Check out these activities for 1-2 year olds! Includes sensory and educational crafts you can do indoors or outdoors with your toddler.
It’s the dilemma every parent has faced: What do I do all day with my child?
Even though I worked full-time as a new mom, I also had a flexible schedule that allowed me to be with my eldest for a few days a week. But as much as I loved my time with him, the inevitable question of what to do would arise. Finding things to do can be a real struggle for many parents of toddlers.
It also doesn’t help if your toddler has a short attention span, moving quickly from one toy or activity to the next. Other times, he seems too young or uninterested in typical activities you find online (that seem to cater to older kids, anyway).
Maybe you’re homebound because of the weather, from the snowy days of winter to scorching ones of the summer. Cabin fever has gotten intolerable when you aren’t able to go outside most days.
Or perhaps you work full-time and are looking for ideas that your nanny or family member can do with your little one. You want to make sure that they have plenty of supplies to do fun activities together.
Activities for 1-2 year olds
You’re in the right place, friend. I’ve compiled some of our favorite activities for 1-2 year olds, many that are no prep and educational. You can do all of these learning activities indoors or at least within your backyard. And don’t worry if you don’t think you’re a “craft” type of parent—these are simple activities using household items.
The most important factor to consider with these activities is your child’s safety. Around this age, many items can still be potential choking or drowning hazards, so you or another adult should always supervise him.
And because of the shorter attention spans that young children tend to have at this age, these activities are also meant to be simple. The last thing you want is to spend a lot of time preparing an activity only for him to toss it aside or move on after 10 seconds. These activities can be short and fun.
So, let’s take a look at some activities to try with your toddler—hopefully, you can find a few favorites to try again and again:
1. Cardboard boxes
You know all those packages you get in the mail, particularly the larger ones you dread flattening and putting away? Save them as props for cardboard play with your toddler! As exciting as new toys may be, I was always amused that my kids could spend so much time with something as simple as a cardboard box.
Here are some of the activities you could do with a cardboard box:
- Create a tunnel. Tape large boxes together to form a tunnel he can crawl through. Large, uniform boxes work best for this activity, so save big packages you get regularly (like diapers or subscription boxes) to make one long tunnel.
- Toss items inside a box. Make a game of tossing light items like stuffed animals or balls into a box. Use different-sized boxes, with the smaller ones as an extra challenge.
- Dance parties. Flatten the cardboard box on the floor, play some tunes, and dance on them! It’s helpful to keep your child’s feet bare not only for sensory play but so that she doesn’t slip and fall. I still chuckle at a video I took of my twins “tap dancing” on cardboard.
- Build a fort. Similar to tunnels, create a “city” of forts that she can crawl into. Open the boxes and lay them on their sides along a wall. She can even place a few stuffed animals into some of the boxes.
- Decorate the cardboard box. Grab several crayons, markers, or stickers and go to town with decorating the boxes.
Bonus tip: Save the bubble wrap as well! These can be fun to stomp on or pinch with her hands.
Free printables: Want a few more play ideas to try? Join my newsletter and get your copy of the Play Ideas Calendar! The first sheet includes ideas, while the second is a blank template to fill with your own. Grab it below—at no cost to you:
2. Sensory bins
Sensory bins don’t have to be the nightmare of a messy project as you might think! The trick is to get a shallow bin and place it over a towel, large tray, or easy-to-clean surface like the kitchen floor. Once you have the preparation set up, you can fill it with various materials and items.
Here are a few ideas to fill your sensory bin:
- Dried rice or sand that your toddler can use to scoop with. Show her how to “write” using your finger. Hide small items that she can dig and discover, or mix sand and water for a mini beach play. Don’t have sand or rice? Kinetic sand can make forming shapes easier.
- Dried beans or small pasta. You can even dye them certain colors beforehand to mix and match.
- Building blocks like Lego blocks. Use those to fill the bins and create structures as well.
- Ice cubes, especially on a hot day. You can play with the ice cubes and watch them melt away.
- Bubbles. Turn your sensory bin into a car wash and scrub toy cars, or wash cups and spoons with a sponge.
3. Basket of kitchen items
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We’ve all wondered how to entertain our little ones while we prepare meals in the kitchen. Why not give your toddler a basket of kitchen items, especially those you no longer use, that he can play with while you cook?
For instance, fill it with wooden spoons, measuring cups and spoons, and a whisk (always a hit with my kids for some reason). You could include old plastic bowls and utensils, napkins, small chopping boards, or even a small pot or pan.
