If you’re currently raising toddlers, you probably know what a challenge it can be to find toys that will keep them occupied for more than a couple minutes. I know I do.
Since I work from home, I’m always on the lookout for toys and activities that will help keep my toddlers self-occupied for more than 5 minutes. Being able to self-entertain with the toys or activities is key. They always will play well when mommy or daddy joins in the fun, but it’s been so much harder to foster independent play between my two toddlers.
I’m not pretending to know all the answers about which toys are best. So, I asked some of our parenting and momming community members for their knowledge on good toys and activities for kids. I asked them to only mention the toys that they personally had good experiences with, loved, and that kept their children occupied for an extended amount of time.
The Top Three Answers Were:
1. Magnetic Tiles!
3. Kinetic Sand, Play-doh, Slime and Similar Toys!
However, if I’m being honest, the real number one answer by far was the box in came in. Luckily, boxes come free with most purchases. 😉
The Best Toys & Activities to Keep Your Toddlers Entertained for Hours
Toys That Will Keep Your Toddler Occupied for More Than 5 Minutes
1. Magnetic Tiles!
Magnetic tiles were the top answered toy in our community. The magnetic aspect helps the tiles and block stick together, which makes play easy, fun, and creative for young kids. Some magnetic tiles even have marble run sets and car tracks you can buy that work with the tiles, which is excellent since marble runs and cars were another toy often recommended.
2. All Things Cars!
Whether it’s hot wheels, remote control cars, dump trucks, tractors, or trains, all things cars was another very popular toy choice for both boys and girls. Yup, that’s right. Toddler girls love driving around trucks just as much as toddler boys so don’t forget about them.
It sounds like cars are especially engaging when they come with track builder pieces that kids can build themselves or a pile of dirt or a sand box.
3. Age Appropriate Legos
Open ended building toys seemed to be a popular thing, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that legos made the list.
No, we’re not talking about the tiny version that feel like death to walk over. You’ve still got a couple years before you have to invest in those. We’re talking about the bigger lego blocks. DUPLO may be the brand that comes to mind first, but there are several different brands creating toddler-sized legos too, and often for a more reasonable price.
4. Blocks, Blocks, Blocks!
There’s a reason blocks are classic. I have a nice set of blocks for my toddlers and they are constantly impressing me with their building creativity. They will build “cake,” castles, towers, dominos, ball courses, etc.
However, it took me a while to find a big block set that I liked. I tried to buy a couple sets that seemed like they would be a good size, but always ended up being way smaller than what I wanted.
It turns out, what I really wanted were unit blocks. These are the larger sized blocks that you might remember from your youth.
Pro tip: I couldn’t find very many large and colorful unit block sets. The colorful blocks are usually the smaller sized blocks. However, if you’re a little bit crafty, you can always buy some paint to add color to the big, natural wood unit blocks yourself.
5. Marble Runs
Marble runs are great for keeping toddlers entertained. My girls have a simple one their grandpa made for them and they love watching the balls roll down over and over again.
I think that the simpler marble runs work best for toddlers to play with independently, but the more complex marble sets will age with your kids better and still work great for toddlers so long as you’re willing to do most of the initial set up for them. Once set up, your toddler can take over.
Many toddler-aimed marble runs also come with larger balls. However, many are still small enough to place in a determined toddler’s mouth. So definitely keep an eye on your toddlers while they’re playing, especially if they are still in the “put-everything-in-my-mouth” phase.
Another great thing about marble runs in they can incorporate into many different toy types that you may already have. If you like magnetic tiles, there are magnetic marble ones that will incorporate. They also have car marble runs, lego marble runs, and many more.
Play-Doh is still around for a reason. There are literally tons of different ways to play and sets to incorporate so the fun is pretty much endless.
The downside, toddlers are great at making even the most innocent toys a disaster. If I turn my back for five minutes I get to enjoy cleaning play-doh out of the carpet. Even when I use my most threatening mom voice and tell them to keep it in the kitchen or play-doh time is over.
However, we’ve been working on keeping the play-doh on the table and it’s become one of our favorite activities. We don’t go too crazy on the different sets and like to go with more open ended play-doh tools instead. Check out some of our favorites below!
Unlike play-doh which holds its shape has a lot of sets and options for building, slime is more of a sensory experience. A lot of the fun is in making the slime. There’s tons of different versions from bubble slime, magnetic slime, glow-in-the-dark slime, and of course traditional slime.
