What can I build with my toddler that's NOT a garden?

June 11 2012 | offbeatbride
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.
We need something to do! Photo by mikebaird, used under Creative Commons license.
School is finally over for me and I'm realizing that summer for me and my two-year-old is going to be long and boring if I dont figure out some more activities! I'm really interested in building something with my daughter — something we can add to and grow all summer long. She already gardens with her Dad, so I need something just for us.

All I can think of besides a garden is a never ending popsicle stick house… any suggestions? — Liset

  1. You could make a neighborhood map!

    Start with a super basic grid of your nearby 3-5 streets in either direction and start making a color map. Look at the colors of the houses on your street. Look at the big trees, the pets you can see, if there are any cool cars. Where are the fire hydrants, the stop signs, the cross walks. Are there any stores? Schools? Take a walk everyday and draw/color three new places on the map. You can use stickers, markers, you could even make it 3D with little figurines.

    You could even start it on an old sheet or drop cloth and when you're done, she'll have a very cool playmat of her neighborhood. If you do that, use fabric paint so the colors will stay.

    1 agrees
      • Omg! I haven't checked this since yesterday! So glad everyone loved the idea! Maps and house plans are AWESOME ways to get kids interested in spacial awareness, their surroundings, topography, cardinal directions, finding their way home, feeling confident about exploring, engineering, and TONS of other awesome skills.

        1 agrees
  2. 1.Ger a roll of freezer paper and make an enormous "mural" by painting your feet and stepping on it – one color per day.
    2. A quilt – you make a bunch of squares of white fabric, and let her pick felt shapes to glue on. She can make one every day and at the end of the summer glue/sew it together.
    3. Make a gigantic diorama – get a big box and something that can be the central theme and then spend the summer adding to it. (Start with a big ship and add pirates and whales and a beach, or start with a little house and add fairies and people, or start with a big tree and add lots of little animals, etc). You can leave it all unglued so she can actually play with it. Bonus points for finding stuff out and about that you can add.
    4. Make a tree. Again, start with big butcher paper and draw a basic trunk. Then, on your wandering travels, bring home pretty leaves, interesting sticks, etc and glue them on. At the end of the summer, you have a tree!
    These are obviously just suggestions – I don't think that there's any way that they would have worked with my kids at the age of 2 – they couldn't sustain that kind of interest, I think. But I hope that they're helpful and you have fun!

    5 agree
  3. Did you see the Kiwicrate post awhile back? It starts for 3 year olds, but it might at least give you some ideas. I "liked" them on facebook and they are always providing neat entertaining ideas.

    Then I can think of maybe… finger painting, reading, sand castles, jewelry making (huge beads?), dressing up/costumes….

    2 agree
  4. What about decorating furniture? Find some old beat up chairs or a dresser at a garage sale and paint/stamp/stencil/decoupage them.

  5. A fort! You could put in a little kitchen, a bedroom that you could camp out in, dress up space, art zone, pillow pile, trike parking…it could be as big and rambly as you want.

    2 agree
  6. If you don't mind a super messy kid mudd sculpture is great. Add 50% elmers or any other white glue into dirt, then mix it up. Whatever she sculpts will dry hard as a rock and blend in well with the garden shes already doing. She can add to the garden sculptures all summer or make one big one.

    Build a basic square playhouse out of plywood and paint it together. Paint flowers and pictures all over the walls. You can find easy basic plans online.

    3 agree
  7. I know it might be a little early, and might not be totally on target with your idea of a project that grows, but I have used summers as a great time to start making the gifts we give at Christmas. I try to focus on handmade and from the heart, and starting in July really helps defray some of the stress in December as the projects build up.

    Also, if your daughter is gardening with her dad, can you use any of their harvest for cooking? And write a family cookbook together. At two she might be a little young for writing, but having pictures of the meals you made and the things she liked might be a fun thing to have as she gets older (Lately my daughter is obsessed with asking me about when she was a baby and I am finding all those "artifacts" very useful).

    3 agree
  8. I know your child is a toddler, which might seem a little young for baking, but that is what came to my mind. Sara from 2000 dollar wedding and feeding the soil is collaborating on a Montessori Style cookbook for cooking with Children. Maybe you could use some of their harvest, just like Alaina suggested.
    http://www.feedingthesoil.com/2012/06/dream-it-do-it.html
    http://howwemontessori.typepad.com/how-we-montessori/2011/09/simple-baking-for-a-three-year-old.html

  9. I tend to think that 2-yr olds really need to be able to simply explore and discover. I wouldn't worry about 'activities' and would instead think about including her on your every day activities: making breakfast, doing the dishes, putting clothes in the washing machine, handing them to her so that she can put them in the dryer…. etc. You will feel less stressed about making everything 'perfect' for her and will get things done while still engaging her little brain. She will enjoy the unscripted time with you and you will be much more relaxed.
    Enjoy your summer!

    18 agree
  10. 1. If you have space, a treehouse or other outdoor fort thing. A little bit of infrastructure + lots of details and decorating will provide lots of entertainment.

    2. Dollhouse/action figure den/home for stuffed animals. You can attach a bunch of cardboard boxes for rooms with heavy duty tape, and then spend time making furniture, adding doors, painting the "walls" and "floors", etc. This can be adapted to the dexterity level of the kid involved, and should be something they'll want to play with after too.

