Got a young kiddo at home? Suffering severe lockdown fever? No time for mess?
Sounds like you need some easy mess free toddler activities to do at home to keep them busy (and you sane).
Covid-19 aside, if you have a little one aged 2, 3 or 4, there’s always reason to have a few good at home toddler activities up your sleeve. (Err, hello Taylors of Harrogate coffee. Yes, I’m a coffee snob.)
You need simple no mess activities to keep your busy 2 year old toddler engaged and out of your hair.
You need easy activities to do at home for your even busier 3 or 4 year old preschooler to keep them out of mischief, just for a few minutes. Ideally with zero set-up and with things you already have at home.
Heck, even easy at home activities to do with your kiddo when you so desire.
And mess free is the name of the game. At home toddler activities that absolutely DO NOT involve cleaning up some hideous mess.
These are paint-free and glue-free toddler activities that won’t wreck your home….pinky promise.
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Do I have to entertain my toddler all day?
Toddlers are pretty good at entertaining themeselves, given the right environment, tools and hands on opportunities. You don’t need to ‘entertain’ them as such, but rather provide them with these opportunities.
This list of easy and fun toddler activities at home will help you do just that.
I started this post back in lockdown, knowing that many people had a sudden need to keep their young toddler busy as a result of lockdown. Because all the “sanity-saving nurseries are shut”, as a dear friend put it.
Keeping your toddler busy at home is a skill that can be learned. Keeping 2, 3 and 4 year olds busy with easy activities is certainly not a skill I was born with. (Like a bunch of other things I kind of presumed would come easily as soon as I became a mom. Silly me.)
But with no playgroups, daycare, softplay, toddler groups or tots classes of any kind where we lived in this beautiful corner of the African bush, I got plenty or practice. I got a handle on what makes their little brains tick and how to bust that energy, all while maintaining a certain level of sanity.
(Most days. As long as the Taylors hasn’t run out.)
So for all those of you who are suddenly or not so suddenly on the hunt for easy mess free activities to do with your toddler at home, you’ve come to the right place.
How do you keep a toddler busy at home?
To keep a toddler busy at home, you need to provide them the stimulation and activities that involve things they’re naturally curious about. You’ve probably noticed that from the age of 2 (and even before), your toddler loves doing the following:
- stacking & sorting
- pouring & scooping
- ripping & throwing
- touching & exploring with their hands
- cutting, posting, packing & unpacking…
- figuring out how things work
- opening and shutting containers, doors, lids….
- getting wet and messy…
- move, move, move!
They’re not merely playing or actually trying to destroy everything they touch. Whatever it may seem. They’re learning through each and every activity they’re doing.
Your 2, 3 or 4 year old is trying to master certain fine and gross motor skills, while also satisfying their desire to explore the world.
This list of no mess toddler activities is naturally geared towards these tendencies to learn and explore. It’s full of toddler at home learning activities and opportunities.
The main aim is to keep your 2, 3 and 4 year old busy and engaged in a constructive way as possible. Or in a destructive way, but under your terms!
For littles less than 2 years old, check out these simple activities for 18 month olds.
Let’s define ‘easy’ & ‘mess free’ toddler activities
My definition of a successful and easy activity for my toddler and preschooler is one which:
- is quick to set-up – let’s say 5 minutes max
- doesn’t require printing or laminating
- doesn’t need fancy or expensive supplies (most are things you already have at home or can easily get the shops)
- keeps said toddler/preschooler busy for 15 – 30 minutes, often independently
- can be easily adapted to kids a little different in age (my two are 15 months apart so that wasn’t too difficult)
- allow exploration and experimentation (i.e. hands on activities)
- has minimal clean-up or better still involves no mess at all
So these mess free toddler activities to do at home should tick all of these boxes. They should be good to keep your little one going while you have a cup of coffee, feed your newborn, cook or catch up on emails…
Adjusting easy toddler activities at home to different ages
Always keep it simple – so set the difficulty level of the activity to the youngest. Then adapt as you go along.
Given that it’s through play, that toddlers learn, this post lists toddler learning activities at home. However, you can easily add in a specific learning concept, such as counting, letter or number recognition in to the mix and turn them into more ‘educational’ activities for toddlers at home.
Mess free toddler activities to do at home INDOORS
Most of these practice fine motor skills in one way or another – there really are endless possibilities – and you don’t have to look hard to see some very common themes…
#1 Posting toy cars into a large bottle
Small toy plus a hole just a little bigger = a mess free toddler activity that can last a loooong time…then there’s all the fun noise your little one can make shaking them around and around and around…
Another task is to shake them all out again… literally a good 30 minutes of fun for a busy 2 year old!
It’s always a good idea to check the toy will come out again, but in the case of toy cars into a 5 liter water bottle, I could easily have cut the bottle up to get them out.
EASY ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: plastic baby wipes container also work very well to shove toys (and most other things) into and then pull them out again.
If you’re little one loves vehicles of all shapes and sizes try these Easy Transportation Crafts & Activities.
#2 Dry pasta scooping & sorting
Dried pasta shapes and ice cube trays with a set of plastic measuring spoons. Or use muffin pans or silicone cupcake liners. I swear these get used for toddler play a million times more often than for baking.
Or just use any small plastic container.
EASY EXTENSION: Amp up this activity by mixing different pasta shapes in one bowl and have your toddler or preschooler fill some compartments/cupcake liners just with bows, others just with noodles, others with shells etc.
You can also make this a little trickier by adding in some different means of transferring the pasta. E.g. salad tongs, ladels or plastic tweezers for kids (check the recommended products section for these).
#3 Puzzle mix-up
Those lovely easy chunky puzzles that used to keep your little one busy as a 1-year-old, are now too easy. But most other puzzles you end up having to help your toddler with, right?
So take those easy puzzles and dump all the puzzle pieces out together. Then have your older toddler or preschooler put all the puzzles back together at once.
Easy and fun and normally a good 15-20 minutes of peace in our house!
#4 Blowing pompoms with straws
This is as simple as it sounds…. but in practice was a bit tricky for my 2 year old. However, my 4-year-old particularly loved this one.
