20+ Ways to Stay Busy (And Smiling!) While Social Distancing with Babies and Toddlers

Mar 24, 2020

Photo Credit: @carachatwin

Stuck at home? Trying to work and parent at the same time? Here’s how to make the most of all that extra family time. 

What a tough couple of weeks—with schools and daycares closed, activities cancelled, and sitters in short supply, the challenge of being a parent right now is sky high. And if you’ve got young kids in tow (you know—those curious babies and toddlers you can’t take your eyes off of for a minute) you might be feeling a little more stir-crazy (in love, of course) than usual.  

To help your family hunker down with less stress and more smiles, we’ve rounded up our favorite tips for embracing your new routine, and activities sure to keep babies and tots engaged, giggling, playful, and happy. (Because truly: what’s better for stress than watching your little light up?) Cheers to social distancing with more sanity—and more special moments. 

Create a (Loose) Schedule

If you’ve sleep or nap trained, you know—kids thrive on predictable schedules and routines. (Eat, play, sleep!) And while there’s no need to block off their day into 20-minute increments, creating a loose routine with a mix of activities can add much appreciated consistency to the weeks ahead. Babies and toddlers learn through playful experiences, so as long as they’re getting the chance to move their bodies, wiggle around, explore with their hands, and spend quality time with a loved one, they’re getting the right mix of good stuff. (No color-coded activity chart needed.) 

Set Boundaries

Working from home? (Or, um, trying to?) If you’ve got a partner to swap work and childcare shifts with, the best way to feel productive is to totally lock in during those set office hours (and give yourself the ok to just get by—this is tricky for all of us). Soundproof headphones or a sound machine work wonders for drowning out distractions, and for older tots, a “red light/green light” sign on the door may help limit interruptions. For those juggling work and kids at the same time (phew, we applaud you) building in bursts of fun, quality time can usually buy you more independent playtime later. Scheduling your most important calls and projects for naptime is key—as is setting aside a few special toys for daytime crises, ie: a conference call and a cranky toddler. (Somehow they always tend to sync up.)

Stay Connected

FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype, Zoom—they’re all amazing tools for scheduling quality time with your best baby pals and relatives. Ask your daycare teachers to set up a Zoom call for your classroom (virtual circle time!) or dial in Grandpa for morning singalongs after breakfast. (It might even buy you ten minutes to clean up or fire off a few emails.) A number of baby and kids’ classes have taken their music, storytime, and dance experiences online—we’ve highlighted a few of our favorites in the activity list below.)

Keep Busy! 

Shake up your go-to list of baby or toddler fun with our fresh ideas for play—it’s all easy-peasy stuff that can be done from home, and is guaranteed to deliver a dose of much-needed happy in the weeks ahead.

Baby Crawl

Photo Credit: @babyledeverythingg

1. Build an obstacle course.

Challenge your child to crawl over blankets, scoot between pillows, cruise around a tower of blocks, or shimmy through a rolled-up yoga mat to reach their favorite toy at the other end of the room.

2. Create a scavenger hunt.

Hide a set of five to ten like objects (think: spoons, plastic eggs, stuffed animals, or toy stackers) around the house during naptime for your toddler to chase down after they wake up. (We promise: a squeal with every find.) 

3. Learn a new dance. 

Dance Moves

Now is a great time to teach your tot the macarena or any other silly moves you can come up with to a beat. (“If you’re happy and you know it, clap, stomp, shout…”). Or simply throw on some music and let them freestyle—the best dance parties start this way.

4. Play a classic game.

Need to burn off some toddler energy? Red Light, Green Light is one of the easiest games for young kids to learn—and you can usually shout off instructions while multitasking with something else. (Other hits: LeapFrog, Simon Says (body parts edition!), or simply acting out your favorite animal sounds for them to guess.) 

5. Try a yoga class.

Keep the calm by setting down a blanket or mat and streaming Cosmic Kids yoga videos (on Amazon Prime and YouTube). Each class takes kids on a super fun ‘virtual’ adventure—you’ll be impressed by how tots as young as 2 can mimic beginner yoga moves. (Parents who need a stretch can join in, too.) 