  11. my almost-two year old looves to help with daily life- we chop veggies (he tears up the salad leaves), he gets to stir ingredients together, he carries the plates from the dishwasher to the cupboard.. so it´s kinda my "project" to make everyday life as slow and accessible (and fun!) for him as possible.

    8 agree
    • Slow, that is so true! When I write on Facebook that Penny helped me do laundry or dishes or something, a lot of my friends are always surprised. They think it makes it harder, but in reality, it's just slower, and less lonely I think! Sometimes we run through life at such a pace, and it's good to be slowed down by a toddler and pop some dish soap bubbles!

      5 agree
  12. A friend of mine, as a teenager, painted a mural on their front window in window glass. She used a dot structure, so the light still filtered in nicely and from a distance you could see the actual painting. Inside the house it just looked like beautiful coloured glass.

    I think you could totally create this with a two year old, especially if you made it kind of a paint by numbers thing. You could even wash it off and replace it with a new painting once a month or something and it'd be especially cool if you didn't show her what the final project was – just dots with numbers so you're matching the colours to them – then when it's all done, you could walk across the street and take a picture of the final product.

    2 agree
    • If you put cling wrap over the windows before you start, cleanup is a snap. Put it on the inside to prevent rain/wind ruining it. You could draw outlines etc on cartridge paper and stick then to the other side of the window as a guide.

  13. Building an alphabet book coloring a big letter every few days or week and then bind it to make a book

    my 2 year old loves watercolors (which i save for cards)

    i also set up a arts table with paper scrap bin, a few crayons,& kid scissors (on which i drew an alligator who only eats paper:) for her to access when she wants

    I love the other ideas the ladies have of accumulating little treasures cause with a 2 year old it can't be too intense, real quick and ready when they want to do it.

    hope you have fun!

  14. A mural sounds like a lot of fun. Or just a big roll of butcher paper to last all summer long — color a segment every day (more or less).

    I will also say that my 3.5 year olds adore making and maintaining their "collections." They go out and find natural objects — snail shells, feathers, pinecones, interesting sticks and stones, etc. — and bring them home. We have a special spot on the porch where we store their treasures. So long walks become treasure hunts and I always seem to have a pocket full of rocks, but it's a lot of fun to see what they pick up and listen to their explanations and stories as to why.

  15. This was my question!!!! How exciting! Thank you everyone for the thoughtful ideas!!! Definitely doing that mud glue statue thing ASAP! And I love the ideas for doing big murals that are made over time, quilts. I actually just got a shit-ton of fabric dye today as a gift, so I'm thinking that's something that I can do with her! I love doing crafts, so I'm very excited to be able to get back into doing them with help from my little one!
    Also, the daily life stuff, that's something I've really enjoyed starting too! I saw on Pinterest a list of chores kids can do at different ages, and it really opened my eyes! Now my daughter does mostly everything with me throughout the day! It's so much less lonely when I have a cute helped! : )

    2 agree
  16. How about a terrarium, an indoor garden. My 2yo boys loves his construction site that we made out of oats and a baking tray. He spends hours there constructing. He is digger mad tho!

  17. What about felt? You can work with already made felt or, best, create it from carded wool with soap and lukewarm water. To make outside, in swimwear!!! for the little parts you have to work with the needle, so be careful, but for the largest parts it is just so easy and interesting and fun!

  18. I like the idea of collecting little "bits" of life, the way scrap booking USED to be before it got all commercialized. Go out for ice cream? Save the receipt, paste it into the scrapbook, and add the date. Anytime you go anywhere, grab a business card, a brochure, anything, and add it to the book. When your child is a teenager, these tiny moments in life now will seem so precious.

    As for things more WITH the child…I'd so something similar, only I'd make a mobile. When you're out on walks, let your child find little things to collect like feather, shells, rocks, twigs…anything that she finds interesting and worthy of note. Take them home, and together you can hang them from the ceiling or in front of a window to make a continually growing mobile. The gentle movement of her collection in the wind would look great!

  19. Combine the map idea with the food and exploring idea and go foraging! Obviously this would take a little forethought and planning (making sure that what you're picking is actually safe and edible etc) but once you've figured out that the park 2 streets over has 2 plum trees and an abundance of wild fennel, mark it on your map! If you're not 100% keen on eating found food, or the idea of dandelion greens just doesn't work for you you could collect greenery for pets (if you have them!). Chooks are great fun and love weeds and bugs (collecting snails on your walk – 2yo heaven!) and rabbits make wonderful loving pets that can be house trained much like cats (they will use litter trays etc). Both are animals that need to be primarily cared for by an adult though (contrary to popular belief, rabbits are NOT good 'starter' pets, and most dislike being picked up with a passion) so take a good look into the husbandry required. 🙂

  20. I've always thought that it would be cool to do photography scavenger hunts with kids… not sure about what a 2.5 yr old can do, but with a slightly older kid you could go on walks and take pictures of letters you see, for example, and make an alphabet scrapbook.

    This thread is making me so excited to have an older kid! (7 1/2 mos old here)

    1 agrees

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.