10 Ways to Keep a Toddler Busy (without buying new toys)

by Cari on September 6, 2012

Toddlers are busy busy busy and often into everything.  The best way to keep a toddler out of mischief is to provide toddler-friendly activities that will keep little hands and minds busy.  The premise of toddler play is this…PUT IN, DUMP OUT, AND DO IT AGAIN!  Here are 10 activities for toddlers based on this premise. 


1.  Muffin Tin:  Gather 12 balls and a muffin tin.  Little ones will enjoy putting the balls into the muffin tin over and over again!  Be sure to use larger balls that won’t pose a choking hazard to your child.

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Get creative and find different objects to put in the muffin tin.  You can turn this into a fine motor activity by providing your child with a small pair of tongs to pick up the  items – in this case plastic bugs!  If you child puts things in his/her mouth, be sure to supervise this activity.

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2.  Coffee Can:  Collect frozen juice lids for your toddler to drop into an empty coffee can that has a slit cut in the lid.  Fun Fun Fun!!!  This is highly reinforcing because of the loud clanging noise the lids make as they land in the coffee can.

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3.  Clothespins in a Bottle:  Provide your child with a clean,empty Gatorade or Juicy Juice plastic bottle and a handful of old-fashioned clothespins (not the kind with springs).  Watch as your child practices fine motor skills by putting the pins in the bottle and then uses problem solving skills to figure out how to get them out so the activity can repeated again and again.

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4.  Egg Carton:  Dig through your Easter supplies and find 12 colored plastic eggs.  Encourage your child to put the eggs into an empty egg carton.  If you want to get creative you can place small toys inside each of the eggs.  Your child will have fun putting the eggs in and taking the eggs out of the carton.  This becomes a fine motor task if your child takes the eggs apart and puts them back together again.  This becomes a language activity if your child is labeling the objects placed inside the eggs and this encourages cognitive development when your child has to match the 2 halves of the eggs together by color.  Again, be cautious of using small objects that can become a choking hazard.

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5.  Wipes Tub and Milk Jug LidsHuggies wipes tubs are the BEST containers for little hands.  Toddlers will enjoy putting milk jug lids through the rubber slit in the top of the wipes tub.  *** These can be a choking hazard so this toy should be provided only with close adult supervision.

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6.  Pringles Can and Straws:  Punch 5 holes in the lid of an empty Pringles can (now you have a good reason to snack on those yummy chips!).  Show your toddler how to put drinking straws into the holes.  This encourages fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination for your little learner.

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7.  Baby Basketball:  Find a small basket or box and 10-12 ball pit balls.  Show your child how much fun it is to put the balls into the basket, dump them out and do it again!  You can encourage counting skills, color identification, color labeling, or just learning to say the word “ball” with this exciting activity.

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8. Buckets of Blocks:  Gather some wooden blocks and two small buckets or containers.  Your child will enjoy dumping the blocks our or taking the blocks from one container and dropping them into the empty container.  Show your child how to pour the blocks from one container to the next to encourage 2 handed play.

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9.  Memory Game Cards and Wipes Tub:  This is a fabulous way to enhance your young child’s vocabulary development.  The small, sturdy cards from the Classic Memory Game fit perfectly into a toddler’s small hands (and are difficult to destroy!).  Your child will enjoy “mailing” the cards in the Huggies wipes tub while learning the words for common objects. 

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10.  Scarves in a Tissue Box:  This is SO much fun!  Place several colorful scarves into an empty tissue box and watch as your toddler pulls them out one by one!

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Remember…the premise of toddler play…PUT IN, DUMP OUT, and DO IT AGAIN!!! 

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda West September 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Pinned it! :)


Jen Fox October 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Something fun for Libby and Julia later on


Cassandra October 5, 2012 at 1:33 am

There’s only one issue here. The egg carton (made of foam, cardboard etc.) can contain the bacteria that is intrinsically in the eggs and can make your child sick. It is better to use something similar that can be washed and sanitized. Other than that, great ideas:)


Kymberly Brown November 12, 2012 at 6:39 am

You can find egg cartons used during Easter to hold chocolate eggs, you can also find plastic egg cartons at the grocery store that can be washed.


Tiare December 23, 2012 at 7:28 pm

There are just days when you want to be a child and twirl around in a tutu till you cant twirl no more and then spend the rest of the afnootren laying in the grass staring at the clouds. Why is it we forget how simple and fun life can be when we grow up?Thanks for the walk down memory lane!


Anna October 5, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I stumbled upon your blog through this pin on Pinterest. I am a speech pathologist for a tiny-k network in Kansas and thought these would be some great ideas to share with families. So I pinned it for myself and then I also wanted to share it with the other providers in my network. Long story short I then discovered you were a speech therapist in the area, was sharing it with a co-worker and come to find out she went to your apraxia seminar. Small world! I/we were wondering when you will be presenting your “Power of Play” seminar in the Kansas City area?


Cari October 6, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I am so glad you stumbled upon my blog! Such a small world, huh? On the blog I have a page where I list future seminar dates. I am not sure when I will be presenting in Kansas City on “The Power of Play” but I am sure it will be sometime in 2013. I present in 3-6 different cities each month so hopefully I will be here locally soon. I know I am presenting in Omaha and Des Moines in November. Roadtrip maybe??!!


Amanda October 11, 2012 at 12:46 am

My son has been playing with the wipes container and 3 lids for almost 20 minutes! Needless to say, it’s a big hit! Can’t wait to try the other ideas.


Francine October 12, 2012 at 8:13 pm

As a previous emergency room tech… DO NOT give toddlers soda bottle caps or small balls less then 3 inches to play with. They can get LODGED in their throats and can makes child suffocate.


Lisa October 19, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Another easy one I have found is using q-tips and an old clean parmesan cheese container – the holes are already in the top and they love opening and closing the lid!


Maegan October 25, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I work in a child care center with infants and toddlers, and we use many of these ideas already! But instead of the milk caps or other small items, we use baby food jar lids. The lids themselves are by far the most popular toys in our High/Scope classroom”


Katie October 31, 2012 at 3:21 am

Thank you so much for these wonderful ideas! I’m going to have one happy toddler pretty soon!


Linda G. November 21, 2012 at 7:28 am

Thank you for sharing this! I had forgotten how much toddlers do love to put in, dump out and do again. I also found you through Pinterest and am glad I did, I just wish I found you sooner so I could have kept 3 toddlers calm and busy today.


Cari January 2, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Cari, what brilliant little ideas. I have a toddler who would love everything on this list! I’m also a therapist and blog about play therapy, play based learning, etc. so this is great. I am adding you to my list if blogs I follow and such. So glad I found your blog!


Cindy Blakemore January 3, 2013 at 12:02 am

So glad I found your blog my friend! I’m always up for new ideas working with my little ones, Ha! Love all your practical information!!!


Tammy B January 19, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Love these ideas! Gonna try these with my granddaughters! :)


katrina brown January 24, 2013 at 3:12 am

My son loves the wipes container and bottle tops. I put a few velcro dots on the outside of the container and sum on the lids so he can also stick them to the outside. Kept him entertained for ages.


Bethany f February 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I have twin one year olds and am constantly trying to find things to occupy them that are educational!!this I think will help me a lot!! Ty


Kami February 21, 2013 at 11:33 pm

LOVE the tissue box/scarf idea!


Carolyn March 5, 2013 at 4:07 am

I found you though pintrest. My son has many issues do to his prematurity. He has sensory motor issues and texture issues and these are great ideas. Thanks so much.


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