Occupying toddlers and preschoolers profitably while you focus your attention on schooling older children is a challenge. We began this new school year with seven school-age children (ages fifteen to five), a two-year-old, and a one-year-old. I wondered, “How will we ever accomplish anything and keep the toilet unclogged?”
Here are ideas 13-25 for keeping those little ones occupied. For ideas 1-12, click HERE.
13. Toothpick Structures
Materials: Mini marshmallows, toothpicks (whole and broken in half)
Instructions: Create structures by sticking toothpicks into the marshmallows. (Do not use this activity too near lunchtime.)
14. Using Tongs
Materials: Tongs; small items that you can pick up and move with tongs, such as cotton balls, marshmallows, large pompoms, and small balls; two bowls or containers
Instructions: Pick up objects in one bowl with tongs and move them to the other.
15. Sorting Out
Materials: An assortment of dried beans (or plastic jewels, if you want to be fancy), ice cube tray
Purchase a bag of sixteen-bean soup for this activity.
Instructions: Sort the beans (or jewels) by color, shape, size, and type.
Materials: Measuring tape (We prefer a fabric tape that does not have sharp edges or snap back on little fingers.)
Instructions: Measure anything (the blanket, arms, legs, toys, tables, and so on).
17. I Spy Bottle
Materials: An empty, clear two-liter bottle, birdseed, small found items such as a key, dime, marble, Lego brick, and a paper clip
Instructions: Fill the bottle three-fourths full with birdseed. Insert the small objects. Turn the bottle to find the items. If this activity is for a young child, you may desire to permanently hot-glue the lid onto the bottle.
Materials: Empty tissue box, scraps of paper, or junk mail
Instructions: Put and remove “mail” from the tissue-paper mailbox. (My one-year-old was happy to empty the tissue box for us for this activity.)
Materials: Disposable pie tins, rice or small beans, funnels, measuring cups and spoons, scoops
Instructions: Definitely use this activity on a blanket for easy cleanup. Fill one pie tin with rice or small beans. Scoop, funnel, and measure into another tin.
20. Nuts and Bolts
Materials: A variety of bolts and nuts
Instructions: Screw and unscrew bolts and nuts.
21. Toothpick Pictures
Materials: Pieces of felt, permanent marker, toothpicks
Instructions: Draw simple shapes and pictures with permanent marker onto felt. Use the toothpicks as a guide. Lay toothpicks over the drawn lines. Suggestions for designs include squares, triangles, rectangles, pentagons, and a simple house. (see website for ideas) Roll the toothpicks in the felt to store.
22. Counting Cards
Materials: Index cards, marker, small stickers, counters, such as beans, bingo markers, or beads
Instructions: Label ten index cards with the numerals 1 through 10. On the back of each card, adhere the appropriate number of stickers.
For young children: Place the card sticker side up and place one counter (beans, markers, or beads) over each sticker.
For preschoolers: Place the card numeral side up. Count out the correct number of counters. Turn the card over and match the counters to check his answer.
23. Sorting Pasta
Materials: Pasta in a variety of shapes, index cards, clear packing tape, sorting containers
Instructions: Adhere one of each type of pasta to an index card. Sort the pasta into containers using the cards as a guide.
24. Cutting Practice
Materials: Construction paper cut into fourths, marker, scissors
Instructions: Draw two or three parallel lines (straight, wavy, or zigzag) on each sheet of paper. Cut along the lines.
25. Toothpick Punch Art
Materials: Tea towel, black construction paper cut in half, toothpicks, white paper cut in half, marker, two clothespins
Instructions: Draw simple shapes with a wide marker on white paper. Using the tea towel as a pad, layer the materials, towel, black construction paper, white “pattern,” and secure with clothespins. Poke holes with the toothpick along the marked lines. Discard the white paper. Hold the black paper up to the window to see the outline created.
There is no silver-bullet solution to occupy a busy toddler or preschooler with little to do. Creativity and flexibility are necessary when homeschooling many children of different ages. Remember to enjoy these little ones, give them your attention as you are able, keep them close to you, and provide as many independent, productive activities as you can. They will learn necessary skills in the process and appreciate being included in “school time.”