Mama’s Ultimate Guide to Occupying Toddlers During School Time

During our school day, I have a dedicated amount of time carved out for my littlest people (3 years old and 20 months).  We read books, play puzzles together, do the occasional File Folder Game, and dig through their ABC box during their allocated “Pre-K Fun Time” each school morning.  I found that if my littles receive my undivided attention first thing in the morning, our day runs much more smoothly.

My oldest son is only 7 (2nd grade) and my only other school aged child is in Kindergarten.  Both of them still require a huge amount of one-on-one teaching interaction from Mama.  They each have assigned “Mama Time” during our school morning where they have my undivided attention to teach new material, go over their assignments, and talk about what we’re studying.

It is during those assigned one-on-one ‘Mama Times’ that I find I need activities for my little people to work on.  Because homeschooling with littles is such a unique situation it deserves it’s own post dedicated to a round-up of resources.

I’ve scoured the internet looking for the most simple, unique, and frugal activities for my littlest girls to work on during school time.  All of the activities in the Ultimate Guide to Occupying Toddlers During School Time are activities for children ages 12 months – 3 years. 

Occupying the Littles Google+ Hangout

For a plethora of excellent suggestions from seasoned homeschool moms, make sure you watch this 25-minute Google+ Hangout.  Panelists included Amy Roberts, Kendra Fletcher, and Tricia Hodges.


Mom-Tested Strategies and Tips for Occupying the Littles

Occupying Littles {Quietly} While Schooling Heart of the Matter –> Smart advice about judging moods early in the day and keeping expectations realistic.

5 Tips to Occupy Your Toddler While HomeschoolingSimple Homeschool –> Includes ideas such as self-starting olders and having pre-made activities ready to go.

Homeschooling with ToddlersThe Happy Housewife –> Excellent ideas on incorporating littles into the work that the olders are doing, using ‘something together’, ‘something electronic’, etc.

What Do Little People Do During School?se7en –> Interesting look at not having a million-and-one educational packets prepared, but just letting little ones enjoy their “job” (which is to play).  If you have little ones, you can definitely relate to the “unpack” pictures!

Homeschooling with ToddlersHeart of the Matter –> A smart 3-step approach at schooling with toddlers in tow, with multiple examples of each step.

A Preschool Education at HomeLife as MOM –> This post outlines activities for providing a preschool education at home, so some of the ideas are very mom-heavy.  But take the time to read the whole post, as it contains a plethora of ideas for more independent activities for little ones during school time.

Homeschooling with Preschoolers Smockity Frocks> Smockity includes great, basic ideas for homeschooling with littles underfoot, but the comments?  They’re a goldmine of ideas.

Multi-Level HomeschoolingRaising Olives –> Includes tips on how to implement “blanket time” and different activities for your little peeps during that designated time.  She also suggests setting them up as “centers” where you move from one blanket (activity) to the next.  Make sure to read the comments in this post also for more ideas.

Assortment of Suggestions for Keeping Toddlers Busy During SchoolPaula’s Archives –> 18 ideas to keep those little people busy

How Do I Keep Them Busy??Preschoolers and Peace –> 34 ideas to occupy your littles (there’s at least 20+ ideas in the comments, so make sure to read those too.)

Taming the ToddlerOur Journey Westward –> Multiple ideas on everything from books to imaginative toys to computer time.


Ideas for Busy Bags/Activity Boxes

Busy Bags (also known as ‘Activity Bags’) are literally bags that should keep your little one busy.  It should contain items that don’t require a lot of maintenance and your little one can do on their own.  While occasional help from mom is needed, activities in these bags shouldn’t be mom-driven.

Toddler Boxes and Toddler Totes are similar in that they contain independent activities that should require little help from mom.  It’s best to use Busy Bags and Toddler Boxes only during school time so the ideas remain fresh and seem like a treat!

Also included in this section are manipulatives and hands-on activities to fill up those bags, boxes, and totes.

Button Sorting – The Happy Housewife –> Several ideas for sorting buttons with an egg carton for older and younger toddlers.

Activity Bag IdeasPaula’s Archives –> Scroll down to find a plethora of Busy Bag Ideas, Ideas for Totes and Toddler Shoeboxes

Threading Sponge CurlersFun & Engaging Activities for Toddlers –> Cheap threading idea for younger toddlers

Clothespin DropI Can Teach My Child –> A perfect fine motor activity for young toddlers (12-24 months)

Build-Your-Own CupcakesMoney Saving Mom –> Free pattern to download – make your own cupcakes with sprinkles!

Playdough Spiders Spell Outloud –> Keep all of the contents for these spiders in one bag along with the printables.  So fun!

Toddler Teaching with Recycled LidsSpell Outloud –> 15 Ideas for using recycled bottle lids as teaching tools for littles, including sort and dump and color matching.

Toddler-Friendly (& Budget-Friendly!) Tot School IdeasThe Unlikely Homeschool –> 45 Tot School Ideas (I’m not kidding…it’s really that many) for keeping the little peeps busy at the table during school

15 Toddler Bag IdeasThe Princess and the Tot –> Excellent ideas in this round-up and I love this mom’s idea to store them in clear-front pencil cases.

Hang-them-up ClotheslineMoney Saving Mom –> Cut out clothes from felt and hang them on the line – super cute! Free pattern and instructions to download.

Pool Noodle LacingPlanet of the Apels –> Can be used for a variety of ages. 12-18 months can just string them while older preschoolers can use the free download patterns.

Craft Stick PuzzlesMotherhood on a Dime –> Use wider sticks for easier puzzles and thinner sticks for harder ones.

Pom Pom Stuff It InMoney Saving Mom –> Another great activity for younger toddlers, especially since they can’t get the lid open!

