Indoor Toddler Fun

I need help, mommas of the world!

I live in Wisconsin which means it's getting really frigid outside and will likely remain this way until about May. All of my go-to outdoor activities to do with Truman are dwindling fast as the temperatures drop and I'm struggling to find fun, CHEAP things to do indoors. I mean, I can easily take up an entire morning by hopping from the grocery store, to Target, to Walgreens, etc with mister man and he does love a little retail therapy. But really, there has to be a better way to keep him entertained, out of the house a bit, and keep our budget in check.

Let me start by what we already do for activities and then I'm hoping you ladies can help me build my toolbox, so to speak.

-loves puzzles, a few of his actual toys may hold interest for about 5 minutes
-of course there are Elmo DVDs, truck videos on the computer and educational stuff on TV. But I really try to limit the amount of time we are vegging out in front of electronics if possible.
-playing at the kitchen sink, pouring wa-wa all over the place
-helping me cook (this lasts about 2 minutes before he just eats raw cookie dough or whatever we are making)
-dance parties (turning up the iPod as loud as possible and JAMMING out to techno music--a fave for sure)
-helping me with laundry (ie up and down stairs a million times)
-the library (found an AWESOME story time for babies to 3 year olds that is free on Thursday mornings. Love that time of the week)
-swimming lessons (Tues nights---his favorite activity of the week by far)
-the zoo (have a free zoo pass, but as the weather changes it's harder to keep to the indoor exhibits)
-books (but this is usually our favorite before bed activity so he's not too into them during the day, too)

Ideas I've had but cannot quite execute:
-playdough (went well for about a week then he started ingesting it by the handful)
-markers/colors (so messy!!---is there anything out there that isn't so scary? Like those 'clear' markers that actually show up in color?)
-finger paints (again, so scary! Is there a clean alternative?)

So I guess that sounds like a lot of things but it's really not enough. Being home all day Tuesday, Thursday, and the weekends means I have a lot of hours to fill and I like having things planned to help the day go as smoothly as possible. Also, evenings after work are tough---not a ton of time to play and do things, but definitely enough to do SOMETHING other than cook and eat dinner and do bedtime stuff. Any local Milwaukee ladies know of fun indoor activities that aren't too expensive? Or non-locals---what do you do with your kids inside, while maintaining your sanity? I feel like there should be huge websites devoted to this type of thing but I haven't found anything yet.

And because I might as well spice up this post with something more fun, I finally uploaded our videos from August, September, October, and the beginning of this month to Flickr. It was quite the overwhelming project, let me tell you, but it's been bugging me for awhile now. My next project is to finally begin Truman's 2nd year album---another thing on my 'list' for months now, but since I accidentally deleted all of my digital scrapbooking supplies I've sorta been dragging my feet to start from scratch. But no more, my friends! I am doing this thing soon!

Oh yes, the videos. I will just show one or two because I'm sure you don't really care about them but my child is really entertaining, in my opinion. :)

For instance, what in the heck is this 'bird dance' that his daddy taught him?? Weird!

And this one goes to show you that the kid understands SO many words, and can say a lot of them too, but just with his own 'twist' on the original. So stinking cute, if you ask me.

Okay, now please give a sister some ideas for toddler entertainment indoors! Ready? Go!


  1. I saw a few cute ideas for finger painting in the tub - I think it was a different type of home-made paint though that very easy just gets sprayed down the drain.

    Also, most medium sized cities have free indoor playgrounds...

  2. I have lots of ideas but some of them are messy, painting with pudding, shaving creme (driving cars in the 'snow')

    bring the outdoors inside. We brought snow inside, rice in a plastic bin, build a fort

    As far as paint, I'll either put him in his highchair or cover his little table with newspaper (taped) and let him go to town. Painting in the bathtub is fun too and easy to clean up :)

    We have been using playdough the past 6 months and he doesn't eat it. We make it homemade so he helps and then he gets to play. Plus, the homemade stuff is so salty, he doesn't wanna eat it.

    We spent a lot of time letting him run around the play area at the mall too.
    I'm worried about winter. My kid is an outdoorsman and it's going to drive us all nuts!

