Actively encouraging our children to explore and discover the world around them is one of the most important things we can do as a parent. That’s why in this post I give you 20 ideas for toddler activities that encourage learning and development.
Sometimes when life gets busy and hectic, it’s so easy to disengage with your children. I know for me because Lily is so happy playing with her toys on her own, I just let her. I know a certain amount of independent play is actually a good thing. And that’s exactly what I tell myself over and over again when the days go by and I sit at my computer working as Lily plays behind me.
While I am not going to beat myself up for that, and if you’re like me you shouldn’t either, I do want to acknowledge it and see how I can improve. Although Lily is such a happy little girl, I need to ask myself how I can be an active participant in her learning and development. One of the things I did was look up a bunch of activities she can do while I engage and interact with her.
Activities that encourage creativity, sensory exploration, gross and fine motor skill development, and language and speech development.
Most of these activities require you to be there to supervise and teach. So it’s perfect for adding time throughout the day when you can be actively present and engaged with your toddler.
Another thing I love about these activities is that they only require you to use objects you can find at home. I purposely only included activities that I could do with items we already had and recycled items from activity to activity. I am currently in the process of moving and most of my home is packed up. So if I can find items and objects to make these activities work, so can you!
Almost all of these activities are 14-month-old Lily approved!
We did a marathon activity day to test every activity on this list, but couldn’t test the Balls in the Muffin Tin activity, because we packed our muffin tin. I’m sure she would’ve loved it though since she loves everything that includes balls. Still, we can now say we personally tried and loved 19/20 activities!
I hope this list is helpful. If you try any of these activities, comment below on which one was your toddler’s favorite!
20 Toddler Activities for Learning and Development
These activities are geared toward babies/toddlers 12-18 months old. ALL of these activities require full adult supervision and you should never let your child do any of these things while in a room alone!
1. Painting with Water
This is such a great idea for a mother like me who hates messes. It’s also a great activity for your toddler to get a chance to be creative and work on their fine motor skills. All you need is a paintbrush, construction paper, and water!
2. Card Drop
I don’t know about your child, but my child loves going through wallets and playing with credit cards. So I gathered up some unimportant cards, cut a slit in the top of a box, and let her figure out how to get the cards through the slit. It’s a great activity for hand-eye coordination. She did struggle a bit, so now I know it’s something we can continue working on.
3. Cotton Ball Drop
This is like a little toddler engineering project! It’s so great for them to figure out how things work. All you have to do is take empty toilet paper/ paper towel rolls and cut a section out of the top. Then, tape a few of various sizes to the wall in different directions. Finally, let your toddler drop a cotton ball from the top and watch it make its way down.
4. Edible Finger Paint
Sometimes no matter how much you hate the mess, you have to let your toddler experience messy and colorful things. So, I found a great recipe for edible finger paint on musthavemom.com. This is perfect for the 12 to 18-month age range when painting with real paint is not an option because everything still ends up in the mouth! This way you can let them just go crazy and you don’t have to be a nervous wreck the whole time worrying about them eating the paint. And guess what? She ate it.
5. Draw on Cream of Wheat
When I found this idea I thought it was so clever! I remember loving to draw in the sand when I was little and this is a great way to accomplish the same effect at home. It’s so great for sensory development, fine motor skills, and creativity. Disclaimer though… it’s really messy. In hindsight, I should’ve done this one outside. Also, yes she’s licking her hand. I guess she thought the cream of wheat was fun to play with and tasty! (Source: chicklink.com)
6. Blowing Bubbles
First of all, what kid doesn’t love bubbles? I’ve always been so amazed at the kind of joy a few bubbles could bring to a child. But also, according to mommyspeechtherapy.com, having your toddler blow bubbles teaches them to use their tongue and lips while also strengthening them. This will help with speech development. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find Lily’s bubble set. So we improvised. It didn’t go very well. But Lily had fun and that’s all that matters, right?
7. Flower Sensory Play
I think this is such a cool way to have your toddler explore nature, but it’s also a sensory activity. Flowers have different parts with different textures and also various colors and smells to explore. Lily already gravitates to flowers and plants, so encouraging her to play with flowers is not a hard task. I think most toddlers are born natures lovers! We didn’t have any flowers on hand, so we just played with some plants instead. (Source: chicklink.com)
8. Monochrome Color Tray
I love the idea of teaching colors by creating monochrome color trays. The hardest part is finding a bunch of things that are the same color. I think the best way is to pick one color every day and collect whatever you can of that color. Maybe even go color hunting for objects with your toddler! (Source: chicklink.com)
9. Fridge Time
Lily loves playing in the fridge. Every time I open the fridge door she runs as fast as she can to get inside before I close it. I never thought of letting her just hang out in there and explore, but after seeing it on chicklink.com I thought it was a great idea. It is a great way to let your toddler just explore the world around them. Lily also likes to open and close the drawers which is great for her gross motor skills.