Busy BoxesPlaying House –> Ideas for Busy Boxes with several activities in each.

Toddlers, Babies, & Your HomeschoolRaising Arrows –> Practical ideas for what to put in a toddler Activity Box.  But the best part of this post is keeping focused on what’s important. And it releases you of all guilt because your Toddler Boxes are not perfect Montesorri-type boxes.  They don’t have to be!

Keeping the Toddlers BusyCreekside Learning –> Ideas for toddler boxes.  Unique idea to use board games – so smart!

Preschool Activity IdeasJoyful Johnsons –> Literally a list of ideas.  Not a lot of elaboration, so you might have to get creative!  There are several ideas to get your wheels turning though.


Free Do-a-Dot Patterns

Do-a-Dots (bingo markers) are a creative past time for toddlers while the olders are working on school.  Amazon has an assortment of Do-a-Dot activity books or you can choose from  multiple free patterns found online.

Alphabet (A-Z)Homeschool Creations –> Scroll to the middle of the page to find the posts.  There are 2 separate files (A-M) and (N-Z).

NumbersMaking Learning Fun –> Includes numbers 0-10

American FlagSimply Montessori –> Perfect for any patriotic holiday

AnimalsMaking Learning Fun –> 20+ different types of animals

Seasons, Holidays, Animals DLTK –> Also includes a few presidents, circus, and football do-a-dot printables

Shapes Love My Life x 4 –> 8 shape pages

Christmas Tree Confessions of a Homeschooler –> Included in the Preschool Christmas Pack


Other Miscellaneous Ideas for Toddlers

StoryNory – Free audio stories for children.  Download them on your iPod for school time, nap time, or car trips.

Allowing Preschoolers to Be Part of the Action – Habits for a Happy Home –> Reminder to let little ones be a part of every day life!

What About the Little Ones? – Habits for a Happy Home –>  A Room Time CD.  Absolutely Brilliant.

Pom Pom Toss (Pocket Lounge Mat)Glittering Muffins –> This definitely doesn’t fit in a small Busy Bag but wow the fun times a toddler could have with this mat and pom poms!

101+ Ways to Keep Kids BusyBetter Kid Care from Penn State –> This ebook is geared towards all ages of children, not just toddlers.  There are several good toddler ideas throughout: Making Paste Jewelry, Painting Rocks (we’ve done this and my kiddos love it!)

6 Ways to Keep Toddlers Busy and HappyMomtastic –> Not just your typical round-up of ideas. Food coloring (it’s contained – don’t worry), washing vegetables and more.


Occupying the Littles Pinterest Boards

I have 2 Pinterest Boards specifically for Occupying Toddlers during School Time. (Could an ‘Ultimate Guide’ possibly be complete without a Pinterest Board or two?!)  I’ve included many of the links here in this post, but my entire stash of links is on those boards.  So go take a peek. I’m a regular Pinterest user, so they’ll be updated frequently as I find new-to-me ideas.

Keeping the Littles Busy During School



Busy Bag Ideas



This post is part of the Ultimate Guides link-up hosted by iHomeschool Network.  Over 40 Ultimate Guides are listed with topics ranging from Marriage to homeschool rooms to US history to creative writing and autism helps.  You’ll want to bookmark every single Ulitmate Guide to read again and again.

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.



  1. What a great list of blogs and activities! Thank you!

  2. Lauren, These are great for any young child…I’ll have to use some of these this year with my little guy…he’s not a tot, but, these are still great activities! Thanks!

  3. Makes me wish I had a toddler again…well, maybe not! You’ve put together a great resource!

  4. I think this post will take me quite some time to go through! Can’t imagine how much time it took to research! Thanks! Really enjoying going through these Ultimate Guides.

    • Lauren Hill says:

      Aren’t these Ultimate Guides the best?! There’s such a wide variety of topics – a little something for everyone. 😉

  5. You have no idea what a blessing this list is to me! We are adopting a sibling set (ages 4, <2, <1) and we homeschool our 7 and 12 yr olds. I have had some very overwhelming days and this list is going to be a life saver! Thank you!!!!!

  6. This sure is the Ultimate Guide, a work of art!!! Thank you so much for the mention!!!

  7. michele johnson says:

    AMAZING!!! Thank You so much for compiling and sharing. All the great ideas in one spot.

  8. This is a wonderful resource, Lauren. Thank you so much for posting it. My littlest is a couple of months younger than your littlest. We did kindergarten when she naps, but now that we’re doing first grade, it takes more time. We need to find things for her to do while we school. We’ll be working our way through this list.

  9. Oh how I wish we lived next door!! My oldest is in second grade, my next one is in kindergarten, then a three year old and finally a 21 month old (as of Feb.).
    I needed this post!
    My toddler and three year old do not want to play during school time. They want to be in the middle of the action; however, they don’t understand “wait a minute” or “wait your turn” very well. The three year old’s seems to translate it to “make a big mess” while the toddler is still in the throwing a tantrum stage. How many second graders have a spelling test interrupted so the teacher can go wipe someone’s bottom?! I so want to enjoy their young preschool years but then I also long for the day when everyone can read their own directions!!
    I end each day full of guilt. Either I didn’t spend enough time with the littles and was resentful towards them for their childish messes or I didn’t focus on teaching the older two and their frustration mounted at too much independent work when they really needed help.
    Looking forward to trying some of these ideas. Will probably encounter resistance – as happens with any change – but I’ll stand firm because something’s got to improve!
    Thank you again for this WONDERFUL compilation!

  10. Thanks for these ideas!! I have a 4 year old and 2 year old. I can’t do anything with either of them I feel like on most days. I needed ideas to keep 2 year old busy so I can help 4 year old.

  11. I love this HUGE list of ideas! I will be sharing this with my readers!


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