Best Toys to Keep Toddlers Busy: Must-Haves From a Work From Home Mom


What are the best toys to keep toddlers busy?

After working from home while being a stay-at-home mom for over three years with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I’ve discovered having the right variety and quality of toys is essential to keeping kids busy!

Below you’ll find our must-have toddler toys in each of these categories:

  • Books and Learning Toys
  • Creative Building Toys
  • Toys to Keep Toddlers Moving
  • Pretend Play Toys


Below are some of our favorite toys, books, and activities for encouraging independent play.


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You don’t need everything, but a couple of items from each area will help even clingy toddlers keep busy playing, learning, and creating, so you can get some work done.

We are beyond the baby stage now, but if you have a baby at home check out: How to Work from Home with a Baby


1. Books, Books, Books

Children have a natural craving to learn about the world around them. We keep books everywhere in our house in canvas cubes, plastic bins, and these magazine holders.

We have books on bookshelves too, but we find the kids will hunker down with a stack of books by themselves if they can easily move the books around.

Whether the kids are in their bedroom, the playroom, next to my desk, or in a closet, having interesting books accessible is one way to keep toddlers busy.

Read with your kids regularly and they will be more interested in looking at books independently.

Have a variety of books where they can learn and practice naming things. We love all the First 100 books.

Of course, we have many silly rhyming stories too, like the Little Blue Truck.

We have lots of animal books, books about seasons, and books about trucks to capture their attention.

The National Geographic Kids animal book below and the Usborne book “You Choose” are our two-year-old’s current favorites. Usborne books are fun and educational–something I’m glad we splurged on.

Sticker books are another easy way to keep toddlers busy while you work. We just gave our toddlers sticker and activity books in their Easter baskets!

Reusable sticker pads like the Melissa & Doug ones can be reused many times.

2. Audiobook & Music Players

While we’ve played lots of books and music on CD players, we recently discovered the Yoto Mini Player.

Game. Changer.

The Yoto Mini cards are so durable, so you don’t have to worry about your child scratching or breaking them nearly as much as you do with a CD.

There are lots of different stories and music options. I only wish these things existed years ago when my kids were younger. It gets used a lot in our home and I highly recommend it as a screen-free audiobook and music player for kids.

Common Cents Club Tested & Approved!
Yoto Mini + Make Your Own Card – Audio Player for Kids

This small screen-free audio player is simple enough for littles to use. There are so many options for great stories, music, white noise, podcasts, and more!

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If you’re in the market for a new CD player, we bought this CD player, so the kids could listen to books and music from the library. We’ve been through several CD players, but this one is handy because it’s portable and doesn’t require batteries.

Portable CD Player
$64.98 $49.89

A portable rechargeable CD player lasts up to 12 hours. Take it on the go. No need for batteries.

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02/19/2024 12:58 pm GMT

3. Educational Apps and Shows

You can also use educational games and apps to keep toddlers busy during the day.

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A few worth checking out are:

ABC Mouse: Top Educational App for Kids 2-8 years old.

  • 9,000 different educational and fun activities
  • more than 450 books
  • teaches number recognition, counting, shapes
  • songs, puzzles, and art activities

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PBS Kids Shows and Games: PBS popular kid shows and games can be used online or through the app. Keep toddlers entertained with their favorite characters like Daniel Tiger, Elmo, Arthur, and Pete the Cat.

Khan Academy Kids: Free and Fun Educational Program for Kids 2-7 years old. Combines core academic subjects while promoting social-emotional skills and creativity.

4. Puzzles

If age-appropriate, puzzles can keep two, three, and four-year-olds busy for a long time. They may need help putting the puzzle together the first few times, but after that it can become an independent activity while you work.

Beginner puzzles with pegs are easier for little fingers to grab and put together.

Preschoolers will enjoy more challenging 12- and 24-piece puzzles.

Puzzles make a great quiet activity for toddlers’ play room, bedroom, or mom’s home office.

5. Activity Books

Both of our toddlers have loved activity books. I stash a few of these in the cupboard for when I really need to keep them busy and get something done.

Many kids show interest in learning to draw shapes and write letters around age 2 or 3, so having special activity books for writing can be educational and an independent activity.