10. Musical Tray
A musical tray is great for letting toddlers discover and explore different sounds. You can use play instruments or create your own. Just sit your toddler down in front of the tray and see what they do! Lily has a ton of plastic instruments, but her favorite “instrument” was a bottle of sprinkles. So be creative!
11. Sensory Rice Play
I saw this idea all over Pinterest and loved how easy it was. Some people suggest colored rice while others just use plain white rice. No matter what variation you go with, letting your toddler play with rice is a really fun sensory activity. Add some bowls, cups, scoopers, and spoons and you’ve got yourself some hand-eye coordination practice!
12. Sensory Bags
Sensory bags are so easy and fun to make. Just take a baggy and put some kind of liquid inside and mix in something to add texture. For example, fill a baggy with pennies and lotion. Another idea is shaving cream and noodles. Anything that your toddler can squish, feel, and explore. One tip I have is to double-layer the baggy and tape the top shut. Just to make sure as your toddler squishes and squeezes the bag doesn’t rip or pop open.
13. Sensory Oats Play
This is basically the same as the sensory rice play. It just allows your toddler to explore a different texture. A good idea if you don’t happen to have rice but do have oats! This was also way messier than I has anticipated. So I do suggest doing this outside or putting a towel underneath wherever your child is playing.
14. Parmesan and Cotton Swabs
Lily loves playing with cotton swabs. So when I found this idea I thought she would love it. And she did! This was probably her favorite activity of the day. All you need is an empty parmesan container and a few cotton swabs. Then, your toddler can practice sticking the swabs into the three holes in the lid. great for fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
15. Laundry Basket Fun
This is a great one for building those gross motor skills and it’s so easy to do just using objects from around your home! Basically, just stick a bunch of objects that are different shapes and sizes and have your toddler move them in and out of a laundry basket. You can also work on language development by saying the name and color of the object as they are moving them in and out of the basket.
16. Balls in Muffin Tin
This is the only activity Lily did not try. It is another great fine and gross motor activity skill builder. Just take a bunch of balls and put them in a box. Then, have your toddler transfer the balls from the box and into a muffin tin. Teach them to put one ball into each muffin slot. After they are done have them put the balls back into the box and do it all over again! (Source: theottoolbox.com)
17. Opening Foil Wrapped Toys
This is such a great game of discovery. Just wrap some of your toddler’s toys in aluminum foil and have them unwrap them! I think the best way to make this a learning activity is to engage and interact with them as they are unwrapping. Ask them, “What’s inside the foil?”, “What did you find inside?”, “Is that a pink ball?”, etc. Talk to them about the object inside and encourage them to discover what’s inside each wrapped item. (Source: chicklink.com)
18. Water Play
I don’t think it’s any secret that children love playing with water. This is one of the easiest ways to entertain your toddler while letting them explore the feel, temperature, and texture of water. Lily loves just sitting in the bathroom sink and playing with the running water. I know, I know. Such waste of water. But if you saw how happy it makes her you’d let her play in the sink all day too! In my defense, we usually only let the water run for less than 10 minutes. Besides just sticking your kid in the sink, there are so many ways to let them play with water. You can go outside and put water in a bucket and let them scoop it out with cups. You can give them a bowl of water and a sponge. Really anything that allows them to explore the water, works!
19. Rock and Ice Tray
For this one, I just went out to my backyard, collected some rocks, washed them, and put them in an empty ice tray. Then, I let Lily take them in and out of the tray and from slot to slot. Not only is it great for fine motor skills, but by using rocks they are getting to explore the feeling and weight of the rocks and nature. I made sure to get different sizes, some smooth and some rough. That way she could explore all the differences between the rocks.
20. Match Lids to Bottles
For this activity, just collect as many different bottles as you can and have your toddler match the bottles with their lids. You can even have them practice putting the lids on. Wonderful for those fine motor skills. Plus, Lily loves playing with bottles; especially, water bottles. So if your little one does too, this is a great activity!
Well, there were 20 toddler activities for learning and development. They may seem simple and some might be a little messy, but they will help your toddler explore the world around the. All while having special time with you!