The Best Activities to Keep Your Toddler Busy While You Homeschool

Homeschooling is easier when you have fun learning activities to keep your toddler busy while you work with your older children. These activities can be used any time you need to keep toddlers busy, whether you homeschool or not!

“Uh oh,” I hear while reading aloud to my older boys.

Little footsteps scamper to the kitchen to grab a dishtowel.

I brace myself for the catastrophe I’ll encounter in the family room, a la the toddler.

Keep your toddler entertained while you homeschool with fun and engaging learning activities.

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Anyone who has tried homeschooling with younger children has realized the importance of being prepared. You need to have a plan to keep the distractions at bay. This is especially true when you have a toddler at home! Trust me, you don’t want to walk into your family room to see your toddler making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the carpet using his hands. True story.

In my article on How to Homeschool with a Distracting Toddler, I share five tips on homeschooling your older children while also keeping your toddler from derailing your day. Here I’m going to focus on #3 from that post: activities to keep your toddler busy while you teach the others.

Activities to Keep Your Toddler Busy

1. Give Your Toddler “School Work” to Do

No, I do not mean workbooks. I think toddlers should learn through play, so I do not use workbooks with my little ones. However, many times young children say they want to do school too, and may even write in older siblings’ books. In fact, just recently my newly 3-year-old has started emulating his older brothers, including wanting to use pencils and notebooks like them. So let them think they are doing school, too! How?

Get them their own school supplies.

Little ones love to feel like big kids. Help them feel special with their own school supplies. This year, I bought my just turned three-year-old his own supplies. He has crayons, a notebook, safety scissors, and a gluestick. He even has his own colored basket with a spot on the shelf in which to store them. You can read here about how to organize your homeschool through color.

Here are some ideas for toddler school supplies:

  • Crayons, markers, and notebooks to write in like big brother or sister
  • Dry erase board with markers and erasers. My little guy loves to write on this.
  • Coloring books from the dollar store. My children prefer blank paper to coloring books, so even blank pads are good to have on hand.
  • Water Wow–My little guy likes anything that has to do with water!
  • Stickers and paper–Getting the stickers off will take some time and concentration, as well as develop fine motor skills.
  • Dot to Dot markers–These little dot stampers (think bingo card stampers) have been a favorite activity of all four of my children as toddlers and preschoolers. They last for years.

2. Hands-On Sensory Materials

Toddlers and preschoolers touch everything! Activities using sensory materials work great at keeping your toddlers busy while homeschooling. Tactile learning is very important at this age, but also look for materials that work in other senses besides touch for an even deeper sensory experience.

Sensory Bins/Boxes

All of my kids have absolutely adored sensory bins. Rice, beans and water have been top favorites. You can be as simple or elaborate as you choose with these bins.

If you’d like to see if your child would prefer something like this, grab a bag of cheap white rice at the store and dump it in a storage container along with some measuring cups, spoons, and bowls and let your kids experiment with it. Don’t worry if they make a mess; it’s easy enough to vacuum or sweep up.

Once you know your child favors sensory bins, then you can get creative and have a little fun! I decided to add a sensory bin for each little theme I’m doing throughout the year with my little guy. For example, one month we will cover colors and apples. So I have dyed rice with colored bowls, bears, and measuring worms to use with our colors theme. Making apple pie will be a blast with the other bin, filled with oats, toy apples, cinnamon sticks and cookware from his play kitchen.

If your child is one who still likes to put things in their mouth, then you will want to choose items for these bins that will not harm them. You may want to choose something edible or larger items that are safer.

I don’t like to waste materials or spend money on materials that we’ll only use once or twice. So I try to figure out what I can use multiple times throughout the year, or use with more than one child, before I buy materials to use.

Construction themed sensory bin
Construction-themed Sensory Bin

Colored Rice Sensory Bin for Toddler Activities
Colored Rice
Sensory Bin

Playdough

Playdough is such a fun sensory material for kids of all ages! It can be enjoyable all on its own, and even more entertaining when other materials are added along with the playdough. That makes playdough a perfect activity at keeping toddlers busy when you need them occupied!

My little guy loves to use these Melissa and Doug sculpting tools. He especially loves the scissors and pattern wheels. I’ll set those up with some playdough at a table, and I’ll get a good 20-30 minutes of time to work with my older children on their schoolwork while little guy has fun.

Additionally, you can find lots of ideas on Pinterest for playdough kits. The general idea for these kits is to start with playdough, and then add materials that support the theme of the kit. For instance, if you want to do a construction themed playdough kit, you can make a tan or black colored playdough for dirt or a road. Then you can add toy construction trucks, small rocks, and a variety of different sized wood blocks or sticks.

Homemade Playdough Recipe

I have tried many different playdough recipes through the years. Some didn’t combine well, others were sticky, while one even hardened after one use. Not fun! But I finally found a perfect, no-fail recipe that I now use exclusively. It’s easy to make, it’s smooth, and it will last for months when stored in an air-tight container.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup table salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp oil (vegetable, olive)
  • food coloring (I prefer the Wilton gel coloring.)
Directions:
  1. Combine all ingredients except the food coloring in a small saucepan.
  2. Heat over medium-low to medium heat and stir constantly.
  3. Remove from heat once the ingredients pull together in a ball.
  4. Put dough on a heat-safe surface. Once cool enough to handle, kneed until smooth.
  5. Once smooth, add a small amount of food coloring and kneed until color is mixed in.

