How can I keep my toddler busy without TV or devices? Activities

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toddler girl playing with play doh
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As much as you may love spending time playing with your kid, you've got other things to do too! And while plopping him in front of a TV or tablet is easy, too much of it isn't good for his developing brain or body. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids under age 2 should only watch educational TV for brief periods with an adult; kids ages 2 to 5 should only watch one hour or less per day. Instead of screen time, try some of these fun activity ideas.

Give Them a 'Sensory Task'

"Sensory tasks are my go-to! You can set up a 'car wash' with soap, old toothbrushes, and a bucket of toy cars. Try making sensory boxes filled with dry rice, uncooked beans, cooked spaghetti, or cotton balls and hiding small toys inside." -- Molly Dresner, certified speech-language pathologist and feeding therapist, New York City

Provide Low-Tech Activities

"Give them age-old 'toys' like Tupperware with bowls, wooden spoons, pots, and pans. Kids love doing things next to their parents. Put them in a low cupboard, so they're easy to pull, and let them play with them. Water play in a shallow tub with cups and containers is another idea. Kids love to feel water from [a] sensory perspective.

"Toddlers also like anything they can put things in and dump them out or take them out one by one. We save empty tissue...

"Give them age-old 'toys' like Tupperware with bowls, wooden spoons, pots, and pans. Kids love doing things next to their parents. Put them in a low cupboard, so they're easy to pull, and let them play with them. Water play in a shallow tub with cups and containers is another idea. Kids love to feel water from [a] sensory perspective.

"Toddlers also like anything they can put things in and dump them out or take them out one by one. We save empty tissue boxes and hide items inside and have kids pull them and pop them out. Finger paint, play dough, bubbles, and puppets are all great. If you don't have puppets, you can put a sock on your hands and do puppet movements with it: Have the sock puppet pretend to feed them and sing songs with them. Shape sorters, puzzles, and cause and effect toys where you can push a button and a door comes open or something pops up are good for toddlers. So are songs and dance parties." -- Heather Marenda-Miller, MS, CCC-SLP and Amy Wilhelm, MS, CCC-SLP, licensed and certified pediatric speech-language pathologists with Social Scouts, Los Angeles

Bring the Outdoors In

"In the winter, when it was too bitter cold to play outside, I brought the snow inside. I put several large buckets full of snow in the bathtub. My daughter leaned over the edge and played with her toys in the snow. We played a lot of hide-and-seek because I could clean at the same time. I would clean the room I was hiding in until she started to get close to finding me, then I'd hide. I'd hide in the basement and start a load of wash, hide in the bathroom and clean the sink or toilet. It was very productive; I had to be fast so she wouldn't catch me."

Assemble an Activity Pouch

"I have a canvas bag for my toddler that's filled with 10 rotating 'busy pouches' that go with us to restaurants, waiting rooms, friends' houses, etc. They're filled with things like a tiny puzzle, magnetic fishing game, matching cards, beads and pipe cleaners to make bracelets, a pad of paper and stickers, a play phone, and picture cards of relatives to 'call,' etc. They keep her busy, quiet, and off of a screen when we're on the go!"

Let Them Get (a Little) Messy

"Put a bunch of sand (or rice) in an under-bed box (so that it can be closed up) with a bunch of sand toys (measuring cups, bowls, spoons work great). Put a plastic tablecloth underneath it and let them play. When they are done, empty the tablecloth back into the box, fold it inside, put the cover on, and shove it under the bed until the next time. It has easy cleanup, and they love it. Plus it is a developmental learning activity. Activities that are slightly more messy: finger-painting, play dough, or cornstarch and water."

Give Them Safe Kitchen Tools

"I have cabinets around the kitchen that are my son's. He stays busy going through all his 'treasures' he has hidden. One cabinet has pots and pans that he can play with. He stays busy 'cooking' his 'Fruit Loop soup.'"

Have Them Help With Chores

"My twins each had their own Swiffer that they loved to push around the hardwood floors. By age 3, they were good at helping me sort the clean clothes on the couch, and great at helping me empty the dryer. We played with Hot Wheels cars and made forts. Every day was an exhausting adventure that I only miss when I look at the pictures!"

Give Them Crayons & Paper

"Coloring! In this house, we all sit down and the kids get super excited to color. I also have a wall I painted with chalk paint, so they can write all over that. Also, the park! If it's warm out, the kids can run around and play all that energy off and they never want to leave."

Make Something Out of a Cardboard Box

"The other day, we took a cardboard box and turned it in to a race car. We do anything and everything to keep busy. Crafts, forts, library, dancing -- we love dance parties! -- playdates. The list goes on. If it's nice out, then we will be outside. We love fresh air!"

Do the Cookie Sheet Trick

"I like to give kids a couple old cookie sheets and magnetic numbers and letters. As they make things, they can bring you the cookie sheet to show off their work. I used to [do] this while I cooked or was cleaning in same room or an adjoining room."

Have a Dance/Cleaning Party

"I used to turn on the radio while I cleaned and give them a small task in helping out. Then we would take a break and dance around. Win, win, win: their room cleaned, exercise, and time with Mommy."

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The advice on CafeMom aims to educate, inform, and provide a range of solutions to the issues moms care about. It is not a substitute for consultation with a medical professional or treatment for a specific condition. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified professional. Please contact your health-care provider with questions and concerns.