About a month ago, I googled “non-messy crafts and activities for toddlers” and came up almost empty-handed. So apparently, I’m not the only one struggling to come up with fun ways to occupy young children without creating a huge mess!
I had a few ideas that Nora and I had been incorporating into our daily schedule, but thanks to many of the ideas you shared with me on Facebook, I’ve added several more non-messy crafts and activities to our repertoire!
For the record, I do NOT think our children need US to entertain them all the time. As I’ve mentioned many times on the blog, Nora watches plenty of TV each day, we read books, we play outside, we go for walks… and she’s actually getting very good at playing by herself or “playing” with Simon now that he’s more active.
That said, my little girl’s love language is “quality time” and she LOVES spending time doing crafts with me (or with Dave). So since we’re home for the better part of every day, I don’t mind coming up with a few extra-special ways to make Simon’s nap-time fun for her 🙂
Below are 10 of our favorite, relatively simple, not super creative, non-messy activities for toddlers and young children. I feel like most of them use common household items you will most likely have on-hand, and best of all, these activities don’t require constant supervision or “help from mom” once you get them started (at least in my opinion!)
1. DIY Jewelry
Nora will stay busy with this one for a pretty long time — as long as I have everything ready to go for her.
I put the noodles or Froot Loops in a bowl and have pre-cut lengths of yarn ready to go, with one end tied to the first noodle/Froot Loop (so everything doesn’t fall off) and the other end wrapped with a piece of tape so she can more easily thread it through the opening.
She calls these her “charm necklaces” and frequently makes them for friends or family if we’re going to someone’s house. It’s a great way to occupy her at the table when I’m feeding Simon breakfast or lunch.
2. Paper Plate “Light Catchers”
This is another craft that Nora gets SO excited about, and although it really doesn’t make any mess, it does require a bit of prep work on my part.
I usually take about 10 minutes the night before to cut the center out of a bunch of paper plates, put contact paper inside, and rip up tissue paper. Then the next morning, she can get right to work sticking scraps of tissue paper to the sticky side of the contact paper.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why we call them “Light Catchers” instead of “Sun Catchers”, it’s because Nora pointed out that they do not actually catch the sun, so she won’t call them “Sun Catchers” 🙂
Nora has just recently started getting more into doing puzzles — and although she often does like me to help her, she is also getting better and doing them on her own too.
We don’t have a ton of tiny-piece puzzles yet, but if you do (and if you’re looking for a good storage method) I’d suggest gallon-size zip-top bags and then store the puzzles pieces from one puzzle in each bag.
While this might sound messy — let me assure you, it’s not! Gak is NOTHING like PlayDoh. It doesn’t leave a sticky residue (at least our homemade version doesn’t). It doesn’t break apart or leave crumbs everywhere. And it doesn’t dry out.
We’ve been using the same batch of homemade gak since well before Christmas and it’s still as good as new. It’s super portable, she can play with it anywhere, and it leaves no mess.
5. Coloring + Stickers
I realize these aren’t the most creative activities, but both coloring and doing stickers really are quite mess-free in my opinion — and they both keep Nora busy FOREVER. She absolutely LOVES doing stickers, and once we got past the “let’s stick them everywhere” phase, it’s been completely mess-free.
She also enjoys coloring — but prefers it when I color with her… which I secretly love doing 🙂
I love how portable these activities are — especially since we will often take small coloring books along, color the picture, and then stick stickers over the picture we just colored.
Puffy and/or textured stickers are always a bonus around our house… along with sparkly crayons.
And if we want to be able to reuse the stickers, we just stick them to sheets of wax paper. They usually come off pretty easily and can be re-stuck again and again!
6. Cutting Paper Strips
Maybe I’m more lenient than most parents, but I have no issue letting Nora use a child’s safety scissors without my supervision. She LOVES “cutting” as she calls it and I figure it’s a good skill to learn.
I just give her scrap paper and she practices cutting strips, or whatever else she wants to cut.
After Christmas, I gave her all our photo cards and let her cut out the smaller pictures within each card and even individual faces. She thought that was SO much fun!
Another fun thing we do with cut paper is to make “Count-down chains”. We will count down almost anything and everything — birthdays, holidays, vacations, the weekend, a special event, Thursdays… you name it!
I figure it’s good counting practice, it helps Nora think about days of the week, and the actual craft keeps her busy for a while gluing up all the links 🙂
7. “Washing” Anything
This has the potential to be the messiest activity on my list — but it’s also a great summer-time activity when it’s hot outside.
Nora loves washing her bike and her car outside — or just washing rocks, sticks, and pinecones in buckets of water.
She also will wash just about ANYTHING in our bathroom sink (her play cups, her dolls, the sink itself!) She will often occupy herself in the bathroom for over 30 minutes doing this… and the worst thing that happens is I need to wipe up the floor around the sink when she’s finished.
8. Tracing with Bagged Sugar
As long as you have a tightly sealed zip-top bag, this activity should be pretty mess-free.
I give Nora flash cards or sticky notes with words on them and a gallon-size zip-top bag with some sugar inside (I use granulated sugar or colored decorating sugar over brown sugar as that can get clumpy) and she can practice tracing her letters in the sugar.
This would also work well with sand, ketchup, mustard, mayo, etc. but I figured I’d rather have sugar spilled in my house than some of those other options 🙂
9. Water Painting
We paint with water both inside and outside — on our black asphalt driveway, on cardboard, on construction paper, or in those paint-with-water books.
This is one of my FAVORITE mess-free activities because she feels like she is painting a beautiful masterpiece but I don’t have to worry about paint splatters everywhere.
We did have one spilled water incident, but I don’t give her much water so it wasn’t that big of a mess.
10. Decorate a cardboard box.
This activity is pretty self-explanatory… but it’s another one of our favorite activities / crafts. Since I do a lot of online shopping and get a lot of deliveries from various companies, we ALWAYS have a good supply of larger cardboard boxes.
I usually help Nora get started by cutting the box into a certain shape. Then she will stay busy coloring for a while.
Diaper boxes work well too — just cover them with craft paper (or any paper) and let them color away.
The best part about this project is that the box becomes a toy after it’s colored! (And for the record, the box usually “disappears” a few days later. We don’t keep them indefinitely!)
That’s our list… for now. I’m sure we’ll keep adding to it as Nora grows and is able to do more and more things on her own.
However, I’d love to know if you have any other ideas to add to our list?