There are any amount of ways you can set this up. I placed a bowl on a chair the other side of our narrow play table and he spent ages blowing pompoms across the table and into the bowl…
This is fun STEM activity for toddlers too. Smaller pom poms move easier but more wildly, and the larger ones are heavier and harder to move, but easier to maneuver.
EASY ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: use cotton balls or scrunched up balls of paper to blow. Can even be done without a straw altogether but for some reason, all kids seem to love straws…
Or why not turn this into a color-matching activity. Place clear plastic cups on the table, then blow all the green ones into one cup, all the red ones into another and so on. Mom Brite has a great post with more details.
#5 Cutting straws
Cutting is always a popular activity for toddlers and preschoolers. They just love to cut anything, especially once they’ve got their first pair of scissors. And so easy to do at home.
But instead of always using paper, get out some cheap plastic straws for your 2 year old.
(I know these are a big no-no environmentally so I’d like to add that we only use plastic straws for crafts and activities these days where they get used over and over…. very rarely for drinking).
Unlike paper, a straw is easy for a toddler to hold, and is long (or at least starts off long) so there’s less likelihood of them cutting their fingers off. Bonus.
In addition, plastic straws seem to jump all over the place when cut – much to the hilarity of my two – which does mean a little bit of tidying up but does prolong the fun.
You could argue this isn’t strictly mess free, but grab a dustpan and brush and clean up will be done in a couple of minutes. Or send your toddler off on a ‘straw treasure hunt’. This normally does the trick in our house.
EASY ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: a good alternative to straws, that isn’t paper, is long narrow strips of thin cardboard, think biscuit or cereal box cut into strips. Advantage or disadvantage is card doesn’t jump into the air when cut!
Paint-chip cards are also perfect.
UPDATE: Just this morning I found an old jumbled up ball of wool… good for nothing… unless, of course, you have a young kiddo who loves to cut! Another virtually mess free toddler activity to try at home.
My 3 and a 4-year-old spent a good half an hour cutting up wool… I’m sure that’ll come in handy for another toddler activity or craft.
(You’ll see me on ‘Hoarders’ any day now.)
#6 Matching tupperwares with their lids
Who said toddlers couldn’t be useful?! Got a cupboard in Tupperware hell? Haven’t we all.
Dump them all out and if you have any with lids on, take them off. Then get your 2 year old to match the lids back to the correct Tupperware.
(While you’re at it, you can then throw the ones no longer with a lid away – or add to them to the box of
junk really useful stuff for the kids to play with…)
#7 Bottle top posting
There are an endless number of learning opportunities and educational activities for bottle tops (just write letters or numbers on them and you can conjure up all sorts of related activities).
But for this one, you just need LOTS of them and then something to post them into. I used an old formula tin and cut a few different holes in the top for tops of different sizes to fit through.
Such a simple mess free activity for 2 year olds at home, but sadly not noise free!
Using a tin means that the lid makes a satisfying clink when it hits the bottom – that’s a double win for a busy toddler.
#8 Tower building & then (obviously) tower destroying
Tupperwares, plastic cups, empty cans, small boxes, large ones… you name it!
If your kiddo who loves to line stuff up and for things to be very ordered, then finding lots of things exactly the same is the way to go if possible. This describes my preschooler to a tee.
So stacking empty (and clean) cans into various orderly arrangements and then knocking them down is his idea of heaven.
Because he loves the knocking down so much, it definitely suits him to use cans, rather than plastic cups – unless you don’t mind them being ruined.
(He was determined to stamp on the cups having knocked down his cup tower so I swiftly put those away and delved into my stash of empty tin cans.)
#9 Squeeze pouch lids & mini muffin tins
I’ve yet to meet any toddler mom who doesn’t use squeeze pouches once in a while. Great for those early weaning days and also for emergency snacks when out and about.
No surprise that those pouch lids are worth saving. They’re the perfect size to fit neatly into the molds of a mini muffin tin, as demonstrated above. Other plastic lids work well too.
Putting them and in and taking them out can keep a toddler busy for quite some time. So start stashing lids and use them for this simple mess free activity for 2 year olds.
#10 Rip up egg box cartons
Another activity for destructive little boys. Babies and young toddlers love to rip stuff – so paper towel, magazines or newspaper. But for the older toddler and definitely the preschooler that’s just too easy – and can create a lot of mess in minutes.
So for an almost mess free toddler activity and to burn off some destructive energy, egg box cartons are the way to go, my friend.
These ripped up pieces are then perfect for dump trucks, diggers and rubbish trucks to play in (yup, even the rubbish gets reused in our house).
EASY ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: old cereal and biscuit boxes.
#11 Tiny toy rescue & recapture
Tape some little toys (toy dinosaurs, cars, ponies, Playmobil characters… anything really) to the side of the fridge with painters/masking tape.
Rescuing the taped toys is an engaging activity for the younger toddler, who will need to work those fingers hard to peel the tape off. But even the older toddler and preschooler will enjoy it.
I thought my two would be too old for this, but no!
They added in a recapture element and spent a good 30 minutes resticking their Playmobil figures upside down (as in photo above), then making them fall by gently peeling the tape back. Then they’d re-rescue them and start all over again…
EASY ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: Alternatively, stick toys to a table with plastic tablecloth or to a tiled floor.
#12 Screw lids on and off bottles
Another simple no mess activity for toddlers at home similar to the tupperware one above, but this time with bottles and lids. It’s a bit trickier to screw the lids back on, so excellent fine motor activity for toddlers.
So start hoarding bottles of all shapes and sizes. It’ll provide a 2 year old with hours of fun.
And if you’re feeling a little creative and have a spare 5 mins, why not make this DIY twist-top board.
#13 Painters tape peel
You may have noticed your little one attempting to unpeel the sticky top off wipe packets so here’s a simple mess free toddler activity that plays to this desire.
Tape painters tape onto the kitchen floor and allow your 2, 3 or 4 year old to remove. At first you can make it really easy, with a very definite end to the tape for your toddler to easily grab on to. As their ability improves, you can stick the tape down more firmly at either end.
EASY ALTERNATIVE & EXTENSION: Try sticking to different surfaces and at different orientations.
Peeling the tape off the carpet or a rug makes for a satisfying sound and changes the tape from sticky to fluffy. The removed, and then fluffy, tape kept my two entertained even longer.
