Cheap and Cheerful Ways to Entertain Your Toddler

With Christmas just around the corner, many of us are looking to save money up for that special day. This might mean cutting down on days out to soft play centres and zoos, etc. where there is an entrance fee and additional money needed for transport and refreshments. Thankfully, for toddlers, keeping them entertained doesn’t necessarily require spending a fortune. Sometimes all it takes is a few pots and pans or a cardboard box.

1. Cardboard Box & Crayons

Creative baby plays with his cardboard car

Had a delivery of a large item lately? Save the cardboard box, especially if it’s big enough for your child to sit in. Plonk them in box, give them a handful of crayons, maybe some snacks, and they’ll amuse themselves for ages drawing on the inside of the box. Once they have had enough, you can get them to stick some paper plates on the side and one inside and then you have created a cool racing car for them to sit in.

2. Saucepan Drum Kit

Child banging on saucepans

Who needs a £600 Pearl drum kit when you have a cupboard full of saucepans and tupperware of varying sizes, and some wooden spoons for sticks? Your children can bang out a tune whilst you cook dinner. You can also make a simple shaker by adding some rice to an old foil tube and sealing both ends with paper and tape. Who knows, maybe you are raising the next Phil Collins or Ringo Starr.

3. Water Play

happy little baby boy having fun in the bowl

Put down a towel, a plastic bowl full of water, some plastic cups, spoons, and maybe a colander, and you have a cheap way of encouraging sensory play. This can be done indoors on a laminate floor – just be on hand with a mop and bucket. Don’t have the space or the flooring? Run a bath. It’s much cheaper than swimming and it doesn’t have to be night time, many children simply love the opportunity to have a splash about.

4. Fruit and Veg Bobbing

apple bobbing

Get some fruit and veg, apples, pears, carrot and cucumber sticks, etc. and put them in a large bowl of water. Your children can then try and bob for them Halloween style. If they don’t want to put their faces in the water then they could try prodding them with a fork. It’s a good way of practicing hand and eye coordination, and your child might be encouraged to munch down on those healthy prizes.

5. Wallpaper Drawing

funny boy with a roll of wallpaper and brush

You can pick up a roll of wallpaper from as little as £5 from many bargain stores. These are ideal for crafts as it gives children a large area to scribble on. You could lie on the paper and get your child to draw around you. You could do paint footprints (this is best done outside unless you like the “slightly stained” look on your carpets), or during the autumn they could make a tree mural using leaves collected outside.

6. Laundry Assistant

baby helping with laundry

Got a mountain of clean laundry to sort through? Your child may love to help out. You could try asking them to move items from the washing machine to the tumble dryer, pulling out all of their own clothes ready to put away, or finding matching pairs of socks. They get entertained, and you get help with a boring household task.

7. Visit the Library

Little girl choosing book in library

Make use of those libraries. The often have a selection of children’s books and your child may enjoy picking out some to borrow. Late fees don’t apply to children, and many libraries are stocked with additional activities for children, such as colouring sheets and book bags that feature books and games following a set theme.

8. Make Your Own Playdough

Children's play dough

You can save money by making your own Playdough. Combine 250g of flour with 50g of salt. Add 150ml of water a tablespoon of cooking oil. Knead the mixture until it becomes smooth. You might need to add more water or flour to get the right consistency.

You can divide the mixture up and add a few drops of food colouring to each batch and knead in the colour. Your child could make simple models (a really long snake is a favourite), or use rolling pin and biscuit cutters to make shapes. You can’t eat this mixture due to the high salt content, but it is safe to play with under supervision.

9. Bury Some Toys

Children improving motor skills of hands in kindergarten

Get a bowl, fill it with rice, shredded paper, pasta, whatever you have to hand, and bury some small toys, such as plastic animals, in. This is another good, cheap sensory activity that will encourage your child to explore the different textures with their hands. For slightly older children, you could fill a bowl with water, put the toys in, and freeze it. Once frozen the children can pretend they are artic explorers on a dig. They will need spoons to dig and possibly gloves to keep their hands warm.

10. Play the Memory Game

daughter covering mothers eyes

Put 10 items on a tray. They could be small toys, keys, cups, crayons, etc. Let your child look at the tray and talk about the items. Then turn your child around facing away from the tray and take one item away. See if they can guess which item is missing. They will probably like to take one item away for you to guess and will be very amused if you “can’t” work it out. You could also try the three-cup shuffle game, where an item is placed under one cup and you shuffle it with two others. Your child then has to guess which cup has the item.