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
HOW DO YOU KEEP 2-YEAR-OLDS AND 4-YEAR-OLDS BUSY WHILE YOU WORK FROM HOME?
Below are some of our favorite toys, books, and activities for encouraging independent play.
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 be more productive.
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
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BEST EDUCATIONAL TOYS TO KEEP TODDLERS BUSY
1. Books, Books, Books
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.
Reusable sticker pads like the Melissa & Doug ones can be reused many times.
Finally, audiobooks, kindle books and books with a CD are another way to keep toddlers entertained so you can get housework or remote work done.
We bought this CD player, so the kids could listen to books and music when they want.
2. Educational Apps and Shows
You can also use technology to keep toddlers busy during the day.
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
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.
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.
4. 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 below.
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.
5. 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.
6. 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 working on something.
One pad of sticky notes got me another 20 minutes of work.
Kids can have fun taking one note off at a time, “writing” you 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.
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.
BEST CREATIVE TOYS FOR TODDLERS
Books can keep kids busy for a while, but they need to spend a lot of time being creative too.
8. 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.
9. 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.
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.
11. 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.
BEST TOYS TO KEEP TODDLERS MOVING
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.
12. 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.
13. 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 this John Deere tractor. Little kids can scoot along or used 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.
Our second favorite toddler ride on toy has been 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.
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 is a good way to get a natural burst of energy or something productive to do when feeling frustrated.
We also have a tricycle in the house to keep the toddlers busy moving. This one has 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 to be honest, ours has never been stored away because the kids at ages 2 and 4 still continue to ride it regularly in the house or outside.
BEST PRETEND PLAY TOYS TO KEEP TODDLERS BUSY
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:
16. Play Kitchen and Food
By far the best pretend play toy we have is the kitchen and food. We’ve moved the kitchen all around, from play room to basement and even if one toddler’s bedroom for a while.
Kids love making food for themselves, siblings, baby dolls, stuffed animals, and parents.
There are a lot of choices these days of modern 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.
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.
17. 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.
- Educational Books and Learning Toys
- Creative Toys
- Toys for Movement
- Pretend Play Toys
Enjoy playing with your toddler…and also enjoy the time they are independently playing with these toys!