Ten (more) Surefire Ways to Occupy Your Toddler

A couple of months ago I shared a list of some of my favorite activities for keeping toddlers occupied for a bit when you need to cook dinner, check your email, or (goodness me!) take a break on the couch for a few minutes.  Well, it was such a hit that I thought I'd better share a few more of my standards.  I'll be sharing ideas for preschoolers and older kids in the next few weeks, so check back!

  1. Set up a game of kitchen-ball with a laundry basket and a selection of small balls (crumpled paper balls are great, or tennis balls, wiffle balls, large bouncy balls, even beanbags work--nothing that could be a choking hazard, depending on the age of your child!)  Have your child try to toss the balls in from a short distance.  They'll usually wind up chasing the balls around as they bounce away so it lasts longer than you'd think!  Alternately, lay a paper grocery sack on it's side and have the child roll the balls into the bag. 
  2. Get out a muffin tin (one with six holes works well) and provide your toddler with an assortment of small, safe things to "sort" (duplo legos, large bouncy balls, plastic links).  Admittedly, it's possible that little sorting will actually occur, but the process of filling and emptying the compartments is just so satisfying!
  3. Supply your child with a feather or lambswool duster and send them to town cleaning any horizontal surface they come across.  I can't guarantee that they'll do a decent job, but is that really the point?
  4. Tape or tie an empty cardboard mailing tube at an incline to two legs of a table or through one arm of a chair and atop the other arm and have your child send big bouncy balls, matchbox cars, etc through the chute.
  5. Cut a fairly large slit in the top of a shoebox to make a "mailbox".  Provide your child with a deck of playing cards or collection of old hotel key-cards, ID cards, etc (that's the mail!).  Show him or her how to drop the cards through the slot one at a time, then dump them out and do it again. 
  6. Provide a dishpan with a bit of water, a little sponge, and a collection of spoons (teaspoons, tablespoons, serving spoons, baby spoons, etc) for your little one to wash and sort.  You may want to set this up on a towel in the kitchen to contain the mess!
  7. Once the spoon wash-and-sort gets old, put the spoons away and add more water, a few small floating tub toys and a little kitchen strainer.  Show your child how to dip the strainer in like a net to catch the little toys and lay them out on the towel to dry.  
  8. Rustle up an old wallet and fill it with hotel key-cards, old ID cards, coupons clipped from the Sunday paper, and money-sized bits of construction paper.  Watch your child empty the wallet, organize the contents, put everything back in, then start again.  Alternately, fill a small purse with little animal figures, old cards, coupons, old keys, etc. 
  9. Cut a tunnel-shaped opening in the side of a shoebox to make a matchbox car garage.  Show your child how to drive little cars in, then open the lid to find them again!
  10. Set up a basket or shelf with a collection of small, empty food containers (i.e. jello or rice pilaf boxes, yogurt cups, butter boxes).  Have your child "shop" by filling a grocery bag with whatever's on her "list" (the one in her head, anyway!), then put the groceries back and try again.
What are your tricks for keeping the under-3 set occupied when you need a few minutes? 
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