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8 Activities For Tots That Won’t Cost You Anything

Looking for easy, FREE ways to keep your toddlers busy this summer? Check out these GREAT ideas!

Looking for some ideas to keep your tots busy this summer? Here are eight ideas that you can do with items you probably already have on hand:

Water Painting

Bean Scooping

Water Scooping & Pouring

Apple Stamping (we’ve also done this with potatoes)

Ice Cube Boat-Making

Ice Cube Painting

Pudding Finger Painting (you can also make your own edible finger paint)

Peanut Butter Playdough Fun

What are your favorite no-cost activities for tots? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Lynda says:

    Great ideas!
    re: water scooping and pouring, our now 15-year old loved to do that but we didn’t even bother to put a towel under her – she’d “wash” the floor with a rag I’d put in the water bowl she liked to play with. Hmmm…maybe that’s why she’s such a good house cleaner today? : )

  • stacy says:

    I love this! I have done the peanut butter playdoh and had planned to do the fingerpainting this weekend. As a momma to 3 little ones, these are some fabulous ideas!

  • Monica says:

    LOVE ice cube boats and painting! Can’t wait to try those. I wasn’t feeling well on Tuesday and my husband was in charge of our three under three. He made potato stamps for the oldest to paint with and the one year old twins got to pudding paint! Let’s just say I hope they had fun! I’ll have to tell him that he chose well!

  • Lana says:

    Our 1 and 3 year old grandsons painted Nana and Poppa’s deck, the back of the house and all the riding toys while they were visiting Memorial Day weekend. They had a blast doing it and got to take their paintbrushes home so they could paint with water there 🙂 So much fun for so little money!

  • Jane says:

    I put cornmeal in a cake pan and let my little boy drive his hot wheels around – the cars/trucks wheel indents in the cornmeal looked like roads. He loved it!

  • Naomi says:

    I never thought of water “painting.” Great idea!

    • When I was younger and taught toddlers at a daycare I would let them “paint” the playhouses with water. This worked great on those days they were bouncing off the walls (right before a holiday or vacation!) because it kept their attention for a while and they felt like they were getting away with being extra messy… but it was water that dries fast!

  • Amanda says:

    These are great ideas! Thank you.

  • Jenny Sockol says:

    The ice cube painting looks fun – too bad I don’t have ice cube trays!

    • Denise says:

      no icecube trays? just use a few inches of water in a few cups – once frozen rinse cup under water and the ice will fall right out! I’ve also used jello moulds or cupcake trays – fun to play with colored ice in a water table/water bucket/wadding pool…..

    • Janie says:

      Thrift stores carry everything, including ice cube trays!! Great place to find “stuff”!

  • lisa says:


  • Maggie says:

    The best activities are no-cost activities. I worked in a Montessori school for the last few years and some of these activities (like bean scooping) seem silly, but they are so great for developing fine and gross motor skills and increasing those little attention spans. Commercials and modern society try to tell parents that their kids need expensive electronic toys and computer games and baby genius dvds in order for kids to learn and get a head start, but simple activities like these really are the best! Great post!!

  • Kim J says:

    For the wee little ones, a muffin tin and tennis balls were fabulous.

  • Courtney says:

    Water painting is the easiest activity in the world and kids LOVE it. My 4 year old thinks it’s so much fun to paint the house, deck, vehicles, his playhouse, etc.

  • We fill Tupperware containers full of water so our little people and Polly pockets have a pool!

  • Andrea Q says:

    Hide and seek is completely free!

  • Hilary says:

    Shaving cream painting. we always have tons of shaving cream. so we will put a bunch on a tarp or in the plastic pool. last year we got 15 tubs of cool whip free and then they played in that and then we hosed them off.

  • Amanda says:

    You inspire me everyday. Just thought you should know. Thank you. 🙂

  • Kimberly says:

    When we can’t get outside, my kids love to build a “tent” in the living room using our dining room chairs and a fitted bed sheet. I let them bring a few toys in there and some bowls and cups from the kitchen for them to set up house. Sometimes though, it is a castle, or a cave, or a store, just whatever they are in the mood for that day!

