Let’s face it; toddlers are hard to keep entertained pretty much all year round, so though these five really easy and sensory-building activities are focused on summer, I’ve also included adjustments for all seasons!
This is one of my all time favorite activities. Because I made mine for my son when the temperature was spiking to 103º, we focused on water. It’s super easy, reusable all year round, and CHEAP!
I love these tubs. They aren’t just great for storage. You know the cardboard boxes that kids will just sit in because they are empty? Now make them plastic so they aren’t destroyed. My son has his “movie tub” that was a $3 find from goodwill because there was no lid. He sits in it with throw pillows to watch a show with his snack and water bottle.
As a sensory tub, use the giant ones; this one is 66 qt. The large are my favorite because they can climb in for a few years. I always get the permanent bathtub safety strips to put on the bottom as well. It provides grip for water activity and unlike the suction cup ones, the littles can’t pull them up and sand or rice don’t get stuck in them. You can get them at any hardware store.
- Put it outside with water for a splash pool, or fill it with sand for a sandbox. This is especially great if you have a tiny or unfinished yard or only a balcony.
- Use a 20 lb bag of cheap rice for an indoor sandbox (mix in some food color just because)
- Put a plastic table cloth underneath and give them some shaving cream.
- Add a tiny scoop of some powdered tempura paint for added fun.
- Go to the dollar store and get sand toys and spoons that are “special” for their “New Play Tub.”
- As a bonus, if you have a large shower instead of a tub use this as an instant bath tub! Throw some dollar glow sticks in there and turn off the lights to really wow them! But remember to NEVER leave them unattended!
You can keep the stuff inside and just put the lid on for storage, but don’t keep the shave cream in it. It’ll get gross. Trust me.
Here’s some things to put in the tub. Remember. It’s a SENSORY tub, so they are excited about just about everything, but this will get you started:
- Dirt (top soil)
- Cut up pool noodles (about 2″ wide)
- Shipping popcorn
- Shredded paper
- Shaving cream and powdered tempura paint
- Building blocks (my son likes sitting IN the blocks while he plays)
- Leaf pile
- Plastic golf balls
- Ball pit balls
- Throw pillows for movie night
Unlike this epic slime disaster, goop is fast, easy, science-y, and easy to clean. Take some cornstarch and put it in a shallow container, like a tin pie pan. Don’t use more than a couple tablespoons at first. Now take water and slowly poor it in. Let them mix it with their hands, and make sure to get all the powder mixed. It needs enough water to make it runny, but do it in small increments.
When they slap it or grab a fist full it will be solid, but as it sits it slowly turns back to liquid and oozes. You can roll it into balls and squeeze it into shapes, and as long as it’s actively played with, it will stay solid.
- If you add food color, it will dye skin and surfaces.
- To clean up simply run water on it down the sink. Let any splatters dry out, then take a dry cloth and wipe away.
3) Homemade Play Dough
Yes, it’s a cooking recipe. Because after making hundreds of batches and 50 different types, if you want it to last the cooking is worth it. I LOVE this recipe because it’s super easy, stays soft for over six months if kept in an airtight container, and you can either mix the color while cooking it or split it and color it while cooling. It takes about 10 minutes, and will make a fairly large batch.
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup salt
- 2 tablespoons cream of tarter
- 2 cups of water
- 1 tablespoons mineral oil
- Food coloring
- Snap lid containers for storing
Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until stiff. Place on counter to knead (it only takes a few times but it IS hot, so be careful), allow to cool. Keep it stored in an airtight container.
- Let it sit for a minute or two on the heat to solidify faster.
- Add spices or flavorings to make it smell good (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, strawberry, orange, etc.) But be warned, they’ll only taste it once without flavoring…with flavoring I make no promises!
4) Creamer Bottle and Straws
This amazing little trick lets them put things in and out of a container five million times, but because the hole is small, they build their fine motor skills up.
Kids LOVE to help, but sometimes their “help” is a bit disastrous. If you like to garden, get a shallow planting pot and let them go. Give them some cheap seeds, let them have their own shovel and watering can from the dollar store and make it a big deal that it’s “THEIR” special garden. Make their little hearts thrill the next day by transferring some small flowers or herbs into their pot after they go to bed. The next morning you can talk about things growing and they’ll love that they “did it themselves.” For more gardening tips with little ones, check out this post.