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10 for 10: Ten Activities to Occupy Toddlers for Ten Minutes

by Shauna Smith Duty


Toddlers are busy little people working hard to explore and learn everything they can about their new world. They want to know how people react to their happiness, sadness, and temper tantrums. Tossing all the toys they can find over their shoulders, they move from one challenge to another in a matter of minutes. Toddlers have more energy than a nuclear power plant. Chasing them, cleaning up after them, and protecting them from their own reckless curiosity is a big job. Sometimes it’s enough to make a caregiver want to have a melt down.

Caregivers want to surround toddlers with learning opportunities, toys and games that foster physical and mental development, and activities that entertain and bring smiles. Toddlers want the same opportunities. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas for play. These ten creative activities will keep toddlers occupied for at least ten minutes at a time, and they are great for developing attention span and motor skills.

1. SORTING MACHINE: Some toddlers love to sort things. From dolls to blocks to crayons, they group items by size or color. For a toddler who enjoys organizing, secure her in a high chair and provide a few handfuls of Fruit Loops and a muffin pan. With a little direction, she’ll sort the cereal by color into the muffin pan cups and enjoy a healthy snack.

2. FUTURE PICASSO: A bowl of chopped fruit with a little peanut butter and some graham crackers is great for an entertaining, edible art project. First, spread peanut butter on the graham cracker. Then press fruit chunks into the peanut butter to create a nutritious work of art. You may just inspire the world’s next Picasso.

3. TOY ROTATION: Karen Matlock, Director of Horizons Homeschoolers in Grapevine, Texas, suggests rotating toys. A bin filled with toys can be stashed away for a months in a closet or cupboard. When the forgotten toys are reintroduced, toddlers will think it’s Christmas morning. Use a different bin in various rooms, and occasionally toss in a few new toys for an added surprise.

4. SHAKE IT UP: Place toys or treats inside clear containers with the lids attached. Children love to shake and rattle things, and when a toddler realizes a treat is inside, the activity will seem even more appealing. You may have to teach children how to remove the lids, but as you know, toddlers are quick studies.

5. WATER COLORS: Mary Byers, Author of The Mother Load (Harvest House, 2005) used to add a drop of blue food coloring to her kids’ bath water and give them sea creature toys to play with. For a change of theme, she would use green food coloring and jungle creature toys. This same concept can be used with water play in a shallow wading pool or individual pans for each child. It makes a great outdoor activity on warm days.

6. PAPER PLAY: Rebecca Balcarcel gave her twin toddlers a roll of toilet paper to keep them entertained. She claims it would occupy them for fifteen minutes at a time, and the cost of the toilet paper was less than the price of a sitter. Consider allowing toddlers to wrap themselves in toilet paper and pretend they are snowmen, or to decorate the room with toilet paper streamers. You may want to use the game as a potty training celebration.

7. LID-LE IDEAS: Balcarcel also suggests providing a collection of lids for creative play. Her twins would make music with the lids, or dump them out and gather them up. For a twist, try presenting toddlers with a tub of plastic containers and their detached lids. Children can find and affix the matching lids to each container. Cleaned and dried plastic bottles like those used for shampoo, mustard, and Parmesan cheese have distinctive lids that are easily identified and attached.

8. ROUGHIN’ IT: Turn over a table or gather chairs into a circle in the center of the room, then toss blankets over them to construct tents. Children can make individual tents or work together to make a really big hideout for everyone to share. Flashlights and popcorn can keep them happy in their tent while you read a fun story or sing camping songs.

9. OBSTACLE COURSE: Nap mats and pillows can be transformed into exciting and safe indoor obstacle courses for toddlers. Use nap mats on their sides, propped against chairs or tables, to form walls for a maze. Pillows can be hopped over, crawled on, or used as steppingstones in an obstacle course. Cardboard boxes with two ends cut off become fun tunnels. Play Follow the Leader in the obstacle course, changing the leader each time you reach the beginning.

10. SPAGHETTI MESS: Shelley Johnson came up with an unconventional and creative solution to keep her toddler occupied. “I would cook several large packages of spaghetti, add olive oil, let it cool, then put it on the floor in a very large Tupperware bowl. He (her son, not her husband) would eat it and put it on his head. This was always good for a pictures as well as an hour or more of fun time.” When asked about the clean up, Johnson says, “Since there was olive oil on the pasta, it didn’t stick to the floor. So it was just a pick it up and mop, fun mess. He was so fascinated with it that he just sat and played. So it wasn’t everywhere.” This activity can be confined to a wading pool or tarp to ensure cleanliness of the food and easy clean up for the caregiver.

With all their energy, providing constant entertainment for toddlers can be difficult. Children love the repetition of familiar games and activities, but they also respond well to new activities. These inexpensive and easy ideas will afford caregivers a few minutes of downtime. They’ll also encourage children to use their minds and their bodies to explore, play, and learn in their new world.

Shauna Smith Duty is a freelance writer and homeschooling mother of two in Roanoke, Texas. Visit to read more of Shauna’s articles and find out about her latest projects.



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