Fall has always been my favorite time of year, but the shorter days and chill in the air also mean spending a lot more time inside. And with two young kids who seem to have endless amounts of energy, the end of summer means I need to get a lot more creative about ways to keep them busy.
This year is especially challenging for many reasons (like, you know, a global pandemic) and we won’t be able to rely as heavily on playdates or indoor gymnasiums to burn off energy. So, here are a few of the indoor activities for toddlers that I’m planning to keep my kids occupied so I can keep my sanity.
When it comes to indoor activities for toddlers, sensory bins are always a hit. We have four 32-quart storage bins with lids that we keep in the closet, each with different sensory components.
One is filled with rice, one with beans, one with water beads and one with kinetic sand. I usually throw in some plastic bowls and cups from the kitchen and let my kids go to town pouring and sorting. And of course, if you have a toddler who still puts things in their mouth, be sure to adjust the materials accordingly.
It can be expensive to purchase several storage bins and supplies at once, so we acquired these sensory bins over a couple years. But the good thing about sensory bins is that you can customize them to fit your needs using supplies you already have on hand. Dry cereal is another great option as well as uncooked pasta or cotton balls.
The only downside to sensory bins, in my opinion, is the mess. I lay out a large tablecloth for the bin and supplies to stay on and only allow one bin out at a time. Luckily, your kids will eventually get accustomed to your rules (mostly). Some of the materials are also a choking hazard for young toddlers, so this activity definitely requires supervision—but it’s a fun way for kids to explore during the colder months when they can’t get their hands in the dirt outside.
When the outdoors is out of the question, my kids turn their attention to crawling on furniture or building forts out of the couch cushions. And while I’m okay with that on occasion, I prefer to direct their energy toward something a bit safer. So, we often bring our small plastic slide inside during the winter and let the kids stack up pillows at the end they can slide into. We also got our son two large foam climbing blocks for his first birthday and he still loves playing with them three years later.
Indoor climbing toys for toddlers can range from simple to elaborate, and I personally prefer softer options that are easier to store. But if you have more space, you could invest in a dome-like climbing structure or a climber with a slide.
I also try to hang on to large cardboard boxes when we get deliveries as my 18-month-old especially loves climbing in and out of them, while my four-year-old likes to tie them together and make trains. When they’ve done all the climbing and building out of them they can, I let my kids tear the boxes down and draw all over them with crayons. Climbing structures are definitely valuable, but cardboard boxes can also provide hours of fun.
Games, Puzzles, and Crafts
Indoor games for toddlers can get a bit trickier because well, toddlers aren’t exactly known for following direction. So, we try to stick to games that include a sensory component, like wooden puzzles or toys that encourage fine motor development. For instance, the Spin Again toy from Fat Brain Toys is a family favorite. My toddler also loves stacking and building with blocks or playing with magnets on the fridge.
Balance stepping stones are another great option for large motor development. You can create an obstacle course or pretend the floor is hot lava and encourage your kids to get from one point to another while only stepping on the stones.
We don’t do a ton of crafting in our house because, well, it’s a lot of work and a lot of mess, but you can definitely try the basics like coloring or painting. My 18-month-old loves to help mix up homemade playdough with flour, salt, cream of tartar, and water. We also keep the craft mess (somewhat) contained with “foil painting” — cover the surface with foil and let your toddler have at it with washable paint and paintbrush. You could even skip the paint and let them use water as they explore the sensation of “painting” on a different surface. And clean-up is as easy as discarding the foil.
Keeping my kids busy during the winter is definitely more challenging than in the summer months when I can just send them outside. But I’ve found if I give them a few tools and let them use their imaginations, they will find ways to make their own fun.
Many of the activities I’ve listed here warrant some parental involvement and supervision, but I’m also a big fan of encouraging independent play and letting my kids figure out some things on their own. And if all else fails, you can find us snuggled up on the couch watching a toddler-approved TV show because, let’s face it, sometimes screen time is necessary when you’re cooped up inside.
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