4 Ways to Engage Your Toddler Learning at Home

4 Ways to Engage Your Toddler Learning at Home

Being at home with a toddler can be monotonous or in other words boring. If you don’t have a plan you’ll quickly find yourself in an endless loop of play dough and coloring. These activities aren’t boring for the first few minutes, but when it’s your tenth time getting out the play dough that day it’s not as fun. I was stuck in such a loop, and needed a better plan. Not just for the sake of not being bored but to more intentionally engage my toddler in learning activities. With a plan I could prepare and enjoy time at home with my toddler. Children thrive on knowing what to expect, so by having a schedule we can mostly stick to it helps her growth and my sanity. I found the following 4 ideas were ways that I could engage my toddler in important learning activities either by herself or together.

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Encourage independent play

I can’t stress this enough! I know it’s overwhelming and you may not know where to start, but you can do it. Create a space for your child to play independently. It will give you time to get a few things done or even just sip your coffee in peace, and it’s important for their development. Kids learn through play. Play is actually their work. Independent play engages their mind and creativity while building important life skills.

Play is one of the things that can build all the skills and tools necessary for kids to grow into successful and sufficient adults.  Megan Carolan, Director of Policy Research at the Institute for Child Success

Rachel Giannini, Early Childhood Specialist and Content Creator at Chicago Children’s Museum, explains, “It’s important for children to find joy in themselves. A built-in playmate in life is not a guarantee, and children need to learn how to entertain themselves.” As adults who are often tied to devices for constant entertainment, we find this to be truer than ever – and raising kids who are content with themselves and their own thoughts is a solid parenting goal for any of us. Read the whole article here.

To facilitate independent play you’ll need to do some preparation. Create a safe space where your little one can play with minimal supervision. Our space is the family room which is in direct line of the kitchen. I can sit at the table and work or be in the kitchen doing dishes or meal prep and still hear everything my toddler is doing. Then you’ll need self-directed toys, these will vary by age, but things like blocks, stuffed animals, a play kitchen, and puzzles are a great start. For more ideas read this article from Baby Wise, Independent Play Time Through The Stages.

It’s best to begin independent play in infancy. It looks very different in the early stages, and you are still in the same physical space. But, the key is that your child is playing without your interaction and input. You have an important role in stimulating your child’s play, but not every minute they are awake! Early on independent play may just be setting your baby on a soft blanket, in a safe space, with a few infant toys and books. Let them explore on their own while you sit back on the couch. Now that we are into the toddler stage my child can do more on her own, but still wants me to play with her. So, we set a timer, and I explain what I need to get done before I can play with her. Most days this works, but certainly not every day. So, don’t get discouraged! If your child is older and struggling with playing independently start with 10 minutes a day for a week, then gradually increase it.

We still love play dough
All our friends!


Offer something new each day

New doesn’t mean brand new, but institute a toy rotation so things seem new. Out of site out of mind, so it’s new each time. Once I instituted a toy rotation my toddler was more engaged at the beginning of independent play time which helped that time last longer. I also introduce new things from the dollar store. Trust me – the dollar store is your best friend. Stickers and construction paper are great to buy at the dollar store, along with play dough. Add some activity sheets like these as your child gets older.

Check out these fun daily preschool boxes from 1plus1plus1equals1.

Need ideas for slightly younger children read ideas here from Oh Hey Let’s Play.

Music and movement time

Yes, screen time can help with learning, although my motto is all things in moderation. While we are home and can’t get out with my toddler due to Covid, a little extra time with video programs is a necessity. The key is to not let this be passive screen time. If you don’t need this time to help older kids with distance learning or get work done, it’s fun to participate along with your toddler. Even from a distance encourage your child to participate rather than just sit and watch. Songs for littles has a large variety of episodes for ages birth to preschool. We make sure to have musical instruments to use and sing along. You can get the same set we have from Amazon or make your own instruments.

Now that my daughter is getting closer to 3 years old she is much more likely to participate. So, we love to enjoy a dance class as well with Sam Cam. She has just started to dance along and even practices some of the moves later.

Read, Read, Read

Access to books and spending time reading each day is one of the best things you can do for overall learning. Check out my article on hosting an Usborne party to get amazing books for FREE!

Children learn to love the sound of language before they even notice the existence of printed words on a page. Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word. When the rhythm and melody of language become a part of a child’s life, learning to read will be as natural as learning to walk and talk.

Reading with Your Child By: Bernice Cullinan, Brod Bagert

I love to read, and so from birth my child has been surrounded by books. Even as an infant she was fascinated by the pictures and bright colors. She loved books so much she tried to eat a few! By the time she could walk she was carrying books all over the house and finding a cozy spot to look at them. Now at almost 3, she “reads” books to her stuffed animals. She tells a familiar story or makes up her own story to go with the pictures she is seeing. She even loves to look at my magazines and pretend to read them.

Looking for more ideas to engage your child at home? We did a few lessons offered for at home learning with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is geared for older ages though, so if you have older preschool children into elementary aged be sure to check it out here.

What our daily schedule looks like:

7-7:30am Wake up
We are lazy morning people. My toddler doesn’t mind hanging out with her stuffed animals in her crib for a little while after she wakes. Don’t hate me, I know this isn’t the case for most little ones. When we do get up, my daughter reads with daddy for a while so I can get ready for the day and prep breakfast. It’s good quality time with daddy that they treasure before he heads off to work.

8am Breakfast

8:30am Independent Play
This is the most important time of the day for me. I’m at my most productive and can get a lot done quickly. We are very consistent with this being independent play time, so she is used to it now. I get the dishes done, then have time to sit and drink my coffee while going over email and making any phone calls for the day.

9:30am Outside Play
We are fortunate to live where the weather allows us to go outside almost every day. We go for a walk, play at the playground, or play in the backyard with the water table or sandbox. 

10:30am Inside Time
We come inside to have a little snack if needed. Sometimes we do music and movement time or I bring out our daily activity bin if I haven’t already. I sneak away to heat up lunch too.

11:15am Lunch

12pm Reading and Calm Down Time

12:30pm Nap Time or Quiet Time
We still have a consistent nap time, and sleep most days.

2:30pm Daily Activity Bin
We bring out the daily activity bin and explore together.

3:30pm Afternoon Snack

4pm Free Play
I let her direct the play most days, but if we haven’t worked on our numbers or letters we will do that as well.

5pm TV Time/Make Dinner
Yes, I put it on the schedule. I’m done by this time of day, and have found this the only consistent way for me to get dinner on the table. Rather than being stressed out by having a toddler wrapped around my leg, she gets to enjoy Daniel Tiger and I get to enjoy cooking! You may have a different philosophy, but this is what works for us. She loves Daniel Tiger and we sing the songs all the time. They actually have become a really useful tool to encourage her. We especially love to sing “clean up, pick up, put away”. She almost automatically starts cleaning up her toys!

It can be challenging to engage your toddler and young child all day, but by incorporating these 4 ideas I hope you’ll find it much easier.


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