“Mommy’s Free Time” aka Toddler Activities That Entertain For Longer Periods of Time

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toddler activities that will keep their attention

Up until recently there were very few things that Alexis would do without requiring my attention or involvement, which made it very difficult to do anything. She is finally at that age (18 months) when certain activities are of enough interest and keep her entertained for longer, as well as do not always require my full involvement.  This has been a welcome change to our routines and has given me a few minutes of freedom to be able to finally get things done around the house even if it’s 15-20 minutes at a time.

What made a big difference is being able to put her in a “special chair” that she cannot get out of and is not used as an eating chair.

We have our amazing Svan Signet chair that I will be writing about later and it has been invaluable due to its ability to be used without the tray. All I do is pull Lexi up to a desk in the kitchen and voila she sits there working on different activities for 30-90 minutes, giving each activity good 15-20 minutes before moving on while I am free to make food or clean up after a meal. Before that, we tried the same thing at the kid’s table and in her armchair, but she would always get up and run to do something else simply because she could and let’s face it, she is an active toddler.

So given that she does all these activities in her special chair, here they are:


This is a no-brainer for most kids over 12 months. All toddler love doodling, however some don’t have the patience and the focus to sit there and doodle when they COULD be running around. After all our furniture has gotten “doodled” all over, I decided that something needed to be changed. After looking around I found a HUGE roll of white paper that she could draw on without going off the paper and “lexifying” our carpets and tile floor or tables.
At first, we used this roll on the floor where she contently drew and played with her crayons asking us to draw her hearts and spiders and babies and Rs (her favorite letter). The roll of paper lasts forever and is a really great thing to have around.


Once I figured out the chair/desk situation described above, I moved the big roll of paper there and hung it off the desk. It was even more perfect than I thought. The crayons we use are beeswax crayons from International Arrivals. They have amazingly vivid colors and  non-toxic. After Lexi chewed off some bits of the crayons, we switched to the long ones wrapped in paper that are amazing quality and color.



Using the non-toxic paint from Glob made of fruit and vegetables and these brushes of different sizes and thickness, I mix water with the paint powder and let her go to town. After we went pottery painting in Miami in July, I realized that she was definitely ready to paint and have fun with it and it’s been …. well, messy, but different from her other activities which is great.



We use this non-toxic play dough to play with. I love the colors and the texture of it. It took Lexi some time to figure out how to make a ball out of the play dough and roll it in her palms  but now that she has, she loves making little balls and feeding them to the animals in the books while chanting “Amamamam!” We also have this Russian activity book that is meant to be used with play dough.



This has been the biggest hit of all times! She spends the most amount of time playing with the sticker books and you can take them with you in the car (as long as someone is in the backseat since stickers are choking material).

After we spent a few days working with the book and using stickers together, she was able to take over on her own and find the right spots for the items. So now she will sit on her own ( most of the times), un-sticking the items and finding the right spots to stick them to. Once all the stickers are in place ( after a week of playing with it) she will continue by un-sticking them and putting them somewhere else.


Our favorite sticker books are these two: Sticker Activity ABC and Sticker Activity Numbers. They are small enough that they are not confusing and easy to find the right spots for the sticker, so they are perfect for toddler. Some of the other sticker books I bought are so thick and overwhelming that they would be more suitable for a 4-5 year old.

Great activity for car rides, restaurants, or any traveling situation. This set of 6 books is great if you’re embarking on a long trip.


This only keeps her busy if she is in the mood, but it’s a good one to have on hand.

All you need are two or more plastic containers and small items that they can move from one container to the other. Over and over again.

We use these Hape wooden animals as items for these containers. But any of the Hape Qube sets will work great as they double as educational toys when your toddler sorts them.


Lexi is a huge fan of Look and Find books. We have about 6 big books that she absolutely adores. After we initially read through them, she was happy to sit on her own and keep finding items of the page. These are great books whether used with a parent or alone. Her favorites are Princess Magic  and Disney Pixar ABCs all around



I stole this idea from our local library where we do story time. She loved re-arranging animals on a velcro board that it gave me the idea to get one for her. Unfortunately, I was not able to find a finished product. I don’t have time to make one from scratch ( if you do, it ends up being really cheap), so I ordered some cut out animals and letters and a velcro board with hooks and attached the hooks to the back of them.