Homemade or store bought playdough, used alone or along with an elaborate theme, is an engaging sensory material that will keep your toddler focused while working on fine motor skills. The bonus is that it will also allow you time to focus on homeschooling your older children. Playdough is one of many activities to keep your toddler busy.

Loose Parts Play

Loose parts play is a fairly new term to me, though once I learned what it entailed, I realized I already did this with my children. I just didn’t know it had a name! Basically, you gather lots of everyday, random objects and set them out in an inviting way for your little ones. Using loose parts brings out creativity in your children, as well as helps with fine and/or gross motor skills, among others.

You may want to gather outdoor materials like rocks and sticks to use as loose parts. Craft items like pompoms and pipe cleaners make fun loose part pieces. Toys such as game pieces or blocks make a great addition to loose parts play as well. The items can be placed on a table, in a basket, or any inviting way to encourage play.

Obviously you know your child best, so if your child still puts things in their mouth, you will not want to use some of the above-mentioned items. You’ll instead want to choose larger items that they can use without harm.

3. Set Up Montessori-Style Shelves

Setting up items for play on shelves in a Montessori-style is also something that I did when my older children were young before I realized it was a thing. I noticed that my kids would play with the items they could see, instead of the ones I shoved stored in a basket. Using activities to keep a toddler busy is a lot easier when they can see the activities they can choose for play.

With my current little guy, I have tried to be more intentional with the materials I place on the shelves. I like to have items that encourage a variety of learning. I try to always have a few fine motor activities, interesting board books, and educational materials that cover a specific skill. Currently we have many color items on the shelves because I am teaching him colors.

Toddler Montessori-Style Shelf
Leaving items on a shelf will allow your child to access them on their own.

Toddler Montessori-Style Shelf
Change the items from time to time to keep your child interested.

Examples of activities that work well on shelves

Fine Motor Skills

Chunky puzzles: I always have a few chunky puzzles out for my little guy. We currently have the safari and shape puzzles on a shelf.

Lacing activities: I emptied these lacing beads along with one string into a small basket for the shelf. I really like that they also go along with the color activities. This string a farm is also a well-loved lacing activity here. Ever since my little one turned three, he has been able to figure out these wooden lacing pieces.

Toddler-approved books

We have a lot of books in our house. I love to read and I love books, so I can never resist a good book! These favorites always have a spot on the shelves.

You’ll find more great books in my post on picture books about colors.

Your toddler or preschooler will love coloring the pages of the My Book of Colors. It’s a perfect activity to keep them busy while teaching colors. Get your My Book of Colors as my thank-you gift when you join my email community.

4. Toys Good for Free Play

Along with learning activities in our homeschool area, I also like to keep toys that are good for free play nearby as well. Your little one may not actually play much if they are very young, but will more and more everyday. It’s good to have quality toys ready when the time comes.

Since some of this play will be while you’re trying to homeschool your older kids, you aren’t going to want a lot of noisy toys. The ones I’m listing here are not noisy, are good for many ages, and encourage much imaginative free play.

Play Kitchen

A play kitchen has to be one of the most loved toys of all time! We have always had one, from a plastic one I bought at a garage sale, to one I made out of an unused entertainment center, to the play kitchen we currently have (which looks like it isn’t made anymore, but the link is to a similar one in the same brand).

When my older three were young, we had friends around their ages over quite a bit. Every single child, girl or boy, would be drawn to that play kitchen! But if you think about it, when company is over, where does everyone usually end up? In the kitchen. Kids love to pretend to cook and serve playfood, as well as pretend to clean it up when done.

Farm

Along with a kitchen, a play farm is another well loved toy for girls and boys alike. Kids naturally want to watch animals, imitating their sounds. The farm we have is the perfect size to carry around and play with in any room, while not taking up a lot of space.

Dress-Up

Little ones love to dress up and pretend to be older people they know, fairytale characters, and even animals. Keeping a basket of dress-up clothes and accessories nearby will allow them access while you teach the others.

One part of dress up that my children have all loved is playsilks. You can buy them already made, which we have for some. But you can also easily make them yourself with undyed silks and Kool-Aid packets. Here is the blog post that helped me almost 10 years ago when I first made our silks. The silks can be used for dress up, or added to loose parts for additional fun. Blues and greens are good colors to make for water and grass landscapes.

Hopefully you have some ideas on activities you can use to keep your toddler busy while you homeschool, are cooking, or want five minutes to sit and finish a complete thought. Sensory, learning, and free play activities will keep your little ones busy for at least a few minutes! Besides, creating activities to keep a toddler busy is much more enjoyable than cleaning grape jelly out of your family room carpet.

Indoor Activities to Keep Toddler Entertained
Hi, I'm Christy!
Hi, I’m Christy!

I’m a homeschooling mom of 4, from preschool to high school. Homeschooling can be overwhelming, but I believe you can simplify your homeschool day so it’s manageable and enjoyable. When you join the Homeschooling in Progress community, you’ll learn ways to simplify your homeschool through emailed tips PLUS receive 5 Easy Steps to Create a Simple Routine for Productive Homeschool Days guide so you can start simplifying your homeschool today!

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