The Young And The Restless: Simple play ideas from the experts


Toddlers are in a word “busy.” They have busy minds and busy bodies. Keeping them engaged and entertained all day—especially when preschools, libraries, and your other go-to places are closed—can be exhausting for parents and caregivers. 

By now, you probably feel like you’ve exhausted all the resources in your toolbox for keeping your little one happy as we weather life in quarantine. So we’ve asked our Parenting Educators to provide their favorite activities to do with littles in the home.

Water play

First Three Years Program Manager Sarah Lame recommends water play (of any kind) because it’s fun and de-stressing. Here are Sarah’s ideas for incorporating water play into your day:

  • Fill a tub with soapy water and give your toddler safe kitchen utensils to wash
  • Have your toddler wash their doll’s cloths and hang to dry
  • Have your toddler give its water-safe baby doll or toy figurines a bath
  • Fill a tub with soapy water and give your toddler spoons, measuring cups, or a whisk to play around with in the water.

 Sensory play

Making a sensory bin is a great way to keep your toddler entertained—and there are lots of choices when it comes to what you can fill it with.

  • Fill a bin or large bowl with dried beans, rice, or sand. Then get out small items that you can hide in the bin, such as toy bugs, dinosaurs, animals, etc. Sarah points out that some kids also like having “tea time” with the sensory bin, so keep some extra cups handy.

Dance parties

Parenting Educator Ali Johnson’s favorite activity to do with her preschooler is a dance party because they are “super simple and easy to do!” In addition, dancing is a great way to de-stress, exercise, and get those endorphins going.

  • When your toddler is feeling restless, put on some music and dance. Try a variety of musical styles, including classical or pop music. Move your bodies in different ways to the music.
  • Try incorporating animal walks, Simon Says, or Follow the Leader into your dance party.

Balance structured and unstructured play

Parenting Educator Meredith Tufts recommends leaving lots of time for both structured and unstructured play. Some of her favorites include:

  • Spending time in the garden
  • Making simple obstacle courses, tents, and other games, such as a bowling-type game with cardboard boxes and a soft soccer ball.

With school closures through the end of April, Meredith has started to add little more structure to her day. “We have a general schedule that we make for the day with my son choosing an outdoor activity (backyard, walk, bike ride) and a learning activity (letter or number games) for morning and afternoon,” says Meredith. “It helps him feel something closer to his routine at school and he knows what to expect. It also helps my husband and I plan the work or projects we want to get done and split the day with less ambiguity and stress in the moment.”

 The silver lining

 As you weather this challenging time in your life, make moments in your day to savor the extra time your family can spend together. Let your children be the light in a dark time. 

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