busy toddler activities

toddler games 11web

My sweet natives are getting restless. So mama’s come up with some new activities for her two, almost three‘s. Clean activities. Good fun that doesn’t involve paint, dough, or not-so-magic markers. What quantifies as a good activity? Sure, there’s the learning aspect, wanting a single activity to build imaginations and encourage pretend, work on language and rhyming, perhaps get some real everyday life skills in there, a wee bit of fine motor skill work. But really? An activity is good when your child can do it for a long ass time. Nope, fit-throwing isn’t technically an activity, or I would’ve listed it on my resume years ago. Here are three games I’ve created for the radishes this week:

toddler games 5web

1. THE FLANNEL BOARD. Okay, so I haven’t technically purchased a board or staple gunned yards of flannel to one, but I have begun to create clothes and "paper" dolls for the wee ones to dress and move about on a large sheet of stiff felt. Dolls and clothes of different sizes, just like mama’s life and closet. Then I took Lucas’s favorite book these days and created felt images found throughout his Caboose book. When I read it to them now, I ask them to find the felt pieces that match the pictures on the page, encouraging them to add them to the "board" when they see them. Their little fingers hold the pieces up when I turn to the page they had been anticipating. "Look, Mama, the trestle." I’ll have you know before reading Lucas’s train books, I’d maybe have thought a trestle was a type of dress bustle… a distinguished one, say when you’re marring, not a Jr. but a III. Now we all know better.

toddler games 14web

Love to love this activity because, quite frankly, I’ve never had a use for clothes pins in my entire life. Sure I’d seen people use them in movies, mostly to pinch their nostrils as they tried to guzzle down a concoction. I purchased them a lifetime ago after reading an organization article, recommending that you sort your bills into piles of paid (to be filed) and urgent, and then also piles for all clothes receipts, one for electronics, and so forth, labeling each pin, clamping the bills in, then pinning them to the sides of a jar. I’m pretty sure I still have the original receipts to my microwave… from my dorm. In college. The only other time the clothespins came out? For a baby shower we threw, where I asked my assistant to hang the clothes up for decoration. For the record, I wasn’t alone. She had no idea how to use a clothespin either. I always just flung clothes over the shower door, or put them on a hanger. Well, not these kids of mine. They are gonna know, sure enough, what in the hell to do with a clothespin! "You give the tiny crocodile a squeeze, Mama. And you find its match!" So that’s the name of the game: color match, which forces the taters to focus on discerning one color from the next, and they can work on their fine motor skills. Best of all, Mama gets to leave the store with lots of paint cards (pick up two of each card, then cut and glue strips from one of the cards atop the clothespin and have the little one find the matching color on the card).

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3. SOME THINGS ARE BEST FORGOTTEN. But when you want them to remember the names and faces of loved ones far away, why not create a personalized memory game with photos of family and friends? I printed photos of step-sisters, cousins, all the grandparents (and their pets!)–printed them all twice, then cut them into cards, and finally laminated every last one. Was it a time-consuming bitch to do? Like I said, some things are best forgotten.

A YEAR AGO: If You Want to Gather Honey, Don’t Kick Over the Beehive
4 YEARS AGO: Praise
5 YEARS AGO: Stink, Selling It



  1. While 95% of your (or any blogger’s) parenting stuff leaves me cold, this one brings back memories of an aspect of small child(ren) cultivation which I actually miss. My daughter and I spent hours doing art & craft activities, making crafts based on favorite books, etc. Then when she was older, she expanded to intricate beading and weaving projects. Now she paints. And I’ve been known to scrapbook, which the painter mocks. But nicely.

    I bought an outdoor laundry drying thing last year and manage to use it maybe once a week during drying out door weather (now over). And I found the cutest laundry pin bag…

  2. I’m so copying the felt board idea. My children are older (6 & 8) and can make the clothes themselves. We still have a giant felt board on the wall in our playroom, but the “dolls” who came with it were not stylie at all. Thanks for the idea. Creative stuff happening at your house!

    1. Author

      I have fun making the little clothes too. I still can’t believe I sewed a special ruffle onto that “dress.” I could kinda spend hours making those clothes. It’s fun to do in front of the TV.

  3. I love the paint/clothespin idea. I nanny and am ALWAYS looking for activities to keep my 3yr old busy. Great idea!! Thanks.

