Need Evening Indoor Activities for 2-Yr. Old Not Always Interested in Toys

Updated on January 12, 2010
L.C. asks from Bothell, WA
16 answers

A little background: I teach 9th grade English full time at a fairly demanding Eastside junior high. I am fortunate to get about a half-hour to an hour of "down time" (or work time) when I get home from school before my son wakes up from his nap, but am generally pretty tired in the evenings and need to make dinner, do bath time, and bedtime routine solo, since my husband is working nights right now.

Issue/question: Especially in these dark winter months, I seem to be lacking the planning ability to keep my toddler entertained or engage him in an activity while spending time together in the evenings. He loves to climb, jump off of the furniture, listen/dance to music, and seems to want to be with me while he is playing/doing an activity (which, of course, is fine after not seeing him all day). He's not super artistic yet (doesn't really enjoy crayons, etc.), and for some reason, will only play with a certain toy for a few minutes. For example, right now, he is loving opening and closing our back slider (lasted for maybe 3-4 minutes). I'm a little "concerned" about his attention span because any independent activity he chooses (esp. when I am more uninvolved, like typing this now) usually will degenerate into "naughty" behavior. I understand naughty behavior for attention but don't get it when he's just switching activities. I could go on and on re: details, but I'm really just looking for some fun ideas to occupy evening hours. THANK YOU! :)

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So What Happened?

Thanks to all for the great ideas...very helpful. I haven't tried playdough yet b/c he STILL puts so much in his mouth (2-year molars, maybe), but the homemade idea sounds like a good solution for that concern!! My son isn't in daycare and his father is home in the mornings. He used to be better about getting him out, but sometimes they don't. I, too, think that active play is important, esp. for a very active child. My mom, when here, always gets him out, which is great! Thanks again for the detailed ideas; I will re-visit the ones I've tried before and definitely try out the new ones!

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answers from Corvallis on

Get rainboots, raincoat and rain pants and go outside. They sell good rainpants at REI. Boots and coat you can find most anywhere. The fresh air does wonders for wearing children out. Take a walk, even if it is dark. It will be good for him! :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Hi L.,

When my boys were 2 years old they loved Legos, matchbox cars and trains. Coloring was still too much for them, but an aquadoodle worked was fun for a while. Playdough was also great!

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answers from Seattle on

I am in a similar situation as you, my husband comes home late and after all day at work I am usually exhausted.

Does you son attend daycare? If so talk to the teachers to find out what he likes to play there. My daughter loves housekeeping at daycare, so we actually have a little play kitchen at home and she will occupy herself with it quite a bit. I also appreciate that she gets outside play there every day, unless the weather is absolutely terrible. If your husband has him in the morning, ask him to take him outside or to an indoor playspace every day - at this age they NEED the exercise.

Now even if he does not like crayons, most children that age will enjoy some artsy activity: try paint (we like the felt tip paint bottles), stickers, pipe cleaners, play dough...
One suggestion I got was to involve her in the chores I have to do - and I was apprehensive at first. But she turns out to be good little helper. She will unload the lower drawer of the dishwasher, wipe off the table, bring me things... you just have to adjust your expectations a bit.
Other cheats are: bathtime is only every other day (better for their skin anyways), I plan crockpot and leftover meals on some days, we do allow some TV - I usually turn it on when I am ready to cook, to keep her out of the kitchen.
One last thing that I remind myself of on a daily basis is, that she is not the one that chooses to be away from me all day. I am her mom, and while I cannot change the fact that I have to work to produce a roof over our head and food on the table, she deserves to have her needs met first - even if that means that the kitchen stays dirty and our dinner menu is reduced to anything that can be prepped in 30 minutes.
Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Spokane on

These are some games that my 2-yr old daughter seems to enjoy, hopefully it will give you something to use! Since she loves books and is just tapping into her creative potential, I try to give each of her activities names based on books we've read or that sound fun. That way she likes them even more, and can ask for a specific activity if she wants to do it again. Also, we use basic props around the house, and have found that the non-toys are actually more fun than kid toys. Basic props include cardboard boxes, big blankets, cushions or pillows, laundry basket, etc.

"Walking on the Moon" - put down pillows and floor cushions on the floor, and cover them with a big blanket. Then start walking on it saying, "I'm walking on the moon." Can expand to jumping, crawling, etc. My daughter had a blast asking for ring around the rosy on the moon!

"The Bear Went Over the Mountain" - We had read a cheap board book based on the familiar song. The next time our daughter started crawling on us, we started to sing the song. She got great delight, and now asks for it frequently. We don't have to do anything, she just crawls over us (we can be on the floor, sofa, etc.), and we sing The Bear Went Over the Mountain as she's climbing.

"Quicksand" - Our daughter came up with this game. One day I was sitting on the sofa with my legs resting on the coffee table. It was cold so I had a blanket over me. The Lucy began crawling on me, next thing I know she's falling between my legs into the blanket. It didn't take long for her to enjoy the sensation of falling into the sinking blanket. We started calling the game quicksand. And she loves both falling into the quicksand and also clamoring to get back out of it!

