Indoors at Home with Toddlers

Parent Q&A

  • I just returned from Portland Oregon where I’ve been sheltering from the smoke. And now it’s just as smoky in Portland. And I’m wondering:

     for parents of toddlers in small residences (I live in a second floor apartment)

     what are you doing to keep them occupied and out of trouble? Given that the outdoor air is unsafe and public indoor spaces are closed due to COVID?

     Thanks, Emily

    When our kid was little, we got a jogging trampoline. It was a great way for her to burn off some energy, and grown-ups can use them too.  The quality of bounce is better in larger models.

    1. Dance parties!: Baby shark, Wheels on the Bus, Outkast, Prince etc. It's been good for my mental health as well to join in. Follow-the-leader dance parties are especially fun

    2. Water table: we set up the baby bath tub in the real tub, with multiple bottles cups etc. that allows our toddler to have a makeshift water table and play with as much water as she likes.

    3. Art: crayons, paint markers, stickers

    4. Baking, cooking: Use a rotary egg beater. "Overknead" the pizza dough. My toddler also loves the salad spinner. 

    5. Housework: put away (non-breakable) dishes in lower drawers, dry tupperware with towels, sweep up, put dirty laundry in the machine, transfer wet laundry to the dryer, pull clean clothes out.

    6. Hide and seek (seriously, at that age, you can just lie in bed with a blanket over your head and they can take 10 minutes to figure it out) 

    7. FaceTime with relatives in other places.

    8. Books, books and more books. The libraries are open again, so we have been stocking up regularly.

    9. Bounce balloons back and forth.

    Hi Emily!

    its Ava, who you met today with 3yr old Elliot. One thing that helped us was/is an online prerecorded gymnastics class that we did with Elliot every day...Getting some active but safe movement inside was super helpful — but I had to do it with him, so it wasn’t going to help me get any work done. 
    it was so nice to meet you :)

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Organizing at-home activities for 2-y-o twins and a 4 year old

Oct 2003

I've got a 4 year old and 2 year old twins. When we go out we have a great time and they behave decently. At home its a nightmare. I go pick up one room and they thrash another. I let them into our yard and they carry buckets of sand into the house. I turn my back, they find an ink pen or they start tormenting each other. I could go on and on. I think my problem has lots of aspects: 1) When we're at home I'm distracted by bills, messes, laundry etc and I just don't pay enough attention to them; 2) I think I need to find more activities that are fun for us to do at home - that we can all do together. So I guess here's the question...does anyone have any ideas for organizing play at home or activities that are fun for 2 and 4 year olds to do at home? Elizabeth

I, too, stay at home with 3 kids (ages 4, 3 and 2). Here is what works for me. I consider being a mom as my job so I don't pay bills or do laundry while I'm with the kids so I can focus on them. I do laundry, bills, meal prep with my partner when he's home. There are activities that work for all of them: building a train track, painting, drawing, playdough is a big hit, building towers and letting the little one kick it down, reading books. Hopefully your twins will start playing with each other soon which will give you a break. stay-home mom

I wish I had answers for you. I could have written your post except I have 3.5 year old twins and no 4 year old. I just wanted to let you know that twins really, really are a different animal than children of different ages. I suggest you join a support group. I am in a yahoo group for multiples and have been since they were little. The other mothers on the list concur that having twins is much, much more mess and havoc. Since they are in the same developmental age they cook up things that one child would not. They feed off each other's energy. So you have my sympathies but don't be to hard on yourself. It's not all you. another mother of twin tornados

I never had the added element of twins (!), but I do have two children less than two years apart (who are a bit older now, and it does get easier!). However, I did want to comment that it is perfectly reasonable that you have time at home to be able to do the things that need to be done, like bill paying, laundry, etc. and your children should not have the expectation that you will be always playing with them, or that it is OK to bring in a bucket of sand from the yard. They are siblings and need to develop skills that allow them to play with each other or by themselves. I would suggest getting them started on age- appropriate activities, and make it clear that you are busy with grown-up business for a while. If they start to squabble or disrespect your house, they will be separated into timeouts until they can decide it is more fun to play together. Assuming your twins nap, you can use that time to do other activities with your four year old, or I am sure there will be times the twins play together and the four year old will do his/her own activities or ''help'' you with other chores. At our house, I take time to read to the kids, get them started on art projects, etc. but I have made it clear that I am not interested in endless games of Candyland, and they now play those kinds of games with each other (and I run and get the camera because it is so cute!). Best of luck to you in reclaiming some of your time at home! Claire

At-home activities for 2-year-old

Dec 1999

My 2 year old daughter gets terribly bored in the afternoons, especially when she doesn't take a nap (another problem.) Can you recommend any books, etc. that we can use to get ideas for activities? It's not always feasible for us to go out, so at-home activities would be ideal. For example, tonight we broke out the crayons and a huge sketch pad and went wild. It had been a while since she'd seen the sketch pad, so that had novely appeal. Any and all suggestions gratefully accepted!

