100 Ways to Keep Little Kids Happy
Getting through the day with an active toddler can put your patience, creativity, and endurance to the test. Keep your child smiling with this huge list of simple, fun activities.
1. Celebrate a new holiday. Announce that it's Polka-Dot Day or Purple Day.2. Throw a doll's birthday party. Wrap up a few "gifts," decorate with balloons and streamers, and enjoy a mock -- or real -- cake.3. Dress for the weather. Lay out items for different weather conditions, describe a certain day, and ask your child to pick an outfit for it.4. Open a petting zoo. Place stuffed animals around the room, pet each one, and talk about what they like to eat.5. Camp out in your living room. Climb into a tent and sleeping bags. Turn on a flashlight, and pretend to eat s'mores.6. Form a family band. Have everyone grab an instrument and jam to a CD.7. Imitate animals. Practice hopping like a frog, squirming like a worm, waddling like a duck, and stretching like a cat.8. Play restaurant. In the real kitchen or a pretend one, alternate between being the customer and the server or chef.9. Offer horsy rides. Let her bounce on your back while you "neigh" and chew hay.10. Ride the laundry-bin "school bus." She's the passenger, and you're the driver. Make stops to pick up other kids, and wave bye-bye to the mommies at each stop.
Take-Alongs That Make Waiting Fun
11. Brain Quest. This "flip deck" of age-appropriate questions and answers for children as young as 2 builds smarts and keeps kids busy.12. A dry-erase pen for dressing rooms. "My daughter decorates the mirror while I try things on," says Stephanie Simon, of Charlotte, North Carolina. "The ink wipes off easily with a tissue."13. Mini Etch A Sketch. Ask your child to draw what he sees.14. Bubbles. Blow them while she's in a shopping cart or waiting to see the doctor.15. Long-lasting snacks. Consider mini bagels, breadsticks, or graham crackers.16. Pipe cleaners. They can take the shape of a ring, a flower, or a headband.17. Crayons and a coloring book. Or try Crayola Color Wonder markers.18. Finger puppets. Act out a story while you're stuck in a long line.19. A plastic magnifying glass. She'll love seeing objects and people close-up.20. A little toy train. Introduce a special choo-choo that only appears when you're outside of the house. Create your own track: Tell your child that it's along his arm, up a chair, or over a table -- and he'll keep the train rolling.
Easy Art Project
21. Finger-paint with pudding. Place a dollop on a laminated place mat or a cookie sheet and have your child create sweet abstract art. (You can dye vanilla pudding with food coloring.)22. Make jewelry. String painted Cheerios or hollow pasta shapes onto yarn and voila, a necklace or a bracelet.23. Create fingerprint critters. Using washable paint, make thumbprints on paper or a flowerpot. Once the paint dries, use a fabric marker to draw on legs, a face, and antennae. For more ideas, check out Ed Emberley's Complete FunPrint Drawing Book.24. Go splat. Channel your child's inner Jackson Pollock: Drag an old sheet outside and let him use a paintbrush to splatter it with waterproof paint.25. Make a collage. Give him paper and a glue stick. Go nuts with decorations, such as torn pieces of tissue or construction paper, cotton balls, feathers, images from magazines, and photos.26. Adopt a pet rock. Adorn stones from a nature walk with paint, glitter glue, and stick-on eyes.27. Try Dot Art markers. They're super easy for toddlers to hold.28. Design a T-shirt. Paint your child's foot or hand with fabric paint and imprint a T-shirt for her or to give as a gift. (To prevent color from bleeding to the other side of the shirt, place cardboard inside.)29. Knead some goop. Mix a box of cornstarch with water to a consistency your child likes, then add food coloring.30. Crown your prince or princess. Decorate a strip of construction paper or cardboard with markers, glitter, and stickers. Then staple or tape the two ends to size.
Toys That Are Worth Every Penny
31. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band Set ($30)
32. Little People Racin' Ramps Garage ($33)
33. Playskool Busy Ball Popper ($20)
34. Little Tikes Cozy Coupe II Car ($50)
35. Playhut Crawl 'N Play foldable tent with tunnels ($30)
36. Lego Duplo Deluxe Brick Box ($45)
37. LeapFrog Brightlings Exploration Station ($40)
38. Parents Mirror Pound-A-Ball ($17)
39. Little Tikes Cookin' Fun Interactive Kitchen ($100) with Step 2 Play Food Assortment ($20 for 101 pieces)
40. VTech Pull & Lights Phone ($15)
Games to Play with a Ball
41. Knock it across the room with a kitchen utensil. Grab a spoon or a strainer with a handle.42. Roll with it. Facing your child with legs spread apart, roll a ball to each other, alternating between using your left hand and right hand.43. Bounce it into a hula hoop. Hold the hoop and have her try to toss the ball so it lands in the center. Move back to make the game more challenging.44. Design spin art. Dip a small ball, such as a golf ball, into nontoxic washable paint, then put it in a salad spinner (or a plastic container) along with a few coffee filters. Put the cover on and spin! (You can use your salad spinner again after you put it in the dishwasher.)45. Go bowling. Knock over some empty water bottles or soda cans.46. Size them up. Give your child an assortment of balls -- tennis, golf, Ping-Pong -- and an empty muffin tin. She'll have fun putting a ball in each compartment, dumping them out, and starting all over again.47. Play air ball. Take turns hitting a beach ball up toward the ceiling, trying not to let it hit the ground.48. Sing a silly ball song. Have him run around the room holding a ball, while belting out "The Ball on the Bus Goes Round and Round."49. Toss it up a slide. She'll love watching it roll down.50. Pass it through a "human" tunnel. Both parents and the child stand in a row, one behind the other, with legs spread wide. The first person bends over and tries to get the ball through the three sets of legs.