Or try taping to the fridge so your toddler has to peel the tape off a vertical surface and use different muscles.
#14 Dot sticker shapes & patterns
Dot stickers are amazing for all sorts of things when it comes to 2, 3 and 4 year olds, especially when it comes to counting practice, number recognition and basic math… So we’ll save those ones for another day.
So for a simple no mess toddler activity focus just on the stickering itself, i.e taking the sticker off and sticking it in a certain place. Then just draw a pattern or outline of something very simple and have your little one trace it with stickers.
My preschooler – above – asked for a square and a triangle, my toddler asked for a heart.
Such a simple activity for toddlers at homeity and soooo effective to keep little minds occupied.
#15 Decorate a cardboard box
Decorate a small cardboard box that can become a ‘special’ toy box, baby bed, tiny house or whatever else takes your toddlers fancy.
My two recently wanted to make our new Jack Russell puppies a dog house. I quickly taped up a small cardboard box and cut out a door and window and my two toddlers went to town for a good 20 minutes ‘decorating’ it.
(AKA scribbling with pencils and crayons, stamping with ink stamps and stamping pens.)
Needless to say the puppies are not at all interested in sleeping in it and so my 4 year old decided he’d try to hang it in a tree… Then we switched the sprinkler on and mmm… it’s now even less likely to be used as a dog house.
But since the real aim was just to keep the two terrors (not to be confused with the terriers) busy for a few minutes, I’m counting it as a win.
#16 Pipe cleaners and a colander…
…and thread. That’s it! My two loved using the finished articles as hats for their ridiculously enormous teddies and have also pretended they’re enormous spiders. Fun as a Halloween activity too?
EASY ACTIVITY EXTENSION: Make this activity a lot trickier by challenging your toddler or preschooler to push pipe cleaners through a sieve.
#17 Rubber bands & a can
What is it with toddlers and elastic bands? Well, give them a job to do with them: putting them on to a can and taking them off again, simple.
Or if putting them on is too much of a stretch (see what I did there?!) then you can put them on and let your toddler take them off.
EASY ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: use a plastic bottle or empty cardboard tube for smaller bands or for bigger bands that can go around twice.
#18 Apple or potato poking
This is a fun mess free toddler activity for fall or any time of the year when you have an apple or potato to spare.
Use a felt tip pen to mark dots on an apple or potato and see if your toddler can stick a toothpick into the fruit/veg on the dot. I was so surprised by how much my two loved this simple mess free activity.
A quick peel and said fruit/veg should still be good to use.
(Having tried this with both apples and potatoes I’d recommend using the latter, since they’re less likely to bruise on dropping a few hundred times.)
EASY ACTIVITY EXTENSION: if your kiddo has a small toy hammer or you have a lightweight wooden meat tenderizing hammer, you can help your toddler hammer the toothpick in.
You will probably need to help hold the toothpick (I did) but this is sure to keep them entertained as it’s quite tricky and you need to be gentle – something most toddlers or preschoolers are not good at!
#19 Trace simple pattern with pompoms
This is a little like the dot sticker patterns, but without the stickering part. Draw any shape, and have your toddler line up pompoms or any other small loose item along the lines.
EASY ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: Pasta, cereal or small toys work really well too.
#20 CD/DVD stacking
Got a bunch of old CDs that skip every few seconds? Haven’t we all… well if you have one of those CD stacker storage thingy-m-bobs then taking the CDs off and putting them back on again could well keep your toddler busy…
Just know that you’ll never be using them for music or film again.
EASY ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITY: this is not a direct alternative, but if you have old CDs in boxes that are destined for the rubbish then your kiddo is probably going to love just taking them out and putting them back in again.
It’s actually not all that easy for a toddler to get them in the right place so the box shuts nicely.
#21 Pompom transfer & sorting
Bunch of pompoms in a bowl, a muffin or mini-muffin tray and something to transfer them with. Salad tongs, ladels or plastic tweezers or just a small spoon.
Sounds suspiciously like pasta scooping and sorting, right? Yup, that’s the beauty with toddlers and preschoolers; virtually the same activity, just with different tools!
Younger toddlers will love the transferring part to create pompom ‘cakes’. (Stand by imaginary oven.) Older toddlers and preschoolers tend to gravitate towards sorting colors… Whatever keeps them happy and busy goes as far as I’m concerned.
#22 Encourage toy mixing
As adults, it’s so easy to get caught up encouraging our kids to play with toys in a certain way. But the mind of a 2, 3 or 4 year old is of course very different. Actively encouraging different toys to be played together leads to a huge number more ‘games’ that can be invented.
My preschooler loves his train set and has made endless additional bridges with duplo blocks and wooden blocks. He’s made salt dough hills for the track to go around. We’ve made cardboard houses too…
Mixing and matching those toys keeps it fresh – I highly recommend it.
#23 Marbles and cardboard tubes
Grab a few tubes, some marbles and then something to catch them in and let your toddler or preschooler play.
A very simple mess free activity for toddlers and preschoolers at home that involves a certain amount of problem-solving. Getting the tube to stay up, and to position the cup, bowl or egg box in the right place to catch the marble and so on.
So a good one for lots of experimentation.
(We found that egg box cartons work the best to catch the marbles as they don’t jump out as easily as from plastic bows or cups).
You could also make a more permanent marble run by hot gun gluing tubes to a big sheet of cardboard. I wasn’t all that successful and my two just wanted to move the tubes all the time…
#24 Craft stick & block building
I saw this simple no mess activity on Frugal Fun 4 Boys and knew this would be a hit with my toddler, who loves to build!
If you click here you’ll see the different ways they build and balanced towers, using crafts sticks, blocks as well as plastic cups. H was intent on the low, wide bridge and ramp that’s in the picture.
Given there’s so much potential in this activity, I can see us returning to it again and again.
#25 Listen to stories on audiobooks
I was hesitant to include this as it’s not a very active toddler activity, but it’s very much no prep and no mess and my two love to listen to audiobooks. Great for screen-free resting and relaxing, which we do every day after lunch.
We only got into this in a few weeks ago at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic when Audible started offering free audiobooks. We’ve been listening to The Timeless Tales of Peter Rabbit & Friends and Winnie The Pooh ever since. And are now signed up forever more…
#26 Sweetie game
What better way to introduce your toddler to a simple board game than with sweets? This is one you’re going to be actively involved in but is fun and no mess all the same.
