Rainy day play for toddlers

I wrote a post what feels like a very long time ago now on rainy day play with a ten month old, so I thought it was time to update this for toddler age. It’s funny looking back at what we used to do to keep us occupied indoors. In some ways it’s actually harder with a toddler and in others, much easier. Harder, as they are so active and in need of stimulation; easier, as they are able to do a lot more, so the activities available to us have increased.

Rainy day activities for toddlers

Here are our top ten ways to play when it’s too miserable to go outside.

1. Indoor obstacle course

A real favourite for burning off excess energy, and very easy to set up. We simply use whatever we have to hand to make a fun obstacle course for ToddlerGirl to climb, jump, clamber over and balance on. Our top items to use include our three DVD boxes, which make great stepping stones; ToddlerGirl’s little step; our beanbag (usually lined up next to the DVD boxes for jumping onto!); cushions; sofa cushions; masking tape lines to walk along… Basically, anything goes! We also have a cheap, collapsible tunnel that we found on Amazon, which has been well worth the purchase.

2. Dressing up

ToddlerGirl absolutely loves dressing up. I first put a basket together when she was about eighteen months old and it has become a daily activity for her now. Our dressing up collection is fairly eclectic, made up mainly from whatever I could find around the house: lots of different hats; a few pairs of shoes (slippers, swim shoes); some wands (both homemade and bought); bells; bags and an old purse; a little mirror; a couple of ‘proper’ costumes that she has received as gifts. So far, I haven’t actually spent any money on this, yet it has provided hours of entertainment!

3. Playing musical instruments

We have a box of musical instruments that we pull out every now and then to make some noise with. Our instruments include some shop bought ones: a xylophone, tambourine, castanet, various shakers, maracas… And also some DIY shakers and cake tins from the kitchen with wooden spoons to use as drums. We sometimes tie this in with a specific music CD or book:

4. Arts and crafts

Doing some gluing or painting is a good way for us to occupy a chunk of time on a rainy day. This can get messy…! It’s taken some practice but I am (mainly) good at containing the mess these days. I put covers on the floor, table and an apron on ToddlerGirl and myself. I make sure that all the things we need are to hand, including some cloths and wipes. I am prepared with a change of clothes if needed. And, most importantly, I am tuned into to ToddlerGirl’s cues for when she is tiring of the activity, having found that this is the point that it can all descend into chaos!

Of course, there are low-mess options too. Pritt Stick makes a good alternative to gloopy glue; sticky contact paper is brilliant for mess-free collages; glitter glue gives all the sparkle and none of the mess of glitter!

Some arts and crafts we have had fun with include:

I have found lots of inspiration on Pinterest (where else!) and have a Creative Play board with some lovely ideas for little artists.

5. Sensory tubs

I probably don’t set these up as often as I should, given how absorbing ToddlerGirl finds them. Again, I make sure I am prepared for any mess with a cover on the floor, a change of clothes and a towel if necessary to hand, and the hoover ready for the clean up afterwards! Some sensory tubs are more likely to be messy than others: I’ve found water and flour/porridge oats the main culprits here, while things like rice/beans and shredded paper are very easy to clean up. I’ve seen some wonderfully creative tubs on Pinterest that incorporate small worlds but, so far, ToddlerGirl seems to get the most enjoyment out of simply scooping, pouring, digging and feeling the different textures. I always add in a variety of tools to aid this, such as spoons, cardboard tubes, scoops, empty water bottles, funnels.

Two recent favourites of ours have been:

Toddler activities when you're stuck indoors

6. Pretend play

Pretend play provides hours of fun, all you need is your imagination! Easy ‘ways in’ to pretend play include setting up a teddy bear’s picnic or a cooking station; or using some seats, boxes or whatever to create a bus or train ride. Cardboard boxes make great prompts. They can be boats, beds, baths, transport, cookers, washing machines, castles… In my newly pregnant state, I am also quite fond of anything that can be directed from the sofa! We have been playing doctors, which ToddlerGirl is slightly obsessed with at the moment, going to school (I don’t know where that’s come from!) and, perhaps my favourite, the sofa bus, where ToddlerGirl piles as many toys on the sofa with us as she can and we chug along on the ‘bus’ for a while. Other big hits have included:

7. Loose parts play

I’ve read a lot about loose parts play but, with ToddlerGirl putting everything into her mouth until quite recently, it was only something I did under careful supervision, if we were doing a particular activity. Suddenly, though, I am seeing the value of providing loose parts more freely, as she is beginning to incorporate these into her play, which is opening up a new dimension, keeping her occupied for longer. The phrase ‘loose parts’ encompasses a whole range of items including buttons, beads, pom poms, bottle tops, feathers, pipecleaners, fabric, straws… For more details, see this excellent post from NutureStore on the what, why and how of loose parts play.

ToddlerGirl has been particularly enjoying:

  • Pom poms, with paper plates, cardboard tubes, various containers and a spoon to scoop them up with
  • Pom poms and building blocks with her toy dinosaurs
  • Pipecleaners in a colander to make an alien to fly around the living room with!
  • Felt pieces, to make pictures with, roll up into pretend food or presents, or to combine with a toy such as her dinosaurs or little people

8. Moving around to action songs

Another good one for getting moving. We dance and sing to any songs but ToddlerGirl loves ones she can perform the actions to, such as Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes or If You’re Happy and You Know It. Many of these we’ve learnt at various groups we’ve gone to or from books at the library. Her favourite at the moment is to go round and round our dining room table while we sing She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain. We change the words each time to a different action so that we are marching round the mountain, tiptoeing round the mountain, stomping round the mountain, walking sideways round the mountain… You get the idea!! It’s quite good exercise for Mummy too…

9. Playing with playdough

Playdough is a great staple for indoor play. It’s low mess and there is so much you can do with it. I have a few tubs that I bought a while back, but I’ve also had a go at making it and it was pretty easy to do.

  • Roll animals out of the playdough, such as fish, wiggly worms, pigs (all the easy ones!)
  • Make patterns and imprints in playdough with whatever we have to hand, including forks, feathers, duplo blocks, cookie cutters
  • Create playdough sculptures with pom poms, feathers, pipecleaners, sequins – again, whatever we have to hand
  • Stick different pasta shapes into the playdough
  • Make playdough spiders with pipecleaner legs and googly eyes (or they could be monsters/aliens!)

The amazing Imagination Tree blog has a comprehensive A-Z guide to playdough, which I really recommend for oh so many ideas to keep it fresh.

10. Making dens/book nooks

This is a classic indoor activity that I remember loving from my own childhood. We make dens in the sofa; using a couple of chairs with a blanket draped over; using large boxes; even using our mini trampoline. Basically, anything goes! I usually bring a couple of torches and nightlights down to play with inside the den, plus some books to read and some soft toys to join us. We have also made some themed book nooks which have gone down very well:

There you have it, our top ten ways to play indoors. What would you add to the list?

I am always on the lookout for indoor activity ideas. Take a look at my Pinterest boards for lots of great ideas for keeping your toddler busy when you’re stuck in the house!


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