Episode 20: Top 10 Independent-Play Activities for Toddlers

May 03, 2023
Independent Play Activities for Toddlers

Top 10 “Independent-Play” Activities to Keep Toddlers Occupied

(This blog post is from Episode 20 of the Elevate Motherhood Podcast. If you want to listen to the podcast- click here!) 

Hey guys! Welcome back to the Elevate Motherhood Podcast. Thank you so much for being here! This is the 20th episode! I can’t believe it! Thanks for being part of this, I hope to be just a bright spot in your day. I always aim to be something easy to listen to, lighthearted and positive, but encouraging and full of practical tips that you can take with you in your day to day! I have loved all the positive encouragement and feedback YOU guys give me and that really keeps me going!


I haven’t mentioned this on the podcast before but I just want you guys to know my heart a little bit more. I always mention how this podcast is for MOMS. And it is! You guys are the ones who can listen. I love being a mom. I feel like my life changed when I became a mom and I just felt the importance of giving it my all. I felt the need to rely on God to fill in the gaps for me and sustain me. And I want to encourage all the moms listening in any way that I can. But also, this podcast is for your KIDS. I heard a sad story on the news somewhat recently and I was just praying God how can I help kids of the world? And I felt like God said, you are. Helping the moms is helping the kids. So I just want to tell YOU that because YOU may think some of the things you’re doing for YOU, like building community with other moms, getting ideas, getting encouragement, keeping things positive and focused toward God and all the things we try to do to help be the best moms we can be is really just helping your kids so much. It’s for you, for them. That’s my prayer at least. That we are a small part of helping the kids of the world have moms who love being moms. Who help make childhood special and magical and meaningful. Who remind their kids how important and treasured they are. What you do day to day matters! And we’ll just keep spreading the positivity and helping as many people as we can! So I just thought I’d share that with you guys and hopefully encourage you in that way!!


Before we start, I want to let you guys know officially that something new and fun is headed to Elevate Motherhood! I have been working super hard on something for a long time and it’s almost ready to share! The first people who get to know this fun surprise will be the people on my email list! So if you want to join my email list and receive an email as soon as I can announce the big news, here's the link to join the email list!


Today is kind of a fun and easy episode. We are talking about activities that some people call “independent play.” You know those activities where you can set up your kids but then they kind of take on the creative play for themselves and don’t really need you to be directing the play. So you can be near them supervising but maybe doing something else for yourself. That is what we call a parenting WIN, right?


1. Playdoh and hotwheels cars. So I know I may be in the minority of parents here but, I love Playdoh for my kids. It keeps them entertained for so long! My son is a LOVER of HotWheels and literally since age 1.5 to now he’s 4.5 he still will play with Playdoh and hot wheels! He likes to make tire imprints or set up scenarios where a car is “stuck” in the Playdoh and his little tow truck car or police car has to come help it get unstuck. Or he’ll make like a little tiny monster truck course with Playdoh or sometimes adding in our wooden blocks and he’ll have ramps and Playdoh areas for the cars. And honestly, I buy the $6 party pack of small Playdohs and I usually give him 2 of them at a time and it lasts like the whole day and then usually we throw it away. I could care more and pack it back up and reuse it. But I just like to let it be his activity and I don’t really put the pressure on him or me to reuse it. Sometimes the Playdoh gets dried and stuck in his HotWheels tires but the HotWheels are $1 and it’s his toy and I just don’t really get upset if that happens! Usually that in itself is another activity for him trying to get it out and sometimes I help him pop it right out. There is a risk of Playdoh getting stuck in your carpet. Usually when it dries you can pop it right off anything else. Don’t take my word for this because I don’t want you mad if something gets ruined by Playdoh. But man my kids love it. In the Spring & Summer you could even let them do that activity on a porch outside so then you don’t have to worry about that. To me the fun outweighs the negatives.

I know it’s good for fine motor skills and creative play, and it’s good independent play because it keeps him occupied without me sitting there with him. The amount of hours he has done this over the years is SO high you wouldn’t believe me.

My daughter also loves Playdoh but she actually likes to keep the colors separated and create little pretend pizzas or foods with the Playdoh. Last year for her birthday she got a little Playdoh tool set with a rolling pin, pizza cutter, knife, stuff like that all pretty toddler friendly and she loves it! So even though both kids approach Playdoh totally differently, it’s been a hit for both of them.


As a side note because this will help with lots of the activities I’m mentioning here. I bought a little waterproof “splat mat” on amazon that I do pull out when they do messy activities. As I’ve mentioned I kind of gave up on Playdoh but you could definitely pull it out when they get Playdoh. It is pretty big, ours is 51” by 51” and it folds up pretty small. It’s advertised as an under-high-chair mat. We for sure pull it out when we do any painting crafts but also other things I’ll mention in this episode! You could use it for so many things!


#2: Using baby wipes to clean an outside toy that is somewhat muddy or dirty. I’ll give my kids a pack of baby wipes and they’ll use a few to clean something off that is muddy. I’ll just act like it’s a fun activity I’m letting them do but honestly it helps me! We usually keep outside toy cars and other toys outside, and we keep inside toys and cars inside, but if one happens to be left outside and it’s supposed to be inside and clean, I’ll let them clean it off. They just love using the wipes and feeling like they are in charge of something.


#3: Water Table. Next, if you have a baby that is standing up all the way through an older toddler- I could not recommend a water table more highly. It is the perfect toy for the back porch all year long whenever the weather is nice. Fill it up with some water, the water tables usually come with some scoops or buckets or toys to play with, it’s usually the perfect height for kids. I think this is the perfect big gift for a 1 year old birthday. So if your parents are asking what to get your 1 year old- here you go! My kids are 2 and 4 and still love it.