You can buy sets with different objects to put inside the slime to create even more of a sensory experience, like tiny images, mini foam balls, glitter, etc. Hiding and rescuing toy animals from slime is also a super fun activity.
A lot of people are afraid of playing with slime because they’re afraid that it’s going to be to messy, but I don’t really find it to be any more messy than play-doh. It’s really not too bad to clean up with the right set-up. And yes, for me the right set up does usually involve stripping my toddlers down to the essentials. Slime in clothes is not much fun.
We also have an activity table with tubs that the slime is supposed to stay in. And that table is set in the furthest corner of the kitchen so that I have as long as possible to notice the slime sneaking away.
8. Kinetic Sand
Messy play seems to be the name of the game. Kinetic sand is another very popular recommendation. We like to play with out kinetic sand by throwing in some empty easter eggs as molds, toy construction cars, dinosaurs, and more to create a fun play experience.
You can also use a lot of the same toys you use for the play-doh with the kinetic sand as well. One set of tools, two different mediums, endless hours of fun. Sounds like a win-win to me.
9. A Play Sink, Water Table, or Buckets of Water
Maybe it’s because I live in a dessert, but I was surprised to see a few people using their actual sinks to distract their toddlers. I guess if you live in a water-abundant place it makes sense, but for me it’s not an option. It’s not that I don’t think running water is a good idea–it’s a great idea–it’s just that I couldn’t live with the guilt of letting my sink run for that long.
However, there are other ways to create sink-like experiences without using the actual sink. Check out the play sink I linked below. It recycles a small basin of water so that your kids can experience all the joy of a sink with a small amount of water. Which is a win-win because it also limits the amount of water you can find on your floor.
Water tables are another great option, although they hold larger volumes of water and might be better off outside. Simple buckets, bowls, or totes filled with water are also great water play. Trust me, your kids won’t be picky so long as they can splash all the want in some water.
10. Bubble Guns/Bubbles
My toddlers will play with bubbles for hours, so long as I blow them. The trick with bubbles is to find a good way for your children to play in the bubbles without you having to blow them. I’ve found that bubble guns are a great way to do this. Kids love chasing each other around with the bubble guns. However, they have to be refilled frequently.
I think the other bubble blowers whether push toys or sit and set it bubble machines both seem to last a little bit longer. In addition to these, I do like to let my kids play with the regular old blowing bubbles too. It gets a little messy, but I think it’s good for them to practice and work through it on their own. I think they make awesome Easter bunny gifts as well.
11. Water Mat/Water Coloring Books/Writing Tablets
Kids love drawing, painting, coloring, and all that jazz. However, in the hands of a toddler, a crayon becomes a weapon of mass destruction. That’s why parent’s love these mess-free drawing and coloring options for their kids. They allow toddlers to enjoy the experience of coloring and parents to enjoy the ability to step away for a couple minutes without coming back to an art exhibit on their walls.
They have small water books, large water mats, water based easels, and drawing tablets. Check them out below!
12. Little People Play Sets
I loved Little People sets growing up, and I’m glad to see they’re still around. Toddlers don’t do well with complex play sets with lots of different little pieces. They overwhelm toddlers and the pieces end up lost.
This is why Little People still reigns supreme after all these years. They create super cute and simple play sets that are perfect for letting toddler’s imaginations take over and encourage creative pretend play.
13. All Things Dolls
Dolls are a great toy. They teach your kids empathy and caring. They allowed my older kids adjust to new babies more easily since they were able to take care of their own baby just like mommy. Plus, I think there is just something fascinating about babies to toddlers. My toddlers are baby crazy. Every time we’re out in public and they see a baby they point and squeal all excitedly. I’m not sure what it is.
Your kids will love being able to take their doll through all of the things they do each day and learn about the world. And, as girls still love cars little boys still love dolls. Don’t leave them out of this fun play opportunity. Let them have a doll, too.
There are tons and tons of accessories that you can get for your dolls, but in my opinion there are two accessories that shine above all other. Magic bottles and strollers. I remember as a kid being so fascinated by these bottles and wondering where the milk went and it’s been so fun seeing that same fascination in my kids. Strollers are a high value item in my home as well. All the toddlers are always wanting a turn with the stroller. In fact, I eventually got two strollers so that my toddlers could stroller in peace.