Rainy Day Ideas
51. Create a sunny scene. "My kids draw on the windows with washable window markers," says Stacey Marshall, of Charlotte, North Carolina.52. Splash in a couple of puddles. If the rain is light, you can look for worms along the way.53. Pop in a yoga tape. Have her follow your poses.54. Measure the place. "My 2-year-old daughter, Meredith, loves to play with a plastic tape measure," says Heather Gillespie, of West Harrison, New York. "We see how big all our furniture is."55. Bake cookies with care. Give her a lesson in altruism by baking cookies for an elderly neighbor or to send to the troops in Iraq. Let her sneak a couple.56. Plant seeds. Try lima beans, marigolds, and zinnias in a variety of mini pots, clear plastic cups, or an egg carton.57. Play tag. Make it more fun with Playskool's Tag Tails ($15). Each player wears a detachable animal tail, which you try to pull off.58. Create an obstacle course. Jump on pillows, crawl under chairs, and burrow through a blanket-covered tunnel.59. Hunt for under-the-sea treasure. Run a bubble bath, then have your child sit inside or outside the tub and feel around for objects you've "buried."60. Practice math. "Change the words of 'If You're Happy and You Know It' to 'If You're Happy and You Know It ... clap one time or jump three times and hop two times,'" says Jackie Silberg, author of 500 Five-Minute Games. Keep changing the activity and the number of repetitions.
Ways to Make Every Car Ride Rock
61. Take along a cookie sheet and magnetic letters and numbers. You can count and sing the ABCs as she arranges them in proper order, says Trish Kuffner, author of The Toddler's Busy Book.62. Entertain her with a dancing bear. "When I'm in the passenger seat, I hold a stuffed animal on my head and have it perform," says Lisa Depew, of Ashburn, Virginia.63. Pack a Travel Go 'N Doodle. No worries about ink stains on the seats with this version of the Aquadoodle mat.64. Burn a favorite-songs CD. Make sure you like a few of them!65. Try the shopping game. Name a store your child knows well (supermarket or toy store), then on the word "Go" see how many things your child can name in that store.66. Bring a storybook on CD. These sets signal when it's time to turn the page in the corresponding book, so nonreaders can follow along too.67. Take pictures of the trip. With a child-friendly digital camera, such as Fisher-Price's Kid-Tough Digital Camera, he can snap (deletable) pictures through the window and view his shots as often as he'd like.68. Play "Who Am I?" Offer clues about an animal or a community helper, and ask your child to solve the riddle, says Kuffner.69. Pretend with a doctor's kit. Ask her to examine a couple of her dolls or stuffed animals.70. Let him steer like you. A toy with a steering wheel can help your child feel in control. Try Tiny Love's Wonder Wheel.
Books Toddlers Love
71. Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems
72. Best Word Book Ever! by Richard Scarry
73. Tails, by Matthew Van Fleet
74. Tickle the Duck! by Ethan Long
75. Hug, by Jez Alborough
76. Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton
77. Peek-A-Baby, by Karen Katz
78. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
79. Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi
80. A Fish Out of Water, by Helen Palmer
CDs Kids Adore
81. No! (They Might Be Giants)
82. You Are My Sunshine (Elizabeth Mitchell)
83. Free to Be You and Me (Marlo Thomas)
84. Catch That Train! (Dan Zanes)
85. Singable Songs for the Very Young (Raffi)
86. Go Baby Go! (The Baby Loves Jazz Band)
87. Whaddaya Think of That? (Laurie Berkner)
88. Folk Playground (Putumayo Kids)
89. Yellow Submarine (The Beatles)
90. Welcome to Ralph's World (Ralph's World)
Really Fun 5-Minute Activities
91. Let your child scrub, scrub, scrub. "I fill the sink or a bucket with soapy water and give my kids plastic dishes or their dolls to clean," says Jodie Fratantuno, of Los Angeles.92. Hand him an old cell phone. Name a relative or a friend to call.93. Have her talk into a big plastic party cup. She'll be fascinated by the echo.94. Pound out some energy. Give your child some golf tees and a toy hammer, and have him bang the tees into Styrofoam.95. Dance on bubble wrap. Tape a piece to the floor and go wild.96. Wipe down the kitchen. "My 2-year-old loves it when I give her a damp sponge to go over the counter and cabinets like Mommy does," says Depew.97. Mesmerize him with a calculator. Kids especially love ones with big buttons.98. Lay out a foam place mat and foam stickers. "My 19-month-old sits for a long time sticking on each decoration and then pulling it off," says Jane Martin, of Overland Park, Kansas.
99. Present her with a photo album with plastic pages. She'll like seeing memories of her birthday party or pictures of her cousins.100. Enjoy teatime outside. "My 3-year-old pours water back and forth between her plastic teapot and teacups," says Elli Goyette, of Newport News, Virginia.
Originally published in the April 2008 issue of Parents magazine.