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10 Fun Indoor Playdate Ideas for Toddlers

Photo by Santi Nunez / Stocksy / 1954594
Photo by Santi Nunez / Stocksy

You’ve got two toddlers and three hours. And…GO! 

Playdates among toddlers are super-duper adorable: Nothing is cuter than wide-eyed, chubby-cheeked tots playing with, say, a pile of stuffed animals. However, at age two or three, children can’t really play independently—making playdates a little more hands-on and involved for you…the parent host. So it’s totally normal to have a head-scratching moment of, “What are we going to do for three hours?!” 

No worries, you got this. And to help you out, we’ve got this: a list of 10 ideas for hours of toddler fun. Some of these ideas are even taken directly from our classroom playbook, which means there’s some learning happening, too—so you can consider yourself a super-parent playdate maker and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back! 

Growing Bodies Need Snacks…Seemingly Every Hour on the Hour

Turn at least one snack break into an activity of its own: Having your charges help out with the snack-making can play a big part in growing healthy eating habits. Win, win, win!

1. Host a toddler crudité cooking class

Kids love cutting things themselves: It makes them feel grown-up and gives them a chance to practice their still-developing fine-motor skills. Host a little cooking class by having them make their own toddler-friendly crudité.

All you need is a kid-friendly assortment of easy-to-cut fruits and snacks (like peeled bananas, strawberries, string cheese, or cooked carrots) and kid-friendly cutlery. Provide them a cutting board and a fancy platter to arrange their finger foods on, add some dipping sauces, and voilà…you’ve got a half-hour activity that’s part art, part nutrition, and part confidence builder. (Check out our favorite kids’ cookbooks for even more fun and learning in the kitchen.)

2. Put the “ants” on the “log”

This classic snack made with bananas or celery, nut or seed butter, and raisins is twice as fun for kids when they make it themselves. Make an “ant hill” with raisins on a plate and place in the middle of the table where everyone can reach it. Let the toddlers have a try at spreading the nut or seed butter themselves with plastic knives. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, you could get out some forest-dwelling stuffed animals and set up a little scene (but hey, no need to knock yourself out). Invite your young pals to pretend to be anteaters as they eat their snacks!

Embrace the Mess with Easy-Peasy Painting Projects

These ideas take finger-painting a step further—and the results are pieces of art you can even send home with your guests. This is obvious, but you’ll want to have smocks on hand and some rags, towels, and newspaper to help with the mess. 

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3. Make some car tracks

Toddlers love slinging some paint onto paper, and they’re fascinated with things that go vroom! This activity mixes the pleasure of painting with the intrigue of motion.

What you’ll need: tempura paint in different colors, paper plates or paint trays, construction paper or butcher’s block paper, and a variety of toy cars and trucks with different wheels.

Pour a little paint on the paper plates (you don’t need much) and then have the kids run the cars through the paint (they may need your help with this). Once the wheels are good and paint-covered, they can “make tracks” by rolling the cars and trucks over the paper. Caution: This activity can be super exciting for car-enthusiast kids. Paint on floor is not just possible, but likely! An old sheet or cardboard underneath might be a good idea.

4. Go big and paint a whole mural

If you’ve ever read Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary, you might remember that Ramona’s dad gets through several sick days by painting a mural with her. Consider your playdate done and done with a big painting project like this one.

What you’ll need: big pieces of construction taped together or long butcher’s block paper, tape, paint, crayons, pens, glue, and glitter.

This activity works best if you can set it up ahead of time, ideally somewhere out of the way so you can guide the tots back and forth to the canvas during the playdate. Because you’re using a big piece of paper, you can give your painting structure by tracing outlines of the kids and different objects with crayons first. Or structure-smucture: if you’d rather, let them be free! Put out the materials and watch their little minds go to work creating a masterpiece.

This one can be a parent stunner at pick-up!

Sensory-Seeking Activities Always Provide a Special Thrill

From birth to early childhood (and into adulthood, really), sensory stimulation (sight, hear, touch, taste, and smell) plays a key role in helping little brains make all those important neural connections. Age-wise and developmentally, toddlers are smack in the middle of learning about the world through their senses, which is why they love to do things like play in dirt, mush play dough, put bubbles on theirs heads, and throw glitter…well, everywhere. These next options are all about that.

5. Make a magical squish bag

Looking for a super easy way to make a fun, squishy plaything? Look no further.

What you’ll need: plastic baggies, non-toxic kids’ hair gel, and glitter.

Fill a plastic bag with hair gel (make sure to go the non-toxic route) and glitter. Double-bag it for safety and to avoid a mess from any accidental breaks. Done. They’ll stay occupied squishing the bag for a while. (Just make sure that’s all they do with it! No one wants globs of goo everywhere.)

Photo by Sasiistock / iStock
Photo by Sasiistock / iStock

6. Make your own play dough

We know what you’re thinking! Why? It’s already cheap and easy to buy. Well, besides being cheaper, and truthfully very easy to make, homemade play dough can serve a double purpose if you add lavender essential oil to it. Voilà! You’ve got a fun and calming activity for them.

You can find easy recipes for this one online, but we’ve got a few tried-and-true options here. You can add in essential oil once the dough is made (a little will go a long way). Afterward, hand out those cookies cutters and rolling pins, and go to town!

7. Put suds in a tub

Fill a plastic tub with suds, toys, and cups, and you’ve got endless fun for toddlers. (And yes, probably a very wet floor, so get those towels ready.) Cups and whisks and bowls are great for play: Just watch them make “bubble pies” and whip up even more suds with the whisk.

What you’ll need: tub with water, baby soap, plastic baby dolls, pretend play dishes, sponges, rags, and towels.

Beyond bubble play, you can also turn this activity into a lesson in kindness by adding dolls to the “baby bath.” When the babies are good and clean, ask your little helpers to wrap them in towels, dry their hair, and even get them ready for bed. This is a great way to build positive qualities like empathy.

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Here Are Even More Ideas to Keep the Fun Going

8. Have a shadow puppet show

For toddlers closer to three years old, flashlights are one of those common household objects that go a long way in entertainment. (For starters, tots love pushing the on/off switch.) Make a room in your house a little darker, and you can have a light show or a shadow puppet show!

What you’ll need: flashlights toddlers can handle. Optional: Chopsticks, paper, and tape.

For the shadow puppet show, cut out shapes of animals and objects (easy ones like bunny ears and stars!) then tape the paper shapes to chopsticks. Kids LOVE seeing the different sizes and shapes the shadows make.

Photo by FluxFactory / iStock
Photo by FluxFactory / iStock

9. Give them a cardboard box (or five)

Enough said. Just put them in the middle of the living room. You’ll see. Pretty soon, you may have a house or rocket ship or a place for secret tea party with their favorite stuffed critters. (Warning: They might ask for markers.)

10. Don’t forget the dance party

There’s nearly nothing more adorable than watching a toddler shake it with all he’s got. Turn on the tunes and let your little friends unleash whatever wiggles they have inside of them. Taking a little time to dance can also be a great stress reliever if there’s been a squabble (yes, squabbles will happen at this age—toddlers still haven’t developed the social skills they need to share)!

Last but not least, the secret to successful playdates is really all about finding a natural rhythm that works for all the people in the room, including you. We’ve listed some great (and easy) activities above—pick one or two and then let the rest of the afternoon be filled with unstructured activities, like playing with toys and costumes, reading books, or listening to audio stories.

If you can find a good cadence, the kids will have a ball and you won’t feel overtaxed! (And that’s really a playdate win!)

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