How to Keep Your Active Toddler Busy Indoors

How to Keep Your Active Toddler Busy Indoors

Nothing in life is more challenging than trying to distract a 2-year-old long enough for you to be able to pee in solitude.

I blame their growing brains; they can only handle so much of one activity before those beautiful neurons fire off in some other direction and entice them to find out what happens if they colour on the walls instead of the paper provided.

Thank God for washable markers.

That’s why I’ve thrown together these free(ish) ways to keep a toddler entertained, especially when you need a moment to recharge and sip your cold coffee from three hours ago, or use the bathroom without tiny fingers clawing at the door.

This is even more challenging when it’s too cold outside to do much beyond bundle up and roll around in the snow.

So, enjoy! Sip beverages! Go pee! Go do whatever you have been trying to do for the last several hours while you followed your tiny tornado around the house, saving houseplants and pets from terror and destruction.


I don’t know what it is, but balloons are nothing short of amazing to toddlers. Blow up a few and let them bat them around the living room until they finally pop (the balloons, not your toddler.)

They can’t really do any damage to anything, which is a bonus, and kids love the age-old game of “keepie uppie” almost as much as you will love those few free minutes to yourself.

Better yet, blow up a whole bunch of them of varying sizes and watch your toddler’s brain explode with the magic of physics.

Water play (use a heavy container!)

That felt so strange to type; let me explain.

I used to be able to just put some water in a plastic Tupperware bin and let my daughter play around in it when she was little. She’d squat (kids squat like champs, they have super squat powers) in the kitchen with the tub in front of her on the floor, and flop her little LOL dolls around in the water. They were either swimming or drowning, I don’t remember — but she was entertained.

My son is a different story.

My little baby Hulk wastes no time flipping Tupperware bins over (something my comparatively gentle daughter would never have considered) and destroying his mother’s shaky sense of peace by flooding the kitchen with water.

I’ve learned from this, though, and now he sits strapped in at the table in his booster seat, with the very heavy casserole dish with water and Hot Wheels in front of him. He still makes an amazing mess, but it’s much more manageable.

*A note on safety: don’t leave your toddler alone with a tub of water. That might be something that doesn’t need to be said to a room full of helicopter moms like me, but I would be remiss if I neglected to do so.

Take a bath!

Kids love water, so another great way to include it in your schemes is to let them take a bath (or take one with them!)

You don’t even need bath toys — a cup or two is all they really need. Trust me, I have a million bath toys and all my kids play with is the empty bubble bath bottle. Sponges and cloths are also a huge hit.

For being so hard to entertain, kids like to keep it simple.

*Again, for the folks in the back — please don’t leave your wee one alone with water. Thanks.

Up your Play-Doh game

Kids grow bored with Play-Doh if you don’t give them something to do with it, besides possibly eating it.

Enter cookie cutters!

This is fairly self-explanatory, but I give my son cookie cutters and a small rolling pin with his Play-Doh. He has learned by watching me how to roll the dough and use the cutters, although is approach is somewhat more, shall we say, “forceful.” The concentration scrunching up his face is adorable, though, and he’ll do this for 15 minutes or more before he starts to throw things (which is my usual cue that he is bored.)

If you’re a parent, 15 minutes is a lot.

You can also include other craft-related items here, such as googly-eyes and pipe cleaners, and let your toddler create monsters and caverns and whatever else their minds cook up. Play-Doh is so versatile and (as long as you avoid getting it into the carpet) it’s pretty easy to clean up.


I don’t know what it is, but toddlers can be entertained for a good chunk of time with a variety of Tupperware bins and lids. They love sorting them and experimenting with the different sizes and corresponding lids.

Sorting is also really good for toddlers and there’s so much you can do with this kind of activity. Throw in a few wooden spoons for example, and you’ve changed the game on them.

The nice thing about this one is that there’s very little mess or possibility of breaking anything.

I don’t need to tell parents that toddlers are experts at both of those activities.

Sorting all the things

Toddlers really get a lot from sorting and regular practice is great for helping them learn differences and similarities. It even helps them develop early literacy and numeracy skills.

An added bonus — sorting activities are extremely easy to set up and take down.

Here’s a DIY activity for you: paint or colour the inside of each cup in an empty egg carton (or paint several the same colours to keep it simple.) You can then use anything that you have multiple colours of, like bottle caps, buttons, or craft balls, to let your toddler sort. Keep the lid of the egg carton to hold your sorting objects.

Help your toddler sort the caps (or whatever you have used) into the corresponding cups, and voila! A game to keep your little genius thinkin’ away for a while.

They can also sort virtually anything — crayons, cups, Lego, and so on. Think outside the box!

Colouring in a box

Speaking of boxes, try plopping your kiddo in a big one with some crayons/markers and stickers, and they’ll colour themselves a whole new world.

And your floors and walls will be safe from your toddler’s creative ventures!

Colouring is a great activity to take advantage of anyway — I often buckle my son into his booster while I’m cooking or folding laundry to colour a few pieces of paper I taped to the table.

A big cardboard box, though, is like a whole new world to toddlers, and being free to colour the “walls” will be a pretty exciting experience.

Card slot drop

This one is so easy and really makes your toddler’s brain whir. Take a container or box and cut a slit into the lid big enough to slip a playing card into.

That’s it. Just give your kiddo the cards and show them what to do a few times, and they’ll go through every single card (or they’ll throw them around for a game of 52-card pick-up, but whatever — they’ll still be entertained.)

I’ve also done this with poker chips and a tin piggy bank — the addition of the clinking sound kept my son even more interested in the activity.

Paper Tunnels

My little guy loves cars, so this activity is perfect — especially while I’m making supper, because I can do it in the kitchen and keep an eye on him.

Simply tape pieces of paper to the floor in several upside down “u” shapes (creating tunnels) and offer balls and/or cars to roll or drive under them.

The importance of independent play

Needing your child to entertain themselves isn’t just necessary for moms to snag a much-needed break, it’s also really beneficial for your child.

Teaching our toddlers to play independently helps them develop critical thinking skills and, through exploration and problem-solving, builds creativity. Playing with them is great too, of course, and there’s something to be said for building up some social understanding, but our kids need to learn to play alone, too.

So don’t feel guilty if you come out of your much-needed pee break and discover your little one engrossed in whatever activity you’ve encouraged. Sit down, flip through a magazine, and feel free to drink your cold coffee in peace.

You’ve both earned that moment of solitude.

This post was previously published on Mom Jeans.


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