How Do You Keep A 2 Year Old Busy For More Than 2 Minutes?

How Do You Keep A 2 Year Old Busy For More Than 2 Minutes? I enjoy looking up lists of toddler-friendly activities. I quickly eliminate ideas that require buying more than one item I don’t already have and then eliminate ideas requiring more than a couple minutes preparation. My life, like most modern moms, doesn’t need any more busyness! The activities that are left I try out on my two-year-old son and and his little friend who is three. I have found that many toddler activity lists are written for 4-6-year-olds, and they just don’t work for 2-year-olds. Dress up play and obstacle courses are a lost cause on my just-turned  two-year-old. So how do you keep a 2 year old busy for more than 2 minutes? Here are the basics along with a list of simple ideas to get you started.

The Basics of Toddler Playtime

Keep Expectations Realistic
First, have realistic expectations. Part of being two is having a shorter attention span that older toddlers. Actually a 25-36 month old commonly focuses only 3-8 minutes on a single activity. Pick activities that have several 3-8 minute variations possible. No one has time to pick up and get out something new every 5 minutes!

Take Care of any Food, Water, Potty, or Sleep Needs First
This is obvious, but it’s so tempting when you need to get something done to try and use toys to put off a trip to the kitchen or the naptime routine for a few minutes. It usually doesn’t work and results in more things to pickup and the child being “done” with the toy for the day after hardly playing with it. Every toddler mom knows that feeling!

Setup Routines
Help your toddler develop routines for play. For example, we have blocks of play time that look very similar each time we rotate through them. My day-to-day schedule is not nearly predictable enough to have exact times attached to these blocks, and I change the order we rotate through them all the time depending on mood, my to-dos, energy levels, and weather.

For example, we have Outside Playtime, Bedroom Playtime, Family Room Playtime, and Story Time. When we play outside, it is for at least an hour. First, I push both kids in the swings for about five minutes, then I grab a project of the day (grading, bookkeeping, weeding etc.) and begin while pushing my nine-month-old in the infant swing. Meanwhile my son begins to “putter” his way through the activities available to him outside. Each of these activities I have done with him several times to show him some of the options available, so he knows how to get started. At the moment he has a sand table (water table filled with sand), sidewalk chalk, balls, poking sticks in the flowerbed dirt, a Little Tikes slide, play trucks, and – only if I have extra cleanup time – playdough. Because he is accustomed to spending about an hour outside at a time, he doesn’t constantly try to go in and out.

Following the same pattern, we have activities for playing in my son’s room which is usually about 30 minutes at a time and different activities for playing in the family room. I choose which room we’re in based on what I need to get done and whether my baby girl is asleep or not.  

Consider Your Child’s Energy Level
Don’t set yourself up for frustration. Story time, puzzle time, sorting time, and lunch time all in a row, for example, may be too much sitting-still time. No one is going to enjoy the nice toys or books if they come after too long a period of sitting still. As much as possible mixup the active and sitting activities.  

Simplify the Play Environment
Toddlers get overwhelmed with too many choices. For that matter, I get overwhelmed when there are too many toys available at once. I have found so much more success with play time when I only allow a couple of toys at a time. For us it was a night and day difference! Some moms like getting out only one option at a time, but I do better if my son can putter through a few different options for a while before I need to rotate the toys. Speaking of toy rotations, I do not have a complicated system. I am a big fan of rotating toys though. I put toys in plastic tubs by type and tuck them away in a cabinet. Then I get out one or two when it’s time for family room play time. This keeps the toys feeling fresh and new since he doesn’t see them all everyday and get tired of them. If simplifying your play areas works for you, you want to also consider simplifying your schedule. You don’t have to do it all!

It sounds funny, but it’s true. Toddlers need practice developing their attention span, imaginative play skills, and independent play ability. Help your toddler practice by redirecting his attention back to the activity at hand. Help him by joining in the fun and modeling creative play.

Join in the Fun
Don’t forget to play yourself sometimes too. Naptime and bedtime will come. Enjoy your little ones while they are little!

Activities for Two Year Olds

  1. Water table – This past summer we spent countless hours with this
  2. Sandbox – (Sand in the water table during cold months)
  3. Playdough – No fancy sets needed at this age because the main fun is squishing it and poking it full of leaves etc.
  4. Play Food – Used for imaginary picnics and hikes. (We have a hand-me-down play kitchen that is a hit too)
  5. Dirt – (Always a winner with my son if I let him play in the garden bed on bath day)
  6. Blanket Fort – I just use the patio chairs and throw the camping tarp on top.
  7. Chalk – Outside only!
  8. Helping With Chores – Sorting out the silverware, pulling clothes out of the dryer, and picking up toys.
  9. Dancing To Music – The Greatest Showman is a current favorite
  10. Story Time – We read four or five toddler books together usually when my baby girl is nursing.
  11. Swinging – No explanation necessary. We sing little songs together too so Mommy doesn’t get bored.
  12. Sorting – Silverware is great.
  13. Cars and Trucks – Pushing them around, letting them drive down the slide outside, etc.
  14. Simple Puzzles – No more than two at a time.
  15. Balls
  16. Refrigerator Magnets – (My son adores the Leap Frog magnetic alphabet set)
  17. Pretend Animals – My Aunt got my son a mini barn to go along with some little plastic farm animals. Mostly the fun at this age is putting all the animals in, closing the door, and taking them all back out again. Repeat 10 times!

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Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (1/19/2019) jocelyndale (Flickr)

Jessica Hines

Jessica Hines

Jessica lives in Mesa, AZ with her husband Daniel and their three-year-old son, two-year-old daughter, and five-month-old son.  She is primarily a stay at home mom who works part time from home as a tutor and an administrative assistant for her church.  As a tutor Jessica has ten years of experience working with students in Math, Science, and English and is passionate about helping students regain their confidence and discover keys to understanding the concepts they are studying.  Prior to having kids, Jessica graduated with a degree in Dietetics from Arizona State University and spent several years working in the nutrition field doing menu planning and analysis for schools and long-term care communities.   
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