garage
Prep time: 20 mins | Materials: Cardboard box, cardboard tubes, glue, toy cars
With a cardboard box, some loo roll or kitchen roll tubes, scissors and sticky tape, you can create this homemade toy-car garage for toddlers, which we first spotted when it was posted by mum Leanna Bannister on the Family Lockdown & Tips Facebook group. How to make it? Leanna tells us: "I simply turned a nappy wipes box on its side, taped different cardboard rolls together and slid them into the box! My son Vinnie hasn’t left it alone since he’s had it! He loves pulling all the cars out, then working out which cars can fit in which tubes! So simple to make and hours of fun!"
12. Walk like a bear
Prep time: None | Materials: None
In this action game, you and your child have to walk around the room like one of the 7 members of the ‘Bear Family’ (you call out which one). And each of them walk in different ways. So for:
- Papa Bear – take BIG steps
- Mama Bear – take medium steps
- Baby Bear – take tiny steps
- Brother Bear – jump around
- Sister Bear – hop on one foot
- Polar Bear – walk on all fours
- Sleepy Bear – curl up on the floor and snore
Start with just 2 of the Bear Family and work up till your toddler can remember all 7 and their respective actions.
13. Do the washing up
Prep time: 2 mins | Materials: Bowl, plastic cutlery/crockery, tea towels
Not the actual washing up, obviously. But you can have a lot of splashy fun with a plastic toy tea set or plastic beakers, plates and cutlery, a sponge and a (half-full) bowl of warm soapy water. You can’t even begin to hope you’ll play this game and stay dry but you can’t stem a proper flood with a splash mat, an apron (for both of you) and plenty of tea towels to put washed items on.
14. Slot the sticks
Prep time: 15 mins | Materials: Lolly sticks, container with plastic lid, knife
A little step up from simple ‘posting through holes’, this is a brilliant activity, shared with us by MadeForMums superuser Amy, for further developing an older toddler’s fine-motor skills – it’s harder to post objects through small slots than bigger holes and the action requires using the wrist as well as the hands. You’ll need some lolly sticks (painted in bright colours, if possible) and a large container with a plastic lid (that you don’t need any more). Use scissors or a knife to carefully cut some small slots across the lid. Check that the slots are wide enough to fit a lolly stick through. Then show your child how to slot a lolly stick through the hole and let them have a go. Amy’s made her slots a fair bit thicker than her lolly sticks but you can ramp up the difficulty by making them thinner or even just cutting lolly-stick-width slits.
15. Create a big collage
Prep time: 20 mins | Materials: Paper, sticky-backed plastic/sticky tape, collage items
Collect together some bits and pieces of different sizes and textures – such as sweet wrappers, scraps of material, bits of foil, cotton wool, feathers, pictures of animals or flowers cut from magazines or leaflets, yoghurt pot lids. Tape a big square of sticky-backed plastic to a window or door, sticky-side facing out. If you don't have any sticky-backed plastic, you could tape up some lines of sticky tape (sticky-side facing out) instead. Give your child a bowl containing all the bits and pieces and let them get sticking.
16. Sieve pasta
Prep time: 5 mins | Materials: Bowl, pasta, sieve, plastic jug
This is a super-simple one. Put some dried pasta (all one shape or a mix of different shapes) into a big plastic bowl. Hand your child a plastic jug or spoon and a sieve for lots of scooping, collecting, sorting and pouring.
17. Hold a toy tea party
Prep time: 10 mins | Materials: Rug, beaker/plates, play food, toys
Spread out a rug or sheet on the floor and bring all your child’s favourite toys over for a tea party. Give them all their own plastic cups or beakers and plates. Put some play food or little triangles of bread or cake on a bigger plate and encourage your child to offer the toys something to eat. If you have a plastic jug or teapot, you can offer juice or tea, too – but make that imaginary juice or tea or you’ll be spending all your time in spillage-control mode. Talk with your child about which food the toys like (and don't like) and what the toys are chatting about. Don't forget to remind the toys to say please and thank you – and to share nicely!
