Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Toddler Activity Start Up Guide

How do I get started doing activities with my toddler?

Inside this post I'm going to share some simple tips to help you get started doing activities with your toddler. Activities don't have to be complicated!

Some parents don't know where to start, so today we're sharing our tips! Do you have any to add? Let us know!

Here's your 6 Step Plan to Get Started with Toddler Activities:

1. Assess why you want to do activities with your toddler.
2. Do a quick toddler survey.
3. Decide on the skills you want to work on with your toddler.
4. Pick a few activities to try!
5. Get the right supplies to do the activities.
6. Get started!

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.

6 Step Plan to Get Started with Toddler Activities

1. Assess why you want to do activities with your toddler.

Before we dive in, I want you to take a second and ask yourself some questions.

WHY do you want to do activities with your toddler? 

Which of these reasons would you pick? There are no wrong reasons.

a) I need more structure to the day and I need time to pass quicker.
b) I need her to have something to do so that I can get something done.
c) I want to connect with my toddler and have fun together!
d) I feel like we should be doing more than just playing. I'm worried he'll be behind other kids. 
e) Other?

If you're like most parents, you probably have a variety of reasons why you want to do activities with your toddler. Knowing your WHY will help you as you get started.

Before you run out and buy a bunch of things or start setting up activities that you find on Pinterest or Instagram, take a minute or two to do a little toddler survey.

2. Do a quick toddler survey.

If you take a few minutes to figure out what your toddler is most interested in or what sort of things he already likes, that can help you find other activities that will be a good match.


  • What is my toddler interested in?
  • What does my toddler play with the most?
  • Does my toddler like sitting down or moving a lot?
  • Does my toddler like to get messy?
  • What are some skills I want my toddler to work on?
  • What are some things my toddler is always getting into?
  • Is my toddler a builder or a destroyer?

3. Decide on the skills you want to work on with your toddler.

Toddler development is tricky because each child develops at their own rate, even though there is a range of "typical development." 

I've made a list of six skills that I think toddlers need to learn based on my experience as a mom and educator. As I plan activities for my toddlers, I like to have these in the back of my mind to help drive what we are doing.

Many of these skills can be worked on at the same time during activities together!

The six toddler skills include:
  • How to communicate (language skills)
  • How to get their bodies moving (motor skills)
  • How to make nice with others (social skills)
  • How to get their brains thinking (early learning skills)
  • How to use their imaginations (pretend play/imagination skills)
  • How to control their bodies & minds (self-regulation skills)

4. Pick a few activities to try!

To get started with picking activities you want to pick an activity based on something that your toddler is interested in and the skills you want to work on.

For example, my toddler likes trains and we want to work on communication skills.

Boom! It's like a choose your own adventure. 

Try some train pretend play or build a paper train table for some train play. You can chat and work on vocabulary building while you play.

Here are a few favorite toddler themes/interest areas you could start with depending on what your child likes:

Not sure where to start? 

Whatever you decide to try is great! Remember, the two most important things for toddlers to do each day are READING and PLAYING. Anything else is just icing on the cake.

5. Get the right supplies to do toddler activities.

Once you've picked a few activities to try, you'll want to get your materials together. You don't need to go out and spend a lot of money. So many activities can be done using simple things you have around the house.

Here are my top 10 supplies for toddler activities:

You can find more of our favorite supplies for toddler activities in our Toddler Approved Amazon Shop.

6. Get started!

Now you're ready to get started!

Have your toddler help you get the materials out for your activity. Keep your expectations low and remember that toddler attention spans are short!

REMEMBER: The average attention span of a 2 year old can range from 2-8 minutes. 3 year old average attention spans can range from 8-10 minutes.

If your child only does an activity for a few minutes, that is totally normal and doesn't mean that you (or the activity) are a failure.

Your child's attention span will increase over time.

The more engaging and open-ended the activity, the longer kids will play with an activity. Focus on open-ended and process centered activities and don't worry too much about the end result or finished product of an art or play experience.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. My toddler destroys everything! What should I do?

Toddlers go through different stages and enjoy repetitive actions that help them learn (called schemas). You can read more about schemas here.

Toddlers that are interested in the connecting schema (building/physically connecting) are also often in a destructive phase as well (as they disconnect things). These children are also often is interested in learning how things come together and come apart.

What to do? Give him or her activities that allow for safe opportunities to construct/connect and deconstruct things. 

Examples could include: knocking down soft block towers, ripping and cutting paper/magazines, taking toys apart, etc. 

2. What should I do if my toddler won't do the activity that I set up?

No big deal. This is totally normal.

Toddlers love choice and control, just like adults and big kids. Each child is different and will have different likes and dislikes. 

Think about activities in the same context you would with toddler eating. Does every toddler like everything they are fed? Does that mean that they'll never like that food? 

Not necessarily. 

Just like with introducing new foods, sometimes toddlers need to be exposed to an activity several times before they feel comfortable with it. 

Some kids will try any activity you share with them while others may need some time to warm up. Both are OK. 

Start with what they DO like and then build on from there.

For example, if your child loves dinosaurs but you want to expose him to painting. How about you paint with the dinosaurs? Or you do a dinosaur art project?

You will find much more success by taking your child's interests into consideration instead of just setting up a cute or popular activity that you find on Pinterest/Instagram.

Some of the most popular activities we've seen on Instagram my daughter WILL NOT DO.

What to do? Start with simple low-prep ideas so that you aren't frustrated if you set up an activity and it's a "no go" sort of day.

3. How can I get my toddler to play alone?

Some toddlers love independent play while others need to be taught and encourage to play independently.

You can read our simple tips for teaching toddlers to play independently here.

Do you have any other questions about setting up activities for toddlers? Ask away!

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