  3. Don't be scared of finger paints - my daughter (12.5 months) loves it! I have the Crayola non-toxic paints and we stick to one or two colors at a time. Here's how to execute without disaster: Run a bath FIRST. Make the water a bit warmer than usual because you'll let it sit a while. then get ready - white onesie (easily replaceable if needed), white socks, and big sketchbook paper on the floor. Now, here's the tricky part. We have linoleum in the kitchen and the paint wipes up so easily that i don't bother putting anything down first. if you care about your floors (or they aren't easy to clean) maybe put down an old sheet or two? Folded in half for extra protection? Once all of this is done, you are ready. I usually put a few blobs of paint on the paper and let her go to town. Hands start going towards the mouth about 5 minutes in, but I can usually deflect and get her back to the paper. I let her get messy - it's non-toxic and easily washable. Once we're done, we head right up to the bath.

    It's SO fun. Messy, yes, but lots of fun. Plus, you can really milk this one and make Christmas gifts - buy some little canvases from a craft store and have Truman create a masterpiece. We did this for Fathers Day (Lily was 7 months old) and they came out great! dad and Grandpa loved them. I'm interested in what everyone else has to say... I'm running low on ideas too!

  4. Are you on pintrest? I just typed "indoor toddler activities" and it came up with a ton of things!

    I am thankful we live in south Georgia...doesn't get too cold down here (although in July....HOT!)!

  5. have you been to the betty brinn museum? membership prices are really reasonable. Parking is easy also, so you wont have to circle blocks and walk forever to get there - you have to pay of course, but I am pretty sure they give a discount to members. They have free programs almost every day also....can you tell by this glowing review that I used to work there :)

  6. First - awesome vids! Truman is so cute - I love his moves :)

    As you are aware, I am struggling with the same thing, except without those pesky 2 extra days to contend with :) The comments on my post had lots of good ideas, I thought! Here are 2 posts I saw recently that give great indoor playtime ideas: (this one links to another post she wrote with many other ideas)

    We've recently tried building forts with chairs and sheets - Annie was a HUGE FAN.

    Also, the multiple "play areas" was a great idea someone posted as a comment - if we just go upstairs and hang for awhile, she has a renewed sense of interest for sure.

    As for art supplies - crayons seem the least messy to me - hasn't really gotten on anything permanently. We do need to build out our craft supplies but aren't there yet. You know, too much work and all :)

    Hmm, I think that's all I've got for now. Will be checking back to see what others think!

  7. For my mom's group, we're doing a busy bag swap. You could make a bunch of these for really cheap (whether you are actually swapping or not).

    There are a TON of them out there if you google it. Pinterest has been a great resource for me lately, too.

    Josie cries if she doesn't get at least an hour outside each day. I think I'm going to go crazy this winter.

  8. Oh! I also found a blog recently (she's also on Facebook) called

    I'm all about wanting to try the sensory tubs, but freak out thinking of the mess.

  9. OMG, we have the same book and do the same thing every night with Brigs. That was like deja vu!

    As for indoor activities - well, we are old-fashioned at our house. We play the following with all four of us and my boys LOVE these games. They keep us busy and they are free and indoors!

    Hide & Seek
    Duck, Duck, Goose
    Ring around the Rosy
    Don't touch the ground (with a ball)

    LOADS of fun!

  10. Don't be scared of markers! I have a giant roll of butcher paper that I roll out and tape to the coffee table. Then Isaac can go wild and it keeps him entertained for a good length of time. I will say though, that up until a month ago, I had to CONSTANTLY tell him not to eat the marker. But then he suddenly got it and now we color every day cause he loves it so much.

    You can do fun stuff in the tub - I've frozen ice cubes that I colored with food dye and threw them in the water, you can "paint" with shaving cream (and even dye it too).

    We are also going to make some ornaments this year, specifically a few with salt dough. I'll have him help me make the dough, cut out the shapes, then we can paint/stamp/etc.

    We also have a kids museum here that is really cool and you can get a year membership for $50, which I think it completely reasonable. Also, we do playdates with some other kids. We usually just meet at someone's house and the kids play while we all chat.