  4. Ah – the things childhood memories are made of. Some of mine are my mom making salt clay – stirring the ingredients with hot water, so when it got into our hands, it was pre-warmed. Also – when the female side of my extended family got together to can fruit. I remember sitting in the middle of the kitchen table with the very important job of pitting the cherries and counting them as they went into the jar. And peaches, apricots and pears. And cracking open the pecans from my grammy’s pecan tree. Good times.

  5. Those are great! Since you love cooking so much, I thought that I would share my daughter’s favorite activity from when she was that age. Soap bubble cooking. I would fill a giant stock pot with water and liquid soap, and she would spend HOURS stirring it in to pots and muffin tins…she would add sprinkles or food dye.flour and water make a great paste to roll in to little treats to lay out on cookie sheets…she loved flipping soap bubble pankakes with a spatula…hours and hours of fun. :) Now that she’s 13, she cooks with real food…oh how I now miss those jiggly, silly, foamy pies….

    1. Author

      You had her do this outside right? I just can’t imagine letting them make a complete disaster of a wet mess all over the kitchen floor. I’m all for letting kids get dirty, but when it happens, I prefer it happens outside and not on our loverly hardwood floors.

      1. Throw down some garbage bags on the precious floors or newspapers. Loverly hardwood floors are nice but so is letting your kids be creative and loved for it. They will remember the crafty times with mom but the loverly hardwood floors? Not so much.

  6. I remember making my own dollhouse out of cardboard boxes and then furnishing it with pictures of beds from the JCPenney catalog. Windows and landscaping were carefully drawn on with Crayola markets. I was older than your kids, about 7, but it’s one of my favorite memories.

    1. Haley – I remember reading about girls doing this when I was in maybe 2nd or 3rd grade. My friend & I tried to replicate this activity, and the results were disappointing. How did yours come out? I have a sudden urge to toss a couple of pairs of shoes onto the closet floor & get to work. I can print out images from web and use these! I want to stop working NOW and make a shoebox dollhouse!!

      1. Haha, at the time we thought it was the most perfect of Barbie houses, but looking back I know it probably didn’t look very good. The house grew to a mansion as my cousin and I added more boxes and made bathtubs from tupperware and a spa from a mixing bowl with water in it. (Spilled it, got yelled at)

        Our parents would not buy us the Barbie house that all the other girls had, so we decided to make a better one. 20 years later I think we had more fun with our free house. :)

  7. Even in a useful post, you cannot resist adding a line about “your assistant” or your hardwood floors. We get it – you think you are rich and need to state it over and over to make yourself feel better.

    1. Anon, sounds like you’re the one with the problem. PROJECTION much? Seriously dude. It sounds like you’re the one who’s insecure. What, is Stephanie supposed to pretend that she didn’t have that experience with her assistant, just in case she’s worried that she’ll come off as a braggart for writing that she has an assistant? If she did THAT, then she’d be the one with insecurity issues. But it’s plain to see that you’re the one with the problem here, not her.

      1. Leave Stephanie alone ANON! If she didn’t have an assistant and Nanny she would not be able to be as prolific as she is with her writing. I work with kids all day as a speech therapist and wish I had more time with my three year old to come up with these ideas. I love to read this blog at the end of the day and as a fellow 34 year working mom really understand how busy life can be. So she has an assistant to help, and she actually DOES things with her kids. We all benefit by reading about it. Stephanie-the clothespin activity would be highly endorsed by our occupational therapist! Please keep up the great work and don’t let ANON get you down!

  8. Easy 3 year old play idea: Buy a bag of beans. Dump them in a big bucket or container. Let the kids play with them. Even if they do put one in their mouth, it’s just a bean. And beans are easy to sweep up.

    Warning: Don’t do this outside on the grass. Any beans that fall out will start growing a bean garden in your lawn.

  9. I wish you’d feature Lucas at the forefront of more pictures. I’ve noticed that there are always more pictures of Abigail on the site. Or if there are picture of the two of them, she’s always more of the focus.

  10. In my view, the article is really the most helpful on this relevant topic. I agree with your conclusions and eagerly look forward to your next updates. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the exceptional clarity in your writing. I will grab your rss feed directly to stay advised of any updates. Good work and much success in your endeavours!

  11. Pingback: 10 toddler busy bag ideas | Mum`s Grapevine

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