entertainment | personal and family life

21 frugal rainy day toddler activities {for one year olds}

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21 frugal rainy day toddler activities I’ve been reading up on ideas for entertaining toddlers and toddler activities lately because it is still raining up here in QLD.

Unfortunately, many of the suggestions are a bit advanced for the Frugal Son’s capabilities at his age: play dough, painting, pretend play – all great activities, but he’s just not quite up to that yet.

(Updated to say: my daughter was less oral and more inclined to sitting rather than scaling the walls at this age and loved play dough, so judge the best activity according to your own child’s development and interests.)

He’s growing up very quickly, and I don’t want to rush that growing up. So I’ve had to experiment with what keeps him entertained (at his level) using things we’ve got on hand.

So if you have a one year old and are looking for activity ideas, here’s what has worked for us over the last few weeks.

1. Deposit the milk cap into the tin

Formula tin deposit box , rainy day toddler activities, Frugal and Thriving

This isn’t a novel idea, you can find this suggestion everywhere on the net, but I finally got around to doing it and it really keeps the little fella occupied for ages. But I need to collect more caps so that there is more time between mum having to undo the lid and tip them out again.

I put a bit of masking tape around the inside edge of the tin, because it was a little sharp. The plastic lid though is quite soft.

Simply cut a slot into the top of a formula (or other) tin plastic jar or cardboard box. Collect old milk lids to slot in the lid. Hours of entertainment right there!

2. Dining table tent

Indoor tent play, rainy day toddler ideas, Frugal and Thriving

An old classic: the indoor tent. Even kitty loves it. The other week I wrote about how I didn’t see any spiders just their webs. Well, I found seven spiders under the dining table when I was lying there with the little fella. Hmm, that’s where they all live!

The really fun thing we did under the dining table tent was play with the flash light. Watching and making the light jump around kept the Frugal Son entertained for ages, then we played shadow puppets.

3. Things to stack

Stacking common household items, rainy day toddler ideas, Frugal and Thriving

Wooden blocks are great, but you probably already have a whole heap of plastic containers on hand, ready for stacking. And as they are bigger than blocks, they are a little easier to handle.

In fact, the plastic cupboard is one of the little fella’s favourite haunts. Kids can really find fun with anything.

4. Making music and things that roll

Making music with kitchen items and playing with produce, rainy day toddler ideas, Frugal and Thriving

Ah, the dulcet tones of metal objects being thrashed by wooden spoons. Also, produce makes an excellent toy for rolling and smelling, and you can teach the names of the different foods at the same time!

5. Climbing

Climbing for fun Frugal and Thriving

Do you have a climber in the family?

Some kids are happy to sit and play quietly, and other’s are climbing the walls in the .002 seconds it takes you to blink.

My son is a climber. If you can’t stop them, I figure, you may as well teach them to do it safely.

You don’t need to buy expensive baby gyms when you have beds, lounges, tables, boxes, buckets, bowls, mum, cupboards, toys…

6. Boxes

Playing with boxes. rainy day toddler ideas, Frugal and Thriving

Old boxes are great for sitting in, getting pushed around in, climbing on, sliding down and a whole load of other fun stuff.

7. Library books and toy library

Visit the library for free toys and books, rainy day toddler ideas, Frugal and Thriving

Books make wonderful toys. We read books several times a day. The library is great for maintaining a variety of books for free.

Our library also has a toy library, so you can get ‘new’ toys each week for free!

8. Mud, mud, glorious mud

play in the mud, rainy day toddler activities, Frugal and Thriving

Between rain showers, I let Frugal Son out into the garden to dig in the mud. It’s messy, but good for the soul.

An old spoon from the kitchen and recycled containers make great digging implements. Our yard looks like a dump, I know, but it’s way more fun the way it is. Mud to dig in, tree stumps to climb, weeds to crawl through, insects to find.

And then of course, the bath afterwards is just as fun as well.

For more ideas on enjoying the outdoors whatever the weather, I recommend the book Rainy Day Kids Adventure Book.

9. Great finger paint idea

I read this idea the other day on Moments of Mommyhood – add a drop of food colouring to yogurt for an edible finger paint. This kept Frugal Son entertained in the high chair while I cooked his dinner.

10. Cooking

At one, my son is too young to be helping me cook, but I can put him in the highchair and he watches me while I explain what I’m doing. I mix while he’s awake and bake while he’s asleep.

11. Cleaning

Kids love ‘helping’ to clean. A dust rag or dustpan and brush can keep kids amused and you’re laying the foundations for learning essential life skills in the future.

A spray bottle of water over the bath or against a window also keeps kids amused.

See also: More toddler play ideas: pretend play chores for free

12. Nursery rhymes with actions

Nursery rhymes, especially if you can remember the actions are a great way to amuse children and help them learn language. Don’t remember any? Borrow a nursery rhyme CD from the library and sing along to that.