    You should do another post of the ideas you get from this post! I'm sure a lot of us would like to read them all. :)

  11. So. I am a mama-to-be so my advice is not first-hand but I have a ton of mama friends and we live in Texas... therefore, we have the same problem as you but reversed: with 3+ months of 100+ temps, the little ones have to be indoors practically all summer or we all melt.

    Sounds a little "low-brow," but are there any fast food restaurants nearby with indoor play grounds? Here it's all about the Chick-fil-A but I know some McDs have them too. Mama gets an ice tea / child plays unscathed by weather. Win win.

    Have you looked into bath chalk, so that he can color in the bathtub? Super easy / non-scary cleanup.

    We used to have indoor egg hunts in the summer... (eggs were empty - it was just fun to search for them). And I don't think the Easter bunny minded too much about that we honored him May - August as well as on Easter.

    Most children's museums have a monthly free day.

  12. My son is a few months older than Truman and we've been painting with watercolors he got as a gift. I was afraid of the mess a first but it hasn't been too bad. Our biggest issue was him drinking the cup of water we were using to rinse the brush - yuck!

    I just this week rediscovered "paint with water" books - remember those from childhood? Comes with a paintbrush and all you need is water and the page changes colors.

    My son is also obsessed with choo choos. We build tracks and tunnels for his trains out of everything...his legos, foam puzzle pieces, soda cartons, kleenex boxes. Endless entertainment and it helps mix it up for the adults who are constantly playing choo choos!!

    Agree with the other comments - indoor playgrounds at the mall or McDonald's or wherever are fun too. Just bring your hand sanitizer for afterwards. :)

  13. Love the videos! He's too stinkin cute.

    Hmmm, we have fun at night running around playing hide n seek, building "caves" with blankets and pillows, and of course, watching cooking shows and YouTube videos. I think a Betty Brinn membership is a good idea, too! Henry loved it when we went last year.

  14. We use the Crayola washable paints and love them! The fun far outweighs the cleaning up! Noelle’s smock is an old t-shirt of mine and we put her in her high chair, which helps avoid paint handprints everywhere!

    We also have the Color Wonder markers. They’re nice and they really do work, but you have to make sure you always have the special paper or coloring books on hand. They don’t work on regular paper.

    Noelle is at a good stage where she’s starting to get into imaginative play. She takes her baby to the “zoo” in her play stroller, uses her toy shopping cart to go grocery shopping in the house, that sort of thing. We had a moment of desperation the other day and brought out her beach toys and a bag of uncooked black beans and played in the “sand”. Noelle’s not big on putting things in her mouth that she shouldn’t be, but you definitely have to watch for that—she tried a few times!

    And I definitely wish the zoo were more winter-friendly! We have a zoo pass too and can walk there in 5 minutes, so it’s a shame we can’t do it year round without shivering from building to building.

    Good luck and thanks for posting this! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one running out of winter play ideas!

  15. We have a McDonalds with an indoor playground that is AWESOME. I buy a coffee, and Lizzy will play for hours.

    Also, if you don't already, rotating toys is HUGE. I find that if Lizzy has a huge selection of toys, she hardly plays with any of them. If she has about 5 options in her toybox, she plays a lot longer. I rotate every couple of weeks.

    Our library has toddler-time once a week that we love. I tell Lizzy that she's going to "school".

    Also--build a blanket fort. I bet he'd LOVE it.

  16. you guys rock so much. keep em coming! And yes, I'd love to do a follow up post later with all of these suggestions and also pics of Truman doing said activities. :)

  17. So many ideas - we brought snow into the bath tub - huge hit. Make a marble run out of paper towel tubes. Make your own play dough with him. Used tape and made railroad tracks indoors. Library storytimes - most have free activities too. Google kids science projects - we have done all sorts of crazy things (tornados, volcanos, etc), Land of Nod store has great toys laid out for the kids to play with, don't be afraid of paint - Keenan does it nude (easy clean up and super cue photo op. Window crayons - best $4 purchase ever. Forts are an every day thing in our house, helping with baking - I let Keenan mix with flour and water in his own bowl - fill up old spice shakers with dried beans (good for shake effect) and he mixes and "sprinkles" away.

