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Some Easy Screen-Free Activities for Toddlers

The plan was to make a better effort with the “Busy Box” so this is me trying to come up with more “simple” and “easy to make” activities (in keeping with my lazy Momness) to keep Gareth occupied without a screen. Most of these ideas were stolen and modifed from Carisa who is a humongous bundle of homeschooling ideas and resources! I would have made a better effort but since I had to give up my printer (lack of space here) and waiting for hubby to print out stuff at work to bring it home is just plain annoying (the irony of it is that I get ragged by him about my “lousy” memory and he can’t even remember to bring home some print-outs!), this is the best I could come up with for the time being.

Activity 1 – Match the Numbers

When I was in MPH, I found some cute letter and number wooden clothes pegs (which I think were intended for scrapbooking). Carisa used the old-school wooden clothes pegs with her “learning wheels” and I was thinking of doing the same when I saw these. But while I was gathering momentum to overcome the inertia of my procrastination so I could get started on some learning wheels of my own, I was inspired to use the pegs in a different way.

I pegged each number to an IKEA cup and got Gareth to sort and match numbered tiles (from the game Rummy Kub) into each cup.

He got a quarter of the way through the tiles before getting bored of the activity. How ironic that he can do this same activity (or rather an altered version with the same concept) on the iPad over and over but he wearies of this after minutes. Nevertheless, I took it as a small victory over the screen since it was a few more minutes he spent doing something other than watch TV or play with the iPad. Mummy – 1; technology – 0. Okay, it’s probably more like technology – 1000 but who’s counting?

What You Will Need:

  • containers (I love IKEA the coloured plastic cups and bowls – cheap and bright)
  • labels for the cups (doesn’t have to be the wooden pegs but I figure the wooden pegs can double up for another activity)
  • numbered squares (I used the tiles from the game Rummy Kub but you can also make your own numbered squares or use something similar).

Activity 2 – Colour Mixing

This one is based on the Montessori activity with the droppers and coloured water except I couldn’t find the disposable pipettes that they used and these fish-shaped sauce containers from Daiso were so very cute and cheap.

I made up some coloured water with food colouring and stored them in Gavin’s old Thomas and Friends water bottles which you can just see in the background of the following photo.

We only had red, green and yellow food dyes but I figured this would be a good acid test to see how well received this activity was. The idea is to let the Gareth learn about mixing colours by adding different coloured water together and to help him develop finger dexterity through practicing squeezing the liquid from the fish. Of course Gavin thought this was too fun to miss out on so he wanted to do it, too.

What You Will Need:

  • disposable pipettes (although anything that can dispense a liquid drop by drop works just as well)
  • food dye (better if you dilute it with water so you don’t get any staining of little hands)
  • paint palette or ice cube tray (to do the colour mixing in)

Activity 3 – Animal Matching

I was actually looking for the old-school wooden clothes pegs that Carissa used with her learning wheels but only saw the coloured plastic ones. Then I spotted these funky clothes pegs from Daiso that were butterfly shaped. I figured they gave me a good surface to write on or to stick labels on. Again, I was intending to use these to make my own version of learning wheels but ended up doing this instead:

I stuck animal stickers from an old sticker book to the butterfly pegs and took matching animal pictures from a set of animal flash cards that we bought ages ago. The idea is basic – just clip the matching animal peg to the animal card, i.e. horse peg to horse card. Again a very basic activity but a good way to keep my little busy bee busy (without a screen) and to help him develop his manual dexterity while he practices pressing the pegs.

What You Will Need:

  • pictures of animals (print them out, use old flash cards, or cut out pictures from magazines and stick them onto a piece of cardboard to give it more “body”)
  • clothes pegs (for older children, you can actually write the names of the animals so they can learn to recognise words)
  • stickers or miniature pictures of the same animals to stick onto the pegs (stickers are easy to get as there are lots of those “1000 stickers” books around)

Variation: you can do other groups instead of animals – fruits, colours, numbers, objects, dinosaurs (was thinking of doing this one for Gavin), etc.

Activity 4 – Water Play Variety

A couple of weeks back, Gavin introduced some empty vitagen bottles and an old Halloween pumpkin bucket into Gareth’s water play and he had a blast. So yesterday, I introduced some coloured sponges into Gareth’s water play and they were another hit. These are just the normal dish-washing sponges that we use in the kitchen but cut up into smaller sizes. I found some coloured ones in Daiso (which is becoming my new favourite store). I bought the sponges for the Montessori water sponging activity and discovered that they had an extended fun value.

Activity 5 – Crayola Colour Wonder

When I tried these with Gavin at this age, they were a hit and a wonderful relief for Mummy who hates having to clean up after. Since it worked so well the first time, I figured this would be a great way to ease Gareth into the world of markers and painting without the “mess” and bought some Crayola Colour Wonder Kits from Toys ‘R’ Us. Somehow, the fact that the markers don’t seem to work on anything but the special book seemed to make them lose their appeal with Gareth. My younger boy thinks that art is only fun when it makes a mess of everything. Ah well, you win some, you lose some. If you have a toddler, I reckon it’s still worth a shot to see if this will work for you.

You can check out my earlier post on Crayola Colour Wonder to see how it works.

And that’s about all we got up to.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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