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How to Entertain Toddlers Without Toys

Updated on January 12, 2012
Children love to help with ordinary household tasks, such as sweeping or mopping.
Children love to help with ordinary household tasks, such as sweeping or mopping. | Source

Have you, like me, ever been called upon to babysit on short notice and didn't have any toys in the house for the children you were supposed to entertain? Here are some ideas for how to entertain toddlers and small children without rushing to the toy store.

Let them help with housework.

Sure, it might not really get clean, but that's not the point. Remember, the goal is to keep the children entertained. Give them a soft cloth to dust with or let them shove around a broom or damp mop. An eighteen-month-old I know loves to "sweep" the kitchen floor, and I have allowed a two-year-old to sweep dead leaves off the back porch at my apartment. They will feel big and important when they are allowed to help, and think of the great work ethic they are learning!

Take them outside.

Most children I have cared for love to go outdoors. If there is a park or playset within walking distance, that is a great place to take them, or if you have a big yard they can run around on the lawn under your supervision. Go on a walk down the street and point out interesting objects and animals you may see along the way. Or just sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. I have found that crying babies often calm down when taken outside. Somehow the outdoors has a soothing effect on them. Of course, if it is too hot or cold this is not a practical option, but in most cases the great outdoors is a marvelous way to entertain children.

Play with household utensils.

One-year-olds like to empty drawers, so if you have a drawer or low cupboard filled with Tupperware or similar food storage containers, let them clear it out. Be sure to place any plastic bags out of reach. I know a little boy who likes to bang pot lids together for cymbals. They can also use spoons to bang bowls or kettles. Little kids love making noise, in case you didn't know! If you have jar rings in your kitchen (from home canning) you can stack them on a big spoon handle and let the child remove them, or pile them in a bowl and have the child dump them out.

Print clip art pictures for coloring pages from your computer.

I had a box of washable crayons in my emergency gift box, so I dug them out for a two-year-old who was about to arrive at my house on short notice, and I printed off a few pages with simple pictures for her to color. A word to the wise: don't let the children use markers, even if they claim to be washable, unless you are certain it's okay to have their clothes ruined. (Or if the parent doesn't mind, have small children take their shirts off to do art, since the marker will come off of skin better than out of clothes!)

Make a tent with a blanket draped over a card table or two chairs.

This is a big hit with little children. They are small enough to fit nicely underneath, though it may be a bit of a squeeze if they invite you to join them. They can use it as a cave, or a tunnel, or a house...you name it!

A cardboard box (approximately bushel size) makes a great car.

You can even draw a steering wheel and dashboard on the inside. If the box has flaps, fold them down inside the box so they won't get in the way and scratch your little charge. If you have stuffed animals sitting around the house, let the kids push them around in the box. If not, you may have to be the one who gives the kids rides in the box/car. If you don't have carpeted floors, it may work better to take the car outside on the lawn.

More ideas:

  • A brand-new roll of toilet paper or a box full of facial tissue can be a lot of fun for kids to unroll and strew about the house. Just be ready to clean up a big mess when they leave.
  • Allow them to string Cheerios or Froot Loops on a piece of dental floss. This idea is more for slightly older children with better coordination. Tie a piece of cereal at the end to keep the "beads" on the string. Tube pasta works too, but they won't have the fun of eating it when they finish.
  • Cook up some homemade play dough. Watch for an upcoming Hub with a recipe and ideas for things to do with homemade play dough!

Use your imagination.

There are even more possibilities for keeping children occupied in your home even though you may own few or no toys. Just make sure to keep heavy, breakable, or toxic items out of reach and closely supervise children at all times so they won't get into anything that could harm them. Above all, have fun, and be creative by using common household items to keep those kiddos entertained!

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    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 4 years ago from Minnesota

      Fun ideas! I like the cheerios necklace. It's cheap, easy and yummy :)

    • PaisleeGal profile image

      Pat Materna 4 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee, USA

      Great hub! I have only 1 grandchild. He's my one and only. He'll be 3 in couple of weeks. In my home I have a room just for him with all kinds of toys and books. However, when he's with me some of our best adventures do not involve the store bought toys. Recently he stayed overnight and the whole next day. We made homemade french fries. He loves cooking and of course playing in the water at the sink. It was warm enough for us to play in the garage. I have lots of things in my garage and I stayed with him constantly so he did not get into what he should not have. We had marches with creatively made instruments. Painted those instruments too. Played tossing games with large wooden beads of different sizes. Those same beads he also loved sorting and placing into various containers. Also sorted sea shells. One of the most creative toys was a 3' long piece of dryer venting. This is a very flexible, bendy type of venting. I fixed the edges so they would not scratch him and his imagination went wild. We closed off one end with tape and he put different items in it and it made great noises. When it's straight you can look through it. But the best was when he threw it on the floor and pretended it was a big snake! The next time he came to visit he wanted to play in the garage and he went for the big silver snake first thing. Only bad thing was we were so busy I forgot to take pictures. Didn't mean to go on so long, but we had such fun had to share.

    • katedonavon profile image
      Author

      katedonavon 5 years ago

      Thanks, Shesabutterfly! (I finally figured out how to get Amazon set up.)I thought they looked interesting too.

    • Shesabutterfly profile image

      Cholee Clay 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      I like the addition of the books you posted. Will definitely have to look into getting some of those. With a nephew and a niece on the way I might need more than just a few ideas to keep them entertained. Although my nephew does love to clean house:)

    • katedonavon profile image
      Author

      katedonavon 5 years ago

      Thanks for reading and voting, alissaroberts and alocsin! I agree, kids love plain old boxes and can come up with lots of stuff to do with them!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      My experience has been toddlers do great with just a cardboard box. You don't even have to tell them what to do with it. They'll find creative ways to deal with it. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • alissaroberts profile image

      Alissa Roberts 5 years ago from Normandy, TN

      All great ideas for last minute toys. It never fails after every birthday/christmas my boys (6 and 3 yrs) still have the best time playing with all the boxes making forts, cars, boats, and such :) Great hub - voted up and useful!