I have got a very busy, very active toddler and, like all toddlers, she doesn’t necessarily have the longest attention span. There have been times when I’ve spent longer putting activities together than she’s spent actually doing it, but that’s the nature of the (toddler) beast! It drives me crazy though so I’ve put together some cheap activities for toddlers are are really quick to set up and mainly use things you’ve already got around the house.
The majority of these cheap activities are mainly aimed at toddlers and under 5’s, they should only take a few minutes to set up and can be done indoors (or sometimes outdoors). If you have older kids and they’re anything like mine they may well end up enjoying them as well!
Marble / Ball run
OK, this is possibly the most rustic marble / ball run you’ll ever see but I made it in an emergency with very limited forethought. It’s the epitome of cheap toddler activities because it cost me nothing at all! That said, it’s lasted several weeks already! The idea is simple – stick tubes of some description onto a board or piece of wood and roll stuff down it. Toilet roll tubes, kitchen roll tubes, wrapping paper tubes and bottles can all work depending on your design. Before you attach each tube make sure an object from the previous one will land on your new tube AND that it is at the right angle to continue rolling. You can roll literally anything down this. Dice, pom poms, balls, marbles, cars, anything!
If you want to take it up a level you could build something like this from the Eden Project. There are also some really beautiful, elaborate versions of these that you can make from guttering etc. Sadly guttering isn’t cheap, and setting them up isn’t quick, so I’ve not included any on this list of toddler activities.
Skittles are great for developing hand eye coordination and gross motor skills. If you don’t want to buy any, they’re easy enough to make yourself out of 500 ml drinks bottles (fizzy drink bottles tend to have the best shape). You and your your child can decorate them together before you add weight using water, rice, beads or sand. Making the props together is cheap and a great way of making toddler activities last a few days without them getting bored.
Make sure that you glue the lids on before using to prevent spills. Don’t overfill them (max 1/4 full) otherwise you won’t be able to knock them over. The amount that you need to fill it depends on the weight of the ball you’re using. Test them out before you seal the bottles.
Jelly and Chopsticks
This was actually Middle Child’s school work but Smallest Child quickly took it over! This has ended up the list of quick and cheap toddler activities because she just loved it. Simply cut up about half a block of raw jelly. Cover it in a little bit of vegetable oil (any oil really) and then get them to try and put the jelly blocks into a cup or tub using chopsticks. Smallest child fairly quickly realised she could just stab the blocks, but she also enjoyed trying to do it properly. I couldn’t believe how much she enjoyed this, but she played with it for ages.
There are so many instruments that you can easily make at home with a toddler. Drums can be made from tin cans with balloons over the top (secured with an elastic band). Different sized cans produce different notes. A guitar can be made from a shoe box or butter tub by putting elastic bands across them. Shakers can be made from pretty much anything that seals. I’ve always loved toddler activities like these because they’re so cheap (just buy balloons and elastic bands) and involve recycling rubbish.
Wash the CAr, animals or Clothes
Kids love cleaning stuff, particularly toddlers. We’ve done various activities on this theme. I kept a load of newborn baby clothes and now Smallest Child washes them and hangs them out on her very own washing line. I’ve set up a Cozy Coupee car wash (I’m not letting her anywhere near my actual car!) and she gives that a scrub.
If these all seem a bit too messy, or takes up too much space, then just get them to clean the animals. All you need is a small tub with soil, sand, slime or even water beads and some toy animals. Have another tub with some water and washing up liquid plus paint brushes etc. to do the actual cleaning.
Obviously, this can get quite messy. There are lots of other outdoor activities for kids (including toddlers) that you can try here.
Have a foam party
No dodgy 90’s discos here! Make a bubble snake (instructions below) but instead of blowing the bubbles into the air, blow them into a tough spot filled with Happyland or similar characters. They quickly get hidden by the bubbles and then your child has to find them! Expect to be met with continuous demands for more bubbles once you start!
Making a bubble snake is really easy. Make the solution using water plus a decent splodge of washing up liquid. Cut the bottom off a drinks bottle and put a sock over the end (make sure the sock is taut over the end of the bottle) and secure with an elastic band. Just blow into the top to make you bubble snake.
Cheap Food related activities for toddlers
Dried pasta and rice crispies food art
This activity quickly evolved from one to another. She started off with trays of rice crispies, pasta, glue and paper. We spent a fair amount of time making “beautiful” pictures but after a while she decided to make “soup.” Out came a mixing bowl, wooden spoon, and muffin cases. She’s mix the soup and then decant it into the cases to make cupcakes. Smallest Child clearly enjoyed herself a lot because she asked to make soup again the next day!
This might make me a terrible person but whilst I’ll happily let Smallest Child help me to bake, I don’t want to actually eat anything she makes!! When the boys and I were recently making bread we gave her just some flour and water to make her own loaf with. It was incredibly messy but a good way of keeping her occupied whilst we were baking. Couple of tips – don’t give them too much water or it basically turns to glue!