14. A Slide
Slides are incredible. Kids will slid on them for hours. And then they’ll slide their dolls and toys down them for hours more. They also never seem to lose their appeal. I mean, as an adult I still enjoy a good slide. My toddlers are drawn to our slide still every day, and we’ve had it for almost two years now.
They can be bulky, but I’d much rather have a couple bulky toys hanging around that actually keep my kids occupied, than a bunch of toy sets with a million small parts getting every where. Yes, they may throw off your living room aesthetic, but it’s only for a couple years.
My toddler loves puzzles. Every now and then I’ll take her to the Dollar Tree and she’ll run straight to the puzzle section. I love that she loves puzzles, but I can’t wait until she’s better at doing them. The Dollar Tree ones require a lot of guidance from the parents.
Luckily, I was able to find some awesome toddler puzzles that she’s able to do on her own and that keep her occupied for hours. I found that puzzles with about 6 to 12 pieces are ideal to do on her own. Check out some of our favorite puzzles below.
16. Age Appropriate Games
We love games in our family and I’m so glad that my toddler are finally getting old enough where they are able to start enjoying games with us. They love feeling like a part of all the action. Games that we’ve had success with are Hungry, Hungry Hippos, The Fishing Game, Chutes and Ladders, Elefun, and Candy Land to name a few.
17. Play Kitchen & Play Food Sets
My kids are obsessed with food. They make mud soup, play-doh pie, want to stir and help me cook as much as they possible can, so a play kitchen felt like a natural toy for them. I was hesitant at first, because I was worried that I’d end up with fake food all over the place, but it’s actually been great. They are good at keeping the food put away in their fridge, so everything actually ends up pretty self contained.
I love the kitchen because they’ll play together for hours while I work and the only interruption to me is when they decide that I need to eat their master piece. They make the cutest little meals with the most unique flavor combinations.
I also love having the kitchen because there are so many cute food sets that can go with it, that will instantly spark new interest in the overall kitchen set. I play to buy them new food sets every so often to keep things interesting.
18. Pretend Play Sets & Play Houses
If a play kitchen isn’t your thing, there are tons of other amazing pretend play options out there. Like hospital sets, vet sets, dentist sets, dress up sets, camping sets, traditional playhouses, and so much more. And all of these options will provide tons of play and entertainment options for your kids.
Don’t worry if you don’t have room or the finances to get the big pretend play set ups for your kids, the real fun is in the accessory packages.
19. Play Couches
I put off buying a play couch for so long because I wasn’t sure it would be worth the space it took up. In the end, I’m just sad I put if off so long. My kids play on it every day. The love folding it up and climbing up it. They build forts and hide in it. They jump from their bed to the couch. Actually, they have started sleeping on their couch too. Their bed has pretty much become obsolete.
You’ll definitely want to look for a play couch with a removable and washable cover. My kids love their play couch, but it definitely ends up showing that love. A quick wash though and things are as good as new!
20. Wooden Climbing Toys and Rockers
These are usually a bit of a splurge, but I totally think they’re worth it! We have a set with the rocker, climbing triangle, and bridge. It gets used every single day. I love it because it can be a rocker, or a slide, or a bridge, or a climber, or throw a blanket over it to make it a fort, or stand it on the site to make it a store. It’s really such a functional and fun toy.
I also love it because it’s something I think will last a long time, and I plan to keep it around for when I have grandkids someday.
2. Non-Toy Toys That Will Keep Your Toddler Entertained for Hours
1. The Box it Came In.
I was dying reading through some of the suggestions on toys for toddlers because the number one answer by far was a box. Yup. Just a plain, old, box.
Which, I mean, honestly this should be good news for mom’s everywhere. We can all stop buying our toddlers toys and just toss them our Amazon haul boxes and call it good. Think of all the money we’ll be saving.
Now, there are a few ways you can spice up box play. Crayons and paint to draw on the box is an obvious solution. You can cut holes in the box for your kids to hid items inside. Encourage their imagination to run wild as they make them into forts and spaceships and race cars and boats. Really the possibilities are endless when you’ve got a good box.
And, I know these aren’t the boxes everyone was talking about, but they actually do make adorable cardboard play houses for kids. I’m probably going to try out the gingerbread house for my kids this Christmas.
I always have balloons on had. They are another great, cheap play item with endless possibilities and my kids go completely crazy for them.
Fill a room with a few balloons and let your kids run wild. Hang them from fans, tie strings to them, let your kids color on them, etc.
