As a military spouse I’ve had many jobs in my life that cover a wide range of fields: from technology to teaching and academic advising to animal welfare. In every job I have served, none have been quite as demanding as my days spent as a stay at home mom of two boys…under two!
I transitioned from a career mom to being home full-time when my first son was 10 months old and I had a few weeks left before the arrival of our second son. (My boys are only 13 months apart!)
As a new stay at home mom I quickly learned that it takes quite the effort to entertain a baby and toddler, as they quickly get bored with the same toys and activities. Even though I had been a teacher, I had no idea how exhausting it would be to try to entertain and engage a little one all day!
Mom in survival mode without planned toddler activities
With two kids well under two, I lived in a “creating fun survival mode” for a period, which consisted of countless boxes rush-shipped by Amazon and last minute trips to Target for toys and pre-packaged activities.
It was exhausting and expensive.
My kids’ needs were met and they were happy with the toys for a while, but I wanted to provide meaningfully play that would challenge their brain and embrace a desire to learn as they were growing. I knew I needed a plan.
It took me a while as a stay at home mom to realize that not only was it beneficial to have a schedule for my kids to sleep and eat, but that providing a plan for play was essential in helping my little guys engage their brains in the world around them.
How do you plan educational toddler activities?
Like any other mom struggling for ways to get out of survival mode, I took to Pinterest for activities I could do with my little ones that would hopefully occupy their attention for more than a moment. Scouring Pinterest for baby and toddler activities I found a plethora of beautiful sensory play activities by exceptionally crafty moms.
These sensory play activities were amazing and some even seemed simple enough for me to create without purchasing an entire craft store because who has time for an activity that takes longer to create than your child will play with it? Definitely not me!
What is Sensory play?
The definition of sensory play is actively engaging the senses through play. In my opinion, all play is sensory. Even spontaneous play is sensory when you analyze it.
For example, running through the grass chasing the family dog your daughter feels the grass on her feet, sees the dog moving ahead of her, smells the flowers blooming and hears the sounds of nature surrounding her.
Your child experiences sensory play every time she builds with blocks or when she digs in the sandbox. The benefits of sensory play extend into areas such as cognitive development, emotional development, social skills, physical skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills, and assist with growing a sense of self.
Planning Intentional Play Toddler Activities
Babies and toddlers spend the majority of their days doing three things: eating, sleeping and playing. (I know what you are thinking and yes, they poop a good bit too. While it feels never-ending at times, the duration of that activity is actually quite small.)
During the “play” portion of their day, babies and toddlers are learning from everything that surrounds them. They want to interact with the world. Doing so engages and expands their mind.
This desire comes naturally to them, but creating opportunities for kids to learn through play when they are in the same environment everyday is something that we as parents and caretakers have to plan and make an effort to do.
I found so many great activities on Pinterest, but never in all of my pinning and bookmarking did I come across an objective or goal for any activity.
Why is an objective important?
A play activity alone can be beneficial, but when you plan it to achieve an objective, you have provided an opportunity for meaningful play. It is one thing to say today we are going to throw the ball; it is another thing completely to say we are going to throw the ball to hit a target.
The kids in the Pinterest photos (that may or may not have been staged and professionally taken) appeared to be having fun, so sensory play activities was where I decided to start with creating purposeful play plans. In my plans for play I included objectives focused on engaging a variety of senses and accessing each of these areas of benefit throughout the week.
Cheap Toddler activities at home
If you are currently in the trenches of entertaining your toddler, you may want to try adding in some of these play plans to your daily schedule. I’ve compiled 6 of the easiest plans I used that my boys loved and included the objectives here for you. Click the activity name for the full activity play plan.
Each activity requires minimal, inexpensive supplies that can be picked up on your next run to Target. (Because you needed an excuse to go again, right?).
I hope that you find these simple, goal-oriented plans to be a resource in creating an opportunity for learning through play that absorbs your child’s attention.
A bag of colorful pom-poms and pipe cleaners create a simple sorting toddler activity to work on fine motor skills and identifying colors.
A toddler strolling activity that allows your little one to be a nature explorer is perfect for when you need some fresh air!
Having a cheap, indoor toddler activity that can entertain your child independently is essential. The floor road map activity is the perfect play plan!
Collect a few materials from around the house to use as a great tool for planned play in this cardboard tube toddler activity!
Use materials from the recycle bin to create a baby and toddler bowling activity. A great way to get the entire family involved in play!
Bubbles are great for spontaneous playtime, but bubbles can also be used in a cheap toddler activity play plan to help demonstrate air movement.