34 Fun Indoor and Outdoor Toddler Activities
As any parent knows, it can be hard to find fun and challenging toddler activities. And as the temperatures get cooler, it can be particularly difficult to find indoor toddler activities if you’re stuck inside on a cold or rainy day. The good news is, you don’t have to invest in a lot of expensive new toddler toys—or spend much, in general—to keep your little one busy. You can have tons of fun with items that you already have in your home, or on a quick trip to a nearby kid-friendly destination. If you need some ideas, we’ve got plenty of both outdoor and indoor toddler activities.
If you’re looking for rainy day toddler activities, you’ve come to the right place. When you can’t possibly fathom watching yet another Paw Patrol episode, these creative toddler activities will keep both your little one and you happy.
Indoor toddler learning activities
- Practical life activities. Learning about everyday activities that adults do is an important part of toddlerhood—so include them in activities like laundry, food preparation, setting the table, watering the plants and more. “These activities are attractive to children being in the stage of the absorbent mind,” says Paula Hermano, MEd, a Montessori educator and the director of programs at Montessori Teacher Education Institute of Atlanta. “Children naturally will want to do or be part of daily life activities. Practical life activities help children develop concentration, coordination, understanding of sequences and the life skills they can carry through adulthood.”
- Your local library. Many public libraries have storytimes and other activities for toddlers. Grab a calendar next time you drop by and you’ll see events like readings, puppet shows and more. Some might host children’s concerts and magic shows.
- A museum. Children’s museums are a solid bet, but your little one might also like museums of science, natural history, art, transportation and more. The best choices will offer activities for toddlers and hands-on, interactive exhibits.
- A children’s concert. You can often find free children’s concerts at the local mall, an outdoor gathering place, a coffee shop or your public library. Watching your little one bopping along to the music is sure to bring you joy.
- An aquarium. Going to an aquarium or oceanography museum will let your little one gawk at lots of sea life varieties. But if you don’t live near one, you can seek out a local fish or aquarium supply store that’ll keep your little one enchanted.
- Giant shape hunt. If you’re looking for toddler activities at home, this idea from Busy Toddler will help teach your little one about shapes, as well as fine motor skills and critical thinking skills. Start with tracing the outline of various building-block shapes on a large roll of construction paper, and have your child match them up.
- I-spy tray. A great sibling activity, the “I-spy tray”—also from Busy Toddler— is an effective way to teach language skills. Collect a bunch of different items, making sure to avoid choking hazards, and drop them into a box or tray. Then, call out the names of the items and ask your little one to find them.
- Sticker sorting. All you need for the sticker-sorting activity from Busy Toddler are dot stickers and construction paper. Sticker-sorting helps young children work on decision-making, fine motor skills and practicing vocabulary.
Indoor toddler sensory activities
- Shakers. Fill plastic containers with lids with different materials to shake, such as sand, wild rice and dried corn, suggests Pamela Green, a Montessori educator and the owner of Ananda Montessori, a playgroup based in northeastern Pennsylvania. “Singing, drumming, shaking a rattle, bells, clapping, all are of interest,” she says.
- Sensory bins. Creating sensory bins allows toddlers to build skills and understanding through play-based, hands-on learning. And they don’t have to be messy to be fun—Busy Toddler has a bunch of ideas, including sensory bins with Jell-O, oatmeal and more.
- Pom pom drop. This simple and fun activity from The Lean Green Bean involves taping up used toilet paper rolls and having your toddler drop pom poms down the chute for a fun cause-and-effect game.
- Bubble trucks. What could be better than bubbles and trucks together? Busy Toddler has the instructions for how to create this sensory activity—which you can also do outside for maximum mess avoidance.
Indoor toddler art activities
- Chalkboard. Let your toddler move colored chalk around on a large vertical chalkboard, where they’ll have plenty of space to move around, suggests Green.
- Play-Doh. Your little one can roll, squeeze and pull Play-Doh, and cut it up with cookie-cutters.
- Finger-painting. It sounds messy, but if you put down a bunch of newspapers, it’ll be a blast! Green suggests letting your tot dip their fingers or hands in non-toxic paint, then going to town on some paper.
- Ice-cube painting. Painting ice cubes is a fun and easy toddler art activity— check out the easy instructions on Busy Toddler.
Indoor toddler science activities
- Bringing the outdoors in. Green suggests “bringing natural materials, such as pine cones of different shapes, shells, rocks, bark…whatever can be gathered during a walk and brought indoors to touch and feel. Through the senses, a child can experience [differences] in weight, shapes [and] textures, and begin grouping materials together.”
