11 Ways to Keep a Toddler Busy and Happy

A new school term is nearly upon us again, and if you have little ones around, it can be hard to find a balance between student needs and toddler needs. Whether you’re homeschooling or your kids go to school and they need some quiet time for homework in the evening, there’ll come a point (perhaps every day!) when you’ll need to keep little people happy so that you can spend time with your older ones.

I am very big on letting kids follow their own interests and passions, but often, the little kids want to do “big kid schoolwork” and so it can be really helpful to have some ideas up your sleeve for just those times.

Here are some things we do to keep the little ones happy and reasonably quiet while the bigs do their bookwork.

1. Create a road with painter’s tape

So simple, cheap and entertaining. We had ours set up in the bedroom for over 2 weeks and the little boys played with it several times every day.

11 Ways to Keep a Toddler Busy and Happy

2. Lacing cards

Lacing cards are a really great way to help children develop fine motor skills. All you need to make some is thick cardboard or foam sheets, a hole punch and a shoe lace. You can cut shapes or just leave the cardboard as is. You could even get a bit scientific and create constellation lacing cards, or punch holes in the shape of letters or numbers.

3. Paddle pop stick puzzles

These are so easy (and free if you collect paddle pop sticks from ice blocks) and your child can make them almost entirely unassisted. They can draw or colour the picture that you use for the puzzle, line up the sticks and glue the picture down securely. Be sure to leave a couple of millimetres between each stick so that you have room to cut.

11 Ways to Keep a Toddler Busy and Happy

4. Threading bottle caps

Collect bottle tops, nail holes in them and let your toddler thread them on to string. You can use their creations to make a musical instrument, a toy for a friend or a necklace (or whatever else their imagination comes up with!).

5. Busy wallet or bag

Create a busy wallet or bag – these are great for home or for going out, and are especially good for when you need them to be still and quiet (ie, doctor’s surgery). It can contain stickers, blank paper shapes, paddle pop stick puzzles and scavenger hunt lists (see number 8 below).

6. Jobs

Create a “big helper’s” routine for when you need to spend dedicated quiet time with an older child. Toddlers love to help and if they are taught that they are helping mummy and an older sibling, it can be a really positive experience for them and you. Toddlers can do jobs like tidy the lounge, pick up toys, put own underwear in the right draw, empty the front loader, tidy the shoes at the back door, etc.

You can create their own job roster that they can fill in each day using ticks, stickers or drawings.

11 Ways to Keep a Toddler Busy and Happy

7. Create their own special ‘quiet corner’

Place a large bed sheet over the dining room table, lay some cushions down and a few blankets. Add some books or Lego and… Tadah!

8. Scavenger hunt

Create a nature scavenger hunt using pictures to show them what they need to find. This activity gets them out into the fresh air and helps them to be more observant of their surroundings. You can also create scavenger hunt lists for when you’re inside or need to be relatively quiet (ie, the doctor’s waiting room). Some things you might have on the list for these types of places: something red, a book with more than 50 pages, a person wearing glasses, an exit sign, something that’s broken or damaged, an old person, a young person, a type of food, the bathroom, etc.

9. Garden

Create their own fairy or elf garden in a pot that they can care for and play with. If you have a practical child who prefers something more useful, you can create a veggie patch in a pot for them to tend.

10. Play dough and kinetic sand

Hours and hours and hours of fun, and substantially less messy than paint!

11 Ways to Keep a Toddler Busy and Happy

11. Worksheets

I know not all kids are into worksheets, but some LOVE them. Recently, I was doing some map work with my two older boys and the younger guy really wanted to join in, so I pulled out some maze worksheets we have and he had a great time. The mazes produced a similar experience to what we doing with maps so he really was learning the same kind of concepts but at a level that was appropriate to his abilities.

The folks at Education.com have an enormous range of great worksheets for the kids and have given us this kayaking maze worksheet to share.

Be sure to check out Education.com for more learning fun. (This is not an affiliate link – I just love their stuff.)


  • Thread pipe cleaners through a colander – this is a really great activity for developing fine motor skills.
  • Create an obstacle course using household furniture.
  • Set them up with a shallow tub of soapy water and let them wash their cars, trucks, dolls… even their own clothes if they’re keen. Supervised of course 🙂
  • Make ice fossils – put a small toy in a container, cover with water and freeze. The child then chisels away to release the “fossilised” toy. Perfect for hot weather.
  • Kids tend to get bored with the toys they play with every day, so to garner some novelty factor, keep aside specific toys and games that only come out when you need some quiet time with older kids.

Share with us in the comments… what’s YOUR go to activity for keeping toddlers busy and happy?

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