Keep your toddler's brain stimulated in all the right ways during these uncertain times.

These 5 activities will give your little the "just right challenge" both physically and mentally.

 1. Stringing pasta onto pipe cleaner



You’ll need some rigatoni for this one. Odds are you have some in the cabinet at a time like this. If you have pipe cleaner, great. If not, roll up some tin foil so it acts like pipe cleaner. We recommend using pipe cleaner or tin foil instead of string is because the firmness is typically what allows your little one to find that “just right challenge”.

Show your little one how to slide the rigatoni onto the pipe cleaner – just don’t forget to tie off the end. Stringing beads (pasta) is a great activity for any toddler. Have fun with it, make a necklace or a bracelet. It works on important skills like manual dexterity, bilateral integration (using both arms/hands together), crossing midline, depth perception and even attention span.

I’ve had parents tell me this activity kept their little one busy and engaged for an entire flight from Boston to Chicago…think about all the learning that must have taken place!


2. Make slime



Making slime is sure to keep your toddler engaged. It’ll make a mess – the good kind of mess though. Part of becoming comfortable with the unpredictable environments your little one will soon be exposed to a pre-school and beyond is exposing them to a wide range on sensory experiences. The key though, is making it fun and letting your little one lead the way. Making slime is a great way to introduce tactile sensations like wetness, stickiness and gooeyness into your toddler’s sensory checklist.

When group finger painting comes around at day care or pre-school, your little guy or gal will think to them self “I got this!”.

Here’s an easy-to-follow list with the steps for trying this fun, DIY craft:


3. Animal walks


How do you challenge a 2- or 3-year old’s motor and coordination skills when they’re stuck inside? Animal walks. Can’t tell them that though! Instead we tell them it’s a scavenger hunt…for bears!

Take 5-10 of your little one’s favorite stuffed animals and/or toys and hide them around the room. To find them though, they’ll need to bear walk.

This is a truly challenging activity (for adults too, so join in for a quick jolt of exercise!) so it may only last 20 minutes. But you’ll definitely feel good about your toddler receiving a terrific dose of gross motor and coordination practice.


4. Hockey…Kind of…

 This is such a fantastic activity. So good it doesn’t even have a name...

 Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A children’s hockey stick, golf club, or anything of the sort
  • Various balls (ex. tennis ball, soccer ball, basketball. Have a medicine ball? Perfect! Include it. Ideally you will want a few balls that are heavier than the others)
  • 5 or 6 balloons

Here’s how to play:

Step 1 – set up a “goal” – (ex. net, bucket, the doorway, a line of tape, doesn’t matter)

Step 2 – spread out all of the balls AND balloons across the living room - as many as possible.

Step 3 – set the timer for one minute.

Your little one has one minute to use their stick to collect as many balls as possible into the goal. Why is this such an OT rich activity? Well, as your toddler tries to manipulate the different balls, he or she will be challenged to appropriately grade (adjust) the amount of force they use based on the weight of the ball they are hitting. As they rush around the room, they’ll soon realize that smacking a soccer ball may be effective, but hitting a balloon with all their might? Not so much. Quickly they will realize that in order to corral the balloons effectively they’ll need to use gentle taps, even though they’re rushing with the timer ticking away!

Understanding how much force to use is an important skill. How hard do I give a high-five? How firmly do I need to press down a crayon? How gentle do I throw a ball to hit a target only 5 feet away? Learning the “in-between” strength that our muscles are capable of is hugely important. This activity is a great way to help your kiddo master this skill, called force grading.


 5. A good old fashion obstacle course


Break out the tunnel, stack up the pillows, pull out the hulahoop. Get creative. A 3 - 5 step obstacle course is packed with benefits. The best part is – it doesn’t take much. The real benefits of making an obstacle course aren’t physical, they’re mental. Completing an obstacle course - start to finish - in the correct order-  will really challenge your kiddo. To do so effectively they’ll need utilize their ability to remember the steps, sequence the steps, DO the steps, and then…wait for it…wait for it…CELEBRATE completing the steps!

Each time your child successfully completes a task from start to finish, it’s so important we cheer them on/show them our love; it reinforces their confidence and encourages them to stick with it the next time – when completing the steps of a new, different task (outside of the house) is even more challenging.


March 19, 2020 — Matthew Breen