We’re creeping up on Little Man’s second birthday, as well as just into month six of this pregnancy and I am tired! Between the demands of the new job, growing a tiny human, and raising a super excited Little Man, there are a lot of times when I use screen time to my advantage. That being said we realized that screen time although awesome in moderation, had a kind of negative effect on Little Man’s behavior and we weren’t on board. What did we do? We cut back on handheld devices and started to turn the TV off more, which has done wonders for his bed time routine, and is so much easier now that the weather’s warming up and we can go outside!
With the good also came the fact that it left me reaching for more to do inside the house to keep him occupied other than sitting in front of a screen. With the help of Little Dude as a guide for what toddlers enjoy, I’ve come up with ten go to screen free activities for when Little Man has energy to burn, but I just need to sit.
Ten Screen Free Activities For the Busy Toddler
This one is the easiest because I literally can just park my pregnant self in a chair and blow bubbles for what seems like forever and he is always impressed! I’ve seen him chase the bubbles, pop them, run them over with his trucks, and throw miscellaneous toys at them. It’s such a cheap and simple way to get him moving and also has worked wonders when he starts to get worked up or fussy, because they immediately calm him down.
2. Book Play
We love books! I’ve written about our love of books a few times, but nothing makes me happier than when I walk in on a quiet toddler to find him looking through a book! He loves board books and his favorites are those with pictures of different objects that he can point to and identify, but he even will let me read longer stories once he’s tucked in for bed. Books also are a great redirection tool when it’s time to turn the TV off, and we keep a few in each room mainly because I’m too lazy to bring them all back to the shelf, but it still works out well as he roams the house.
3. Wooden Board Puzzles
We have a few wooden puzzles that come and go in our toy rotation, but even if he’s just taking the pieces out to throw them, it’s a great sit down activity when you need to just chill. I love watching how he can turn pieces around to fit back onto the board, and how he will play with the pieces or use them as building blocks without any direction. Puzzles are a great low key activity for free play and don’t take up a huge amount of space which is awesome.
4. Building Blocks
Whether it be duplos or the cardboard brick blocks he got for his birthday last year, this kid loves to build! It’s amazing to watch him stack blocks up taller than himself and then of course knock them down, and is another great sit down activity for when I’m feeling not so energetic.
5. Alphabet Soup
This is a go to for dinner time, I take a bucket with some soap and water and throw in some alphabet magnets and he’ll sit for hours splashing and identifying the soapy letters. He recently started getting really good at identifying letters, so this is a fun sensory activity to reinforce what he’s learning, while keeping him from climbing up me while I cook at the stove.
6. Laundry Hamper Free for All
In the off chance you have an empty laundry hamper and some open space hand that thing over to the toddler and let the imagination fly! Stick a few cars in the basket with the tiny human and you’ll have a few minutes of contained quiet play time, just enough to fold the clean laundry you dumped from the hamper and put them away. Double fun is when he can move the hamper around and uses it as a fort or climbing thing, completely supervised, but entirely independent.
7. Sidewalk chalk
Have a porch or backyard with some sort of none dirt surface? Hand the kid some sidewalk chalk and leave the work up to him, I can’t tell you how amazing sitting down with a cup of coffee is while the toddler is engaged drawing on literally anything with chalk. We’re finally at the point where he doesn’t eat it, and his scribbles are more than lines which is very cool.
8. Wooden Train Set Play
We scored a Melissa and Doug train set for free at a church yard sale last September and it is amazing how long he’ll play with it quietly without assistance! I help build when needed, but basically he dumps the pieces and goes to town, once constructed he plays with his trains, cars, and even toy ambulance on the track independently and has a blast! Even just setting up a simple track of tape on the floor would bring the same amount of excitement as it helps guide free play without getting too hands on.
9. Coloring Sheets
We again have hit the stage where we can color without snacking on crayons, so coloring sheets have been a cool thing we started doing to shake things up. I found a whole bunch of free coloring sheets from the Super Simple Songs website and we’ve done a few baby shark ones over the past few weeks. For my toddler he doesn’t stay engrossed for super long, but that doesn’t mean yours won’t love to color! I print a few off and leave them with his crayons to take out when I just need him to sit for a few minutes so I can catch my breath and those few minutes are always golden.
10. Toy Wash
This one is a favorite when I’m super tired but he needs to keep playing and is either filthy, bored, or both. I take two buckets fill one with soapy water the other with clean and toss his dinosaurs in the soap. Plop a happy little guy in the tub and let him clean the soap off the dinos or whatever little toys are laying around, he can splash in the tub without fear of having to clean up the floor, he gets a new perspective on play time and cleans himself up in the process. Perfect for afternoons where he gets super gross but isn’t ready for a full bath, and gives me a second to just sit and relax while he plays in the tub without the fear of drowning. It’s a win win for all involved.
Play is play!
Just a quick recap here, screentime is totally cool if thats what you need to get through the day, trust me it’s the only way we make it through the morning every day, but we do try to limit it when we can and have the energy to! Don’t let this article fool you, we still very much enjoy throwing on Blippi and getting an extra half hour of sleep in the morning.
Diversifying play and getting away from screens is really just our way of ensuring bedtime goes smoothly and limiting the crankiness that comes with an overstimulated toddler. Some of these ideas we’ve been rolling with for a while, some are new and exciting what other ways does your toddler play screen free? Let me know in the comments below!