Easy Toddler Games: 20 Ways to Entertain Toddlers When You’re Too Sick to Play
Sometimes we (gasp!) get sick—or get just plain exhausted. For those moments when Mom or Dad just needs to chill, here are 20 toddler games, toddler activities, and other minimal-effort activities for kids at home. No messy sensory bins here—the mantra of this post is to do less when you’ve got less to give.
Sign up for our FREE newsletters to get posts like this delivered to your inbox.
Toddler Games and Activities You Can Do Lying Down
1. What’s on My Butt?
This is an old standby passed down by generations of tired parents. Never heard of it? You (the grown-up…this is key!) lie down on your belly. Have your child place an object on your butt. You guess what it is Twenty Questions-style. Repeat.
2. Your Back, the Race Track
While your kid collects small cars and trains, lie face-down on any comfy surface. Invite your kid to use your back as a track as you snooze. Level up by purchasing a shirt with a road printed on the back for this exact purpose (oh, the Internet).
3. Horizontal Games
Referee games from the comfort of your couch. Think freeze dance (you’re the DJ), horizontal Simon Says, Hot and Cold, and I Spy. Gift yourself a copy of Horizontal Parenting written by an especially genius parenting hacker for many more ways to engage your child from a supine position.
4. Shadow Shapes
Grab some flashlights and make hand puppets on the ceiling. Tell stories, guess the animal…you get the idea. Try shining a light through anything colorful and transparent, like Magna-Tiles. Your kids will think you’re a wizard when they see it cast a rainbow of shadows. Extend the fun by having them trace the shadows on a piece of paper.
5. Doctor Kid
You’re the patient, obviously. Ask your kid to grab their pretend doctor gear and give you a check-up while you rest.
Post-its are a brilliant invention, in the office and at home!
Kids' and Toddler Activities Using Simple Materials
6. Post-it Party
Post-its are so much more than office supplies. Hand them over and watch your toddler effortlessly make a mosaic on the walls, windows, or themselves. Write the names of household objects on Post-its for your child to label for a fun literacy lesson. Or, write each letter of the alphabet on a Post-it and hide them around the house for your child to find and arrange in alphabetical order.
Every child ever born loves playing with tape. You can get in a nice long nap while they go crazy with tape!
7. Tape Tricks
Scotch, masking, washi…any of the sticky stuff will do. You might have to tolerate some amount of exertion to rip the tape, depending on your child’s age and patience level. Attach a ton of tape pieces to the edge of a table for your kid to pull from, then sit back as they stick the pieces all over. If you’re feeling ambitious, make tape lines on the floor for your child to walk on or push cars along.
Who knew aluminum foil was so incredible? Well, your kid, for starters.
8. Fascinating Foil
It’s shiny, it's crumply, it's easy to rip, and it's not a toy, which makes it extra appealing. And there's so much you can do with foil. You can wrap a bunch of toys in it and ask your kids to guess what’s inside before unwrapping them. You can make shiny sculptures out of it. Or, you can simply give your toddler a full roll of it and see what happens (just make sure to remove it from the box, which can be sharp).
9. Kiddie Rave
Break out some glow sticks, turn down the lights, play some music, and rest while your little ones rave. You can even drop those glow sticks into the bath and feel like the cool parent while you bask in the glow.
Tape returns in a game of rescue.
10. Toy Rescue
Tape tiny toy animals and figurines to the floor and ask your kids to rescue them. Picking at the tape can take a solid chunk of a toddler’s time and is great for those fine motor skills, if you care about that sort of thing.
11. Balloon Bounce
Blow up balloon, give to toddler, walk away. Easy-peasy until it pops, so prepare to play it cool when that happens and whip out another.
12. Pom-pom Play
I love sensory play in theory, but sweeping piles of rice is not my jam—especially when I'm sick. Enter pom-poms, or just plain old cotton balls. Pour the fluff balls into a few bowls, add a spoon and some tongs, and let your kiddos scoop to their hearts’ content. Throw in a whisk to really blow their little minds.
13. Busy Boxes
Got boxes waiting for recycling day? Draw on them, sit in them, put stickers on them, stack them…..remember, it’s not a box!
If you really want to keep kids occupied, tell them to search the house for something that rhymes with orange.
Toddler Games and Activities Around the House
14. Shape Search and Color Collector
Send your kid on a treasure hunt for a category of things. How many orange toys can they collect? Can they find objects shaped like circles in every color of the rainbow? Have them arrange their loot in an interesting way and let them snap a photo of their assemblage.
Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up! For toddlers, even chores can easily turn into fun and games.
Put your little ones to work while you put your feet up. Toss them rags and spray bottles of water and ask them to wash the windows. Move that mountain of laundry that’s been waiting to be folded and challenge them to match all the socks or to sort the clothes by type.
It's art. No, seriously. And the forbidden factor makes it lots of fun.
16. Potty Pictures
It's kind of gross, but it’s all in the novelty, folks. Dry-erase markers plus a (clean) toilet can make for a creative canvas. To make it educational, look up Marcel Duchamp’s famous Fountain sculpture and learn about how the artist signed a urinal and called it art.
Easy Fresh-Air Toddler Activities
17. Chalk Challenge
Step outside and grab the sidewalk chalk. Draw a few shapes on the ground and give your toddler commands like, “Stand on the star and spin around. Hop to the circle and do two jumping jacks. Walk backwards to the square and touch your toes.” They’ll love following your silly commands while you chill in a chair.
18. Sky Watching
Give your kid binoculars or grab a paper towel roll (aka telescope) and head outside. Watch for birds or search for shapes in the clouds. Jot down “field notes” of what you observe.
19. Discovery Drive
Change the scenery and go for a drive with a mission. We love to find where the garbage trucks live (i.e. Google the sanitation department and go). Or look up the best spots to watch planes land in your area and see them get bigger and bigger as they descend. Train hunting also works like a charm.
20. Screen Time
There is no shame in screen time. Louder for those in the back: NO SHAME. Especially when you’re sick. Or in a pandemic. Or if it’s just Sunday. Give yourself a break and hand over the remote.
Photos by the author