When all of your energy goes into keeping your toddler (and yourself) alive, it can be hard to come up with creative, stimulating activities for your child.
In a world of Pinterest and Instagram and everything else, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t doing enough, and wonder how these other moms can maintain beautifully decorated, clutter-free homes AND provide a new Montessori style activity every single day (not to mention cook everything from scratch harvested from their own homesteading backyard).
If it’s all you can do to get chicken nuggets on a plate and keep little fingers out of electrical sockets, you are so not alone, Mom Friend.
I do not have a flawlessly cohesive home decor scheme, but I do work very hard all day to keep my toddler from becoming permanently maimed.
I do not have fresh activities for every block of the day, but I am working hard to be present with my child and prioritize the time I spend with her.
If you’re like me and you have a hard time coming up with creative ideas for activities, I’ve put together some ideas to get you started.
Here are 10 budget-friendly, minimal-brain-power-required summer activities that you can enjoy doing with your toddler.
Just so you know, this post contains affiliate links which, if clicked, could generate a small commission for me at no additional cost to you.
10 Memorable Things to Do With Your Stir-Crazy Toddler This Summer
1. Plant a Mini-Garden
This is one of my favorite activities because your toddler can be very involved in every step of the process.
It’s not just a do-it-and-forget-it project that ends up being 3 minutes of fun and 30 minutes of cleanup. It’s something you can enjoy together over time, and breeds anticipation and excitement!
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
Make a special outing WITH your toddler to get the things you will need.
Have your toddler help you make choices.
“This pot or that one?”
“Which do you like better: these seeds or those?”
You do not have to go crazy and build your own 8’x8′ raised garden box. This could be as simple as getting a small plastic pot and planting a single flower bulb.
I highly recommend choosing seeds or bulbs rather than pre-grown plants. It is so much more exciting, after patiently waiting, to finally see a bit of green start to poke out of the soil!
!! Make sure to check the planting requirements on the packaging to make sure you will have the right lighting, and that the plant will not outgrow the space you’ve allocated to it.
Step 2: Put it all together
Once you’ve got your materials, let your toddler take the lead on putting it all together.
Let your toddler scoop the soil into the pot/planter. Let your toddler press the seeds or bulbs down into the dirt, and then cover them with more dirt.
Talk to your child about finding the correct lighting, and how plants need sunlight to grow.
Finally, make sure to water the plants appropriately, according to the instructions on the package.
Step 3: Keep your toddler involved as the plants grow
With your assistance, let it be your toddler’s responsibility to water his plant.
Celebrate when the sprouts finally start to peek above the soil.
Engage the senses to see/observe, gently feel, and smell.
2. Make Your Own (Healthy) Ice Cream
If there’s anything my toddler loves, it’s ice cream. But, I don’t want to frequently be feeding her the highly-processed, sugar-filled ice cream from the store.
So in our house, we make our own! It is actually SO easy and tasty.
And, we make ours sugar free.
The best part is, you don’t even have to have an ice cream maker to make your own ice cream.
Here is a fantastic resource on how to make your own ice cream from scratch from Gold Coast Ice Cream.
If you have a churn, my favorite healthy ice cream recipes are from Briana Thomas. Here are a few you should definitely try out!
3. Water Transfer Practice
Pouring and transferring water is a great skill for toddlers to practice, and is a favorite Montessori-esque activity.
However, you may be hesitant to give your little person an indoor water station.
That’s why summer is the perfect time to do this! You can take it all outside.
All you need is:
- A large, shallow bin for the base
- Various sized cups/spoons/bowls for scooping and pouring
- And of course, water
You will likely find you don’t even need to buy any materials for this activity. Most of the supplies can come right from your kitchen cabinets.
4. Water “Painting”
My parents used this activity to keep me busy for hours as a toddler/preschooler.
Kids that age don’t even need to be given real paint; they can be perfectly content with just water and paint brushes!
They can “paint” cardboard boxes, sidewalks, the outside of your house, etc.
You can even upgrade the paint brush to a small sponge paint roller.
5. Dirty and Clean: Washing Practice
This activity is undeniably messy, so you will definitely want to take it outdoors.
The idea is to have two tubs: one where things get dirty, and one where things get clean.
So one tub, you would have something like mud/dirt (or chocolate pudding), and in the other, fresh, soapy water.
You can use whatever objects you want:
Just beware of getting dirt packed into hard-to-clean crevices, metal parts that could rust, or toys that could mold on the inside.
You can provide cleaning tools like:
- Pipe cleaners/straw cleaners
It’s a great activity for both sensory stimulation and fine motor practice.
6. Collecting Treasures in Nature
My toddler is just getting to the age where she’s beginning to enjoy collecting things.
You can encourage sensory exploration in nature by providing your little one with a small basket or pail to collect treasures in.
One day, you might try this activity on a nature trail at a local park or on a walk through your neighborhood, and another, your toddler may enjoy just collecting things around her own yard.
They will love gathering things like leaves, pebbles, twigs, and heaven only knows what else.
Right after Easter and Halloween times (maybe even Christmas), you can find little buckets with handles on steep clearance.
You can also get very inexpensive small pails in the party section at super-stores like Walmart, and you will almost definitely find something workable at the Dollar Tree.
If you want an inexpensive woven basket, make sure to check you local thrift stores!
7. Sensory Outing to a Plant Nursery/Garden Center
This is one of my toddler’s favorite activities.
We walk through the garden center and she loves to gently touch and smell as many plants as she possibly can.
What better sensory experience than that!?
Talk about colors, textures, and scents.
Go slowly, be present, follow your toddler’s pace, and let this time center around your toddler’s enjoyment and exploration.
8. Make Your Own Lemonade
There are few things on earth better than fresh-squeezed lemonade.
And what more iconic and refreshing drink in summer?
You can make your own (healthy!) lemonade SO easily.
You will need:
- A lemon juicer
- 10 lemons
- 3-4 quarts of water
- 1/4-1/2 cup pure maple syrup (or other sweetener of choice)
- Juice all of the lemons and pour into a 1 gallon pitcher.
- Add the maple syrup (or other sweetener).
- Mix well until combined.
- Fill container the rest of the way with water and give it a good stir. (adjust to taste)
- Chill as desired, and serve!
If you’re anxious to sample your tasty beverage right away, then you can chill your water ahead of time.
9. Have a Picnic
I can’t think of a sweeter way to make precious memories with your littles than to go on a picnic.
You can make the food yourself, or pick something up on your way.
You can take any old worn out sheet or blanket you already have, or thrift one inexpensively.
While you can definitely use your own dishes, cooler bag, utensils, and blanket, you can also get picnic sets that have everything you need in one bag!
Make sure you bring along a fun outdoor activity, like a ball to kick around. If your toddler likes books, she might also enjoy reading with you on the picnic blanket.
Just don’t forget to check the weather!
10. Critter Pond Sensory Bin
Here’s another water play idea!
The idea is to mimic a small-scale pond environment to encourage realistic pretend play.
You can use a small kiddie pool, shallow storage container, or whatever else you have available.
You can collect some cheap sets of frogs, lizards, and bugs at places like the Dollar Tree, as well as smooth garden pebbles or glass pebbles, plus whatever else you think would add to your toddler’s pretend critter pond!
Your toddler can use little nets or cooking spoons (like a ladle or slotted spoon) to “capture” critters.
Using pieces of foam, you can cut out lily-pad shapes to float on top of the water, and if you’re feeling extra brave, you could even add some dirt.
Get creative! You really can’t go wrong.
Now I want to hear from you!
Do you struggle to come up with creative activities for your toddler? Which activity are you most excited to try?
Let me know in the comments!