These no prep toddler activities are “hacked”activities we’d normally do, altered to make them cleaner, easier, and more engaging. They have saved many a dinner…
I adore it when my toddler “helps” me. It’s so cute to see his enthusiasm each time he throws something in the garbage! He even makes sure to use extra tissues so that he can throw it out. But when it comes to dinner prep, I like to keep him pleasantly distracted. Here are five ways I DON’T want my toddler to help me prepare for dinner:
- Slice the veggies
- Put the food in the oven
- Open, close, and open the oven door (he is obsessed with doors.)
- Grab the knife off the counter from behind my back
- Unload the fridge each time I open it.
So, while it took plenty of practice, I figured out the key to keeping him busy. Granted, it’s not foolproof (is anything with a toddler really foolproof?) But on most days, having one of these to pull out really gets things cookin’.
The trick is to take a typical activity and switch it up a little. Expecting M to be really, fully engaged by JUST a plain old toy or activity, without my assistance, seems to be too much to ask of a toddler. And rightfully so! They spend so much of their day learning things by copying what we do, and now they suddenly need to stop.
Disclaimer: I do not take responsibility for the safety of any of these. I ALWAYS keep an eye on my toddler, and keep him within arm’s reach. I also know his personality, and he does not put things (other than food) into his mouth. Make sure to do this in a way you feel comfortable with.
Having M contained in his high chair with something small-scale, but totally engaging has really helped make dinner prep easier.
These activities worked for us. Different activities might work for you. Take these “formulas for fun” as a starting point and come up with your own, depending on what YOUR tot likes!
7 No Prep Toddler Activities:
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1. Play dough + household items: Bring out the play dough (one color at a time makes clean up simpler). Grab a comb, a pen, a plastic knife, a plastic fork, and anything else you have handy that can create fun textures.
2. Play dough + craft sticks: Once M got tired of creating textures with dough, I decided to combine his “hobby” of lining things up with a contained activity. I gave him one color of dough, and some colorful craft sticks. I showed him to stick them into the play dough so they stand up. Grabbing the stick the right way to get it in at the right angle turned out to be a great fine motor challenge for him that he really loved.
3. Craft sticks + wipes canister: I took the craft sticks from the previous day’s activity, and gave him an empty wipes canister (like this one). I showed him to put them all in, and then shake them out. (I apologize, I did not photograph this activity.) You can do the same with a tissue box, and even upgrade it by cutting small holes in the box. That does require a little prep, though.
4. Bucket + water + things: M really enjoys sensory play, especially when it involves water. While I see some great sensory soups out there, they mostly require advance planning, and a little more assembly/dismantling than I like. So, I grabbed a little bucket (from this shape sorter whose parts are all missing. Any toy sand bucket works.) I took some things I found (a toy cup from this set, a foam shape that floats, the doorknob lock that he broke, a plastic spoon, a pipette, a string of beads – whatever’s handy), covered it with some water, and gave him to play. I did put on him a bib and the high chair more or less contained the wet, so I just needed to towel it down afterward.
5. Toy pots + grains: Another take on “mini” sensory play: I put some raw buckwheat (any grain works) into two toy pots, and gave him a spoon to transfer it between each other. This did require a sweep-up, but was one of the best activities we did. I think he liked it so much since it’s essentially what I was doing at the time, and of course, he’s a little monkey…
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M is helping me prepare dinner. I'm serious – transferring buckwheat from bowl to pot is keeping him busy enough to not climb into the (preheated) oven while i cook. #toddlerhood #toddlerproblems #toddlerlife #toddlerplay #toddlersofinstagram #toddlers #kbnmoms #kidbloggersinstagram
6. Pipe builders + cotton swabs: One of M’s favorite toys is his pipe building toy. While sometimes just giving him that to play with works, other days, I need to add something. So, I give him cotton swabs to add to the fun. Sometimes he strings the pipes onto the swabs (inspired by this activity). Other times, he attaches some pipes and then puts the cotton swabs inside. It involves a little bit of junior STEM, and it’s amazing to see that face scrunched up in concentration.
7. Pony beads + shoe lace: Your child doesn’t need a final result to make a “craft” activity fun. While M does have a lacing toy that he loves, the micro size of this activity presents a refreshing fine motor challenge for him. Also, since I’m right there when I’m preparing dinner, I don’t mind him handling the smaller beads.
Bonus Tip: Have a “dinner prep kit”. Keep the base supplies for these no prep toddler activities handy in a shoe or storage box in your kitchen. Start with the products recommended here and then mix and match from there.
As you can see, most (all?) of these no prep activities for toddlers really involved fine motor and sensory play. I don’t know if that’s because my toddler likes those, or because those are the most engaging. Regardless, if it worked for me, it might work for you – so why not give it a try?!
Of course, you could always just go with a book or some crayons, but M does that often enough that it doesn’t really distract them. Because I present these types of new, fresh activities for him when I need him to be REALLY occupied, they help more.
Which no prep toddler activities do you love to do to help you get dinner on the table?