- Float and sink. Pour water into a basin or large bowl and test out what objects (ones you don’t mind in water, that is!) float and which ones sink, says Green. Your child will love experimenting.
- Water transfer. Sponging water from one bowl to another, squeezing to release what’s inside the sponge, can be a fun lesson for your child, says Green.
- Oil and water experiment. What do you get when you combine oil, water and food coloring? Endless fun with bubbles and colors, according to Busy Toddler.
- “Fizzy fun” experiment. Combine baking soda, food coloring and vinegar for this fizzy “hidden colors” experiment that’ll teach cause and effect, promote hand-eye coordination and more.
Indoor toddler gross motor activities
- Indoor play gym. You don’t have to pay big bucks for this—your local recreation center might have a perfectly toddler-friendly indoor soft play area.
- An indoor pool. If you’re lucky enough to have access to a covered pool, you can be sure that swimming is one of the best indoor activities for toddlers. Just know that adult supervision and participation go with the territory. Or, check out your local YMCA or other rec center for tot swim lessons.
- Carrying stuff. That’s right! The simplest activity can be wonderful for tots. “Children have interest in carrying what might surprise us, or to use their strength as much as they can with little or no help from us,” Green says. She suggests having your tot help with carrying things like grocery bags, then with unloading the bags and helping place contents into baskets. (Bonus learning activity!) “Children at every age have the need to contribute and belong,” she explains. “What we can consider is the ways that we can prepare indoor spaces for the freedom of practice of this desire in the child, as well as the repetition of these activities.”
If you’re ready to head outside with your toddler, there are lots of outdoor toddler activities to check off your list that are easy to set up and won’t cost an arm and a leg.
Here are a few ideas for outdoor toddler activities, both for when you’re at home and on the go.
Outdoor at-home toddler activities
- Giant bubbles. It’s no secret that toddlers love bubbles. Giant bubbles? Even better. This homemade bubble recipe from A New Dawnn will make some of the biggest they (and you) have ever seen.
- Pouring station. In a large tub or bucket, place several different-sized containers with water. Your toddler will adore pouring and scooping to their heart’s content. “Add a bit of food coloring, different-size jugs and ladles, and they’ll be occupied for hours,” says the Momooze site.
- Play-Doh nature impressions. From I Can Teach My Child, this sensory activity—which, you guessed it, involves placing leaves, pinecones and other nature items in Play-Doh—is great for fine motor skills and teaching toddlers about textures.
- Outdoor sensory bin. A sensory bin is a fun toddler activity that works both inside and outside, of course—but you can get just a tad messier when you’re outside. You can get creative with your sensory fun: If you have a truck lover, try the monster truck sensory bin from Mama. Papa. Bubba., and a flower sensory bin, like this one from And Next Comes L, is another great way to learn about nature.
- Outdoor science table. If you already own a sand or water table, you can use it to create kid-friendly experiments with baking soda, food coloring and more. Busy Toddler has the setup instructions.
- Sidewalk chalk road. We love this idea from A Happy Wanderer, who created a town and roads for her toddlers to play with their cars. Or, just grab some chalk and let them get creative—see what they’ll come up with on their own.
Outdoor toddler activities on-the-go
- The other playground. You’ve likely visited your local playground more than a number of times, and have memorized it inside and out. To switch it up a bit, how about going out of your way to that cool-looking playground the next town over? Your toddler will appreciate the new experience—and you might meet some new friends.
- A splash pad. If it’s warm enough, look for a splash pad in your local recreation center or town square. Just make sure to bring extra clothes for when your little one gets soaked!
- A pond or river. It’s always fun to watch ducks and other creatures splash around.
- Going for a child-led walk. Often, all you need to do is follow your toddler’s lead. “It’s helpful (and so much more fun!) to go on a walk with a toddler, rather than to invite a toddler to go for a walk with us,” says Green. “We follow the child and are receptive to their explorations and discoveries. Toddlers see the small things, and they’ll stop and sit to experience what has caught their interest. In this process we can rediscover the wonders of our own neighborhoods—the wind on our faces, the sun casting shadows, the ways that different trees feel, and how stones can be gathered together and carried to a place up ahead that is yet unknown. Can we join them?”
Pamela Green is the owner of Ananda Montessori, a Montessori playgroup based in northeastern Pennsylvania. She has decades of experience as a Montessori teacher and administrator, as well as a positive discipline parent educator.
Paula Hermano, MEd, is a Montessori educator with 17 years of experience and the director of programs at Montessori Teacher Education Institute of Atlanta.
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