Favorite Things for a Busy Toddler at Home

My Dress | My Cardigan | Maxi’s Dress | Maxi’s Shoes

This blog is well due for an update on Maxi’s favorite things now that she is 3, but I wanted to talk about things we are loving specifically at home. She has more weekly activities with her age and we LIVE for the park this time of year. But there is also the reality that I work from home, and our family naturally gravitates to being homebodies. We spend a good portion of our time at home, and I am always trying to find things to keep her busy and away from the TV asking for Peppa Pig again and again. 😉 So whether you work from home, your kids are headed into spring break next week, or you just need some fresh ideas {I always do!}, I hope this post helps you.


This past weekend we just cleaned out her books! I moved her baby board books over to baby brother’s room, which made me realize just how grown up she is. At 3, she falls in love with stories and asks me about characters. The next morning, she’ll ask what happened to one specific character or if we can read the story again. It is one of my favorite things for us to do together. But a major difference in this age is that she will also “read” to herself if I need to take a work call or get dinner started. A few of her favorite books to read to herself:

Pretend Play

  • Forts & Teepees: Maxi loves her teepee in her room, but she really loves it when I move it to the living room. I’ll set up a fort or teepee in the living room, make her a snack tray, and put books, dolls, and puzzles in there. While she does love for me to join her in there, if I need to do laundry or anything, she will play in her teepee by herself for 30-40 minutes. Our pediatrician told me to make it as cozy as possible, so I’ll add in all the blankets and pillows and she thinks it is the biggest treat! I’ve also heard to put on an audiobook for children like Charlotte’s Web and let them listen while they play. I need to try that. This is also a really fun idea for a movie night with popcorn.
  • Hair Salon for Barbies: I’ll set up Barbies at the kitchen table, with little water bowls, and she will “wash their hair” and brush it like she is their mommy. I put out any hair clips I have and she has the best time doing their hair like I do her’s.
  • Costume Jewelry: She will always ask to play with my jewelry, and I can’t just hand her my wedding ring like she probably wishes. haha. I keep a little basket in my drawer and put my “costume jewelry” in there that she can play with. It’s not for her to ruin, but plastic bangles and statement necklaces can’t be broken by her little hands. My mom used to do this for me when I was little and I STILL remember the afternoons playing in her jewelry.
  • Treasure Chest: Remember wanting to buy those mystery bags at Claire’s as a preteen or teenager? I’m convinced half the excitement of things that toddlers love is in the mystery. We have a basket with a closed lid that we use as our treasure chest. If I find a toy she hasn’t used in a while or get a toy in a Chick-Fil-A bag, I’ll put that in the treasure chest. I just rotate 6 or 7 small items in there she hasn’t seen in a few weeks. If I need to take a call or handle something quickly, I’ll ask her if she wants to find treasure. She is immediately interested, and I’ll bring the treasure chest out. These toys or kids’ meal items immediately excite her. I just rotate these pieces every now and then, and it works so well.
  • Try-New-Things Tea Party: Don’t get me wrong, I have a very typical toddler in the meal department. She’d be thrilled to live off Chicken Nuggets and fruit for the next year. And while I do believe that most picky eaters grow up to be adults that eat salad and sushi, I try to do my part to introduce as many things to her as possible. We typically follow the rule of 3 with her plate: one thing she loves, one thing she is starting to like, one thing she is unsure of. Sometimes dinner isn’t the best time to introduce things. Breakfast is her biggest meal, and by dinner, she is tired and ready for a good bath and bed. I have learned to add new things during “tea parties” and not make a big deal of it. I’ll set up a tea party at her table for us. She thoroughly enjoys pouring water from the teapot to cup and sipping with her pinky up. Then, I add a little “tea sandwich” tray. I’ll put a mini sandwich, a piece of fruit, and something new. I put something new in a cute cupcake liner, which she will be intrigued by. She’ll ask me about it and she may not try it every time, but it sparks her curiosity.

Independent Play

Need a second to yourself? Maybe you’ve got to nurse another baby or take an important conference call. Independent play is so important for little ones, but I find that it’s more successful if I set it up to be that way.

  • Young Wild & Friedman Kits: We love these sensory boxes! They also have mini ones you can buy in a set of 4, that work great for going out to eat. She will sit at the kitchen table for an HOUR with them. We are always grabbing them to play. If you are about to have a baby or know you’ll need larger chunks of time to do something for your work or family, I can’t recommend these enough.
  • Beads on Pipe Cleaners: Want an affordable craft option for this age? Pipe cleaners and beads! Use a small fish tackle box to keep beads organized, then let your toddler string the beads onto the pipe cleaners. Maxi loves to bead bracelets and I love to see her hand-eye coordination grow with that activity. But small string does require help from a parent, so pipe cleaners are a great solution for this one.
  • Color on Boxes: One activity we could probably all do today?! Craft in your Amazon or delivery boxes! This week, Paul used a bag from grocery shopping, cut out eyes, and made it to where she could “wear it” to scare him. She colored all over it to make her own little monster. haha. This also works great in a large delivery box or multiple small ones. Set them up on the kitchen floor and let your toddler go to town with washable markers and crayons.
  • “Work” like Mommy: Maxi had spring break this week and you want to know what I found most successful while I needed to work? I set up a “work like mommy” station. I took this little bench we had on my clothing rack, but you could use an upside-down box or anything to resemble a desk. I added a legal pad, an old calculator,  a cup full of colored pencils, a play phone, and a play laptop. I told her that while mommy was on the phone for work, she could be on the phone for work. This was an absolute hoot and she loved it! She got to use her imagination, color, and pretend to have her own little business. I know this may not be as long-lasting of an option as say a sensory box, but it did make me think I wanted to add a little desk for her in my office. My parents have a tiny desk I used when I was her age, and I am going to ask if I can have it. 😉 She “worked” while I took a 20-minute call and it was great for both of us. She got to try something new and I didn’t feel guilty on either end. In terms of noise, she was pretty quiet, while I muted my call. And when I needed to speak, she was always coloring, so it worked well. Before my call, I told her that we are pretty quiet at work, and to try to talk like we talk in the library.

More Favorites

If you need a few more options, here are tried and true things we have loved over the years and not just while she has been 3! If you have a child under 3, these will soon be a favorite in your household.

  • Kiwi Co. Boxes
  • Making Busy Boxes
  • Do-A-Dot Art
  • Magnetic Paper Dolls: When she had just turned 2, I ordered theses small cookie sheet pans. I put the magnets on these as she was more interested in lifting and moving them around. It kept everything in one space and allowed her imagination to enjoy an “older” activity.
  • Coloring Roll: Feel like your kids go through coloring books so quickly? We use this coloring roll on our art easel, but you can lay it on on the coffee table or kitchen table just as well. She doesn’t go through these nearly as fast because they are so large, plus she doesn’t have to flip pages back and forth.
  • Art Cart

I hope all my mamas can find some inspiration in this post and I’d love to hear from you! What are your favorite activities for a busy toddler at home? I always need new ideas!

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  1. Soooo cute! Love the photos! ❤️✨

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    Published 13 Mar 20Reply
  2. Alyssa wrote:

    These are all such great ideas! I WFH too but don’t have nearly half of this stuff set up for my girl. She’s really into Duplo and her grocery cart, but definitely going to set up an art station for her, too!

    Published 13 Mar 20Reply