Inexpensive activities for toddlers

Fun and Frugal Things to Do with Toddlers

by Irene Helen Zundel


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A trip to the toy store can be a real budget crusher! It seems that most items are over-priced, poorly made, or contain small parts that are hazardous for children.

Still, play is very important to children. It is how they learn about the world and develop their physical and mental skills. Play creates opportunities to socialize and interact with others.

Do you wish you could find fun and unique ways to let your toddler play, learn and explore on a shoestring? Well, read on!

Following are six easy and inexpensive things you can make and do with your child using items you generally have on hand in your household. These activities are tactile (using bright colors, touch, taste, and smell) to make the experience pleasant and engaging for you both.

Are you ready for some projects that are low in cost and big on fun? Then roll up your sleeves and begin!

Make a Potato Picture:

Cut a potato in half, and carve a simple shape or design into it. Let your child dip the potato into finger paint and press it on a clean piece of paper, aluminum foil, or on a paper bag. Use the finished masterpiece for a homemade card, wrapping paper, or trick or treat bag.

Paint with Ice Cubes:

First, cover the table with plastic, for easy clean up. (Painting can be messy!)Put dry tempura paint of various colors into salt shakers for sprinkling. Let your child shake some paint on a piece of paper or on a paper plate. Put an old pair of mittens on your child's hands to keep them from getting too cold. Have them pick up an ice cube and swirl it around through the paint to make a pleasing design.

Let the paintings dry and hang them on the refrigerator or other place of honor, reserved for great works of art!

Create Critters and Things from Edible Clay:

To make the clay, you'll need:

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1 cup dry non-fat milk solids
1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix well.

For eyes, ears, tails, hair, and other finishing touches, try using grated coconut, chocolate chips, banana or apple slices, carrot curls, celery slices, etc. For easy clean up, eat the results!

Make Treats to Feed the Birds:

Pine Cone Bird Feeders

You will need:

Large pine cones
A butter knife
Yarn or ribbon, cut in 12-inch lengths
Peanut butter
Bird seed or sunflower seeds

Spread the pine cone with peanut butter. Roll the pine cone in a tray of seeds. Tie yarn or ribbon around the bottom of the pine cone and hang from a tree branch

Little Bird Bowls

You will need:

A small ice cream scoop
Orange halves (with the insides scooped out)
Crisco shortening
Bird seed or sunflower seeds

Cut the oranges in half, and scoop out the fruit. With the ice cream scoop, scoop out a ball of shortening. Roll the shortening ball in a tray of seeds. Place the seed ball inside the hollowed out orange half. Put the "bird bowl" in the crook of a tree.

Hanging Bird Food Ornaments

You will need:

Yarn or ribbon cut in 12-inch lengths
A Straw
Cookie cutters
Some stale bread
Peanut butter (optional)
Bird seed or sunflower seeds (optional)

Cut the stale bread into pretty shapes using a cookie cutter. Using a straw, poke a hole in the top of the shape. Thread the yarn or ribbon through the hole and tie both ends together to form a loop. If you like, put peanut butter or peanut butter and seeds on the bread. Hang the ornament from a tree branch. Or you can hang pretzels or little donuts from the yarn if you like!

Make Some Goofy Recipes:

Frozen Fish Popsicles

Make blue Jell-O according to package directions. Pour it into popsicle molds and drop in a few gummy fish. Add the sticks and freeze. For a variation, put the Jell-O in individual clear plastic cups. When it is soft-set, add several gummy fish to each one.

Worms in Dirt

Make instant chocolate pudding according to package directions. Pour into individual clear plastic cups to set. Sprinkle the top of the pudding with cocoa powder and add chocolate sprinkles if desired. Drop in a few gummy worms.

Make Your Own Jigsaw Puzzle:

Have your child draw a picture, or find a nice one in a children's magazine. Glue the picture onto a piece of heavy paper or cardboard. After the glue dries, carefully cut or tear the picture into five or six large pieces, and have your child put it together again.


Ms. Zundel is a freelance writer, homeschooling parent, and publisher of a monthly educational newsletter.

Take the Next Step:

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