Instructions as follows:
- Draw a grid of squares or rectangles
- Each player takes a line. One end is the start, the other the finsih.
- Put your sweetie at the start
- Roll the die and move your sweetie along the grid, according to the number
- When you’ve reached the end and are finished, you can eat the sweet!
Great for counting practice and everyone’s a winner.
Indoor WATER PLAY activities for toddlers & preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers love to play with water. Wait, I hear you say, that doesn’t sound mess free?! Especially if you’re stuck indoors…
Even if you can’t get outside, these water-play activities shouldn’t get out of hand.
These activities are mostly to be carried out at the kitchen sink (or similar) or in the bath. There are a couple which can be done at a table, well covered with a plastic table cloth.
For plenty of ways to keep little ones busy in the garden or backyard, wet and otherwise, try these simple and fun outdoor activities and play ideas.
#27 Pour and scoop water at the sink
Stool at the kitchen sink, sink full of warm water and some empty yogurt pots/tupperware with some measuring cups… Yes, this is exactly the same as playing with stacking cups in the bath. Different location, different tools, completely different activity!
#28 Play with ice cubes in the sink
Toddlers and preschoolers alike just love ice. So an ice activity is a must once in a while and I’d definitely argue that this one is a mess free toddler activity, perfect for a 2, 3 or 4 year old. It can keep my two busy for ages…
EASY ACTIVITY EXTENSION: Add some food coloring to the water before freezing for a bit of color or some pompoms for a hidden surprise.
#29 Wash plastic toys in the sink
As above but make out that your toddlers toys (battery-free of course) need a good scrub. Let’s face it, you won’t need to ‘make out’ that they need a clean, in all probability they’re fairly grubby.
Just remember to be clear that ‘only Mom or Dad’ can put the dish liquid in though. And then hide it unless your toddler has an insane amount of self-control.
#30 Play with non-bath toys in the bath
So not regular bath toys, but other water-friendly toys. Think duplo, plastic animals, plastic characters etc. Our rule is nothing wooden and nothing with batteries.
Building towers in the water is completely different to building them on dry land. Obviously Mommy because now it’s boat, not a house. Or a houseboat. Or a submarine. I lose track…
#31 Bottle tops & pipettes
First, fill a few small cups with water – you can add a drop of food colors to each if you want so each cup of water is a different color. Then lay some bottle caps and jar lids out on the table (preferably on a plastic table cloth or plastic tray, or both).
Take a plastic pipette and show your toddler how to use it first – this can be quite difficult for a 2 year old. My youngest struggled with this at first (see the easy alternative below) but now at 3 she’s got it nailed.
Then show them how to transfer water from the cup to the bottle lid – without it overflowing of course.
EASY ALTERNATIVE: if your toddler can’t manage to figure out the pipette, then you can do the same activity using a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon. You need to use a small teaspoon otherwise those bottle tops overflow very quickly.
#32 Water transfer with pompoms
This activity is good fine motor practice for your little one and can be done at the sink or at the table.
We’ve tried it at the kitchen counter, with a shallow oven dish full of water and a bowl of pompoms and then a few small bowls and cups.
Younger ones will just enjoy picking them up and squeezing them but an older toddler or preschooler can transfer water from the dish into the cups and bowls by squeezing the pompoms. Just don’t set the cups up too far away from the dish to minimize water dripping too far.
Mess free SENSORY ACTIVITIES for toddlers at home
This post is all about easy mess free activities to do at home with minimal clean-up. We don’t need to add to the craziness of life with toddlers do we?
Here are some clean sensory activities for toddlers that are totally mess free.
If and when you’re in the mood for letting your toddler get messy, try this bumper list of sensory activities for 1 year olds and up.
#33 Create a textured walk
Toddlers love nothing better than to explore with their fingers, but also with their feet. So in this easy mess free activity for 2 year olds create different sensory opportunities for them specifically for walking on.
They may also want to touch with their hands and crawl over them too but set it up primarily for walking.
Bubble wrap is always a favorite. Tape it to the floor and let your toddler loose! Jumping up and down on it will be a fun experience and will also burn some energy.
EASY ALTERNATIVE: Rather than tape things to the floor you could set up a sensory bin specifically for walking in. Simply add lentils or rice for your 2, 3 or 4 year old to walk over.
#34. Twinkly light sensory bottle
You do need a large plastic bottle with a large opening for this one. The bottle pictured originally had craft supplies in it but has been used for several different activities and play scenarios since.
Add battery operated twinkly lights to the bottle and screw shut. A 5 liter water bottle might work too, depending on the battery pack size of the lights.
A fun at home toddler activity that’s safe for tiny tots and involves no mess whatsoever.
EASY ALTERNATIVE: Add jingle bells and tinsel for a Christmas themed toddler activity or how about acorns and dried leaves during Fall?
#35. Water beads mess free toddler activity
Water beads are fun to play with but are not safe for under 3’s or any little one who loves shoving everything in their mouth. But you can bag them up and make a colorful sensory bag in a jiffy.
This one does need a bit of prep as you need to soak the beads in water overnight. Then pop in a ziplock back, seal shut with tape and you’ve now got a safe and mess free toddler activity that’s good for tiny tots too.
I tried this with my 10 month old twins (pictured is one of them). It’s an easy and safe sensory activity for babies.
#36 Play with silks or dance scarves
Play silks/dance scarves make for a fun no mess toddler activity at home and there are so many different ways in which they can be incorporated into play.
Stuffing them into a box or Oball and pulling them out will keep a 2 year old busy. Older toddlers and preschoolers will love incorporating them into all sorts of costumes. Play silks can become a cape or wings or used to create a sea or river in small world play.
#37 Squishy sensory balls
I tried these squishy balls as a baby Easter activity, because they look like eggs. Sort of. Regardless of the season, playing with these will keep a toddler who loves to fiddle and touch all the things well occupied.
Using a funnel, simply fill balloons with different dry materials, tie the top and off you go. The flour filled balloon was my personal favorite – it feels just like a stress ball, it’s so, so squishable.
