With limited patience and BIG energies, it can be very difficult to find toddler activities that will keep your kids engaged all.day.long. And with the first three years being crucial to kids’ development, the pressure is on to find activities that will keep your kids happy, playing, and growing the way they should. Making up a toddler schedule can seem overwhelming- there are so many suggestions about how to keep a toddler busy, with each activity lasting for about three minutes- but by sticking to basics and establishing routine daily activities for toddlers, you can really help to create a toddler daily schedule that will leave both you and your child feeling fulfilled.
Creating a daily routine for your toddler helps to make sure that they are progressing in the key areas of language, cognition, gross motor, and fine motor skills. They seem like heavy concepts (and they are), but when you break them down, there are super fun and simple ways to help toddlers learn the basic skills they need to be successful in preschool and beyond. We think you’ll find that by fitting each of these activities into your toddler’s daily schedule, you’ll be nurturing their growth, and having lots of fun at the same time.
So without further ado, here are the ten things that you should fit into your toddlers’ schedule every day.
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1. Play Outside
It will come to our readers as no surprise that this is by far our favorite thing to do with our little ones. There are so many simple ways to get outside, and so many fun things to do once you’re out there. Try to squeeze a walk into your schedule each day, and make an effort to make that walk take as long as possible. Look for bugs. Listen for birds, and point to planes. The great outdoors is as great for language development as it is for gross motor skills, so it’s important to take time to get outside each and every day. If you’re having a tough day personally, feel free to take a mug full of coffee with you (we like this one that NEVER EVER SPILLS), put some earbuds in, and listen to music or a podcast of your own. You and your toddler will both feel like you’ve gotten a reset, and you’ll have checked off some development growth for your little one as well.
It’s never too early to start reading with your kids. It’s okay to focus on letters and phonics if your child is interested (think alphabet puzzles and name practice), but it’s also okay NOT to if your child isn’t interested. Let your child guide their interest in academics at this stage, and instead focus on the joy and pleasure of reading.
Experts recommend that you spend as much time as possible reading to your young child, and to integrate at least one structured reading time each day. (Source) Choose a time, maybe right before nap or during an afternoon snack, and make reading a structured priority. Cuddle up with a book, and check out our list of tips for teaching your toddler to be a reader.
Crank up the tunes on Alexa or Pandora and shake your stuff with your kiddos. Dancing is an amazing way to learn rhythm while getting in some exercise and having fun. In fact, music and dance are integral not only in a child’s physical development, but in their cognitive development as well. Making music a part of your day helps to create a rich sensory environment for you child, and aids in the development of complex neural pathways. (Source) Music is a form of language, and teaching your kids to sing, dance, and keep time gives them an advantage in many areas in the future. So shake your sillies out with maracas and tamborines if that’s your thing, or play more structured songs like Freeze Dance. Our kids may or may not prefer “Shut Up and Dance” and “Whatz Up, Whatz Up,” but you do you.
4. Do Toddler Art Activities
You don’t have to go full Pinterest to get this mission accomplished (although I’ve gotta say, we’ve got some SUPER fun ideas on our Pinterest board if you’re into that kind of thing). Let your little ones color with crayons, decorate paper with stickers, and paint with watercolors (which is nowhere near as messy as you might think). Process based art (aka the lazy-mom kind, where you give your kiddo free reign over the materials) is actually far more beneficial for kids than those construction paper ladybugs you see floating around the internet. Check out our Monster Truck Painting for a great example of no–prep, process based art. It’s fun, messy and then clean again, and full of color and sensory play. A little goes a long way when you’re two, and simple is often best.
5. Practice Gross Motor Skills for Toddlers
Most people know that toddlers typically progress from crawling or scooting to walking, and then onto running and jumping. In addition to the basics- think running, galloping, and skipping- children need to learn balance and learn gentle risk taking. Having a strong sense of balance upon entering school reduces the risk of injury in children, as well as providing academic benefits(Source). Encourage your child to walk on a curb to practice their balance, or use step stones in the yard or throughout your neighborhood to practice jumping and landing safely.
If going outdoors isn’t an option for you, you can still set up some awesome gross motor learning experiences without leaving the house. Put out a small cardboard box and give your child some beanbags, balls, or stuffed animals to throw into it. Buy a cheap balance beam from Ikea, or make one with some lumber from the home improvement store if that’s your thing. We love this Magic Moves Wand that suggests gross motor skills that your child can safely perform indoors. We push back the couch, and sit back and relax while our kids fly like birds and jump like kangaroos around our living room. We get to be a little lazy, and the kids get to expend some of that whole-body energy. It’s a winning combination!
6. Integrate Activities to Improve Fine Motor Skills
While your kids are exploring the big movements their bodies can make, they are also gaining more control over their fingers, hands, and coordination. Your toddler will increasingly be able to preform small tasks with their hands. This can include things like holding a crayon, but it can even extend to games as simple as picking things up and putting them down.
