One of the challenges of caring for a toddler is deciding how to fill their schedule. These daily activities for toddlers will help you effectively plan your days AND help your toddler develop essential skills.
The great thing about toddlers is they learn constantly – every daily activity, no matter how simple, is a learning activity for them. So don’t stress yourself out too much trying to plan the “perfect” daily activities.
Instead, I encourage you to think of your day as a framework. Each day, do your best to include all seven of these broad daily activities in your toddler’s schedule.
I’ll go into more detail and give you some specific examples of great toddler activities for each category further into the post. But for starter’s – the framework!
Here are the seven overarching daily activities you should try to plan for your toddler:
- Fine Motor Activities
- Sensory Play
- Gross Motor Activities
- Outside Time
- Out & About –In Public!
This may seem like a lot, but it really goes by quite quickly. Toddlers are tiny and so is their attention span. Every now and then, you may luck out and the they’ll stick with an activity for a while. But in general, you may find your toddler flies through all of these daily activities with hours left to spare.
Also worth noting, you don’t have to do these activities with your toddler every single day. It’s a worthwhile goal, and the more often you can do them, the better, but don’t stress yourself out worrying whether you’ll be able to squeeze in sensory play today.
So let’s dig a little deeper into each of these daily toddler activities:
There are so many daily literacy activities you can do with your toddler, and I definitely encourage you to explore those options.
BUT with that said, don’t overcomplicate it.
Reading is the most essential literacy activity you can do with your child – and it’s the simplest. Pick up a book, sit them on your lap (if you can – lap space can be at a premium if your toddler’s not your only child at home), and read.
When you still have a relatively young toddler, try to choose books with bright colors or other eye-catching visuals. Rhyming books are also good because toddlers pick up on the rhythm and tend to enjoy it.
Be sure to choose books you enjoy. Toddlers develop preferences and favorites pretty quickly. You may find yourself reading the same book(s) over and over–sometimes back-to-back (to-back again!).
There’s millions of children’s books you can choose from, so there’s no point in reading lousy ones. A few of my favorite toddler books, if you’re looking for recommendations:
- The Little Blue Truck
- The Pigeon Wants a Puppy –or really, anything by Mo Willems because there’s very few words per page. For all my toddlers, their favorite part of reading was/is turning pages, so these provide many opportunities for that with very little waiting.
- Sandra Boynton books — honestly, these weren’t my favorite, BUT my kids liked them so much from so early on, they grew on me.
I waited way too long to let my oldest do this, mainly because I didn’t even think about it. But toddlers love to color or draw on paper.
No, it won’t resemble anything from real life. No, they won’t color in the lines, not even close. But yes, they will really enjoy it.
In fact, now that I know better, I let my infants color too. They want to do whatever their big siblings are doing, so this cuts down on their jealous-rage-screaming. Coloring starts in our house as soon as baby can sit upright in their high chair and hold a crayon.
A perk of this is by the time they’re really “ready” to color, their fine motor control is already so much better because they’ve been practicing for so long. Just make sure you watch the baby so he/she doesn’t eat the crayons. Been there, done that–and it’s amazing how well crayon-wax sticks in those baby teeth.
I have a love-hate relationship with sensory play, but it’s so important. Toddlers love to explore the many textures of the world around them – including (maybe even especially), the gross and the messy.
Including sensory play as a daily activity for your toddler satisfies this important need in a directed, appropriate way. This is important because if you fail to provide those opportunities, well… your toddler will probably create those opportunities all on their own.
Think shaving cream on the carpet, markers on the walls, etc. No amount of household toddler-proofing effort can outwit an under-stimulated child.
Gross motor play
Toddlers are still learning how to move their bodies. (Some of us adults are still working on how to do this properly too *ahem, me* but I digress…).
Gross motor activities like jumping, running, and climbing are so important for your child’s proper physical development. Even something as simple as standing on one foot or jumping up and down helps your toddler develop control of their large muscle groups.
A happy bonus — after enough gross motor activity, your toddler will likely be easier to put down for a nap! Speaking of which…
With incredibly few exceptions, toddlers still need naps. The AAP and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine are pretty clear about kids between ages 1 and 2 needing 11-14 hours of sleep per day. Even if your kid is a great sleeper at night, afternoon naps of 1-3 hours are still recommended for toddlers.
Aside from the obvious benefits of naps for the toddler, I desperately need naptime too. I love my children dearly, but toddlers require pretty vigilant—basically constant—attention.
I need my toddler to take a nap so I can reset the house from the damage he did as a walking human hurricane. Plus, we benefit from a teeeeeny bit of space in our relationship. With that space, I can laugh at the ridiculous things I experience daily as a stay at home mom. Without that space, well… the stay at home struggles can quickly overwhelm me.
Of course, if your toddler has already dropped their nap, I’m not trying to guilt you. But I definitely encourage you to keep trying.
Sometimes a toddler hasn’t really dropped their nap completely. It’s more like they’re on a temporary nap strike.
And if you really can’t bring back that nap, it’s even more important to find other ways to implement rest and quiet time (lying down with a book, listening to peaceful music, etc.) –for both your sakes.
Technically, this could overlap a lot of the other daily activities for toddlers on this list. Maybe you’re engaging in sensory play (mud, the grass, puddles of water, etc.). Maybe it’s gross motor activities in the back yard like kicking a soccer ball, jumping, etc.
Regardless, outside time should absolutely be a daily activity for toddlers. The benefits of getting outside are well documented, from both a physical and mental wellness perspective. At the same time, studies show young children are spending less and less time outdoors.
Daily outside time allows your toddler to thoroughly explore the natural world. Grass, leaves, bugs, birds — toddlers are generally fascinated by all of it. Plus, as an added bonus, the body makes its best Vitamin D via natural sun exposure.
Of course, it’s not just a healthy activity for your toddler. Outside time can be crucial for a parent’s well-being too, especially if you’re a stay at home parent. It can help combat feelings of isolation and being “stuck” at home.
(If your toddler is on the older end, you may want to check out my free picture-based outdoor scavenger hunts. They make a great outdoor learning activity!)
Going out in Public
I put this activity near the end because, of course, it’s not essential that you take your toddler out in public daily. However, the more often you can do so, the better.
How to behave in a public setting (speaking at an appropriate volume, following instructions, interacting with strangers in a safe way, etc.) is a skill that develops over time. The more opportunities your toddler has to practice, the better off he or she will be (eventually).
Of course, that doesn’t mean your toddler will behave every time. Anyone who’s dragged a screaming child from a restaurant or store can attest to that. Still, by making public adventures a daily activity for your toddler, you will be maximizing opportunities for your child to learn these life skills.
What are some of your favorite daily activities to do with toddlers?
Whether you’re a parent or a child care provider, I hope you find this list of daily activities for toddlers helpful. If you think I missed some good ones, leave me your ideas in the comments!
(And be sure to pin this post you can refer back to it later!)