  • Kathy says:

    Love these idea’s. So simple and easy. Thanks:)

  • says:

    We grow our own organic garden and this is a wonderful free activity that the children can participate in all spring and summer long. I look forward to coming home after work and checking in with the kids to see what we can harvest. Then the fun begins in finding recipes and making delicious healthy dishes for all.

  • Robin says:

    Another idea is to take those empty hand-washing dish-soap bottles, rinse them thoroughly, and let them squirt-paint all over the backyard! (make sure you rinse them out well, as odds are good they will become “free” outdoor toys for some time; squirting friends/siblings–make sure they agree to it! ;), and, if kids haven’t changed in 30 years, drinking from them, squirting yourself over the head, etc etc etc…). Great summer toy, and free!

    (they’re also handy for rinsing toddler heads after shampooing…easier to control the water)

  • Heather O'Sullivan says:

    Water Painting is especially awesome when you have a brick house or sidewalk like ours. My 3 year-old boy could paint all day(and he distracts easily). We love even adding a little color with broken chips from sidewalk chalk to mix things up a bit. We also use egg cartons for sorting or working on the 15 month olds fine motor skills. Plastic eggs and a recylcled egg carton can be very entertaining! And they’re learning counting and colors at the same time!!

  • Kristen says:

    My 21 month old daughter is very “enthusiastic” with items like paint. So to contain her enthusiasm I let her pudding finger paint on the tub surround. I put her in a disposable diaper and let her at it. When she is done I rinse the tub and she gets a much needed bath.

  • Cher says:

    Thank you for your clever ideas! You are such an inspiration:o)

  • Wendy says:

    Have you ever tried mixing cornstarch and water in equal-ish parts? It makes a great goo that’s weirdly addictive and fun to play with. We put it in a rimmed baking sheet and let our preschooler have at it.

  • Elias says:

    We picked up a big bag of cornfeed from the local feed store for $8 and poured it into a little swimming pool with cups, shovels, bowls, etc. We had some kids over and it was a huge hit. plus it’s easier to clean then sand and makes for something different. We also like to fill a big rubber maid bin with water and dish soap outside and the kids wash their toys, dishes, bikes, or whatever they like.

  • Anne Marie says:

    A zillion thanks for this post. I’m beside myself trying to figure out how to keep my 21 month old busy while I do “school” with my 4 year old!

  • A says:

    If you are able to get some free shaving cream with coupons, digging thru shaving cream piles to find hidden items on a cookie sheet is waaaay fun, but messy! 🙂

    My children once had a “favorite” developmental toy…sticking juice lids (from juice concentrate) through a slot in the lid of an ice cream bucket. It was endlessly entertaining and put those fine motor skills to work!


  • Hi Crystal, thanks for including me! I wanted to let you know, though, that when you click on the link for “apple stamping” it actually goes to a hot rocks post on a different website. Just thought I would let you know in case other readers were confused.

  • Leeanne A says:

    This just goes to show you that fun and education do not need to be expensive! I am the most frugal teacher there is – my entire classroom is filled to the brim with garage sale finds and my activities are imaginative like yours – Love it!
    Here is my link for you to see:

  • TeamBonk says:

    Thank you for the wonderful suggestions. Despite having four children, I haven’t tried all of these!

    The scooping of beans appeals to me particularly – my youngest has CP and this is an awesome (yet inexpensive!) way to work some therapy into her day!

  • Lisa says:

    Just thought your ideas were wonderful. Feel free to use any of mine.
    Check out my blog on homemade activities for toddlers to preschoolers.


  • Jen says:

    My toddler likes to take lids off and on containers. I’ve saved a variety of containers (yogurt, spices, butter, etc.) for him. I put them in a low cabinet in the kitchen. As I cook dinner, he plays with his containers and lids.

  • Lisa says:

    Great ideas, Crystal! I am only concerned about one though…the bean scooping. I am a radiologic technologist and have seen a few x-rays that show a bean stuck up in the nose or in the ear. It can happen so fast.