We also have this wipe-clean activity book to keep our two-year-old busy. Honestly, our four-year-old uses it too, so it’s a great reusable option for a quiet toddler activity.

A final favorite toddler activity book that bought me some work time was the pair of Melissa & Doug books for practing fine motor skills.

One comes with toddler scissors and activities to practice cutting. The tape book came with colorful tape and was fun for the kids, but required some adult assistance.

6. Fun Markers

Keep plenty of coloring and craft stuff around to keep your toddlers’ hands and minds busy.

Beyond the basics of washable markers and paper, our kids have had a lot of fun being creative with Smelly Markers and Dab and Dot Markers.

7. Sticky Notes

Using Post-It notes to keep our toddlers busy was discovered by accident when my toddlers started going through my desk drawers when I really needed to finish something I was working on.

One pad of sticky notes got me another 20 minutes of work.

Kids can have fun taking one note off at a time, “writing” special notes, and sticking them around the house. They’re actually a super easy tool for other easy toddler activities like the Post-It Match from Busy Toddler too.

8. Animal Figurines

Is there a toddler out there who doesn’t love animals?

Wild animals, farm animals, sea creatures, dinosaurs, and insects are another toy that keeps kids busy so you can get more work time.

The kids enjoy using wood blocks, magnet tile blocks, and LEGOs to make zoo cages for the different animals. Add a train track around the outside and have fun visiting and feeding all the animals.

You can incorporate animals for fun learning activities too like sorting, counting, and matching.


Books can keep kids busy for a while, but they need to spend a lot of time being creative too.

9. Magnet Building Tiles

Magna tiles or a good quality off-brand like these have kept our kids busy for a long time. These are great to keep two-year-olds and older busy as they create colorful castles, animal cages, spaceships, and more.

10. LEGO Duplo and Friends Sets

Even if your toddlers haven’t spent a lot of time creating independently with Mega blocks, they still might love the Duplo sets where they can pretend play construction workers or build a house.

I wasn’t sure our kids would get into these but have been pleasantly surprised at the hours of play they’ve had with these independently and with us adults.

LEGO Friends sets say ages 6+ because the pieces are smaller and they are more difficult to put together, but I’ve deemed them safe for our 2- and 4-year-olds who no longer put small objects in their mouths.

Even though they do not put sets together according to the directions, they still have tons of fun making their own creations.

Use your discretion with your little ones when they can safely play with smaller LEGO pieces. You might be pleasantly surprised like I was at how long LEGO sets can keep toddlers and preschoolers busy.

11. Play-Doh

It takes until about age two or three to trust them to not eat it, but then toddlers love making things with Play-Doh.

You can use plastic forks, spoons, and cookie cutters to make things and practice those fine motor skills.

You don’t need a set, but our kids played more independently once we got the Play-Doh Breakfast Set to make waffles and other fun treats.

12. Kinetic Sand

Squishy Kinetic Sand is another way to keep little kids busy for more than a few minutes. It comes in natural sand color or bright fun colors like blue, green, pink, and purple.

We don’t have Kinetic Sand yet, but it’s on the wish list and I know our toddlers will enjoy molding castles, playing with animal figurines, and putting their construction trucks in it when we do get it.

It only comes with a cardboard box to play in, which is fine, but I plan to use a plastic tote with a lid similar to this and adding more bags of sand so there’s more room for animals and trucks.


Little kids will only sit and play for so long. They need to move! Not only do they have a lot of energy, but movement improves toddlers’ gross motor skills and helps them learn.

I’ve found toddlers listen better and can play independently longer if they have lots of options and time to move their bodies. That’s why we have Movement Time twice in our daily routine for school and work at home.

To encourage movement inside throughout the day, including while you work, here are some of the best toddler movement toys we’ve found.

13. Rocking Horse

This Little Tikes Rocking Horse looks a bit ridiculous, but I cannot tell you how many things I’ve gotten done around the house because our toddlers were rocking on this thing.

Interest begins around 1-years-old and peeks during age 2. While our daughter liked it, our son LOVES the movement.

It’s lightweight and I’ve taken it out on our deck with my laptop plenty of times when I need more work time.

