Keep your busy toddler occupied, without TV, with these independent toddler activities.

Here’s a little day in my life when my baby girl was about 4 months old, and my toddler was not quite 2 1/2.

It all started out with me leaving the room to change baby’s diaper. My little guy comes into the room saying “I rub my belly by self, good job!” and clapping. Hmm…I wondered, why is he so proud of himself? This can’t be good…Keep your busy toddler occupied, without TV, with these independent toddler activities.
That same day I came out from rocking BabyA to sleep, and found this…He had gotten into the Viks VapoRub and put it all over himself.

Keep your busy toddler occupied, without TV, with these independent toddler activities.

It looks harmless, and even precious, but that nap only lasted 45 minutes and it was the only one he took that day. And we all know the dangers of an over-tired toddler…

I was out of the room for 2 minutes changing another diaper and found this. (If you can’t tell what’s going on, he’s covered in those little colored dot stickers that I used to label boxes when we moved.)

Keep your busy toddler occupied, without TV, with these independent toddler activities.

Then, as I was rocking BabyA for her next nap, I could hear him getting into something. When I came to check, I found this…

Keep your busy toddler occupied, without TV, with these independent toddler activities.

Yes, that’s my dining room table with permanent black marker all over it!

What a day! Obviously there were some immediately child-proofing measures put into place. With a new baby in the house, it was simply unavoidable that there would be times when my toddler couldn’t have my full attention.

I did a quick Pinterest search for ideas of ways to occupy him with some more positive activities, but I didn’t come up with anything promising in my exhausted state. I needed a huge list of ideas to choose from with extremely simple instructions that required very little prep, but I didn’t come across anything like that at the time.

Soooo, I had to rely on America’s favorite babysitter, the television, for those sticky times when a mama just can’t be in two places at once.

But boy, is it a slippery slope! Before I knew it, my TV-free kid went from watching TV a bit while I was putting his sister down for a nap or changing her diaper, to all during her nap and while I was making dinner or any other time he could wear me down with whining and pleading.

And he isn’t one of these kids who eventually just ignores the TV and goes on playing. No, PBS Kids comes on and he’s a little zombie, slumping lower and lower on the couch with eyes totally glazed over.

I’ve known we needed a different solution for a while. His baby sister is 8 months old after all! If anything is going to change, it’s kind of now or never.

Independent Toddler Activities

We started looking for some toys and activities that would occupy a very active 2 1/2 year old who really needs a lot of one-on-one time to fill up his tank. Here’s what we came up with that is working well so far. (This post contains affiliate links.)

1 Puzzles have always been a favorite for E, but his wooden puzzles with only a dozen or so pieces were getting way too easy. We picked out some new puzzles that were a bit more for a challenge. When he first started out he’d get frustrated and needed some guidance. Now he is happily spending more time fitting pieces together by himself.

As I’m learning, it’s always worth while to spend a little time teaching him how to do something on his own. I can see that this is going to be a great independent activity that he will really enjoy for longer periods of time before soon.

2 I’ll put play-doh in the marginally successful category. He has a lot of fun mashing, dumping, squashing, and scooping the play dough, putting it in his hair, and forming surprisingly creative sculptures of Mama and Baby, pizza, and creatures yet unknown.

However, there is some mess involved, and I do find myself stopping my progress on dish washing to retrieve the neon colored play stuff from under the table more than I would like.

Update: A friend brought over some play-doh scissors and animal “cookie cutter” toys, and this is now E’s go to favorite activity! 

3 Of all the new activities we tried the absolute favorite for all of us has been a magnetic drawing board. My husband and I have had several blissful Saturday morning moments, drinking coffee, chatting together, and dreaming about the future thanks to this toy.

Meanwhile, our 2-year-old is happily drawing and practicing his letters on his “color board” without making a mess or feeding his sister crayons. Everybody wins!

Keep your busy toddler occupied, without TV, with these independent toddler activities.

4 Then I found this little gem: 101 Independent Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers. It’s written by mother of four, MaryEllen of the Imperfect Homemaker. (Oh my! How I wish I had this book when BabyA arrived last summer!)

I put together this checklist of supplies based on the activities from the book. All of these goodies (most of which I was able to gather from around the house) will sit in a box in the kitchen ready for when I need my toddler to be happily and safely occupied. That way I have everything I need all in one place to quickly pull out an activity when I need it.

Independent Toddler Activities Checklist

  • Paper Clips
  • Index Cards
  • Washable Crayons
  • Flashlight
  • Coloring Books
  • Paint Brushes
  • Containers
  • Stickers
  • Tape
  • Trace Paper
  • Sticky Notes
  • Play Dough
  • Construction Paper
  • Craft Sticks
  • Books
  • Foam Letters/ Numbers
  • Magnets
  • Ribbon
  • Tooth Picks
  • Craft Pom Poms
  • Pipe Cleaners


What independent activities keep your little ones occupied? Share your tips in the comments!

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