how to occupy a busy* toddler.

*and by busy, i mean one who never stops moving, ever. never ever ever ever.

if you missed it somewhere along the way, let me catch you up.


she was busy when i was pregnant with her, she was busy when she was an infant, and she continues to exhaust and amaze me with her busy-ness to this very day. especially to this very day.

now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things about having an energetic toddler. they absorb everything around them, they tend to learn quickly, and are interested in so many different things. but it’s also really, incredibly exhausting to be around one all day everyday. and you have to read between their lines and force them to sit still for their own health and sanity every once in a while. but how do you do that? because it’s certainly easier said than done.

here are a few things that have worked for us over the last year or so. feel free to add any ideas in the comments, because with this baby on the way, i’m going to need them!

five ways to occupy a busy toddler

  1. crayons. i mean, this is obvious, but invest in some crayons, paper, and any other art supplies that your toddler is interested in. busy toddlers need rest, and sometimes you have to make sure that they get it during their waking hours…they cannot literally run around all day. which my child would try to do if i let her. anything that’s colorful and will get them to sit but still use their brain and motor skills is a great thing.
  2. homemade play dough. see above. only the best thing about homemade play dough is that the making of the play dough is an activity in and of itself. boom. you can let the little one stir the mixture before it goes on the stove, and they usually get a kick out of the fact that their play dough is warm when they start playing with it. my favorite recipe is as follows: take 1 C. flour, 1 Tbsp. alum, 1/2 C. salt, 1 C. water, 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, and food coloring and mix together in a medium-sized saucepan. heat over low-medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture becomes dough consistency and forms a ball. turn dough out onto a flat surface and knead until it looks like play dough (careful, it’ll be HOT! at first). then play!2 year old with play dough
  3. play kitchen. this is one of the best ways to kill time before dinner if you can’t be outside during that lovely time of day. whether it’s playing in a small play kitchen or playing with real kitchen things while you cook, getting your toddler involved in feeling like they’re adding to the meal can be a real lifesaver when they might be running low on energy but still want to be active. miss Amelia’s favorite thing to cook for me when we’re making dinner is currently “blueberry soup”. it’s very delicious if i may say so.
  4. cleaning. YOU GUYS. little kids love cleaning. they LOVE it. give them a swiffer rag and show them where to “dust” and they feel so grown up. if you aren’t too uptight about water getting on cabinets and floors and walls, you can step it up a notch and give them a spray bottle full of water along with a rag, and let them go nuts. you get help with the dusting (kind of), and you can get some chores done without a crazy toddler-person running circles around you.
  5. daniel tiger. or any children’s show of your choice. there are days when the only time i can get Amelia to sit down is to watch her favorite show, daniel tiger. there are a lot of opinions out there on screen time, but here’s my take: sometimes a rest is necessary, and as long as the screen time is limited, is used as a tool, and is allowing you to interact with your child to help them learn, it can be invaluable. we waited until Amelia was about a year and a half old before introducing a show if that’s helpful (driven mostly by the fact that Mister Man was out of town for my entire first trimester with baby zee so i needed a break). i highly suggest daniel tiger because that show is amazing. Amelia not only picks up on the lessons, but uses them in her daily life. it’s kind of the best.


[full disclosure: she was sick and teething when this photo was taken, so this is not usually how we roll when watching daniel tiger.]

let me know what you think about these ideas for keeping a busy toddler occupied! what are your tried and true tricks? like i said, with baby zee on the way, and winter on the way, we are going to be spending a lot more time at home and inside than we’re used to, and i’m going to need some more ideas.

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