My toddlers liked all of them of course. We’ve tried corn kernels, rice, oats, beads, beans, sand – whatever could be fitted in, went in. Such a fun mess free activity for 2, 3 and 4 year olds and up. (Including adults!)
Minimal mess SENSORY ACTIVITIES for toddlers & preschoolers
Here are some dry messy play ideas with minimal mess. The mess can be fairly well contained and swept up quickly.
Of course, with a toddler at the helm, things can get out of hand pretty quick. So skip ahead if minimal mess activities are not mess free enough.
Remember to state those boundaries/expectations upfront!
#38 ‘Bake’ with playdough
I could say ‘anything’ with playdough because playdough never ever seems to get boring and can be used in a million and one different ways. However, I thought it more useful to name something specific. So baking it is – a firm favorite and something we do almost weekly in our house.
Our equipment list of choice is:
- playdough, homemade or store-bought
- muffin pans
- silicon muffin cases
- cookie cutters
- toddler sized rolling pin
- cut straws (cake candles, of course)
- some kind of unit that will double as a pretend oven (we use a white plastic kitchen trolley – finishing the homemade play kitchen is still on my to-do list…)
This is a case of less is more – toddlers get easily overwhelmed with too much choice in the cookie-cutter department…
For a winning playdough recipe, mix the following together, heat gently and stir until you have a lump of the stuff – dead simple. Even works when my 3 and 4-year-old are doing the measuring!
- flour – 2 cups
- salt – 1 cup
- cream of tartar – 4 tsp
- vegetable oil – 1 tbl
- food coloring – a few drops
That’s enough to make 4 different colored decent-sized lumps.
#39 Moon sand sensory bin
Mix flour and oil together (any types will do, whatever you have to hand) in a ratio of 8:1 and you have some lovely soft and fluffy moon sand.
Put it in a large plastic container or crate – at least 40cm by 80cm (think underbed storage container) or use a sand or water table. Then throw something in: a bunch of sand toys, little diggers or cups and spoons or small plastic animals.
Then let your toddlers scoop with it, smush it through their fingers and just play.
My two loved burying their plastic insects in a moon sand mound and then rescuing them with toy diggers… whatever floats their boat, right?!
#40 Rice bins
Very similar to above – a scooping and sensory play activity that is virtually mess free. Remember, state the rules of play first and stick to them!
Cheap, uncooked rice in a large plastic container, as it is. Or dyed if you want to get fancy (just soak in food colored water overnight).
You can take this one a bit further and tape some paper tubes to the side and add a funnel or too.
My toddlers loved to put a little dump truck under the tube, pour the rice down the tube and be incredibly excited to watch the truck collect their cargo. Simple minds, remember!
EASY ALTERNATIVE: Instead of rice use, cereal or small pasta shapes.
TIDYING & CLEANING activities for toddlers at home (no mess)
Who said toddlers and preschoolers can’t be useful?! If you haven’t got your kiddo involved in a few household activities at home yet, I’d urge you to, for a few reasons:
- toddlers and preschoolers love to feel useful at this age and love to help with things – capitalize on this because it can only last so long, right?
- although most activities will take long with a little one in two but at the same time said toddler/preschooler is busy and out of mischief
- they start to learn the importance of being tidy and responsible and other general life skills
- there are plenty of easy activities for toddlers to try at home that are mess free
Of course, they’re not going to get it 100% right but remember to praise anyway. (And re-do if necessary.)
Gradually you could build a few into your schedule and turn them into daily activities for toddlers at home.
#41 Cutting food up
Set your toddler up in the kitchen close by (this is obviously not to be done unsupervised) and hand them a normal eating knife or plastic salad knife. I bought the latter (linked below) especially for my toddlers to use. They’re great for playdough too.
Fruit and veg that work well for us have been potatoes, cucumber and lettuce. For the first two, cut them lengthways in half first so that they don’t roll around.
Warning – things will end up very small – fine for cucumber but probably only good if you want mash potatoes.
#42 Folding pajamas or other clothes
If you’re looking to introducing some fun and easy daily activities for your toddlers at home, then folding pajamas and night blankets is a good place to start. This is now firmly part of our morning routine.
I do still lay them out so it’s easy for them to get started, but they both love this. Racing to see who’s the fastest normally motivates my toddlers when they’re dwindling.
A winning mess free activity for toddlers at home that is useful too.
#43 Washing up
Well, if they can play at the sink, why not take it one step further and get them to wash up?
Not glasses, china or sharp knives, obviously… but their own plastic crockery and cutlery, plastic cooking utensils and small metal saucepans are well within a 3 or 4-year-olds capability. Might be a stretch for a 2 year old but will keep them busy!
They’re probably going to spend much of the time just playing, scooping and pouring the soapy water, but that’s ok.
If it gives you 15 minutes to clean up the kitchen or think about what to get out the freezer the next day then I’d count that as a win.
#44 Sorting the clean cutlery back into the cutlery draw
I.e. putting the forks back with the forks, the spoons back with the spoons and so on… A classic matching activity for toddlers to do at home that ticks the mess free box.
#45 Breaking spaghetti
I think you can see that my daughter loves this one! Super simple virtually no mess toddler activity to do at home with your 2, 3 or 4 year old and surprisingly time-consuming.
It can take little hands a good 10 minutes or so to break up enough spaghetti for a meal for 4. It also minimises the mess of your toddler or preschooler eating spaghetti if you get them to break it up nice and short…
#46 Toy clean up
If you’re looking for a simple tidyng and cleaning activity for toddlers, then packing away toys is a good one. The sooner they learn to take care of and keep their toys organised the better. Easier said than done but worth the effort. (I think!)
You can make toy tidying fun too, by singing songs, racing cars onto the shelves and so on. It also keeps little ones busy, hence is definitely an ‘activity’ in itself.
It can take a good 15-20 minutes plus an additional 5-10 minutes while your toddler or preschooler stops to play with the toys they’re meant to be tidying up. A fun activity that’s all about tidying up the mess. Win win!
Mess free toddler CRAFT activities to try at home
With a bit of extra time and on my hands, I do love painting (or fingerpainting) and doing crafts with my toddlers.
But crafts don’t have to involve sticky glue or paint…. Here are some crafty, creative and simple mess free toddler activities to try at home.