#4: Paw Patrol Water Back Packs. One more thing along the lines of water and being outside. Last summer we got these little paw patrol water squirter backpacks. It is a great gift for kids I’d say definitely 2 and up but probably even 1 and a half. It comes with a backpack so unlike how water guns get so heavy and hard to hold, this little backpack holds the water and it has a tiny little hose which is actually easy for young kids to use. My kids LOVED it last summer. They would spray the grass, outside toys, each other (I’d say feet only to each other), it was a source of endless fun for us!!


Next also has to do with water!

#5: Painting cardboard boxes with water. This is a somewhat mess free activity because kids love painting but painting quickly gets so messy! Find somewhere that you don’t mind getting a little wet and give kids paintbrushes and a little bowl of water and they can draw on the cardboard with their paintbrushes and you can see the designs but it’s not actually paint!


Next activity I have mentioned here on the podcast before but it’s worth mentioning again-

#6: Destroying cardboard boxes with kids tool sets. My kids love using their little toy saw or hammer or screwdrivers to just take down the cardboard box. It keeps them occupied for a while especially depending on the size of the box.


#9: STICKERS. Kids love stickers!!! I have a little notebook for each kid and sometimes I’ll just give them a sheet of stickers and let them put the stickers inside their notebooks. Or I have specific things I let them put stickers on. My kids have little wiggle ride-on toys that we keep inside and they ride it around the inside of our house and I let them put stickers on it kind of like bumper stickers. My sons is covered in stickers and when he gets a sticker somewhere like church or the grocery store he usually wants to save it until he gets home to put it on his “car” as he calls it. It’s special for him and I love that!


We also have a plastic storage tub that we keep magnatiles in and I let them cover that with stickers. So maybe you can find something that is kind of “theirs” and is okay if it’s covered with stickers. OR you find something temporary like a cardboard box and just let the stickers be an activity of sticking them on the box, then they play with the box for a few days, maybe even make a baby doll house out of it or destroy it with their tools or whatever. Then after a few days, the box is trashed or recycled. Combining lots of our ideas here.


#10: setting your kid up to do something like what you’re doing, as they are sitting next to you. So I have a Bible Recap bible study book and I sometimes get some pens out and I’ll make notes either in that book or a journal or my bible, and my daughter always wants to do whatever I’m doing, so I usually give her my little journal and a pen and she’ll sit by me and she says she’s “reading her bible” just like me. And when I’m turning the pages of my journal sometimes they are covered with little pen marks but it honestly just makes my journal 100x better because I know she’s learning by watching me and I love having her do it with me.


#11: kids play sink. If you are on Instagram at all you have probably seen this sink, I have been seeing it from influencers for YEARS but my daughter STILL asks to play with it ALL.THE.TIME. It is just a little sink that you fill up with water and they turn the handle and water comes out like a real sink. It comes with some little dishes they can pretend to wash which is what my daughter loves to do. I’d also say like ages 18 months and up will love this. Some people only do it outside and I let her do it inside but I always pull out our little splat mat and I also usually need some beach towels when she’s done. But man she loves it and will play with it quite a while.

(That's 10 but I have a couple more ideas! Bonus!)  

#11: playing in dirt or sand. I know. Some people just cringed that I said that. Our old house was closer to the city and didn’t really have a lot of animals or anything so we had a sandbox and never had any trouble with animals getting in the sand box. But I know you can also buy covers for them to keep them covered when not in use. Currently our backyard has a pretty big dirt patch under a tree where grass doesn’t really grow, and I just let him play in the dirt and he loves it. There is a little sit-on excavating toy that I think is the perfect toy for a toddler boy. You sit on it and move the handles to let the excavator dig in the dirt. We also have several of his toy construction vehicles out there in the dirt and he just loves it. He doesn’t dig deep holes or anything just kind of moves the dirt around with his vehicles. Yes he gets pretty dirty and yes we go straight to the bath but it is a fun activity for him! I do think this would be a little less messy with a sandbox which is what we used to do! Sandbox is another thing a lot of parents don’t like because of the sand but if you have a place you can just like brush the sand off with a broom hopefully the hours of fun can justify the sand mess! It’s up to you of course!


#12: Wooden train tracks. My son loves driving trains on his train track. When he was a young toddler he loved destroying train tracks and ripping them apart. But as he has gotten older I’ll help him make a complex train track and then I can step away and he’ll think of different scenarios and connect different train cars and make trains he drives around on the tracks. As I have mentioned in the home organization episodes, I don’t keep all 50 wooden trees and all the pieces that came with our trains. It was just too big of a mess with parts to clean up that he didn’t even play with. I did keep one stop sign and a couple crane pieces that can lift up the cargo on the trains so he will play with that too. And there are an assortment of wooden tracks available with turn tables and stuff like that on them. Honestly I even think all of that is fun to set up for him. But that’s the last thing that came to mind as something that will keep my kids occupied for a while!


I’d LOVE to hear any other ideas you guys have so we can all help each other be fun moms who get a bit of a break with some independent play activities!!! Please send me your ideas to [email protected], I’d love to hear from you and I’d love to share your ideas on the podcast!


Like I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, I have an exciting part of Elevate Motherhood that is launching soon and people on my email list will know about it first! Click here to join the email list. I don’t really send very many emails at this point so you’re not taking much of a risk that I will be bothering you in your inbox! 


Before we leave, I’d love to say a prayer and blessing for you.

Dear Lord, thank you for these listeners. Thank you that they love being a mom. Thank you that you give us what we need for each day. Thank you for a community of moms supporting each other and encouraging each other. We know everything good and perfect comes from you. Let us reflect your goodness in our world and especially to our families. Let all we do be for your glory, in your son Jesus’ name, Amen.

 Until next time friends, let's Elevate Motherhood!

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