Encourage your child to engage in play that involves a pincer grip (aka picking things up with their thumb and forefinger). Have them move pom poms between two snackcatchers, or just clean them up and dump them back out. Ask them to put Q-Tips through the holes in the lid of an empty spice jar. Lace beads onto a pipe cleaner. Drop cards into a hole cut into the lid of an empty oatmeal canister. Even those stickers during art time help a child to practice holding something small between their fingers. There are toys that are specifically designed to improve a child’s fine motor skills, so if you aren’t able to make them on your own, you can still make sure your child’s needs are being met. Without dumping out a full jar of dried basil, at that!
7. Sensory Activities for Toddlers
I like a lot about the toddler phase, but sensory development is one of my favorites. Nearly everything can count as a sensory activity. You can make sensory bins with something as simple as crinkly paper from the dollar store, or create an oatmeal construction site like our friend Lindsey at Everyday Above Dirt. You can create slime using our Fail-Proof recipe, or let your kids play with Play Doh (I mean, we hate it, but our kids don’t).
And sensory doesn’t always have to be messy! Grab a touch and feel book, or smell the different spices in your cabinet. Even activities like swinging, sliding, and balancing or bouncing on an exercise ball can give kids the sensory input they need to grow. Toddlers absolutely love sensory experiences, and making them a part of your toddler’s daily schedule is a great way to fill time in a way that benefits everyone.
8. Help Around the House
This one is slightly controversial- although for the life of me I have NO IDEA WHY. Teaching my toddler to use the dustbuster was the best idea I’ve ever had. He thinks the noise is hilarious, and loves the “power” it wields. Putting him in charge of the task while I dust the other parts of the living room is a complete no-brainer.
There are tons of other daily activities for toddlers that can help take care of your to-do list. They can chop veggies using these kid-safe knives, or “wash dishes” alongside of their parents using this AMAZING learning tower. They are experts at putting things away (as long as the “pick up, put down” phases lasts, anyways), and can help to feed their pets and throw things away. They can put napkins on the table at dinnertime, and sort silverware back into the drawer when it’s clean. We’re not talking about making a list of chores for toddlers here, we’re talking about practical, fun activities that help to make them a working part of the household.
In addition to allowing you to get some housework done, children learn important skills through performing age-appropriate chores for toddlers. Kids who help around the house are more confident, have better life-skills, and a stronger sense of self-efficacy (Source). You know, in case you needed help in justifying why you’re putting your kids to work.
9. Play with Friends
I’m probably not supposed to say this….but I do not like playing with my kids. I love doing activities with them- pretty much all the things mentioned above!- but I am NOT a fan of playing pretend. I do not like making weird voices. I do not like how the pretend scenarios constantly evolve. I even get tired of making animal sounds while we play with my little guy’s farm playset. I enjoy my kids, I really do. I just don’t like playing pretend.
But my kids? They LOVE it. In fact, kids NEED to engage in imaginative play. And I just can’t fill that need for them. So I make a point of having kids over for playdates, or meeting up at the park. I put my kids in Co-Op preschools and playgroups, and I make sure they get lots of social interaction. You don’t have to fill every need of your child’s personally, but it is important that the needs are met. So find a work-around when you need to, and ensure that your kids are getting lots of play in each day.
In addition to providing things I just don’t want to provide, kids learn valuable skills from playing with other kids. They learn about taking turns (not necessarily sharing!) and navigating conflicts. They learn to engage in the give-and-take aspect of play that is often missing in adult interactions. I mean, think about it- is grandma ever going to say, “No, we’re DRAGONS, not kitties!” Odds are she’ll give in an be a kitty, and the child will lose the chance to navigate that difference of opinion. Getting your toddler used to playing with other kids is not always easy- in fact, it could possibly be the hardest part of your day- but it is absolutely crucial to their development that they do so.
10. Play Alone
Oof. This can be a task. Not all kids are naturally inclined to entertain themselves, which means their moms and dads end up doing a reluctant song-and-dance routine that involves engaging the child non-stop all day. I’m here to tell you that this approach? It’s not doing anyone any favors.
Kids NEED to get bored, and it is from that boredom that their creativity comes. They’ll never learn to use their imagination, create their own fun, or to simply be content with quiet if they are constantly being entertained. The best way to teach a toddler to entertain themselves is by starting with small increments of time, maybe ten minutes or so, turn off all electronics, and leave them in a place. You can even sit in the area with them, but pursue interests of your own (maybe read a book, or get some work done). Set a timer, and try not to direct their play in any way until the alarm goes off. Stick with your routine and give your child independent playtime on their own at the same time every day, gradually increasing the length of time until you reach a comfortable level.
These ten activities create the baseline for a solid toddler daily schedule that will help them to not only learn and grow, but to thrive. We’ve put together a printable toddler daily schedule that presents each of these daily activities for toddlers in reasonable increments, and provides a balance between structured and non-structured activities. Our schedule is perfect for kids from 1-5, and is even easily adaptable for multiple ages and numbers of kids. And for a limited time, you can get this schedule FREE. Fill out the form below to receive your copy of our Printable Toddler Daily Schedule, straight to your inbox!