What a long snowy winter it has been here! 4 months of ice and snow with little kids is hard! As a stay at home mom with a 2 and 3.5-year old, we have had to figure out some indoor activities for toddlers to help me (and them) not go crazy! We live in a two bedroom apartment so you can picture space is limited. I’ve made a list for you of some inside home activities for toddlers that have kept us busy this winter.
Also, I am not a mom with a ton of toys, or very crafty. So a lot of these ideas should be reproducible and fairly inexpensive. We do watch TV shows for my sanity, but it is a goal of mine to watch less and play more. Sometimes that just does not happen 🙂 Spring please hurry up!
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Indoor Activities For my 2 & 3.5 Year Old
This is THE BEST indoor activity for toddlers! Peter inserted hanging rings from the ceiling in our hallway when my oldest was 2, and they have gotten used DAILY for the last two years! My kids twist and spin and swing their hearts out. They also do summersaults and hang a lot. We adjust the height by putting knots around carabiners which can hook into the Bolts. To do this get these three things:
We tie the carabiners into the strings on the ring set. This allows you to easily adjust the height by clipping the carabiner into the Eye Bolts.
This is a favorite! We go get all the chairs in our house, including fold-out chairs, and line them up from the couch to the kitchen or hallway. Sometimes I’ll put a cushion in between the chairs or stool so that my 3.5 year old has to get tired by going up and down a lot. Nigel calls it “sweaty time”!
Some of you are cringing right now! Me too, if I’m cleaning up lots of Play Doh. But I make them keep it in the kitchen and that really helps! They want me to pretend to eat what they make and give them ideas of what to do next. Mostly they make “birthday cakes” and stick candles in them. I have learned how to make my own play dough which lasts for a couple weeks and is very easy! Overall it’s a huge hit, but get a broom handy and don’t expect to just lay it out and walk away 😉
Run away from the vacuum
Always a favorite. I get some chores done, they run and hide. Perfect.
These are perfect for little kids because of how easily they stick together. Laila especially loves to just stack them. We also make a game of sorting the different colors and shapes it comes with. This was given to us free to test from Picasso Tiles.
Also messy and plan on sweeping up, but cheap, and usually lasts 15-30 minutes. Rice could be even better. I lay a bunch inside of a cookie pan or 9×13 pan and have a few things they can use to play on the table. Their favorites include a spoon, a cup to fill up, and little diggers to scoop the beans. I can tell when they are getting bored when more and more start going onto the floor.
Their all-time favorite! You can get this yummy candied pecan recipe here. Who wants a play kitchen when you can make real food??! Haha. When I bake with them, I have to get into the mindset that it is for fun, an activity, not just a hustled thing to whip up. They want to “help”. Which means lots of flour spills, extra spoons and surfaces to clean, and making them take turns scooping.
“Fixing” things around the house
We got rid of our big toolset when downsizing toys, but kept some tools. Like the plastic hammer, drill with batteries, saw, hardhat and that’s about it! We also have real paintbrushes for playing. I tell them things that need fixing (for pretend) like the closet door or the kitchen chairs and they love to get to work. Sometimes they are not into it, but other times this goes on for 30 min to an hour, without my full attention needed!
Jump onto cushions
This is hard for me being 9 months pregnant, but getting out ALL the blankets, couch pillows, and sometimes the crib mattress is a HUGE hit! We let our kids jump on couches and beds to get out energy, so that might give you a heart attack if it’s not your style 😉
Run around in a circle to music
I put the toy box in the middle of a cleared out living room and turn on Pandora kids station. They chase around, running, a great 15-minute activity!
Honestly, I’m pretty bad at knowing how to do “quiet time” but love the idea. Recently I just put out a pile of books in the living room, as well as paper and some pens, along with their soft fuzzy blankets and said they had to play quietly. This was hard to initiate and I had to kept telling them I was not going to read the books, but they could look at pictures and imagine. That was when I just needed a break from talking to toddlers, even for 10 min. They ended up getting the hang of it and I think it was nice!
For not being an artsy mom, this is a stretch for me. If I recommend one thing, its these Do A Dot paints. So much less messy with little sponge tips and they don’t spill (but do get on fingers)! We have also tried watercolors but with a 1.5 year old that just usually stresses me out with the spills. (My 3.5-year-old can do it now). We also went and bought acrylic paints like these and sometimes paint the inside of cereal boxes. Easy, they love it, and I have wet rags handy!
They usually break crayons, and markers do end up on their fingers… I know a lot of moms who have toddlers that sit and color quietly alone…for hours…but I’m still waiting for this to happen. Worth a shot every now an then 😉
Playing in the sink
I make sure all the breakables or dangerous things are away from reach and put a few bottles and lids in there. This seems to be Laila’s fav (2 years old).
Reading out loud
I’m too lazy to drive 15 min to the library each way and right now its hard for me to get out with 2 and soon 3, so we have some books here and I read a little every day. The more I do this, the more they look at pictures on their own quietly at random, and when days go by without reading, they stop doing that!
Doing this as a day activity gives us something to do inside, and helps me from feeling so overwhelmed at bedtime. It has lasted for 10 minutes when they hated baths, to this weeks all-time crazy over 2 hours of play and my 3.5 year old begging me to let him keep playing! They love adding bath paints, teapots, and these cool water color tablets.
Mostly Bob the Builder vests around our house… Thrift stores after Halloween are perfect for grabbing awesome dress up stuff for CHEAP! We love this Melissa and Doug builder dress up set!
A set like this on Amazon is a perfect wooden train starter set and interchangeable with all the major train tracks. We add engines from Ebay too.
This is a 15-30 minute activity for us.
Sometimes my kids grab stuff from each other or scream about toys(which is so frustrating), so trains can be a learning tool at this point unless one is sleeping. Once Laila got old enough that she would break tracks and steal trains on purpose, I had to be more attentive with teaching how to share rather than “just trade her any toy”. Update: my oldest kids are 2.5 and 4 now and all that teaching has really paid off. They can play nicely, share, and take turns with the occasional fighting and whining. Now trains are a real joy.
Also, since trains have lots of little parts, we keep them in a clear tub and put them away at the end of the day to keep my sanity.
This is a huge hit and we just use our regular small cups and teapot. Although I’d love to find them mini real ones…remember how special mini stuff was when you were a kid?! We usually grab some treats or crackers, and on a good day we will make some cookies. But really, this is magical to them!
Pots and pans out
I put my smallest pot and pan out with some spatulas and they get busy making pretend food on the floor. Maybe 10-15 minutes?
Invite a friend over
Always their favorite and good for me too 🙂 Instant entertainment and moms get to visit. And we all need a mom friend.
Give them a scenario to act out
I tell them scenarios to play like: there is a fire to put out…go swing through the jungle…go fix this or that with your saw, go play nap time (my favorite trick and they bring their blankets out and pretend sleep quietly for maybe 10 min!), go dig a foundation, ect.
Use cardboard boxes
When I get an order shipped online, the box gets repurposed for a few hours. If its big, we may cut a door or holes in it to make a spaceship, mailbox, house, whatever. If they fit inside it can be a car, a boat, whatever you suggest 😉 We also pull out the markers sometimes for coloring the inside.
At the end of the day…
Overall, summertime makes winter seem like cake. When they are outside and it’s warmer, they are happiest and play for hours…and I get a break. Indoors requires so much more activity swapping, and to be honest, we watch shows more when inside all the time. If you are even reading this, you are a great mama and want to play with your kids, so I hope you find a few ideas here and check back for more! Leave a comment if you have other favorites to share with me to try!