#47 Make a pipe cleaner bracelet
Wonderfully engaging toddler or preschooler activity for girls and boys… pipe cleaners are perfect for threading activities because they’re dead easy to poke through a bead without a needle. Pipe cleaners are super useful for all sorts of toddler crafts.
EASY ALTERNATIVE: thread noodles or buttons onto shoelaces.
#48 Sticker birthday or occasion card
Everyone loves a homemade card from someone special, particularly when that someone is knee high to a grasshopper. Making a homemade Christmas card or two is something we’ve gotten into. It’s a favorite Christmas tradition of ours.
So for a very simple mess free craft activity, your toddler can simply decorate a blank card with stickers. Write a cute message inside and you’re done.
If and when you don’t mind a bit of mess and you want to make a cute personalised card for someone, check out these handprint birthday card ideas.
#49 Paint with marbles
This may sound a little curious, but painting with marbles is fun process art which can also yield some lovely results. And yes, it’s a completely mess free activity for 2, 3 and 4 year olds that you can do easily at home.
Simply line a large tray with paper, add dollops of paint (I used our everyday child friendly paint), chuck in some marbles and get them to moving.
If you do want to try and keep the artwork afterwards, I’d advise using some decent slightly heavier weight paper. Also choose the colors you use carefully, since they will end up mixing.
To see all the various works of art we created check out the full post here: Marble rolling: easy art activity you’ll actually want to keep)
make this one no-pin
#50 Contact paper window mosaics
Tape some contact paper to the window and then your toddler can decorate it with tissue paper shapes, feathers, pipe cleaners and other materials you have to hand.
A fun mess free activity for toddlers at home that creates cute window decor you can theme to the season. Pictured is a fall-inspired window mosaic from Mom In The Six which uses faux leaves.
More simple Fall themed crafts for 2 and 3 year olds here.
#51 Paper plate wreath craft
Another easy craft activity for toddlers with no mess whatsoever and takes mere minutes to prep. Yet again, it involves a sheet of stickers or two!
Simply cut a circle out of the paper plate and add stickers of choice. Of course, wreathes are normally assoicated with Christmas, Easter and Fall. For some themed wreath inspiration check these toddler Christmas crafts and these Easter crafts.
#52 Make paper airplanes
Since he flew his very first paper airplane as a 2 year old, my eldest hounds me for them day and night. Well, that’s what it feels like! Now his little sister has found the love…
If you’re not sure how to make one, try this simple video tutorial. I tried lots of other that said they were easy, but that was the only one I could follow with said toddler hot on my heels.
#53 Make a simple crown
Toddler love making hats. And pretending to be a princess, a king, a knight and so on… So for a simple mess-free toddler activity at home, make a simple crown for them to decorate. The fun doesn’t end once it’s decorated, then it’s time to play!
Don’t be put off by the making part – all you’re making is a headband out of card with some zigzag edges. Simply size it to your toddlers head and secure with a stapler. Just be sure to staple so the flat side of the staple is against your childs head.
Here’s an easy paper crown tutorial if my instructions are a little too basic.
#54 Make a noodle necklace
Another deja vu… yup, more jewelry and another threading activity for your toddler or preschooler. We painted our noodles first but totally not necessary. Then threaded using some decorative twine – stiff-ish and easy enough for little fingers to thread.
EASY ALTERNATIVE: thread Cheerios for an edible and (probably) short-lived necklace. Or for a similar non-jewelry toddler activity, stick some spaghetti, toothpicks or wooden skewers into a lump of playdough and create a noodle or cheerio tower by threading them on.
#55 Mess free painting
Tape a piece of paper to a large chopping board, add blobs of paint and then loosly, but securely, cover with plastic wrap. Then your toddler can paint at home, indoors, mess free.
EASY ALTERNATIVE: Slip paper into a ziplock bag with paint and seal shut. Use tape if your toddler is good at opening ziplocks!
For more simple, minimal mess toddler crafts of a themed nature, try:
- Fun Fathers Day crafts for toddlers
- Cute Valentines crafts for toddlers to make
- Adorable Mothers Day Crafts for toddlers
- Natvitiy crafts for kids
- Fun & easy Easter crafts for 3 year olds
Simple MUSIC activities for toddlers at home
Music can get everyone out of a funk. Toddlers and preschoolers are no different so for a different type of no mess activity, try something musical.
#56 Action songs
There are so many fun action songs that will entertain little ones, particularly a 2 year old who’s still experimenting with basic movements like clapping their hands, bending down to touch their feet etc.
Lots of these will also help expand your little one’s vocab and coordination. But best of all they’re plain good fun as well as being very obviously no mess.
Here are some fun and easy action songs you’re sure to know:
- Heads, shoulders, kness and toes
- Row, row, row your boat
- Hokey Cokey
#57 Have a boogie
There’s nothing cuter than the waggling hips of a toddler. But this one is definitely not just for the onlooker. Little kids love to have a boogie and normally at 2, 3 or 4 years old have yet to become shy about it, especially if they’re at home.
#58 Make plastic bottle maracas
Add different materials to plastic bottles to make DIY maracas for your toddler.
Rice, dried pulses and uncooked pasta, sand make interesting and varied sounds. You can use bottles of different sizes and experiment with the sounds by filling them to different levels. Seal shut with tape if you need.
Then let your 2, 3 or 4 year old play and experiment with their very own homemade maracas.
#59 Play With Jingle Bells
This one is as simple and easy as the title suggests… your toddler will love shaking and playing with jingle bells. You could also make a jingle bell maraca or use them in your sound experiement, as outlined above.
#60 Play the pot and pans
Use wooden spoons and other baby-safe kitchen utensils as drum sticks. Upturned pots, pans, plastic containers and old shoe boxes are the drums.
This one never fails to entertain my particularly boisterous and noisy toddler! An easy at home toddler activity that keeps said 2 year old entertained, with zero mess.
EASY ALTERNATIVE & EXTENSION: Experiment with larger items, like teaspoons, metal bottle lids, onions etc in different containers, like a lidded sauce pan or tupperware and create all sorts of different ‘noise makers’.
Extend this for older toddlers and preschoolers by discussing and testing which ones will make the loudest noise, which will make the most soothing noise and so on. A simple mess free activity that’ll get them thinking.
