Simple, at-home activities for babies and toddlers that don’t cost a fortune
Once you emerge from the “survival” phase of parenting (sometime around 3 months), you may be wondering what to do now with this little creature who wants to do more than eat and sleep. Since our specialty is in finding and suggesting activities for the under 3 set, we thought we would take a stab at some at-home activity ideas for your babies and toddlers. These activities don’t require much in terms of set-up or materials and if they do require materials, most of them can be found from what you already have in your home. We hope you find these suggestions helpful!
- Music (newborn and up). Music has many benefits for babies, some of which include early language development, pattern recognition, fine and gross motor development, and listening skills (source: Kindermusik). Plus, it’s fun and can be accomplished with the things you have in your home. If you have instruments at home, you can give you child the gift of live music! Play tunes on your guitar, piano, violin, saxophone, or whatever instrument you have. If you don’t have any adult-sized instruments at home (and don’t worry, we fall into this category as well), you might have a xylophone or tambourine or maracas/rattles. Play a song on the xylophone, bang the tambourine, shake the maracas (if your baby is old enough, they’ll likely want to do this, too!), bang on pots with wooden spoons. Rattles also make excellent maracas, so don’t underestimate their use and importance!
- Singing (newborn and up). Singing to your baby/toddler has many of the same benefits as music. Yes, singing is also music (and can be combined with instrumental music), but we decided to include it in a separate category since singing involves actual language. Some popular songs in English include: “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”, “The Wheels on the Bus”, and “Old McDonald Had a Farm.”
- Reading (newborn and up). We strongly encourage parents to read to their children starting from birth. Newborns will gravitate to books with black and white or other high-contrast images, whereas babies 3 months and older will be attracted to books with color images. Babies also love books with photos of other babies. If you’re at home during the day (whether due to heat or cold), reading is a great way to keep your baby or toddler entertained for a period of time. Please see our previous dad-themed book round-ups here for ideas!
- Sensory basket (6 months and up; can be applicable for a younger baby if he/she is already sitting up). Gather up 5-10 (baby-safe) items in your home, preferable of the same texture, put them in a basket, and let baby explore!
- Water sensory tray (3 months and up; or whenever baby is stable on his/her tummy). You don’t need an expensive water table for this. All you need is a glass pyrex container (or even just a bowl or whatever you have on hand). Fill it up with water and put different baby-safe and waterproof objects in it! Fun items to try: bath toys; seashells; sponges.
- Blowing bubbles (newborn and up; recommended 3 months and up). We recommend this activity for babies 3 months and older since at that age they are able to follow the bubbles. This activity builds baby’s eye-tracking skills, gross motor skills, and teaches them cause-and-effect (what happens when you touch the bubble? It pops!). More than that, it’s fun and low-cost!
- Block games (6 months and up). Chances are, you probably already have a set of blocks lying around from the baby shower and hopefully don’t need to buy these. Show your child how to stack blocks. At 6-9 months, they may not have the coordination to do this, but they are watching you and learning. On top of that, at this age, they *can* knock the blocks down, and they will do this and they will enjoy it!
- Play dough (12 months and up; recommended 15-18 months and up). As we get into the toddler age, your child’s skills are increasing and you will be able to do more activities with them. One highly recommended activity for this age is play dough. Depending on where your child is developmentally (and whether or not they have an older sibling who is already playing with it), your child could be ready for play dough anytime between 12 and 18 months. At 12 months, we recommend showing them how it works – have them watch you roll it, flatten it, make it into shapes. Invite them to touch the play dough and push down on it with their finger. Another activity at this age (12 months) could be to roll the play dough into small balls and have your child put them back in the play dough jar. This will help develop their fine motor skills and pincer grip.
- Drawing/Painting (12 months and up; recommended 18 months and up). Again, depending on your child’s interests and development, they could be ready for drawing or painting anytime between 12 and 18 months. All that’s required are markers, crayons, paint, paintbrushes, and paper. We prefer to use Crayola, which can be easily found at most stores.
- Practical life activities (12 months and up; recommended 18 months and up). If your child is at a Montessori school, you’ve probably heard this method tooted as a way to raise independent children. We agree. Plus, speaking from personal experience, very young children love to help out, so definitely let them help before they get older and don’t want to help anymore! You could start with letting them wipe off surfaces that you’ve sprayed (and letting them spray when they’re a bit older, around 2 years old), asking them to bring you clean, freshly washed utensils from the dishwasher (but not before removing all the sharp items, of course), watering plants, helping you pull dry clothes out of the dryer, and sweeping the floor.
We hope we’ve given you some ideas to start with! And of course, the outdoors is a great place for children as well. But if you’re stuck inside because of the extreme heat or cold, these activities may come in handy!
Did we miss anything? Please feel free to chime in with your activity suggestions, too!