6.  Explore shapes and colors.

Shape Book

Photo Credit: @littlemonstersmilwaukee 

A game that works in any room of the house: point out a shape or color to your child (we love using this shape book) and encourage them to run around and discover it elsewhere. If you have a baby, try using their finger to gently trace the shapes you see in their book, or let them explore all the fun grooves of a shape sorter. 

7. Mix your own playdough.

With a few pantry staples, babies and toddlers will love to help you mix together playdough for squeezing and shaping. (No matter your artistic skills, they’ll love learning how to roll out a snake or build a faux birthday cake.) 

8. Bake or assemble fun snacks together. 

Baking Fun

Photo Credit: @carachatwin

Chocolate chip cookies, ants on a log, green smoothies, banana slice smiley faces—whatever snack or treat you’ve got the supplies for, try to let your child in on the action, and then spread out a blanket for a special picnic in the living room while you both enjoy. 

9. Paint with water.

Get crafty (without a major cleanup) by having your little “paint” with water on dark colored construction paper. Try using different paint brushes like q-tips, cotton balls, or a cut up sponge, and consider taping the paper to a wall while they create—they’ll feel like Picasso.

10. Cut and color with purpose. 

With scissors, a roll of tape, and colored construction paper, you can make silly hats, decorative paper chains (bonus: grab crayons and make a paper chain caterpillar), flowers for the windows, cards for grandparents, or placemats for the dining room table. (Any art project that has a life beyond the fridge will feel fresh and exciting.) 

11. Bring letters to life.

Stem Blox

You can build your tot’s first or favorite word (Ma, Da, Dog) using wood letter blocks, cut out large paper letters together to hang around their room, or draw pictures that represent each letter of the alphabet (A is for apple, B is for bee, and so on) to make the ABC’s extra fun.

12. Take a virtual trip to the zoo. 

A number of zoos and aquariums around the world have live webcams set up on their cutest residents —babies and kids will love watching penguins dive and splash while sharks swim around colorful fish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, meanwhile the elephants, giraffes and tigers at the San Diego Zoo are not to be missed.

13. Bring the outdoors inside.  

Getting out for walks? Collect rocks, leaves, and sticks to paint, trace, pour glue and glitter over, or cover in stickers back at home.

14. Dress up.

Your old clothes, hats, jewelry, bags, and shoes are full of serious entertainment—pick a pretend event that you’re dressing up for (tea! A trip to the museum! A basketball game) and let their imagination run wild. 

15. Make some noise. 


Photo Credit: @caitlinholli

If you’ve got clackers, maracas, a xylophone, or plain old pots and pans, you’ve got a marching band, a parade, and an opportunity to teach babies and toddlers the difference between playing softly and loudly. Kids will love shaking their instruments while streaming online music classes—Mr. Dave Music is a favorite for babies 3 months up to six years. 

16. Listen to children’s audiobooks for free.

Audible is streaming kids’ stories for free for as long as schools are closed (you’ll find lots of songs and lullabies in their “Littlest Listener” section), meanwhile most public libraries have made their collection of kids’ audiobooks available through apps like Hoopla and Libby.

17. Meet your tot’s favorite authors.

Some popular children’s book authors are stepping up to entertain kids stuck at home by live-streaming stories and creative fun over the next few weeks—don’t miss Mo Willem’s daily lunchtime doodles or Oliver Jeffers’s storytime on Instagram Live

18. Read like an investigative journalist.

Reading Time

Photo Credit: @shelbywarwood

Breathe new life into books by having your child interact with each page. You can talk about the character’s thoughts, predict what’s going to happen on the next page, point out your favorite pictures, or have them search for certain letters or colors.

19. Give their toys a bath.

Fill your sink, a large bowl, or even their tub with dish soap and a sponge or a scrubbing brush and set them to work—when they’re done with water-safe toys, throw in a few spatulas or spoons that could use a good soak.

20. Build a sensory bin.

Fill a plastic container with rice, pasta noodles, shredded paper, pom-poms, beans, sand—or any other material your child can dump, pour, and scoop using a few different-sized spoons or cups.

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