#61 Try a dance routine with Just Dance
This one is more for older toddlers and preschoolers as the routines are a little tricky to follow. Let’s just say, I struggle. But it’s good for a laugh and a 2 year old is sure to still enjoy it.
Wacka Wacka is our favorite Just Dance track at the moment.
#62 Musical statues (or freeze dance)
A classic party game that definitely shouldn’t be reserved for special celebrations and definitely should be started in the toddler years. Play some music, hit pause, and everyone must stand like a statue or freeze.
This can also be themed to the season too. The Monster Freeze would be a fun Halloween party activity.
PRETEND PLAY at home toddler activities
Toddlers love to play out and recreate scenarious they see in everyday life. You don’t need many props, as these fun mess free toddler activities prove. They have an amazing imagination so combine that with a few items you have at home and you should be all set.
#63 Teddy bears picnic
Here’s another classic activity that will never grow old. Simply get your toddler to gather their favorite teddies and treat them to their very own picnic. Use your toddlers cups and cutlery and add any toy food items.
If you’re short of anything, don’t worry. Your 2, 3 or 4 year olds imagination will be more than sufficient. They can help their teddies to sip their tea and eat their fairy cakes.
Remind those teddies of their table manners!
#64 Build a fort
With large cushions, sofa cushions and blankets build a fort with your toddler. They’ll love crawling in and out, taking their teddies inside and may even want to take nap their.
There may be a few cushions to tidy up after, but in the grand scheme of things, I definitely class this as a mess free toddler activity.
#65 Cooking and baking
It’s no secret that toddlers love to pretend to cook and bake. There is an abundance of choice when it comes to play kitchens and toy food. But you don’t need to rush out and buy anything for your little one to enjoy this mess free toddler activity.
A small coffee table works well as a toy oven, as does a large cardboard box. Cut out a flap of cardboard to create your oven, complete with door. Or simply use a small table with stove tops for your kids to pretend to cook on.
#66 Picnic in the garden or on the carpet
Make preparing for and eating lunch or a snack a fun activity in itself. Pack up food, crockery and a blanket (or foam floor mat as pictured) into a hamper or your toddlers backpack. Oh yes, take the potty too if you’re going from the house!
#67 Go on a bear hunt
Going On A Bear Hunt is a fun book that my toddlers really enjoy. In this fun no mess toddler activity to do at home you’re going to act out the book. My two like to nominate one of their teddies as the bear to be hunted.
Use an old toilet roll as your monocular and off you go. (Or check this list of toilet roll crafts if you want to make binos.)
EASY ALTERNATIVE: You can simplify this and just make it a hide and retrieve game. My two love to go on a dino hunt. I hide their toy dinosaurs around the garden. (They’re foraging in the jungle.) And then they go find them. Simple!
A fun dinosaur activity for indoors and out that involves no mess and takes minutes to prep.
If your toddler or preschooler loves these prehistoric crestures, check out these fun and easy dinosaur crafts and activites.
#68 Make a play house
Cut doors and windows out of a gigantic cardboard box and turn it into a play house. Decorate or not, as you please.
MOVEMENT GAMES & activities for toddlers at home
Kids of all ages need to move, toddlers perhaps more so than most. While there are plenty of activities that keep their hands busy and mind engaged there are plenty more that involve full body movement. These will help develop gross motor skill development, while getting all those wiggles out.
Several of the mess free activity ideas above, and most of the music activites, involve movement. But this section here is dedicated fun movement games and activities.
Not only are these no mess, they’re also no prep too.
#69 Bean bag toss
Learning to catch is a skill which your toddler can start to learn around 2 years old. This simple gross motor activity helps develp visual processing skills and descrimination. Hand-eye coordination and a good grasp is then needed to catch.
A simple and fun gross motor activity for toddlers at home, indoors, as long as you have a clearish space and nothing precious in the firing range.
This would also be fun game for a little one’s birthday party..
#70 Balloon keepie-uppies
Playing with balloons is a fun activity in itself. If you have young kids at home, always have a stash of balloons somewhere.
In this easy energy-busting toddler activity to play at home, the aim is simply to keep the balloon in the air. This is a surprisingly difficult task and another that’s good to develop visual processing, coordination. It’s also a tiring but fun activity for toddlers and sure to be a hit.
#71 Torchlit hide and seek
This is an absolute favorite game of my two – they ask for this one on a regular basis.
The only restriction is that it needs to be done once it’s dark outside, so no good for long summers days… Simply hide teddies around the house, in obvious places. Then your 2, 3 or 4 year old must go and hunt for them using their flashlight.
#72 Balloon waddle
Another fun balloon activity, the one more challenging than the last. See how far your toddler can walk across the room, while holding a balloon between their legs.
#73 Shape tag challenge
A fun way to learn and practise shapes while burning off some energy. Call “square” and your toddler must find and tag something at home that’s square shaped.
More fun and minimal prep indoor games, try these gross motor activites for 1, 2 and 3 year olds.
#74 Green light, orange light, red light
In this fun movement game, your toddler is driving their imaginary car, zooming around according to the color of the traffic light.
Call “red light” and they must stop, dead still. “Orange” and they can move slowly and “green”, you guessed it, top speed.
Such a simple activity that you can wear your toddler out with, while staying at home.
#75 Ball wall
Setting up the ball wall does take a few minutes, but is guranteed to keep your toddler occupied for quite some time.
The ball wall consists of plastic balls, such as ball pit balls or pingpong balls, attached to the wall using masking or painters tape. Roll it into loops, sticky side out, so one side sticks to the wall and the other to the ball.
Attach as many balls as you have time for at a height on the wall that makes it tricky, but not tricky, for your 2, 3 or 4 year old to reach. At the other end of the room, place a bucket.
The game is to grab a ball from the wall and run across the room to place it in the bucket.
Recommended toys to engage toddlers at home
I’m a big believer in less is more when it comes to toys. There are so many toddler toys on the market that don’t keep them busy for very long. The best toys are ones that can be played with in an open ended way, which means your little ones will continue to find new and interesting ways to play with them.