18. Roll the ball
Prep time: None | Materials: Soft ball
Any soft ball will do for this game but remember that your child will find it easier the bigger the ball is. Get your toddler to sit on the floor with her legs apart, while you do the same – siting opposite them, so your feet are touching. Place the ball on the floor in front of you and roll it to your child, encouraging them to ‘catch it’ (which is, really, stopping it with their hands) and then roll it back to you. You can add extra fun to the game by saying a silly word, like “Eeep!” as you roll and encouraging your child to repeat the “Eeep!” as they roll it back. Change the sound after a couple of rolls each.
19. Do some flour drawing
Prep time: 2 mins | Materials: Flour, skewer/straw
This is a lovely sensory activity but it is a messy one – so be ready with splashmats and a dustpan and brush. MadeForMums superuser Sarah, who’s shared her picture of and her 2-year-old daughter Orla doing some flour drawing, was surprised by how long Orla spent on this activity. “I put some flour out on a board and gave her a chopstick and she drew pictures in it. She was amused for at least 20 minutes and very content just drawing!" For a slightly less dusty option, you could use rice or small lentils instead of flour (but place them on a tray to keep the grains roughly in one place).
20. Play Traffic Lights
Prep time: None | Materials: None
You’re the traffic light and your child is the car. Get them vrooming round the room. When you say, ‘Red!’, they have to stop. When you say, “Green!”, they can can vroom off again. Later, you can introduce “Amber!” and have a fast (green) and slow (amber) speed to the vrooming.
21. Be a farmer or zookeeper
Prep time: None | Materials: Toy farm/zoo set, toy animals
If you’ve got a farm or zoo set – or just animal toys and some small cardboard boxes – help your toddler create their own animal world. Hold the animals up one by one and make the right noises (if the animal figures have electronic sounds, turn the off). Talk to your toddler about which animal goes in which ‘house’ and what food they eat. And if you have a farmer figure, encourage your child to move the figure round the animals and you can talk together about what the farmer is doing for each one – brushing its coat, milking it, feeding it, letting it out into the field and so on.
22. Play Match the Socks
Prep time: 5 mins (30 mins for tumble dryer) | Materials: Socks (cardboad box, paper for tumble dryer)
Unpair some differently coloured socks, mix them all up and encourage your child to match the sock pairs together by colour. Or, if you don’t fancy messing up your sock drawer (or all your socks are black!), you could get a little crafty with this homemade ‘tumble dryer’ sock sorting game we spotted on YouTube
23. Make family photo art
Prep time: 30 mins | Materials: Paper, glue
Print out some pics of your child and your family. Find a nice big piece of paper and some PVA glue and a spreading stick (or a glue stick) and help your child make a collage of family photos to pin up on the wall or fridge.
24. Hunt the teddy
Prep time: None | Materials: Teddy
Hide Teddy (or another favourite soft toy) somewhere in the room (where your child can reach it) and go looking for Teddy together. Perhaps Teddy will 'magically' squeak when you get near (how are your ventriloquism skills?). Older toddlers might enjoy hiding Teddy for you to find, too.
25. Play newspaper hopscotch
Prep time: 5 mins | Materials: Newspaper, sticky tape
For this simplified version of the traditional game, you’ll sheets of old newspaper and some sticky tape. Tape the newspaper sheets around the room, each of them quite close to the other. Get your toddler to jump from one sheet to another, without touching the floor inbetween.
26. Fill the cardboard box
Prep time: None | Materials: Cardboard box
Find a medium to large-size cardboard box and open up the top. Place it on the floor in front of your toddler and encourage them how to put things in it – from toys to cushions to books. When it's nearly full, close the top flaps, and then open them again with a flourish. Now it's time to empty the box! Your child might enjoy pushing the full box round the floor, too.
Pics: Getty Images/YouTube/MFM superusers
Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies. Before joining MadeForMums over 7 years ago, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.
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