Blanket play in general: We have harwood floors, so one game we started was to drag our daughter across the floor on the blanket. Though this does make one tired after a short while. We also use blankets like they are parachutes, and spread them out on the floor, then wave it up and down. Lucy loves running across the blanket when it is moving, or lying underneath the blanket. We also turn her into a "burrito" and wrap her up in the blanket like a burrito.

Boxes and Laundry baskets: great things to climb into, to scoot around on the floor, etc.

Hide and Seek - we play this, but it works best if both my husband and I can do it with our daughter. That way one of us can hide with her, or help her find the one who is hiding.

Balloons, balls, bean bags, etc. If you are ok about things being thrown in the house, these are fun things to use as well. We have an assortment of balls in different sizes and shapes, and at any given time can easily engage in "bouncy ball" play. If bouncy balls are an issue, can use balloons or small bean bags and direct the throwing into a box or laundry basket, or against a blanket, etc.

Blowing bubbles inside! I have our daughter spread out a beach towel on the floor first. Not all of the bubbles land on the towel, but for the most part it catches them. Try giving your son the wand so that he can try catching the bubbles on the wand.

Or just put on music and dance to it! Give him some instruments (pot lid and wooden spoon, baby rattle, bell, etc.) that he can play along to the music.

Hopefully something in there will give you ideas that can work! Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on


I wouldn't worry about his attention span. My daughter will be 3 in March and if she sits through half an episode of Clifford or Word World or any of those KCTS shows it's a miracle. Yes the show is slotted for half an hour, but they play two episodes in that half an hour. So yeah, her attention span in only about 5-10 minutes.

Maybe give him some tupperware/plastic dishes and some water to play with on the kitchen floor while you cook dinner. Comcast has some great music channels: Toddler Tunes 928, Kidz Only! 927 and also radio stations on the TV as well. We have one of the most basic packages and still get those music channels.

Another thought, if you're up to it, is make some kind of race track around your house and count his laps. My grandmother's house when I was a kid had this exact same thing. I don't know the technical names but the fire place was in a central pillar of the main floor of the house. I could start in the kitchen, turn right to go down the hall and through part of the living room, turn right to go through the dining room and there I was back in the kitchen. Each lap took me 30 seconds or less and I remember doing that at like 7 years old.

Hope this helps, my 2 year old has her older brother to terrorize more often than not.


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answers from Seattle on

Definitely sounds like a normal 2-year old to me! I know that my daughter's behavior definitely becomes more "naughty" when she is bored and tired, especially around the time I have to cook dinner. I'm find that when I give my daughter fun play with mommy when I can, she's more apt to play independently when my attention is elsewhere.

That said, I'm always at a loss for what to do next, especially since we're home alone together all day. I'm looking forward to reading your responses for some new material! Here are a few things we do:

Try letting him "help" you with dinner. When you're doing something that doesn't involve knives or heat, have him stand on a chair at the kitchen counter. He can hold measuring cups and spoons to dump into a bowl, stir, taste ingredients, smell spices and just watch.

Make a fort with blankets, kitchen chairs and couch cushions.

My daughter loves puzzles and books. Melissa and Doug company makes chunky wooden puzzles that have as few as three pieces (for short attention spans) and are VERY durable for an active toddler. Board books are usually short enough to work one or two at a time.

Get down on the floor with him. Have horsey rides and tickle fights.

Sing action songs: "Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes," "Hokey Pokey," "Itsy Bitsy Spider" etc.

A trip to the library, to the local mall to people watch or ride the coin-op rides, and climb on benches does well for a change of scenery. You mentioned the Eastside. Crossroads Mall in Bellevue is a great place for this. Bel-Square's indoor play area is fantastic, but it tends to be busy in the after school hours. You don't have to be gone for a long time; the short attention span is a definite advantage for trips like this.

Good luck!

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answers from Seattle on

He is perfectly normal. Toddlers do not have great attention spans and are not typically interested in "toys". They love to experience things, not necessarily play with them in our terms. It can be a challenge to keep them engaged though! Here are a few ideas, I hope they help! Put some pompoms or dried pasta in a plastic container, an under the bed sized one works well, and give him some scoops and small bowls to pour into. He can also drive his cars through it. You can also use dried lentils, split peas, rice. Just watch him and teach him not to put the sensory item in his mouth. You may have to remind him gently many times, but I do this activity every week with 18 month olds and they get it. Another idea is to put contact paper on a low table and let him stick fabric squares, pom-poms, or feathers on it. Cover a low table with paper and use stickers, chalk or paint with rollers.Aslo, painting with water on an easle is a great non messy way to teach your child the rules about painting and give them practice. You can find recipes for homemade playdough on the internet and use household items to play with it. A plastic table cloth can help with the messiness. The playdough will keep in the fridge for several weeks. Scarves in empty tissues boxes to pull out, or just plain scarves, are fun. Play some music and dance. Shoe boxes can be opened and closed and are fun to hide items in. Yes, some of these activities can be messy, but by preparing the area and yourself for tha it won't be so bad. Plus, children this age learn that way and if they are robbed of that then they are missing out on key parts of their development. I hope this helps you out. You sound like a fantastic mom and I hope you both have fun with some of these ideas! All the best, L.