This is an additional section I’m adding now that my 2 eldest, pictured frequently throughout this no mess toddler activity post, are at school. These are toys the’ve loved since around the 2 year old mark and still play with now, at 6 and 7.
All open-ended, prompting creative, imaginative play. They’ve come up with so many different activities and play scenarios with these toys. Importantly, given the theme of this post, they’re mess free. Once tidied up of course!
#76 Duplo blocks
There are an endless number of houses, animals, vehicles and towers that can be built with simple building blocks. Duplo blocks are simple enough for toddlers as young as 2 years old to handle. That’s when mine started playing wtih Duplo. I’ve still not put them away, 5 years later…
#77 Montessori Music Instruments
Toddlers love making noise, sorry music. That doesn’t change as they move through the preschooler and early school years!
Playing with these simple instruments works on hand-eye coordination and other fine motor skills while allowing your little one to experiment with rhythm. And it’s just plain fun!
Here’s a lovely music set that will last a toddler through their early years.
#78 My First Purse
I’m not much into purses, but at around 2 years old, my daughter got into them big time. She just loved packing and repacking her purse of the moment. This is still a favorite activity of hers, 4 years later…
If I’d seen this My First Purse set, which comes with keys, lipstick, a phone, and cards, back then I wouldn’t have hesitated to get it. As such I bought it for my 2 year old neice, who not surprisingly takes it with her everywhere she goes.
#79 Farmers Market Set
Pretending to cook is a favorite activity for most toddlers at home, as well as shopping for groceries. The can use this farmers market set for both. IT comes with 5 labeled baskets, so they can sort the foods by color too.
#80 Shopping cart
Great to accompany the farmers market set, but can be used for a whole host of other things too. Every toddler needs something to carry all their stuff around in. Soft toys, books, duplo…. you name it, everything will be transported in this cute trolley.
Another fun building toy that has kept our two busy for hours over the years. This one has the interesting USP of being magnetic, so towers and shapes are built by sticking pieces together.
An advantage over the Duplo and other more traditional building blocks is that it packs down small and comes with a cute carry bag, making this an ideal toy to take when traveling.
For more toy recommendations, try these posts:
Summary SUPPLY LIST for mess free toddler activities
Here’s a list of everything that you’ll need to do these no mess activities at home:
- kitchen implements – salad tongs, ladles, wooden spoons, measuring spoons
- muffin pans
- cookie cutters
- ice trays
- whiteboard/dry erase markers + whiteboard (though the latter you can do without)
- elastic bands
- cocktail sticks
- plastic straws
- dry pasta
- masking/painters tape
- printer paper
- crayons, coloring pencils
To add to this – here’s a list of things I’ve begun hoarding in order to use in other mess free toddler activities:
- bottle tops
- jar lids
- toilet rolls
- cardboard tubes from kitchen towel rolls, foil and wax paper
- cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes (if too big to store I flatten them for use for painting projects)
- old tupperwares
- used spice jars
Recommended products for these toddler activities
And lastly, a few specific items to purchase if you don’t already have. Below are all the links to the recommended products that are included in various places throughout this list of easy mess free toddler activities at home.
- pipe cleaners
- dot stickers
- toddler scissors
- toddler sized rolling pins and playdough tools
- craft sticks
- pipettes and other tools
- jumbo beads
- plastic salad knives (or other kid-friendly knives)
All these links are ‘affiliate links’, which means that if you click on one and make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.
US affiliate links:
UK affiliate links:
Tips for doing toddler activities at home (for preschoolers too!)
1. Be realistic
If your kids are only 2 or 3 then don’t bargain on more than 20-30 minutes before it’s time to move onto something else. Even at 4, staying content to do one activity for more than 30 minutes is a stretch, although there have been a few activities which have done the trick.
2. Let your child lead the way
Don’t be restrained by the exact way your toddler is meant to play or do the activity. If he or she comes up with a variation of ‘the right way’ and it’s safe and engaging and keeping them busy, then just go with it.
3. Simple is always best
If your toddler finds something too difficult and is getting frustrated, don’t push it. Either adjust to make it easier if possible or move on to something else. I still continue to be amazed at quite how simple things need to be.
4. Keep open-minded
Some of these hands on activities for toddlers might sound the bees knees and get zero love from your toddler… because it’s going to happen. Don’t be disheartened!
While others you might be a bit skeptical about and are an instant hit. And you’ll keep coming back to them again and again….
As the saying goes, you just never know until you try.
5. Set and state any necessary boundaries first
There are couple of activities to do with toddlers that could get messy if no boundaries are set. Or if your toddler is not good at sticking to them. This can take a bit of practice! (See above photo…)
Clearly stating the rules and then a firm ‘if we can’t stick to these rules then we’ll have to put these things away’ has worked pretty well for us. Then, of course, you need to stick to what you say.
6. Safety first
Hopefully, this goes without saying, but for any at home toddler activities that involve small parts, watch your little one carefully. If your toddler is on the younger side and still loves to put stuff in her mouth, then skip those activities altogether.
Ready to try some mess free toddler activities at home?
I hope that’s given you a good few ideas to keep your toddler or preschooler busy at home and give you a little peace. I’m sure before you know it you’ll be coming up with more ideas of your own!
You’ve probably figured out along the way exactly what your little one loves doing and gravitates towards. Remember there’s actually a very real need to practice these things. This is how toddlers and preschoolers master new skills.
So instead of just saying “no”, “don’t do that” and “don’t touch that”, hopefully, this list will give you the means to offer your child that need in a way that you are ok with.
So pick and choose from these mess free toddler activities at home. You’ll also begin to see how you can easily adapt activities to the materials you have on hand.
You can also easily turn many into more specific educational activities. For example, you can include letter and number recognition dependent on the age and stage of your toddler.
There are so many possibilities!
Enjoy these special stage of your toddlers development. And good luck!
Looking for more preschooler or toddler activities? Check out these posts now:
- 50 Easy Easter Bunny Arts & Crafts Ideas For Toddlers (2 and 3 year olds)
- 29 Scarily Easy Skeleton Crafts for Kids
- CRAZY EASY pipe cleaner spider craft for toddlers (no prep & no mess!)
- 41 Easy Christmas Tree Arts and Crafts for Toddlers
- FREE 3d paper Christmas ornament templates for kids (toddlers too!)