And of course, you can always get a play kitchen set, complete with pretend food. This can keep him occupied while you prepare your real food nearby.
Bonus tip: Another option besides kitchen items is magnetic letters and numbers on your refrigerator. My son loved arranging these magnets, and it allowed us to point out words or numbers he may have formed.
Putting puzzles together is a big hit even for young children this age! Jumbo puzzles are fantastic to piece together on the floor. Wooden puzzles like these can help your child begin to match and sort. You can even combine puzzles with sensory bins: hide the pieces in the sand so she can search and dig for them.
Stick to 12-24 piece puzzle sets so that the pieces aren’t too many or the finished product too complex.
5. Water play
Explore various senses through water play, whether with a sensory bin, a water table, or even a kiddie pool. Squirt dish soap into water and play with bubbles, and add cups to scoop or small toys to talk about which ones float or sink. Toss lemon and orange slices as well as herbs and flowers to add interesting scents.
A mess-free option is to “paint” with water, whether on thick cardstock or out on the driveway. Simply grab a paintbrush, dip it in water, and have your child paint the surface. No need to worry about messy paints to wash off!
6. Fun with blankets
Create fun games using simple blankets around the house! Blankets come in all sizes, from tiny baby blankies to large bedding.
One simple game is a modified version of “peek a boo”: hide your toddler’s small toys and stuffies under various small blankets on the floor. He can peek under each one to see which surprise is hiding beneath. You can also drape large blankets over furniture to make a fort or tent to play and snuggle under.
Use blankets as an obstacle course (perhaps combined with the cardboard boxes above?) as he tunnels his way through the maze. Or simply lay a blanket and pillows, whether indoors or out, for a relaxing picnic together.
7. Pipe cleaners
One fun activity my kids enjoyed at this age was playing with pipe cleaners—particularly, poking them through a colander.
Take a sturdy metal colander and place it upside down. Then, show your child how to poke one end of a pipe cleaner through one of the holes and the other end into another hole. Keep doing this with several more pipe cleaners so that, by the end, you’ll have quite a few looped through the colander.
Another activity to do with pipe cleaners is threading (which can also build his fine motor skills). Poke large beads through the pipe cleaner, then tie them together to make a necklace or bracelet. You can also do the same with other materials, like shoelaces or dried pasta.
8. Contact paper
Make a sensory experience with contact paper! Tape a large sheet of contact or sticky paper on a wall or glass door with the sticky side facing you. You and your toddler can then stick small, light items onto the surface and play with different textures.
You can make a specific collage using similar-colored pieces of paper (for instance, sticking red and pink bits of paper that you’ll eventually cut into a Valentine heart). Or you could simply attach whatever items you have handy, from pompoms to small pieces of fabric.
Create your own puppet show right at home. For instance, turn a regular paper bag into a hand puppet by decorating or drawing a face on the fold. An old sock can also become a hand puppet with a few markers or buttons.
And of course, you can always get pre-made hand puppets like these or finger puppets as well.
Drawing outdoors—whether on the driveway, the sidewalk, or out at the park—brings out your child’s inner artist! Take a box of chalk for a fun drawing session. Don’t worry if all you see are lines and scribbles, since this is normal for kids this age. Instead, encourage a love of curiosity and play.
Can’t get outdoors? Draw on a chalkboard easel like this one. This allows him to draw no matter the weather outside.
11. Play dough
Bring out a few tubs of play dough for fun exploration. Show your child how to squish, roll, cut, or combine different colors. See if you can make a tower of play dough balls, or have her smash them into flattened pieces. My son would also spend the whole time pinching little bits off.
Whether you work full-time and need to give your caregiver ideas, or you’re with your toddler all day with nothing to do, now you have a few ideas that are easy and fun.
Maybe you’ll create a tunnel out of cardboard boxes or dig for small toys in a sensory bin. Perhaps you’ll create art with contact paper or take it outdoors with sidewalk chalk. No matter your choices, you now have a few ideas to try—and never wonder what you’ll do all day with your child.
Get more tips:
- Montessori Activities for 1-2 Year Olds
- Art Supplies for 1 Year Old Kids They Can Actually Use
- Learning Activities for 2-3 Year Olds
- No-Fuss Montessori Fine Motor Activities
- Easy Gross Motor Activities for 1 Year Olds
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and get your copy of the Play Ideas Calendar below—at no cost to you: