The toddler/preschool set is particularly challenging, since they require eyeballs on them at all times. But there are quite a few activities (indoor and out) that will keep them occupied with minimal effort on your part.
1. SET UP A TAPE ESCAPE WITH THEIR TOYS
What you need: washi tape or painter’s tape. What you do: Tape their fave tiny toys (think Moana figurines) to a wall or table—any place that’s within their reach. (Thanks for the brilliant idea, @themamanotes.) Peeling the tape is a fun challenge that not only promotes dexterity and fine motor skills but also keeps a kid entertained for many minutes.
2. GET CREATIVE WITH SORTING BINS
Muffin tin? Check. Various pasta shapes? Check, check. Now, encourage your toddler to get to work sorting everything into its own compartment in the tray. (You can also use bowls if you don’t have a muffin tin.) Your job: Sit in close proximity and keep tabs while they develop this math skill, which, BTW, teaches them to analyze data, find relationships between objects and apply rules to groups. (Find loads of ideas for more objects to sort here.)
3. USE DECONSTRUCTED BOXES FOR LARGE-SCALE ART
Depending on your situation, you may still have time to order a roll of kraft paper for your kids. If not, it’s time to get crafty. Grab a box from the recycling and break it down. Then lay it out—and tape it up if you have to—so your kids can color, paint and create. The bigger the canvas, the longer they’re entertained.
4. TURN THE TUB INTO A WATER PARK
Parental supervision required, but the bathtub doesn’t have to be reserved for bath time only. Let your minis wear bathing suits as they hit the “pool” for some water play with their favorite toys. You could even use kitchen items to let them set up some pouring stations.
5. THROW A PUZZLE PARTY
This age-group has a lot of puzzles, and they may have even mastered some. For a fun new (and time-consuming) challenge, take out every single puzzle and mix all the pieces together...then ask your child to put them back together. This task helps toddlers learn shape recognition, concentration and goal setting. And we speak from personal experience when we say it keeps ’em engaged.
6. HIT UP THE ACTUAL PARK
You’ll need to steer clear of the playground equipment for now, but it’s A-OK to let them burn off some energy in a wide-open field. Bring a ball, a Frisbee or their go-to scooter (we love the Micro Mini)—just skip the finger-food snacks while you’re out and be sure to wash everyone’s hands for at least 20 seconds as soon as you get home.
7. CUE UP ‘DANIEL TIGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD’ OR ‘SESAME STREET’
The news you desperately needed to hear during this time: TV for toddlers is OK as long as you are selective with the type of content they’re consuming. For example, both Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street provide loads of interactivity for little ones, whether it’s through question-and-answer segments or vocab and math lessons (all hail the letter of the day!). And if it gives you a much-needed sanity break, that’s incredibly valuable, too,” says Lindsay Powers, author of You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids: A Judgment-Free Guide to Stress-Free Parenting.