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answers from Seattle on

He sounds like a normal 2 year old to me! :-) My sister bought me a book called "Baby Games" when my now 12 year old daughter was born. Whenever I couldn't find an idea on my own, out came the book which is full of all types of activities -active, artistic, indoor, outdoor, etc. There are tons of books like this, and they make a great reference library to keep on hand. Your local library should have something to give you ideas! Good luck!



answers from Portland on

What great responses you've gotten, L.. I didn't see pillow fights in the list. My grandboy loves these, and puts a whole lot more physical effort into them than I do, falling and getting up, charging in swinging a pillow, jumping around. It's especially good if he hasn't been able to get too much physical activity during the day. We both have so much invigorating fun that fifteen minutes or more can just fly by.

Another thought is that while you're working in the kitchen, you might try putting on danceable music and singing and bopping your booty around while you admire his dancing with the occasional look in his direction. (Assuming, of course, that your kitchen has room for this.)

I also agree that baths every day are generally not necessary, unless he really craves them as part of his routine.



answers from Eugene on

My son was into cars and legos....and he still is and he is almost 4. He will play with his legos all day long. You could see how he is with the bigger legos first and then move onto the little legos only if he doesn't put things in his mouth of course.

I'm trying to think of some things my son and I did - I got a huge thing of misc. beads and we beaded necklaces for grandma's and great grandma's for mother's day presents. Hand/finger painting.



answers from Portland on

My son is 2 as well & the best thing we've done lately is to join The Swap Shop
He loves it!!!
4 rooms of toys but what I'm thinking would be good for your son is the slide, things to jump off, other kids, trains, painting, etc. Go & try it for free. Especially in the winter months it keeps him occupied.
Take care-



answers from Portland on

Play-Doh! My daughter still loves it at 5. You can make it at home too, which is really cool for them to watch and pick what colors to make it. It is a good independant play item too - if you need some time to cook supper. You can watch him from the ktichen, if he eats it - not too big of a deal - its just flour and salt... ;).



answers from Seattle on

This might not be a direct answer to your question, but something to consider.

During that downtime that you have, could you get dinner mostly ready? I know I'm exhausted at that point in the day, but I feel so much better if we're able to play together than if I'm trying to entertain my daughter and make dinner at the same time. I usually am able to watch a tv show from the night prior while I make dinner so it's a double fix for me.

Other ideas:
swim lessons (we did evening classes)
Lake Washington Toddler Group (we do an evening class)
My Gym
Great Play
Northwest Arials

My experience is that having an activity that someone else provides the structure for makes it easier for me to just enjoy the time with my daughter. I know that it's stimulating and interesting for her, but it doesn't require as much from me when I don't feel like I have any more energy to give with.



answers from Seattle on

His attention span is normal for his age. An activity I would suggest would be wooden blocks and lego blocks (they have some large ones: my son liked the wooden better). Build tall towers and knock them down. Tow year olds love this.



answers from Portland on

I had to laugh..he is only that would explain a lot of the behavior..trying out new things and cause and effect...A sensory table could be a good addition....a big plastic tub filled with something easy to clean up..water with scoops, sand, corn meal a preschool teacher of 2's that is the most popular thing..the other thing I pull out a lot is a big piece of styrofoam and plastic hammers with colorful golf tees...this can get noisy but really gets a lot of attention by the 2's..and it is pretty safe. I usually find that a sorting activity is good colorful plastic teddy bears and matching bowls to long as it is a safe size for kids that put things in their daughter was never much of one for toys either and these things worked well for her.... good luck!



answers from Seattle on

Hi L.,

I too am a first time mom of a very busy boy who just turned three. I swear you were writing about my Liam when I read your piece. I work part time, and the night time routine of dinner, bathing, etc. is also in my lap. One of the things I have found that actually keeps my son's attention while I'm trying to prepare dinner is Playdough. My son is also not a fan of crayons at this point in time, he would rather eat them or throw them across the room than actually color with them, but playdough seems to be much more entertaining for him. We have a few of the machines that make hamburgers or ice cream, and some kits include toy scissors and other tools for them to try. Once I get him started by helping him to roll out some dough, he's happy for a while so I can get a bulk of the dinner details done. It helps that I can sit him at our table so we can chat while he plays and I cook. It makes me feel good knowing I am helping with his creative outlet, avoiding the TV, and also connecting with him. Plus, I'm a sucker for playdough too, its so much fun!
Its just a suggestion, but its really been an asset in our home during th evening hours. Best of luck!

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