Your one to three-year-old might be a ball of energy at times, but you might also notice times when they don't seem as eager to engage in loud or exciting play. Much like adults, toddlers crave the slow and quiet from time to time.
Low-stimulation activities for toddlers allow them to recover from loud and stimulating play and offer you, the parent, a bit of peace as well.
Easy Low-Stimulation Activities for Toddlers
Low-stimulation activities for toddlers don't have to be high-investment activities for parents. These slow and calming activities help you gain some peace without spending a lot of time upfront putting the activity together. They're gentle enough to encourage quiet time for your little one and engaging enough for you to sit back and let them take the reins.
Encourage Drawing or Painting
If you have a small space dedicated to arts and crafts, you have a low-stimulation area for your child to go to any time they need some quiet. Drawing or coloring might work best for your young toddler, while children closer to three years old might enjoy painting.
Having a small table with coloring books, crayons, and pencils that can easily be accessed is a good everyday option. Parents can also set out paints and markers on occasion to encourage calm creativity.
An art table is great, but my three-year-old daughter also enjoys her chalkboard and dry-erase easel for drawing.
Break Out the Puzzles
A collection of puzzles could be your ticket to getting things done with some peace while your child works on motor skills and quiet play. Your young toddler might enjoy wooden puzzles with animal, shape, or color inserts. Older toddlers can try traditional puzzles with more pieces and engaging pictures.
Have a Conversation
Calming toddler activities don't always require tools or supplies. A gentle conversation can also provide the low stimulation they might need. Try starting a conversation they can participate in by asking simple questions ("What animal do you like most?") or pointing out observable information in the current environment ("Look at all the green leaves on the big tree").
Related: 100+ Why Questions for Kids
Spend Time on the Swings
Have you ever felt like your mind needed more rest than your body? Little ones can feel the same way at times. They might need a break from the emotional stimulation of educational activities while still needing the calming impact of certain physical activities.
A few minutes on the swing set might be just what their little mind and body needs. Gentle swinging gives your child a break from more engaging activities so they can focus inward and just enjoy the sensations the swing provides.
Do you ever outgrow the joy that bubbles bring? This easy activity might be as calming for you as it could be for your child. A bottle of bubbles and a beautiful day outdoors give your child a calming experience in nature as they blow bubbles themselves or just enjoy watching you do it.
Start a Sticker Book
Here's a low-stimulation activity for your little one that could turn into a fun hobby as they grow. A notebook and a sheet of stickers are all you need to get started. Show your child how to peel the stickers and place them in the book then sit back as they take over.
Low-Stimulation Sensory Activities for Toddlers
Low stimulation doesn't mean no stimulation. Sensory activities for toddlers can be calming while engaging their senses to encourage social or emotional development. These activities may require a bit more time and effort on your part, but they're still calming for your child.
Have a Bounce on the Trampoline
Sensory activities can sometimes require a bit of physical effort from your child. But bouncing on the trampoline can be calming and engaging for your little one, even though it appears to be a more exciting type of physical activity.
A small, indoor trampoline for toddlers and children is probably best for your little one. These are usually low to the floor and have a handle for safety and balance.
This little sensory activity has less to do with adding items to the sensory bin and more to do with what scents you can include. Add rice or sand to a small bin and any fun sensory items you like. Then add engaging scents like cinnamon, vanilla, citrus, florals, or fresh herbs. Let your child dig in and sniff out the scents they feel most drawn to.
You might add sensory items to the bin that absorb scents in liquid or oil form like pom poms, wooden items, and cotton balls.
Play With Musical Instruments
The soft and intriguing music of instruments isn't quite the same as the overstimulating song on your toddler's favorite show. Whether it's listening to classical music or picking up a kid-sized instrument to play, music can be a calming way to keep your child busy. You never know, you might help them discover a future hobby they love.
Even young toddlers can enjoy the sound of music or make music with small drums or a toy piano.
Try a Busy Board
Busy boards are designed to engage the cognitive, motor, and sensory skills of toddlers. You can make your own or try a travel busy board for low-stimulation sensory play on the go. As your child zips, fastens, and sorts they'll develop important skills and experience a slower-paced play that helps them practice quiet time.
Sort Objects by Size, Shape, or Color
If a full busy board isn't your thing or you don't have time to create one, a simple sorting game is a great alternative. You can customize the process and items depending on what you have on hand, but the basic principle is to give your child a way to sort any item by size, shape, or color. They can even sort items based on weight, texture, or use as they get older.
- Have them sort fruit by color into containers.
- Give them various items and have your child sort them by round, square, or triangular.
- Cut straws into different links and have your child sort them by size.
- Sort stuffed animals by size.
- Place toys into piles based on color.
- Use stickers for color or shape sorting.
Play-Doh is another quiet activity perfect for times when your toddler needs less stimulation, but many parents dislike the mess. To keep it from overtaking the house, give your child a large cookie sheet or cutting board and limit the Play-Doh to that space.
How to Incorporate Low-Stimulation Activities Into Your Routine
Now that you know what activities might help avoid overstimulation, you just need to figure out how to incorporate them into your child's routine. The approach to this doesn't need to be regimented or complicated. Rather, you can have a few of these activities ready for any signs that your little one is starting to feel overstimulated.
If you want to make these activities a regular part of your day or week, try these tips for adding them to the routine.
- Start your morning with low-stimulation activities like drawing or puzzles while you make breakfast for your little one.
- Keep a busy board in the car or plan for light conversation after a day at daycare or preschool to help them wind down.
- Give your child a new sheet of stickers once a week so they can get excited about adding them to their book.
- Choose a new theme for your sensory bin every couple of weeks or according to holidays to keep them interested.
- Make trips to the park a weekly experience so your child can swing or play in the grass.
Try the Low-Stimulation Approach to Life
Exciting activities and all the fun, loud noises have their place in childhood. But when you know your little one needs a break from the sensory overload, these low-stimulation activities can help you both slow down a little. It's all about striking the balance that's right for your family.