It’s the same thing every late afternoon… I start to get dinner ready, the kids are cranky and hungry, and insist on being right under my feet in the kitchen. I try to let them help as often as I can, but sometimes, there just isn’t time for that, or there isn’t anything safe enough for them to help with. That’s when I turn to my 3 favorite, no prep 15-minute toddler activities. I keep everything I need for these tucked into a kitchen cabinet, ready to pull it out and deploy to buy myself 15 minutes to get dinner underway, before turning my attention back to them.
3 No Prep, 15 Minute Toddler Activities
The materials required for all of these are minimal and simple and can be easily stored in a kitchen cabinet for easy access. I only pull them out when I really need to buy myself 15 minutes to finish prepping dinner, so they are always novel enough to keep them interested.
Colander & Pipe Cleaners
Big M has been playing this since she was about 14-15 months old. It is now one of Lil’ M’s favorites, so much so, that sometimes, if I can’t find her, I will discover her on the kitchen floor having pulled this out to play all by herself.
Cost: Less than $1
Prep Time: NoneClean-Up Time: None
It doesn’t get any simpler than this. You can pick up a bag of assorted pipe cleaners at any craft store for less than $1, and everyone has a colander in their kitchen. This is a great fine motor skill challenge for toddlers. And Big M, at 3.5, still enjoys it, now trying to create sculptures and designs with the pipe cleaners and colander base.
The only trouble comes in when I happen to need the colander for dinner that night! I always make sure to grab it, and hide it in the sink before I start, then offer up one of the next alternatives…
This is a great one once your child has moved past the trying to put everything in their mouth phase, usually post-18 months or so. I still watch Lil’ M like a hawk when she plays with this one, since she thinks it’s funny to taste test things still on occasion. But again, minimal supplies, and you can throw everything in one bowl and back in the cabinet to use it again and again.
Bag of dried beans
Measuring cups, spoons
Plastic eggs (optional)
Cost: Less than $5
Prep Time: None
Clean-Up Time: Less than 5 minutes
I have been using this same bowl of beans since Big M, now 3.5, was 18 months old. The plastic eggs were Easter leftovers from the Dollar Store. The measuring cups and spoons were old extra sets, and I recommend using 2 bowls, since toddlers are big fans of pouring and transferring the beans back and forth.
Sometimes, for a little variety, we use TP or paper towel rolls taped to the side of the island with painters’ tape.
Confession: Lil’ M is no where near as neat as Big M is with this one, so her clean-up is a bit more involved, but it makes for entertainment too when I tell her she has to pick up all the beans. She does it one. at. a. time.
Color Magic Water Play
And last, but not least, the fan favorite. This has the potential for the most mess… and true to personality, it was never a messy activity until Lil’ M arrived on the scene. You can limit the mess potential by controlling the quantities of water you pour out, how much food coloring you add, and by laying a towel underneath it all before you start.
Plastic dip tray
Cost: Less than $5
Prep Time: None
Clean-up Time: Less than 5 minutes
I store this one with the cups in the dip tray, and an old towel underneath in the cabinet for easy access. To set it up, I just fill up a measuring cup with water, pour a little in each cup, and add a drop of blue, red and yellow to two cups each.
The girls mix colors, until they ultimately all end up in one big cup of brown. Then, I dump it out, and set them up to do it again! Big M has reached the point where she likes to create the color wheel, with one of every color… as you might imagine, Lil’ M just likes to dump and pour everything.
The set-ups for these 3 activities are literally always in my kitchen cabinets, ready to go at a moment’s notice. I probably pull one of them out about once a week, when the monkey wrapped around my leg is becoming a danger both her and myself, or the girls are fighting in the living room and need to be separated.
They always guarantee me at least 15 minutes peace, which is usually all it takes to wrap up dinner prep, and go back to playing with them. What are your favorite go-to, easy toddler activities?
My other mommy sanity saver in the kitchen? Crock pot meals… you can find my 10 favorites here!