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50 Low-Prep, Low-Mess Ideas to Engage Your Toddler

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50 Low-Prep, Low-Mess Ideas to Engage Your Toddler

I have a dreamy curly-headed sweetheart of a two-year old that we often call the tornado of the house. He is adventurous, curious, and playful, as most two-year olds are and should be! When my two oldest children were his age I spent all day, everyday doing things just for them. They are only 18 months apart and I didn't have any other children, so this was easy. We went to library storytime, a music class, playgrounds, and on walks. At home I offered elaborate sensory bins and craft projects, perfectly tailored to their age and abilities. 

My current toddler came along four years later (and then shortly after him, my fourth baby). Our days look drastically different now, as I homeschool the older two, run a household of six, and run a small business. I have to be really intentional to get in quality time with him. In an effort to not just push him aside when the day gets busy, I am trying to offer him activities to engage his mind, body, and curiosity, while also managing to get lessons or other tasks done. To help me and you, I have compiled this go-to list of ideas that I most certainly will be pulling out from time to time. 

Whether you are in the trenches homeschooling like I am and need low-prep ideas in your tool belt or you can dedicate a lot of one-on-one time with your toddler and just need some fresh inspiration, I hope this list helps you!

While I don’t mind occasionally spending a lot of extra time preparing for a fun activity for my toddler, that is simply not realistic in my season of life. And while I really and truly love good messy sensory play, those things will not be on this list. Not this time.

These 50 ideas are exactly as it is titled - LOW PREP and LOW MESS. These are things you could set up at the table or nearby on the floor and let your toddler explore without you needing to be on top of them, making sure they don’t dump the bin of rainbow rice or rub shaving cream in their eyes. Of course, toddlers and ANYTHING can create a mess, but within reason. These ideas shouldn’t set you up for a complete disaster.

These ideas were selected by a busy mama, mainly for the purpose of pulling things out to set up while we engage in our homeschool lessons. Some are things you would purchase and others are materials you would have around the house. My plan is to pick my favorites, gather the materials, and store them near the table where we do lessons so I can quickly grab them in a moment of need. 

Okay, enough chat- here is the list! 

The first 25 are resources and toys you may want to invest in to keep your toddler busy and engaged. The last 25 are quick ideas using things you likely have around the house.

Toys / Learning Resources

1. Beginner Pattern Blocks

2. Counting & Sorting Color Bears

3. On the Go Letter Activity 

4. Magnetic Animals On A Cookie Sheet

5. Button Pegboard

6. Magnet Tiles

7. Water Wow Books

8. Toddler Drill Set

9. Chunky Beads On String

10. Melissa And Doug Reusable Sticker Books

11. Paint with Water Books

12. Color Wonder Mess-free

13. Sounds Of Nature Books

14. Pom poms with toddler tweezers and cups

15. Wax sticks

16. Do A Dot markers

17. Magnetic drawing board

18. Flower building toy

19. Sensory Busy Board

20. Peg board

21. Tabletop dry erase board and markers

22. Nuts and Bolts Toy

23. Bristle Blocks

24. Peg Puzzles

25. Sticker Books

Around the House Activities

26. Card Slot Drop - Cut a slit in the top of an oatmeal container and give your child playing cards for them to drop in, dump out and drop again.


27. Pipe Cleaner Push - Give your child a colander and pipe cleaners. Put the colander upside down on the table. Show them how to push and pull the pipe cleaners in and out of the holes. 


28. Contact Paper Stick - Tape a piece of contact paper (sticky side out) to the wall and let them stick small cut-up papers to it.


29. Pony Bead Threading - Give your child pony beads and pipe cleaners for them to thread.


30. Pom Pom Drop - Tape an empty paper towel tube on the wall and have the child drop pompoms through the tube into a bowl or on the floor. You could even make a maze of tubes for more fun!

Toddler pom pin sorting activity
31. Pom Pom Transfer - Give your child pom poms, acorns or rocks, an ice cube tray or muffin pan, some spoons and different sizes of containers. Let them explore!


32. Toothpick Drop - Offer your child a bowl of toothpicks or coffee stirrers and show them how to drop them into the holes of empty spice containers or a parmesan cheese container.


33. Animal Washing - Fill a shallow container with a tiny bit of water and soap. Give your child a toothbrush and plastic animals to “wash”.


34. Pom Pom Whisk - Give your child a whisk and a bowl of pom poms. Let them explore pushing them in a pulling them out.

Toddler cutting activity
35. Cutting Snakes - Pre-cut a stack of strips of paper and give them to your child with toddler scissors. They’ll have fun “cutting the snakes”.


36. Wash Everything - If you have an outdoor area nearby where you need to do lessons, give your child a spray bottle filled with water and a rag. Let them spray and wash everything.


37. Golf Tee Push - Give your child some golf tees and a shoebox with pre-poked holes all over it. They can push and pull out the tees over and over.


38. Window Cling Stickers - Let your child put window cling stickers on and off your windows. Another idea is for them to dip foam shapes in a shallow container of water and put those on the window. 


39. Stacking Cups - Give your child a big stack of disposable cups and let them stack, unstack, and build.

Toddler sorting activity

40. Tiny Things Play - Offer them a container of random trinkets like math manipulatives, buttons, or beads. Throw in some spoons and a few small bowls and let them explore.


41. Small Papers and Glue Stick - Give your child a bowl of cut up construction paper and a large white sheet of paper. Let them use a glue stick to glue the little pieces to the big piece.


42. Whiteboard or Chalkboard Drawing - Let them draw on their very own tabletop whiteboard or chalkboard.


43. Basketball - Gather some small balls and a laundry basket for them to stand at a distance, toss in, dump out, and toss again.


44. Car Ramps - Lay some long, narrow pieces of wood or your ironing board as a ramp from your couch to the floor and give them a bucket of toy trucks and cars.


45. Playdough - This one can obviously get messy, but if you know your child can handle it, playdough can go a long way. To keep it less chaotic, just give them a ball of playdough, a roller, a plastic knife and some cookie cutters. 


46. Pantry Stack - Let your child stack cans from your pantry into tall towers.


47. Clip Exploring - Give your child a bin of clothespins and random items that they can clip. Some ideas are playing cards or pipecleaners.


48. Noodle Threading - Put a lump of playdough or clay on the table and push a few straws or skewers into it, sticking straight up. Give your child some large noodles (like penne or rigatoni) and show them how to drop the noodles on the straws.


49. Painter’s Tape Play - Give your child a big roll of painter’s tape for them to rip off pieces and stick to the table or paper.


50. Pool Noodle and Toothpicks - Cut up a pool noodle into little slices and give your child the pieces and toothpicks. Watch them build and explore. 

    I hope this list is helpful to you in keeping those little hands busy and engaged!

    What activities did I miss? Drop your favorite engaging toddler activities in the comments below!

    If you want to discover more of my favorite toys and supplies, you may also like my post on Open-Ended Play Must Haves and my Gift Guide for Creative and Imaginative Kids. You can also visit my Amazon Storefront to find all of our favorite books, homeschool supplies, and something special for mama too.