  • Christine says:

    Yay! My daughter made water “soup” today for an hour!!! That’s forever in her world. She’s not even 17 months yet. It was amazing! She adored it! Thank you!!

  • Cara says:

    If I need my 4 kids (5, 3, and twin 1 yr olds) out of my hair while I cook…. I pull out my cookie cutters, cake pans, and muffin tins. I have no clue what they find so histerical about filling a cake pan with the cutters then dumping them out, but it works!! I don’t mind picking up the scattered cookie cutters (from EVERY room in the house, I have tons of cutters) because it allowed me to get cooking, or sewing projects done!!

  • Katy says:

    I like homemade finger paint, saving concentrated juice lids to make a memory game, making your own bubble mixture, and letting my daughter play with kitchen bowls, spoons etc… And I’ve done the bean idea, she LOVES that! I give her different sized spoons and a muffin tin to put the beans in.

  • We love to “paint” the house with water and visit the museum on its free day. They have a fabulous hands-on exhibit for young artists.

    We also set up our own “water park” in the backyard with sponges, buckets of water, a large tarp, sprinkler, wading pools, water guns and such.

  • I am so excited to try some of these with my 4 and 2 year olds. They are just going to think it’s the most fun ever! 🙂

  • amanda says:

    Those are great ideas!

  • Great ideas! I don’t have any children yet but these look like a lot of fun. It’s so sad to see so many kids addicted to TV’s, computers, iPad’s now and the like. Thanks for sharing, I like to file this stuff away for future. 😉

  • Lynne says:

    Making bird feeders out of empty milk jugs was a fun activity for my kids. I had some wooden dowels from my craft supplies to use as perches and wire leftover from wedding decorations that we used to hang them with. All I had to get was the bird seed. Not only was it fun to make the feeders, it’s been fun watching beautiful birds and sometimes even squirrels feeding up close!

  • Kathryn says:

    Love these ideas!! However, as hot as our pavement is in Texas, we won’t be doing water painting! The picture would evaporate before you were through!

  • Mrs. Diner says:

    Thanks for sharing. We’re tried some of these ideas, but not all. Love them! We keep a list of “boredom busters” on the fridge for when we’re not sure what to do. These will get added to it for sure! I also have a great book I’ve bought with good ideas for toddlers called “The Toddler’s Busy Book”…has a ton of great ideas for everything!

  • Amber L. says:

    My daughter (25 m) can sit for a very long time putting mini-marshmellows in and out of muffin tins, finding pennies (and putting them into her piggy bank) I have hidden in her bird-seed bin (a tote with a shallow amount of seed), tossing balled up socks into a laundry basket, and lacing ribbons through the rungs of the kitchen chairs. Being the only grandchild she has tons of toys, but it’s the simple things she likes best. Please keep a close eye on small children with things like pennies and bird-seed! 🙂

  • alyssa says:

    shaving cream on a table works just like the pudding finger paints

  • Ivania says:

    These are great ideas!!
    I’ve done the colored ice cubes with sticks (covered it with foil and poked Popsicle sticks in the middle for a handle).  I love that my 4 yr old twins and 2 yr old can do this together!  😉 Oh, and my tot loves to pour water.  I’ve colored some water in 2 separate plastic bowls (for example- one is red and one is yellow) and when she mixes it together in her highchair, voilà it becomes orange!  ;). The older girls love playing “tea party” with plastic measuring cups and little bowls/cups. Each kid gets a cookie sheet to play on with a small towel so if there’s any spillage, they can clean it up. 😉

  • Amina says:

    Similar to water “painting,” when I was a kid we used to “paint” each other’s faces with dry watercolor brushes pretending we were painting portraits. It was fun for the painter and a relaxing mini face massage for the one being painted. This has to be done when the children are old enough to use a light touch and not poke each other in the eye though.

  • Tara says:

    I tried a sorting game with different tupperware bowls and cereal.However all my 16 month old did was eat it lol. Can’t wait to do a few of these with her!

  • Thanks for sharing my ice cube painting with your readers!

  • Amanda says:

    The end of celery makes pretty flower looking stamps too.

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