Many of these ideas seem a little - well - boring. But I'm continually amazed at how consistently these seemingly mundane tasks keep my little guy occupied for a serious chunk of time. So without further ado, here are half a dozen go-to activities for your restless toddler.
1. Washing Food
This one combines two of toddlers' favorite things: responsibility and water. Put your little one to task washing a few pieces of food and you'll probably get dinner completely cooked before he gets bored. Just be aware that you may have to sacrifice a little produce in the process. My two year old "washed" the above tomato for a solid 35 minutes and when he was done there was nothing left. Also note, to save water you can use a bowl of water instead of the facet.
Again, young kids love any task that gives them a chance to be in charge. Arm them with a child sized broom, or even a simple rag, and give them explicit instructions on what to clean (i.e. wipe all the dog hair up that you can find). They'll have a great time hunting down dirt, both real and fictitious, and will also have a real sense of accomplishment when they're done.
3. Having Fun with Food Coloring
I could write an entire post just on activities that involve food coloring. Our favorites include: mixing it with some shaving cream inside a sandwich bag and then drawing shapes with our fingers, mixing it with alcohol and dying macaroni, and mixing it with water and "painting" on paper towels.
4. Mixing Food in a Bowl
This is another "I wanna be like mommy or daddy" activity that's a great occupier while you're trying to make dinner. Just add a little bit of various baking ingredients (flour, sugar, water, oil) to a large bowl. Then hand it over along with a wooden spoon and ask you toddler to stir it up. You'll have to pause occasionally to add a few more ingredients but it's a great way to keep the kids in the kitchen with you while keeping them out of the way.
5. Coloring in a New Way
Coloring is a classic standy-by activity but sometimes you have to mix it up a bit to keep it interesting. One way to go is to vary their materials (crayons vs. markers vs. colored pencils, etc.). Another option is to vary what they color on. My son gets tired of coloring books pretty quickly but his eyes still light up when I stretch a roll of white paper all the way across the living room floor.
6. Pouring Water in Various Sized Bowls
I saved the best for last. I know you're probably thinking, "pouring water into bowls is the best you've got?". But trust me, this one is super fascinating for toddlers. Cover a cookie sheet with a layer or two of paper towels for the spills. Then choose 3 or 4 small bowls and fill them with various amounts of water.
Set your toddler up with the tray at a table and show her how to pour the water from bowl to bowl. Once she gets the hang of it, she'll pour on her own for unheard of amounts of time. You can even reignite interest by adding food coloring to the water and turning it into a color blending activity.
What fail-safe methods do you use to keep your young children busy? I'd love it if you'd share with us in the comments below.