My 2 year old loves to engage in water play. Sometimes it's the only thing that will engage her attention for more than 10 minutes at a time. She has a sturdy step-stool that puts her right next to the sink. I make sure the sink is cleared out of misc stuff, put in her washable toys, move the soap (otherwise she puts gallons in the water!), put a towel down on the floor beneath her, take off her clothes (except the diaper, usually), and let her play. She especially likes things that squirt (sports bottles), things with holes in the bottom, and cups to pour from one to the other. Have fun!

Here are some ideas of at-home activities which your 2 year old may enjoy: -read! -sing songs, dance to music; -get a childproof tape-recorder and tapes ( you can check children's tapes out from libraries). Our son enjoys popping tapes in and out and playing and listening to them; -read! -follow and cook a simple recipe together/involve child with assembling sandwiches, pulling grapes off stem, etc. (libraries have children's cook books); -build with blocks; -blow bubbles; -plant in pots or outdoor garden; -read! -go for a walk; -play hide-and-seek; -ask any teachers you know for ideas, call BANANAS, get ideas from early childhood activities books from library, ask other parents what they do.
Good luck!

Besides water play, here are a couple of things my son enjoyed when he was very young:

1. Fill small plastic basin with coarse cornmeal to a depth of about 2 inches, and bury small objects (lima bean, kidney bean-size) in it. Let him find them with small digging implements such as toy earth-moving equipment. (A very young child could use a spoon and larger objects. The point is that cornmeal is easier to clean up than sand so you could do this in the kitchen.)

2. Attach a magnet to a 3' cord and make fish from paper with a paper clip attached. Let him fish from a chair.

Once someone at Berkeley Bowl Seafood gave my son a smelt, and he had a lot of fun playing with it, in and out of the water.

There's a good book called 365 Days of Creative Play for children 2 yrs & up. It's written by Sheila Ellison and Judith Gray, published by Sourcebooks Inc. It costs $12.95. The activities are mostly simple, requiring items you'd have around the house anyway, and some require only imagination. There are a variety of rave reviews on the back of the book, including one from Joe Montana. The same folks have a second book, 365 Afterschool Activities--TV-free fun anytime for kids ages 7-12.

Things to do at home with a 2-year-old when it's raining

October 1996

I was wondering if anyone had some good ideas for active things to do at home for a 2 year old. My daughter is one who likes to just sit around and do things or watch tv but I want her to be a bit more active. During the summer, I would take her to the parks in Alameda (where I live) and let her play on all the jungle gyms and sandbox for an hour or so. Or we would go for little walks. But now that the rainy season is coming on, she gets restless sometimes. I live in a second story apartment and have a pretty spacious living room. I was thinking of even getting her one of those little cars that she could move around with, but my husband thinks it is a bad idea. Sometimes, I play Ring-a-round or tag with her...but I get too pooped after a while. Any inexpensive ideas?

Get some rain boots! Then you can go out for walks and splash in the puddles. A small umbrella can provide even more fun, if you're careful. Christina

Last year we looked for indoor activities for our active toodler, who was climbing up the walls during the long rains. We broke down and bought a small plastic slide. We also built a two-step structure out of sturdy cardboard boxes and a lot of duct tape, and named it the jumping box. We encouraged him to climb on it instead of the bookshelves, dressers, etc. He really enjoyed it. We also found a little ride-on police car at target for about $20 that he likes.

Good luck,

Last winter I tried out an idea from, I think, _Parents_ magazine, which was to create an obstacle course, with masking tape on the floor to show the path through big cardboard boxes, up onto the couch, crawl to the end of the couch and then jump down onto the pillows, over to a spot for stacking a set of blocks into a tower, etc. My son was really too young for this last winter, at 1.5, but this year, at 2.5, I think he will really like it. I may try to time him, to see if that keeps him on track or helps him get revved up. Andrea

As idea for indoor fun: Last year we bought a used trampoline (about 2-1/2 feet across) at a yard sale for very cheap. One year later, by 3 year old still uses it at least an hour a day. Our living room really has a lot of living in it with this apparatus, but it's worth it. We live in a second floor condo, and the alternative was our daughter jumping from every piece of furniture onto the floor. Needless to say, our downstairs neighbor appreciates this, too! Wendy

Two indoor activities I used to do with toddlers:
1. Camping: put a sheet over the dining room table, make tunnels using two chairs and another sheet. Get flashlights, sleeping bags, etc.
2. Grocery store: use a little plastic shopping cart that many toddlers seem to have. If you have a toy cash register, that's good. Put some canned goods, unopened cereal boxes and pasta, etc. on a shelf and the toddler shops, pays with play money (or just make your own paper money)

And one rainy-day outdoor activity:
3. Boats: go outside in the rain with boots and raincoats on and float things in puddles or in the gutter. I save wine corks for this - my big boys still think this is a lot of fun. You can also use plastic lids. Maybe this would work indoors in the bathtub or kitchen sink. Ginger