    That's all I can think of off the top of my head.

    Some websites:

  18. We go swimming in the bathtub.

    She loves to color on the bathtub walls with her bath crayons. In fact the bath crayons are kept for that instead of bathtime fun.

    Love our aquadoodle travel mat. We are getting her the jumbo mat for Christmas along with some stamps so we can all draw together.

    Craft time is a favorite of hers as well, but doesn't happen as frequently. I just google toddler craft ideas and find something that looks fun.

    Window clings for the season. As fun as stickers, but last much longer and are WAY easier to clean up!

  19. I am going to be stalking this posts comments for ideas!

    One thing i thought of- not sure how much space you have- someone mentioned chairs and sheets to make tents (a very fond childhood memory i have myself!) why not get a card board box & make different things like a rocket ship/train/boat/fort? Then he can take stickers or markers and color it?

    I am brainstorming myself. We are going on a plane ride soon- so i am envisioning "training" my kiddo to like a week long THEME of each activity we could do.... One day will be "eye spy_____ [window... Door...sink....chair]". Then another day will be coloring things related to flying- like luggage... Or airplanes themselves....

    Maybe you can try making a theme week- concentrate on zoos, animals... Work on playing with trains like another commenter said. Go on craigslist and look for thomas the train sets used...?

    A follow up post on his topic would be awesome!

  20. I haven't read all the comments so not sure if this is covered- but does he like trains? Nick is obsessed with wooden trains. Anytime we go anywhere with one he will play with it for ever, so guess what he's getting for Christmas! I can't wait, he's gonna die. I'm gonna read the comments to get ideas because Nick hates being indoors so I'm worried about this winter as well.

  21. More ideas for outside the home, cause I think you have at least one or two days off a week...
     Monkey Joes or any bounce place
     Magic House type place?
     Indoor pools
     The YMCA or maybe other gyms have open play day for $5 for non members once a month
     Library story time
     I don't know if your area has this but some PAT (parents as teachers) have play dates a few times a week at the learning center.
     You could do a music or art class at Gymboree or the Little Gym
     The science center
     The indoor part at the children's zoo
     Lowes or Home Depot kids workshops
     In home playdates with friends

  22. Ooh, wanted to post a follow up after I saw someone mention trains. Have you been to the Domes? Awesome place to go in the winter and they have a HUGE train display starting January 15. Even if Truman isn’t a train fanatic, it’s still pretty awesome! They have a lot of other special events in the winter too.

  23. Just found this sweet blog with lots of EASY ideas.

    They're on facebook as well. Just started skimming, and already saw one I could do with stuff I have at home: Spaghetti noodles, Playdoh, and cheerios. Toddler stacking. Stick the noodle in a base of playdoh, and the little guy can spend forever just stacking cheerios on the noodle. LOVE! She has tons of ideas like this. Now I'm going to go and pin a bunhc of this stuff on pinterest to remember in the future. :)

  24. oh! One more thing. It will only hold you over until Christmas but, we do Elf on the Shelf - google it. Started it last year and Keenan LOVED it. Can't wait to bring him out again this year.

  25. Love all of the suggestions!

    My only insight is that Isaac got really frustrated with the magic markers that make the image appear because it was so slow to show, but based on all of these responses I doubt you'll even be bothering with them!

  26. Fingerpaint with pudding, yogurt, cool whip, baby food fruit, or any other like-textured food. Do it in the high chair with no shirt. mess doesn't matter and it's okay if he licks is (as many little ones do, even with regular fingerpaint).

  27. My mom used to take whipped cream and spray it on our table. Then I would spread it out and draw in it, I used to play with it for hours. After I got a bit older, shaving cream works better but the younger kiddos tend to eat it!

  28. Check out this link - its color wonder paint. Kellen loves it! It's clear in the container, but once you paint it onto the special paper, the color appears:

    -looks like they also have color wonder markers...

    We also love these bathtub crayons:

    Other ideas:
    -check out your local mall - many have a play area
    -I think someone already mentioned this, but most libraries have a weekly story time
    -look into your local school district, there are probably many ECFE classes available over the winter months...


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