Tired of cleaning up after play time? Take a look at these easy, mess free activities for 2 year olds you can do at home, from crafts to educational games toddlers love!
Finger painting, sensory bins, living room furniture morphed into a fort. For many parents, it’s not about finding activities to do with kids, but feeling less compelled to do because of the mess.
After all, 10 minutes of dabbing with paint can mean 45 cleaning it up. Sensory bins can be fun, but not so much when you step on dried rice later in the day. And let’s not even get into the homemade slime that’s now permanently stuck to the carpet.
While messy play has its place, doing it day after day can take a toll.
Maybe you can’t take another accident waiting to happen, or even more cleanup after an already hands-on activity. Or you’re pregnant or with a baby, and can’t exactly devote a lot of time to cleaning up after your 2 year old’s play time. After all, at this age, he’s not exactly cleaning after himself.
Don’t worry—I’ve got you covered.
You see, as much as I love messy play, I wasn’t exactly keen on doing them all the time, for all the reasons I stated. I reserved them for once-in-a-while occasions, and instead relied on mess free activities most of the time.
They’re just as fun, entertaining, and educational, with a lot less clean up in the end. So if you find yourself in the same shoes, take a look at these mess free activities for 2 year olds:
1. Painting with gallon bags
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Want the same effects of finger painting—without the mess? Experiment with painting in gallon bags!
Lay plastic gallon bags on a surface (those that are clear work best) and squirt two or three colors in the bag. Try to get as much air out of the bags before sealing them shut. Then tape the bag onto a surface with painter’s tape and let your 2 year old “paint.”
He’ll be able to mix and move paint around the plastic bag without getting it onto his hands. One way to preserve the art? Slip a piece of blank paper into the bag before squirting the paint and sealing it. Once he’s done, open the bag and pull the paper out for safekeeping.
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2. Color with cardboard
Getting a ton of items delivered to your home? Make use of those cardboard boxes and turn them into canvases for crayons!
The options are endless. You can flatten the boxes or keep them as-is. Either way, bring out your washable crayons and have your 2 year old draw on the box. More than likely, he’ll stick to scribbling, but you can also use this opportunity to explain shapes, colors, and other pictures you draw.
3. Color with water markers
I didn’t offer my kids markers until they were much older than 2 years old, for good reason. Even washable ones can get messy, whether on furniture, walls or even on themselves.
But one favorite way to color is with water markers. These pads are designed to reveal a color using special water markers. Now your child gets to color a picture without making a mess.
4. Paint with water
Don’t want to get paint everywhere? Use water instead!
Grab a large paintbrush and a bowl of water. Then, place colored construction paper in front of your 2 year old and encourage him to “paint” with water. The paper will change and darken in color, giving a cool effect.
Another option is to paint on chalkboard or sidewalk. My kids had a double-sided easel like this, and they loved painting with water and seeing the board change colors. Just remember to wipe the chalkboard dry each time to prevent it from peeling off.
5. Draw with a magnetic board
My kids can spend a ton of time doodling on magnetic boards. Many boards offer different ways to “draw,” from a magnetic pen to shaped magnets. And of course, your 2 year old can erase at any time and start all over.
This is a perfect toy to use to promote independent play. Should you need to get work done or tend to the baby, sit him nearby with the magnetic board to keep him occupied.
6. Dance to songs and rhymes
Get fit with your 2 year old and have fun at the same time with nursery rhymes! Many nursery rhymes encourage physical movement, from The Hokey Pokey to Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.
If not nursery rhymes, you can also find silly or even modern songs on sites like Go Noodle. Find simple videos and movements he can follow along to.
7. Racing with cards
A fun activity to get your 2 year old moving is racing around the house with cards. Here’s how you play:
- Gather about five playing cards in one spot of the house (any item works, really).
- Have him run around the house, starting and ending from the spot with the cards.
- After making a full lap around the house, he’d then collect one card, marking one lap.
- Repeat running around until he has collected all the cards.
8. Jump with bouncy animals
This was a fun way for them to jump, giggle, and have fun, all without too much of a mess, if at all. Just make sure to clear space for your 2 year old to jump and bounce, and you’re good to go!
9. Help with chores
Believe it or not, kids love to help and get involved in household tasks. It makes them feel more responsible, encourages them to develop new skills, and allows them practice doing chores.
Yup, even at 2 years old.
He won’t fold laundry or dust as perfectly as you, but it’s less about doing chores than it is teaching him how to do them in the first place. A few age-appropriate chores to try are:
- Pulling socks out of the hamper
- Spraying or wiping with a rag
- Putting toys away
- Sweeping with a child-sized broom
- Organizing shelves
10. Soft blocks
Soft blocks were one of the first toys my kids played with. They’re versatile, easy for small hands to grip, and a quiet activity to do.
Cleaning up blocks doesn’t have to be a messy task, either. The best trick is to limit how many blocks your 2 year old plays with at one time. One set should be enough to make clean up a breeze. You’ll also want to choose an enclosed space to keep the blocks in place.
11. Piece puzzles together
Puzzles make for a fantastic activity without the mess. Wooden or jumbo cardboard puzzles are great as first-time puzzles. Give your 2 year old a chance to try and solve it himself at first.
Later, you can show him how to piece together different parts of the puzzle to form a picture. Like blocks, you might have pieces lying around, but nothing too outrageous to clean up after.
12. Poke pipe cleaners through a colander
I had first heard of the colander activity on Pinterest and knew my son would love it. Here’s how it works:
Turn a colander upside down on a surface. Then, show your 2 year old how to poke one end of a pipe cleaner into one of the holes. Next, have him bend it so that the other end pokes into a different hole. Soon enough, you’ll end up with a colander with many pipe cleaners looped into the holes.
13. Play with magnets
Keep the mess in one place by playing with magnets! I got my kids magnetic letters and numbers and slapped them on our fridge. They’d spend so much time rearranging them around, labeling their names, and even attempting to spell words.
The best part? You can get things done around the kitchen while your 2 year old entertains himself nearby.
While your 2 year old won’t be tying shoes anytime soon, he’ll still have plenty of fun practicing how to lace. Toys like this lacing kit work great, but even thick cardstock and laces or string work well, too. Simply hole punch the paper along the edges and show him how to loop the laces through.
He won’t make a neat stitch—more than likely, the laces will be jumbled all over the place. But he’ll still have a good time lacing the string through the holes.
Keeping your 2 year old busy and engaged doesn’t always mean resorting to messy play. While getting hands dirty has its place, it can also take a toll on clean up. With these mess free activities for 2 year olds, you can engage in a variety of play—without getting slime stuck on the carpet.
Get more tips:
- 25 Easy Activities for 2 Year Olds
- The Best Activities to Do with 2 Year Olds
- Evening Activities for Toddlers
- 12 Ways You’re Already Practicing Montessori Parenting Without Even Realizing It
- How to Get Things Done — Even with a Needy Toddler
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