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5 Fun Activities for Toddlers on a Budget

By Jacqueline Curtis

toddlerAny parent knows that the “terrible twos” can start a lot earlier than 24 months, and may last well into your child’s third year. I knew I was in trouble when my two-year-old learned to get the toilet paper off its roll. He would hold one end of the paper and toss the entire roll down the stairs, then drag it back up slowly. Antics like these can quickly become tiring, but you can bet your toddler isn’t going to care or notice.

The best way to cope is to simply find ways to keep your child busy so he or she doesn’t have the time to get in trouble. Though you could easily spend a small fortune on the latest learning toys, books, and games, your toddler would still likely be more interested in the packaging. Instead, offer cheap or free activities that entertain and educate without costing an arm and a leg.

Cheap Toddler Activities

You probably already have the perfect gear around your home to occupy your little one. Take a look through your craft supplies, wrapping paper drawer, garage, and attic to see what you can find that would capture a toddler’s attention – at least for a few minutes.

1. Tub Finger Painting

Finger painting is “Kid Stuff 101,” but toddlers are usually more interested in squishing the paint between their fingers than actually creating arts and crafts. I’ve spent many an afternoon watching my kindergartener calmly paint a picture, while my toddler generally makes a mess. The solution? Bathtub painting!

Instead of stressing over the mess, pop your diapered or naked child into the tub, then squeeze finger paints onto the sides of the tub. My kids love that they can make a huge mess without mommy having a complete panic attack. When they’re finished, I hand over a couple of sponges. Cleaning up the mess in the shower or bath is half the fun.

boy painting

2. Shoebox Train

Toddlers are notorious for tossing a toy aside in favor of its cool packaging. Foster that weird love of paper and boxes by making a shoebox train.

Head to the garage or attic to dig out as many shoeboxes as you can find. Cut up newspaper or magazine strips to fill each box, and grab a ton of stuffed animals to serve as passengers. Your toddler will love lining up the boxes, adding the animals, and even pretending to punch tickets and play conductor. Just make sure you save those shoeboxes for later – they could also be monster shoes, rockets, or bird nests.

3. Toilet Paper Trail

A roll of toilet paper is like the holy grail to a toddler. It’s the forbidden fruit in the bathroom that Mom is always saying not to play with.

Instead of trying to stop the attraction, grab a roll of toilet paper and use it for play. Your toddler will be delighted! Take the roll and start at one end of the house. Wind it around your couches, tables, and beds. Then, go back to where you started and put your toddler in the lead as you both follow the trail. When you’re done, gather up the paper and hand it to your toddler to rip, throw, and wind to his or her little heart’s content. This “toy” is sure to please and will set you back less than a dollar.

4. Snack Buffet

When it’s time to break playtime for snack time, most toddlers want the same fare over and over again. But since Goldfish crackers aren’t exactly healthy snacks, encourage your toddler to try something new by setting up a buffet.

Instead of a plate, grab a muffin tin. Chop small pieces of fruits, vegetables, and old favorite foods, and place a different kind in each cup of the muffin tin. With so many choices, your tiny terror might be more apt to try something new. Plus, the actual process of eating from each cup takes up that seemingly endless stretch of time just before napping.

boy eating snack crackers

5. Nature Scavenger Hunt

Your toddler is learning new things about the world every day, and loves nothing more than to demonstrate that knowledge. Allow him or her the opportunity by creating a nature scavenger hunt. Make a picture list of things you see around your neighborhood, such as a bird, a neighbor’s dog, or a mailbox, and go for a walk. Hand the list and a crayon to your toddler to check off found items, and grab your camera. End the hunt at the closest park, where your baby can burn off some extra energy and you can take some cute action shots.

Final Word

Yes, toddlers can be troublesome. But they’re also bright, funny, and irresistible. Playtime is just as important as mealtimes and nap time, so get creative. You don’t need the latest educational gadget to foster learning and fun with your troublesome two-year-old. Instead, giving yourself over to his or her mischievous nature makes for a cheap afternoon free of toddler drama – and you might even enjoy yourself as well!

What other fun, cheap activities for toddlers can you suggest?

Jacqueline Curtis
Jacqueline Curtis is an experienced style expert, and she focuses on getting high fashion on a tight budget. She writes for several online publications, including her own fashion blog, How Not to Dress Like a Mom, and specializes in fashion, finance, health and fitness, and parenting. Jae grew up in Toronto, Canada, but now resides in Utah with her husband, two kids, and prized shoe collection.

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  • http://www.bargainbabe.com/ Yazmin

    Love the tub finger painting idea. Easy clean up is always great, but if you’d like to keep your child’s masterpieces (hey, maybe one day they’ll be worth something) you can get leftover newspaper from the printing presses. Some give it out for free, others charge a small fee. Either way it’s much cheaper to get from the presses than buying butcher paper at an office store. They’re painting are also great to decorate your home or their bedrooms.

  • Young

    You can add the cardboard band to your list. The “trumpet” is a paper towel roll with a few holes in it. That will keep them busy making music for a while.

  • http://www.purechecks.com/ Henessy Cervano

    I like the Nature Scavenger Hunt, it is a fun way to learn. Great Post you have here.

  • http://www.newcouponsanddeals.com/ Jamie

    Just being outside really wears toddlers out. Whenever I would take one of my children on a simple hike at that age, the afternoon nap came easy. Another bit of cheap toddler fun: storytime at the library. It’s a great way to socialize with other moms, too.

  • http://www.moneytrail.net Pam at MoneyTrail

    My kids used to love blowing bubbles and popping them!

  • http://www.mypersonalfinancejourney.com/ My Personal Finance Journey

    When my kids were toddlers, we love to go outdoors. I would blow bubbles and they would run after them and pop each one after the other.

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