You’ve played the Frozen soundtrack. You’ve baked banana bread. You’ve eaten the banana bread. And somehow, it’s not even 11 a.m. yet. Good news: We’ve got 15 parent-approved learning activities for toddlers to keep your mini occupied. All of them are easy to pull off and tackle one of the CDC’s four main categories of early childhood learning: social and emotional skills, language and communication, physical development and learning/problem-solving. Genius.
1. Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts provide endless possibilities for exploration and learning. Best of all, they never get boring because you can make them different every time. Put visual perception skills to the test by asking your toddler to collect objects according to color, shape and texture. When the hunt is over, continue the education with a ready-made sorting activity.
2. Superhero Yoga
Looking for a way to wear your little one out indoors? This superhero-themed yoga video is what you’ve been waiting for. Just press play and your energetic kiddo will get some much-needed exercise while honing gross motor skills and—we mean this—mindfulness too.
3. Transfer Paper Art
If cleanup is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘craft,’ try this mess-free art project out on your toddler and you may never have to scrub finger paint off the walls again. (Maybe.) Tempera Paint Sticks and transparency paper are the only materials required for your kid to make boldly colored art so beautiful, it truly belongs on display. Did we mention how much more we love craft time when it doesn’t end up all over the couch?
4. Rainbow Craft
For the toddler set, there’s nothing more novel than getting permission to paint a body part, so Kate Middleton was clearly onto something when she set up her own tot (yes, Prince George) with this DIY rainbow craft project. This activity is a sensory and visual treat for little ones, but the best part might be the finished product: a rainbow-colored handprint fit for the fanciest scrapbook.
5. Music Class (with No Instruments Required)
Toddlers need hands-on play to learn and grow, which is why screen time inspires so much mom guilt. But if the video you put on is actually an interactive music class that gets little bodies moving and creative juices flowing, you just hit the parenting jackpot.
6. Make Your Own Play Dough
Play dough is a guaranteed hit with kids—until you realize you left the lid cracked open and now the store-bought stuff has dried up. Instead of running to the store to replenish your stash, get your toddler involved in the sensory fun of mixing up some homemade play dough. To enhance the creative experience, just introduce a little food coloring and let your little one blend his own colors. The job is quick but your tot will stay busy baking cakes for hours.
7. Ziploc Bag Apple Experiment
Your child doesn’t have to be school-aged to start learning about science. In fact, you can teach your little one about chemical reactions with nothing more than a few common kitchen items. This entertaining Ziploc experiment relies on visual learning so even the youngest can start soaking up science.
8. Found Item Rainbow Collage
A creative twist on the scavenger hunt, this skill-boosting activity involves exploring, sorting and crafting. Here’s how it works: Toddlers hunt around the home for items that match each color of the rainbow. Once the collection is complete, kiddos sort their treasure by color before gluing or taping the objects to paper (hello, fine motor skills) to make a multimedia rainbow.
9. DIY Floam
Floam is a favorite toy for brain-boosting sensory play—but if you buy it at the store your tot will miss out on the fun of making it at home. Best of all, this Floam recipe is so simple even the youngest ones can help create the sticky stuff from scratch.
10. Play Toy Hide and Seek
Let him pick the toys he wants you to hide. Then watch as he scrambles around the living room trying to find Elmo, working on those physical development and problem-solving skills. This one should buy you at least 20 minutes of fun.
11. Make Your Own Butter
The instructions for this one-ingredient butter recipe could not be more toddler-friendly. To make homemade butter magic, just fill a mason jar halfway with heavy cream, put a lid on it, and have your kiddo shake ‘til she can shake no more. Your child will observe how agitation allows fat molecules to stick together while burning off all that energy, and you will savor how you’ve mastered the art of parenting. (Because you’ll be spreading that success on your morning toast for the next week.)
12. Homemade Instruments
Encourage your toddler to explore the science of sound using only common household items. With some help your little one can transform a shoebox into a banjo using rubber bands for strings or make maracas with mason jars and dried rice or beans. To really blow your young musician’s mind, set up a water xylophone by filling several glasses with different levels of water and invite your child to tap them gently with a plastic spoon to discover the variety of sounds they produce. (Note: This experiment works best if your child has mastered a gentle touch or your glassware is fairly sturdy.) No matter what kind of instrument your mini makes, the creative process involved makes this activity entertaining and empowering too.
13. ABC Rice Dig
Foam bath letters and rice are all you need for an alphabet excavation adventure. Fill a large container with dry rice, hide the letters and let your little one dig in to discover hidden treasures, just like Indiana Jones. The sensory experience is enriching enough on its own, but this activity can also be tailored to your toddler’s skill level. Every time she strikes gold, there’s an opportunity to introduce and repeat the name and sound of a letter, or for the more sophisticated toddler this exercise can be used to teach the order of the alphabet.
14. Plastic Bag Garden
This hands-on lesson in how things grow doesn’t require a plot of land, just a plastic bag and a few beans. Your little one can help you wrap the beans up in a damp paper towel and store them in a plastic bag on a sunny windowsill. The real excitement comes a few days later when the beans begin to sprout, so make sure your child checks his garden every day.
15. Rainbow Salt Tray
Your budding artist wanted to paint with all the colors of the rainbow but when the deed was done, you were left trying to figure out what you should clean first—your kid or the leftover paint. (Truth: It’s a zero-sum game.) Try a rainbow salt tray and you’ll be singing its praises until the end of toddlerhood. Simply tape a swath of multi-colored construction paper clippings to the bottom of a roasting pan, covering the base completely. Then add a thin layer of salt on top (again, enough to cover to pan). Finally, hand your peanut a paint brush and let her swirl it around to create colorful—and mess-free—magic.