13. Google Images and YouTube

The boy loves trucks, buses, motorbikes, and aeroplanes, so we spend some time on Google Images looking at pictures of these.

YouTube is great for watching all sorts of strange videos. Our favourite is watching diggers do their stuff at construction sites.

14. Crayons

Every now and then I get out the crayons, and while the boy is still too young to be interested (updated to say, my daughter loved crayons and drawing at a much younger age than her brother), but each time he take a little more interest in the marks he’s making on the paper.

15. Fridge magnets

Fridge magnets keep kids occupies while you’re in the kitchen. Animal magnets encourage pretend play and alphabet magnets help introduce literacy (although at one, they are just sticky things on the fridge).

16. Bath time

Baths in the afternoon help pass the time, (especially if we’ve been digging in mud). They can also be a lot more enjoyable if you aren’t bathing your kids right before bedtime, when they are tired and grumpy.

17. Treasure box

A treasure box is a special box with bits and bob from around the house. Things like old remote controls, old mobile phones (remove batteries from both!), stuff from the kitchen, recycled boxes and containers, pegs, bits of fabric, short ribbon, birthday cards, leaves, rocks, shells, twigs, bits of paper – whatever you can find that is age-appropriate.

18. A brisk walk between rain showers

Nothing like a bit of fresh air to nap well later on. A brisk walk around the block is good for both of us and keeps the cabin fever at bay.

19. Dancing to music

Kids love a good dance session and watching their little legs bopping along to the music is very cute! Holding them while you dance and turning them upside down it is a barrel of laughs (and you get to burn a few extra calories too).

20. Sensory Box

Quick, easy and cheap sensory activity with lentils, rainy day toddler activities, Frugal and Thriving

A quick and easy ‘sensory box’ that has no prep work involved is some dried goods from the pantry in a bowl (in our case brown lentils, but you could use rice or beans) and a spoon or whatever stirring equipment you have on hand.

21. Tickles, cuddles, kisses, wrestling, hide and seek

Nothing is better than a mummy cuddle or a wrestle on the floor.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to keep toddlers entertained. In fact, they love items around the house just as much as any toy that you buy. And of course, these ideas aren’t just for rainy days. They are great anytime your little one is looking for something to do.


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  1. thanks for the great ideas. I will bookmark this one as we have a long 3 month summer break coming up and I have four little ones under 7 here to entertain. Gorgeous pics too, he has a smashing smile.

  2. He’s sooo cute:)
    It’s lovely to see a Mum who cares more about her sons entertainment then shopping for over the top- do everything for them toys. Simple things which leave imagination open are so much better.

    You forgot “bubble popping”. He may be too young to blow them, but most kids love popping them. (I use “tears free” shampoo or wash when making my own bubble mix.)

    My 2 and 3 year old are getting great use from those plastic balls which are normally in ball bits. We use them for counting, matching, and colour games. In paddling pool, “swimming” minus the water. In “tents”- with treasure hidden under them. They float in the bath- making the water seem “weely weely deeep”:) They are great for “marble” games (to big to put in mouth), creating slides to roll them down, rolling one to hit others, that sort of thing.

    You have the “mirror” covered I see (reflective metal mixing bowl- love this toy, so many uses.)

    Torches and shadow play are great in blanket tents and blackouts. Reflecting the light off his bowl would work too.

    I love this blog- thankyou for all your wonderful ideas:)

    1. Hi Clo,

      If you’re after some good summer ideas, the Brassy Apple blog has an SOS (Save our Summer) series for summer kid’s activities – lots of great ideas, I’ve bookmarked alot for when the little fella is older.

      Hi, Rach, Thanks! They’re some great ideas. I don’t have any of those balls, but the little fella loves them when we go to other people’s house. Have to look into them.

  3. My daughter is babysitting and the one year old is stir crazy bc it’s raining here in seattle. I googled ” 1 year old rainy day stay at home” and here you are. I sent a few images from your post and she texted back that ” this is quite successful”. The bowls and the spoons are rocking baby’s world.
    Thank you:-)

  4. We need the rain to fill our rivers, for the falls to flow and help the wildflowers grow. It is a blessing but sometimes it is difficult to plan your day when one minute the sun is shining, cloudy and raining the next and then it goes back to sunshine. In my opinion this is the best time to let your imagination run wild. Try some crazy DIY ideas, build a fort, play a game with hot lava on the floor, or create your own chess board, and play this fantastic game! One of the best way to teach kids chess, is to creat some interesting background stories and with this one, everythibg you have covered up. Another tool is to practice specific movements and strategies, using special diagrams. In this case, I can recommend this book – net-bossorg/chess-puzzles-for-kids-by-maksim-aksanov

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