I think toddlers love that the balloons are light enough for them to throw up high and I love that they’re soft enough I don’t have to worry about my kids getting hit in the head.
Plus, I kid you not, when I blow up the balloons I literally get like a whole day to myself to get stuff done.
Pro tip though, get one of these balloon blowers if you’re thinking of making balloons a regular feature in your house. I use mine all the time and it saves me time and breath.
Kids love stickers. Give your kid a stack of stickers and some paper and let them go crazy. My kid will stick the stickers until the entire pad is gone and it’s great for fine motor skills.
You can even turn the stickers into a fun activity by having them sort the stickers by colors, make patterns, or trace outlines with stickers.
The downside, some brands of stickers are a pain to get off of the pad. My tip is to peel the outside excess sticker sheet off. This allows your toddlers to easily access the edge of the stickers so they can pet them off theirselves.
If you don’t have stickers on hand, then tap works magic too. I’m not sure what it is, but kids love tape as much as, or maybe even more than, they love stickers.
I’ll rip off pieces of painters tape, and let them go crazy with it. Or I’ll give them the roll and let them experience the joy of finding the end of the tape themselves. I’ll give them items like balls or little pictures to hang to the wall.
I’ve even let them tear up some old paper on the floor, them showed them how to wrap the tape around their hands so that they can use their magic tape hands to pick up the paper.
Have your toddlers use tape to measure their toys. You can tape lines or shapes on the floor for your kids to follow like an obstacle course. Or make a road for their play cars.
This is another time where creativity can be endless. Just make sure you get a painter’s tape or masking tape that won’t damage your home when it’s inevitably misplaced.
5. Tupperware, Pots, Pans, Lids, Spoons, & Containers
Here’s a trick my mom told me a while ago and that some of you seem to agree with. If you have a toddler that insists and tearing the kitchen apart every time you’re cooking or your back is turned, make a cabinet full of stuff just for them.
Of course, don’t tell them that it’s for them. That would ruin their fun.
Take some old dishes and store them in a low cabinet or drawer so that you little one can discover them. Little ones love trying to put lids on, bang spoons together, fill pots with their special item collection of the day, etc. So try to include a few varieties of dishes in there.
If you don’t have old dishes that you want to sacrifice, I recommend taking a quick trip to the Dollar Tree closet to you and picking up a few items from their kitchen area. They’re perfect quality for toddlers.
6. Plastic Water Bottles
Plastic water bottles make amazing toddler and baby toys. They make fun crinkly sounds when they squeeze them, they have narrow openings that toddlers love to try and put stuff into, and you can fill them with different items to make quick and easy sensory bottle.
You don’t have to do anything fancy to make a sensory bin. Just head to your pantry or junk drawer or old craft supplies and see what you have on hand. Go outside and throw some dirt and rocks in a bottle if you don’t have anything else. They’ll love it just the same.
I definitely try not to through my water bottles away now, because I know I’ll be able to do something fun with them.
7. Laser Pointers, Glow Sticks, and Toy Flashlights
Lights are fascinating to toddlers. Just hand them a flashlight, dim the room, and they’ll be laughing hysterically. Laser pointers, led lights, glow sticks, crank flash lights, etc, they’re all magical in the eyes of your toddlers.
I don’t recommend handing your toddlers powerful lasers, obviously, because they definitely will shine it in their, and probably your, eyes at some point. But they have simple finger lights that act as lasers without the risk and my toddlers love them. Basically, if it glows, it’s in.
8. Pipe Cleaners
Kids love pipe cleaners. Not only are they’re a ton of activities that you can Google involving pipe cleaners, like beading them for bracelets, making little animals, sorting them, etc, but they’re simply fun to feel and bend without any direction. I always keep some pipe cleaners on hand to throw at my kids when I need some time without distractions.
Bonus, I’ve found that the extra big pipe cleaners are tons of fun for babies.
Look, many of these toys and activities are things that I’ve heard about before, but maybe wasn’t confident about purchasing because so many gift and toy guides have so many new and flashy things. However, reading through the responses from our communities gave me the validation and confidence to stick with the tried and true toys that work. Toy companies may be constantly trying to re-invent the wheel, but it sounds like the timeless toys really are some of the best when it comes to keeping toddlers occupied.
I hope this helped you! I’m definitely excited to try some of these with my one-year-old and two-year-old.
Have another favorite activity or toy for your toddlers? Share with us in the comments below!
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