Keeping a toddler occupied while a preschooler learns (17 Ideas)

Homeschooling here has seen a few changes over the past 2 months. Intent on copying his older brother, Piglet (now 21 months old) has become a regular (and intense!) participant during seat work time instead of toddling around the house …. and there’s no turning back.

That … tugs at my heartstrings. Wee Piglet’s grown up all too quickly!

I think Piglet finally decided he was ready to join us permanently at the table sometime mid-August, since my last post. (Note an absence of blogging after that! This sudden development together with all the other accompanying growth spurts – and toddler mess – has been energy sapping to say the least.)

While Lamb works, Piglet clambers up onto his own chair and waits expectantly for a lesson of sorts. I have to keep the activities rotating quickly. After 2-3 minutes, Piglet’s done! Consequently, I’ve had to increase our resource of homemade toddler activities. It took 2-3 nights putting together new ones and all of them were cheap, just what I like. Many thanks to Stacie of Motherhood on a Dime for some cool ideas.

Here are some old activities I posted about before and new ones in action. Some are small enough to stuff into my bag and keep Piglet seated, peaceably entertained (most times), at the restaurant.

1. Emptying and stuffing sticks into a bottle

I name the colours as Piglet puts them in. Or say: “Put in the blue.” Or count the number of sticks. A favourite that goes often in my bag.

Materials: Plastic bottle (recycled Gatorade) + coloured ice cream sticks (I found these at a cheap toy store in Amcorp Mall, top floor, a few shops down from Book Excess).

2. Putting shells into a container 

Count. Sing. 1, 2, Buckle My Shoe.

Materials: Shells + plastic tub.

3. Naming pictures 

Rather dull in my view, but sometimes Piglet just wants whatever big bro’s doing.

Materials: Lamb’s picture cards (used for phonics).

4. Placing counters, learning numbers

I discovered Piglet liked this when Lamb was using them. See that concentration!

Materials: Construction paper (print numbers 1-10, trace circles, laminate) + coloured counters (we got these from Sonlight).

5. Sorting buttons

Materials: Baby food jar lids + coloured buttons (4 buttons each) + plastic tub.

(This IKEA plastic tub is my absolute favourite for storing activities. Comes in a big set of different sizes, cover fits easily enough for Piglet to close the tub and put it back on the shelf, all by himself.)

6. Matching pegs to colours

Materials: Plastic tub (IKEA)+ white tape (use markers to colour 2 sets) + wooden clothes pegs.

Lamb’s playing with these after Piglet found the pegs too difficult to clip on. My littler one happily stuffed them into the tub instead.

We could match uppercase to lowercase letters too, at a later stage. For now, any kind of clothes pegs work wonderfully.

7. Ink stamps

These are left on the toddler shelf. I’m glad I haven’t found ink stamp marks on the wall … yet! I’ve seen ink stamped shirts and ink stamped little arms though. So cute. Really. (Glad they wear hand-me-downs.)

Materials: Plain paper + ink stamps (got these at a bargain at the same cheap toy store, Amcorp Mall).

8. Puzzles

Materials: Puzzles!

2 piece, 3 piece, 4 piece, 5 piece – they all work. A common but all time favourite.

Piglet needs a bit of help on these 5 piece puzzles so it takes a fair bit of going back and forth for me, helping Lamb, helping Piglet. (Keeping the toddler on my left and preschooler on my right helps so much. Also, keep all these activities at arm’s length. Rotate without having to get up!)

9. Nurse! or snack midway

Piglet on my lap, nursing.

A 21 month old can’t sit still for as long as a preschooler can. Feed ‘im! Peace!

Materials: Boob. Or fruit (cut up at breakfast time so I can just grab them from the fridge).

10. Tear and paste

Materials: Plain paper + scraps of coloured paper/wrapping paper (waste not!) + glue stick.

Tear a little bit on the paper edge, to make it easier for wee hands to tear off strips. Like dees:

On the paper, draw a shape (circle, square, whatever). “This is a circle (or whatever). Can you stick the paper in the circle?” Demonstrate how to apply glue and paper. On another day we might stick paper outside the circle.

11. Beading

When Piglet started beading at 20 months I noticed how methodical he was. He’d get all the yellows in first. Then blues. Then reds. On some days, anything goes.

Materials: Pipe cleaner + coloured beads with big holes + plastic tub.

12. Playdough

Homemade playdough rocks. These are mango flavoured. ‘Nuff said.

13. Stuff beads into a bottle

Why is it that 12-24 month old people seem to love any kind of stuffing activity?

Materials: Plastic bottle (Gatorade again) + coloured beads.

14. Stuffing pom poms

Told you, another stuffing thing!

Materials: Plastic tub (IKEA) (cut a hole on the lid) + coloured pom poms (purchased at Art Friend, Midvalley Megamall).

15. Fishing

The #1 Game. 4.5yo Lamb loves it as much as 21mo Piglet does. Bring this out and academics go up in smoke. Why is it listed here?

It’s just fun, fishing is. The preschooler benefits anyway. Hand-eye coordination.

Materials: Felt (cut into fish shapes) + plastic eyes + metal washer (placed in between 2 felt pieces and glued together with UHU) + magnet + pencil + string + plain paper (draw your own pond).

Pay attention to the Glad Zipslide. I am always so glad I got these because the little one can pack up and ziplock close on his own.

16. Finger drawing

When Lamb practises letter writing, Piglet must have a tray too. Of course.

But I ain’t giving him rice cos I dun wanna no mess.

Chickpeas will do.

But leave out the car.

Cos the preschooler will follow suit.

But never mind. The letter gets done. Via car.

17. Hang loose

A change of scene midway through lesson time (from school table to kitchen table in the case below) is always an effective way for all parties to have a break and maintain learning interest simultaneously. Sometimes, though, you just have to chill out. By all means do phonics with the preschooler while you both enjoy a snack.

But let the toddler roam if he so wishes.

And explore happily.

While teaching your preschooler how to blend sounds, wonder what’s going on in that toddler’s mind that makes him do this:

And don’t get too discouraged about having to pick up because Piglet’s off running with Lamb after school’s done for the day. (Self talk here)

Because everyone had fun, learned the 3Rs, and got some snuggles ‘n’ kisses in between.

Enjoy, guys.


Related posts:Fun activities for toddlers and preschoolers; How to manage a toddler during homeschool; Our homeschool room; Our homeschool curriculum.

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  1. Frankly, I am not so dedicated at delighting in messes and can be a bit of a wet blanket so I’m very thankful for your reminder, mess = play, too. Working on it!! Thanks!

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