14. Ride On Toys

Ride on toys and toddlers are like two peas in a pod. We’ve had our share of ride on toys in the house and outside, and if you can create some open space for them to ride, put in your earbuds and enjoy the work time!

One of our favorite ride on toys by far has been a John Deere ride-on tractor. Little kids can scoot along or use the handle on the back to push it.

The seat flips up, giving toddlers a fun hiding place to put their treasures. This one works great indoors and outside.

John Deere Ride On Toy

This Johnny Tracotr with lights and sounds is an indoor or outdoor ride-on toy that will bring hours of fun to your little one.

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02/19/2024 11:53 am GMT

Our second favorite toddler ride-on toy was this Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug. It’s lower to the ground, has a wood base, can turn corners and in circles more easily, and comes in several adorable animals.

Prince Lionheart Wheely Ride-On Toy

Multi-directional casters make this ride-on toy super fun! It's made from durable, high-quality materials and has a comfortable padded seat.

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02/19/2024 12:18 pm GMT

15. Trampoline

Walk into our playroom, and you will always see a small trampoline. While I get my exercise on the treadmill, which is also in our playroom, one of our toddlers usually chooses to jump on the small trampoline.

Our 4-year-old even memorized my cell phone number while jumping on the trampoline, so there seems to be some truth to movement improving memorization.

You can get the toddler trampoline with a handle, but I knew the kids would be more interested if I modeled using the trampoline, so I bought a small fitness trampoline.

Even small jumps are a good way to get a natural burst of energy or something productive to do when feeling frustrated.

16. Trike

We also have a tricycle in the house to keep the toddlers busy moving. This one fit our toddlers ages 2-4, and the compartment in the back is fun for hauling stuffed animals, babies, or blocks.

Apparently, it folds for better storage, but ours has never been stored away because the kids ride it regularly in the house or outside.

Radio Flyer Red Rider Trike

Classic tricycle that's great for beginner riders. The grip on the seat back is convenient for adults to transport it. The adjustable seat allows this cricycle to grow with kids from 2.5 to 5 years.

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02/19/2024 12:28 pm GMT


The final group of essential toys that helps keep toddlers busy while you work from home is pretend play toys.

Toddlers love acting out things they see regularly at home, on TV, or on the go. Here are some of the top toddler pretend toys:

17. Play Kitchen and Food

By far the best pretend play toy we have is the kitchen and food. We moved the kitchen all around, from the playroom to the basement, and even in one toddler’s bedroom for a while.

Kids love making food for themselves, siblings, baby dolls, stuffed animals, and parents.

Step2 Kitchen Set

There's no end to the imaginary play that comes with a neat kitchen playset. Includes dishes, cookware, cutlery, and more!

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02/19/2024 12:38 pm GMT

There are a lot of choices these days for toy kitchen sets, like this adorable KidKraft Farm to Table set.

Adding a shopping basket, shopping cart, or food they can practice cutting allows for even more imaginative play.

Melissa & Doug Play Food and Crates
$27.99 $12.97

21 pieces of healthy wooden pretend play food. Includes wooden crates for easy storage.

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02/19/2024 12:49 pm GMT

This Farmer’s Market set is full of 25 nutritious pretend foods in 5 different color baskets. This a great toy that doubles as a learning activity for toddlers too.

18. Doctor Kit

Not far behind the kitchen is a doctor kit. We’ve collected a few doctor and vet kits over the years. I have yet to find an awesome toy stethoscope, but the kids don’t seem to mind.

This one is cute because it includes dentist tools too.

The kids love giving check ups and fixing owies and being taken care of.

More than any other pretend play toys, these are the two that have kept kids busy enough that I can get small chunks of work time.

Must-Have Toys to Keep Toddlers Busy

Having at least a few of the best toys from each category will help keep your toddler busy.

  1. Educational Books and Learning Toys
  2. Creative Toys
  3. Toys for Movement
  4. Pretend Play Toys

Enjoy playing with your toddler…and also enjoy the time they are independently playing with these toys!

Related: The Ultimate Guide on How to Get Work Done with a Toddler at Home.

Save for Future Gift Ideas and Share This List With Other Toddler Moms

Val Breit

Val Briet helps women create a life they love with money hacks, productivity tips, unique gift ideas, and honest reviews to find products that are worth it!

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