Vinegar and Bicarb Experiments
There are several really easy science experiments that you can get toddlers and pre-schoolers involved in if you click here. One of our favourites has to be making a volcano. The ingredients are safe enough for toddlers to use (I tend to just let her do the water and vinegar parts) and she LOVED the reaction. Click here for the full instructions on how to make a volcano at home.
Teddy zip wire
You can do this indoors or outdoors, depending on the layout of your house. We set ours up outside because we have a U-shaped staircase. All you need is some string, hangers, pegs and cuddle toys (ideally with ears or wings). We hooked up a long length of string from the first floor bedroom window down into the garden. Then we pegged various cuddly toys onto hangers, put each hanger on the line it turn and let them slide down the string. Sometimes toddler activities end up being family activities, and this was very much the case with the teddy zip wire. All three kids thought this was AWESOME.
Safety advice – if you’re doing this outside, you’re better off with the toddler at the bottom of the zip line and an adult at the top. Please be careful with small children and open windows!!!
Craft activities for toddlers
These are AWESOME! They’re little wax sticks that you can mould into any shape or sculpture. They’re reusable and the colours don’t mix (unlike playdoh). Waxidoodles stick to themselves and most surfaces (but don’t leave a mark). This is probably the most expensive of the toddler activities I’ve listed (£15 per pack) but the number of times you can reuse them means actually, per use, they work out really cheap.
Printing and Painting
There are so many ways you can get the tools for printing and painting. It’s not all just about a paintbrush. Of course there are lots of different stamps available to buy but you can also make your own potato stamps. Other great tools for making unique patters are toilet rolls, lids, forks, sponges, toy animals and even fruit! Nature painting using leaves and sticks and offer interesting textures as does things like bubble wrap and foil.
Other ideas include butterfly painting (painting on just one half of a piece of paper then folding it over) or bubble painting. If you fancy trying puffy paint then you can find a recipe here. It doesn’t really matter what you’re using, painting is a great way of having fun and building writing skills.
Salt dough toddler activities
The ratios for salt dough are 1 cup plain flour, 1/2 cup of table salt and 1/2 cup of water. Mix the flour and salt together, gradually add in the water and bring together to form a dough. Once your salt dough creations are made there are various ways of drying them out. Air drying will take the longest (several days, maybe longer if your creation is thick) but will not bubble. Bake in a cool oven (lowest temp possible) for 3/4 hours (again depends on the thickness. Might lead to some bubbling of the dough (mine usually does) or even use a microwave. This will take a max of 1 minute (check the shapes every 10 seconds) and is almost guaranteed to bubble. If that doesn’t matter then it’s a very quick way of drying the salt dough out.
Feed the monkey
I know that sounds a bit rude but I’m not sure what else you could call it! This activity is totally stolen from a Story Frog toddler phonics session we attended. Simply make a box with a monkey on the lid and cut out a large slot for a smile. Something like a shoebox would be perfect because you can easily remove the lid. Make some banana shapes out of salt dough and then use toddler tweezers to feed them to the monkey. Simples.
Lockdown hand print
It wouldn’t be a family lock-down without a family salt dough hand print (apparently). Yes, we’ve made our own, which turned out to be MASSIVE. Hubby pointed out, do we really want to be reminded of this? But we’ve done (and treasured) foot and hand prints of the children over the years.
Salt dough shapes
There are literally no limits to what you can make from salt dough and use as educational activities for toddlers and under 5’s. We’ve used it to make 2D shapes, 3D shapes, letters & numbers and make leaf prints. Make multiple ladybird shapes with different coloured dots to aid counting. If you’re feeling fairly creative you can make your own play food.
Activities for Toddlers – The basics
Sometimes I think we’re all guilty of trying too hard when putting together activities for toddlers and under 5’s. We can feel like we have to do a “special” activity to keep the little ones entertained. That doesn’t always have to be the case though. When you’re trying to think of activities to do indoors with a toddler don’t forget about the basics. They’re classics for a reason!
Colouring – In our house this is currently known as draw-y. We all know these first marks are the foundation for learning to write and the more variations of pencils, pens and crayons you can use the better! If just a plain piece of paper isn’t quite cutting it there are loads of free printables available online. Hey Duggee is a firm favourite in our house and there are lots of printables on the Hey Duggee website.
You can add textures to their pictures by colouring over other materials such as bark or, as used in this photo, corrugated paper. The picture above was created at Tring Natural History Museum’s under 5 craft sessions.
Stickers – Making sticker pictures is a really good way for developing pincer grip (removing the sticker or its backing) and just generally keeping them focused and quite for a while.
Water – What is it about playing with water that kids find so fascinating? If all goes quite then chances are Smallest Child has taken herself off the a bathroom to play in the sink (Not at all anxiety inducing!!!). Just have lots of different sized tubs and jugs on hand and be prepared for water to go everywhere!!
It’s not always easy coming up with ideas of cheap activities that will keep toddlers and under 5’s entertained for more than 5 seconds! It does seem to me, the messier the play, the longer they’ll do the activity! For more ideas of cheap toddler activities check follow me on Pinterest or check out my Cheap Activities for Toddlers board.