7 Low-Prep, Low-Cost Toddler Activities

toddler activities

As hard as it is, I really do like being a stay-at-home mom to my twins. However, I liked being a stay-at-home mom to my older two a lot better because … it wasn’t during a pandemic! Good toddler activities are a must!

I kept my sanity parenting my first two as toddlers by doing social activities: we had rhyme-time classes at the library, we had drop-in play group at the local community centre, and we had good old-fashioned indoor play dates.

But none of those things have been possible in the past year, and it has been extremely hard to be a stay-at-home mom. (However, I’d rather be home with my kids than trying to juggle work and daycare during this crazy time.)

Especially now that the twins are done with napping, I have tried to fill our daytime hours with as much outdoor time as weather permits and other indoor activities that occupy them as long as possible.

I am very much OK with making a mess, as long as the mess is worth it. In other words, as long as the making of said mess affords me some time to enjoy my coffee, answer my emails or otherwise maintain my sanity.

Here are 7 low-prep, low-cost activities my twins enjoy:

1. Sensory play with rice (aka: a bin full of rice)

This can get messy, but now that I keep the Shop-Vac as a permanent kitchen appliance, I am not intimidated by a mess that keeps the twins busy for long stretches.

I have fond memories of the rice table at my preschool in the 80s. I loved how it felt to dig my hands in the rice, to scoop it and pass it through funnels or different kitchen implements.

Turns out the twins love this too. I filled an under-bed storage bin (not too deep but nice and long for two to play together) with rice, added random containers like spice shakers, items from their play kitchen and from our kitchen (like spoons and funnels) and honestly they enjoyed it so much they were heading for the rice even BEFORE the TV in the morning.

To prevent mess you can put the rice container inside a kiddie pool that will collect the spills, or place a sheet under it … but whatever. If it gets on the floor (which it does), we scoop up what we can and put it back and vacuum up the rest.

2. Painting with water

I don’t even mean watercolour paint or those fancy books where you wet a paintbrush and colour appears. I literally mean a paintbrush and plain water.

This is an outside activity because outside you have a variety of surfaces suitable for paintless painting. Currently, Calgary is melting, so there are always puddles of water around our driveway. The twins dip their paintbrushes in said puddles and paint right on the pavement. This works on fences and on any dark surfaces, like doors, cars or siding. If you want to get fancy, add some crushed chalk for colour.

3. Chalk “spot it” game

Just plain old drawing with chalk is fun, but I’ve created a game out of it that also gets some exercise and minor education in.

I draw different objects and letters and numbers all over the driveway. Then, I sit down comfortably and start calling out the things I’ve drawn. The twins run all over the driveway to find the right drawing and stand on it!

For older kids, the driveway chalk could reinforce math concepts or whatever else they may be working on in school.

4. Window painting

I have been informed that this activity is too messy for some, and that’s cool. I literally do not care if a mess is made as long as the pay off is that the twins are occupied for a sustained period. My house is also not “fancy,” and a bit of colour around the edges of my windows does not bother me. One day, when the kids are grown, I’ll have pretty, clean things.



We first started painting on paper that I taped up to the window, but paint was getting on the windows anyway.

I mixed a squirt of dish soap into little pots of washable Crayola paint and let the twins get to work. At first I put up painter’s tape so they could make a mosaic design, but honestly they prefer to freestyle. The trick is to just give them one small pot of paint each at a time, then if they spill it’s not too much, and they’re not constantly grabbing for different colours.

The dish soap makes the paint really quite easy to remove, even if you’ve left it on the windows for a couple of months!

For older kids the mosaic project may be more enjoyable. I figure you could also block out the shapes of Minecraft characters and create them on the windows!

5.  Scrap wood building

I think a lot of garages have a selection of scrap lumber from building fences or workbenches or shelving. If not, this is the kind of thing I am sure you can acquire for free by posting an “in search of” in your local buy/sell group.

Our box of miscellaneous lumber scraps provides tons of entertainment for the twins. They use them like building blocks and create all sorts of neat structures with them, sometimes decorating with chalk, sometimes making roadways for their cars.

6. Bath time for fun

I know most of our kids have baths pretty regularly anyway, but I’ve started putting the twins in the bath as an actual activity.

What makes the bath fun is that they greatly enjoy transferring water from one container to another and to another, and their mother’s propensity for keeping any and all containers has made for an excellent selection of bottles and cups for just this purpose. My old peri bottle is a top toy because it squirts. Ketchup bottles with the squirt top are popular too!

My daughter loves playing in the bath with all these random (free) toys and tells me she is making potions.

When we are having a bath for fun during the day, there’s no time limit or need to get on with the bedtime routine. I let them stay in as long as they desire—the longer the better.

7. Trash Collection

 Why not kill time while also doing something wonderful for your neighbourhood?! Maybe it’s just because they’re MY kids, and I love doing things to protect the environment, but all of my kids have been big fans of picking up trash.

Obviously the safety of trash pick up and type of trash available will impact whether this is an appropriate activity for your kids, but in our neighbourhood the twins are mainly picking up bits of recycling that has flown out of bins during wind storms. They are very pleased to carry their own bags and fill them with as much trash as they can find.

What are your kids’ favourite easy activities?

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Welcome to my Wolf Pack!

My name is Lindsay and I am a 40-year-old mama of four trying to live an eco-friendly, budget-friendly life! I am a substitute teacher and Child Passenger Safety technician in Calgary, Alberta. Join me on my adventures!

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