Whether it’s when a toddler gives up her nap or when a parent simply needs some quiet time, these calming toddler activities are gold. All of them are perfect for open-ended play. Most are indoor kids activities and use common household items. Their screen-free and very simple to set up.
When my almost-three-year-old daughter seemed like she needed to give up her nap, I was desperate. You see, I had just gotten through the stage of two under two and was exhausted. My youngest was a bad sleeper. And, naptime was my much-needed time to either sleep with my two toddlers. And if I wasn’t resting, it was also the time I used to get work done.
Related reading: 10+ Tips for Mitigating Difficult Toddler Behaviour
I contacted my sleep consultant friend, Chelsea who confirmed my suspicions. My daughter had all the telltale signs of being ready to give up her nap.
There were two problems though.
The first, as previously mentioned, was that I still needed that downtime. The second was that, even though my daughter no longer needed her nap, she was rather unpleasant without one.
Chelsea explained to me that there is a transitional period for some toddlers where they don’t need their naps but are more prone to tantrums. She recommended giving my daughter a healthy snack when her nap time was and then have some quiet toddler activities set up that could help her relax.
These quiet toddler activities worked very well for her. Though my youngest is still napping, I use these activities when he is worked up and needs help regulating his emotions or when I need to get work done. The first list is for parent and child to engage in together. The second is perfect for independent play
Quiet toddler activities for parents to engage in with their children
This post contains affiliate links. As an amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
1. Read to them.
One of the many neurological benefits of reading, including increased vocabulary and logic, is decreased stress level (1). Some of our favourite picture books include The Pigeon has to go to School and Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (both by Mo Willems), My Big Animal Book (or any non-fiction animal book with pictures) and Polar Bear Polar Bear What do You Hear by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle.
2. Make Lavender Oobleck.
Lavender induces relaxation and so do some forms of sensory play (2). Without fail, when I make this lavender oobleck both my older kids and my toddler gather around, engage and quiet down. Oobleck tends to be really messy and adult supervision can minimize the mess.
To make this quiet toddler activity, all you need is two parts cornstarch and one part water plus a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. (Food colouring is optional.) Mix with your hands and enjoy! I find it’s best to do this outside, on a kitchen floor, or with a disposable table cloth underneath.
3. Get out and play/ dig in the garden.
Research shows that the rhythmic nature of digging in dirt can be almost meditative (3). Connecting with nature also has therapeutic effects on adults and children. I grab my son’s beach toys or my daughter’s gardening gear, I get to weeding and I let my son dig in a patch of dirt.
4. Play a toddler friendly-board game.
Board games require focus, fine motor skills and tend to be quiet. My favourite board games for toddlers are from Orchard Toys. This Old McDonald one is especially good.
5. Paint together.
Another activity I find both calms and quiets all of my kids is painting. I typically grab a box from our recycling bin, tempera paint and a paint smock and let them enjoy. If you want this to be an independent activity, I recommend strapping your little one in her high chair. Then, you will have less mess to clean up.
Related reading: Low and No Prep Activities for When Mom Needs a Break
Quiet toddler activities to be enjoyed together or for independent play
When it comes to quiet toddler activities for independent play, it’s best you judge what you are comfortable with your child doing without 100% of your attention. Here are some of the activities I tend to set up either underfoot as I work or cook.
1. Engage in water play.
To set up, I grab beach towels, one of my biggest pots, water, and my son’s favourite toys. Usually, I add in this Paw Patrol Lookout Tower as he uses the slide as a water slide. Out of all of the calming toddler activities I know, this is the one I find works the best and entertains the longest.
2. Set up a Calm Down Corner.
Related reading: How to Build on the Magic of Play-Based Learning
3. Make homemade playdough and add some stamps for fun impressions.
This is another one of my toddler’s favourite activities. I highly recommend using this playdough recipe as it’s the best we’ve ever tried. Then, I give my kids these Melissa and Doug farm stamps or some of their toys to make different impressions.
4. Create a fine motor activity.
Make DIY Lacing Cards or set up any one of these 50+ activities to practice printing without writing. Many of them are perfect calming toddler activities.
5. Make Coloured Cloud Dough.
Coloured cloud dough is a great way to engage in sensory play and is slightly less messy when compared to oobleck. All you need is old chalk, flour, and oil (we use olive or canola oil as it’s taste-safe).
6. Set up a simple car ramp.
My boys love this. All I do is break down a box, prop it up against the stairs and get their hot wheels.
7. Make sensory soap foam.
Like water play, this sensory activity also works every time. All I do is eyeball about a tablespoon worth of dish soap, a third of a cup of water, and then I ask my son what colour food colouring he would like. Then, I put my stand mixer on high until it’s perfectly foamed. My friend Katie at Views from a Step Stool has a fail-proof recipe I highly recommend.
Related reading: Research says these are the benefits of sensory play
8. Make Busy Bags ahead of time and then take them when you need quiet time.
Again, these come courtesy of Views from a Stepstool. These busy bags are perfect for downtime, waiting rooms, and travelling. She has 10 inexpensive busy bag ideas here.
Even more calming toddler activities
A final note on calming toddler activities
Because toddlerhood can be a period of ups and downs, of course, these calming toddler activities won’t maintain your child’s attention every single time without fail. However, overall, we have had great success and fun with the above-mentioned activities and we hope you do too!