I just ordered the table and it’s not here yet but I expect the sandbox to be one of her favorite past times. She loves playing with sand at the beach and this is the same thing right here on our patio.The key for me was to get non-toxic sand. Most sand has carcinogenic substances in it ( if you look at the label it will state that), so you have to make sure that you get either beach sand or safe sand, like this one.


I’ve been having to travel for work every 2 weeks to Orlando which is a 3.5 hour drive, so I’ve tried anything possible to find activities that can be done in the car. Sticker books are great, animals in containers work really well too. I purchased a little lap desk with a notepad where she can draw and it’s been working out great. And if all else fails, there’ re always those awesome iPhone apps I wrote about.




Supplies you’ll need:

High Chair

Paper Roll

Non-Toxic Crayons and Crayon Sticks

Non-Toxic Paint and Paint Brushes

Non-Toxic Play Dough (or make your own )

Sticker Activity ABC and Sticker Activity Numbers

Look and Find Books

Hape Qube sets (wooden animals perfect for sorting and role playing)

Velcro Board Activity: boardcut out animals and letters hooks

Lap Desk

Sand table and Non-toxic Sand

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  • Reply
    Jordy Petrovic
    September 2, 2013 at 4:30 AM

    I love your blog so much. After I fell pregnant with my first child at the end of last year at age 28, my husband was asking me all of these questions that I was unable to answer until I found your blog. My son is now four months old and I enjoy reading posts like this as it makes me aware of how many chemicals and toxins are in things that you don’t expect. A question that is completely off topic, what foods do you feed Lexi as I am a vegan, my husband eats meat and I don’t know whether I should raise him as a vegetarian or a meat-eater?

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      September 2, 2013 at 2:22 PM

      Thank you Jordy!

      I did write a post detailing what we feed her (it was around 12 months i think), plus there are other posts months back too if you’d like to search.
      Also, I have a meal post coming up.
      As far as vegan vs meat eater, we basically do the following with her: she eats eggs, fish, but no milk, cheese (though if those are added into something that we want to give her we don’t worry about it. It’s just we don’t specifically buy cheese or milk to give her), no meat whatsoever.
      It seems to be a good balance. She gets the two most nutritious and healthy things (eggs and fish) and skips the iffy stuff that tends to dull down your tastebuds anyways.

      • Reply
        Jordy Petrovic
        September 3, 2013 at 7:11 AM

        Thank-you for your answer, I will search through the blog to find those posts. I can’t wait until he can begin eating solids.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2013 at 9:24 AM

    Hi from Toronto.

    Your daughter is lovely. Great Mum too !

    We use an iPad with 2 year old Ellie. Free apps only ! Started at 1.5, with “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Now, she uses apps for everything.


  • Reply
    September 2, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    My kids love play dough!!! So so much!

  • Reply
    September 2, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    Lexi appears to be left handed 🙂

  • Reply
    September 3, 2013 at 12:46 AM

    I love these recommendations and will totally use some with my daughter who is around the same age.

    This part is kind of meddling and I’m sorry if it comes across that way, but it looks like you’ve got some extra strap covers on Lexi’s car seat (or it’s her shirt collar?) and I know the Foonf strap covers are small, but the ones on there aren’t really safe to use unless Clek sent them to you. They can prevent you from getting the harness snug and may also make the straps slide off her shoulders in the event of an accident. Just something to consider. It’s great you’ve chosen to keep her rear facing (wish more parents would!), just maybe one tiny other step to keep her as safe as possible.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      September 3, 2013 at 1:02 AM

      Thanks for the concern but it’s really not an issue. Clek’s straps are much thicker than these cloth organic ones we use. They are thin enough that they don’t interfere with anything any more than a tshirt.

    • Reply
      September 3, 2013 at 10:15 AM

      I really hate it when other parents act all high and mighty and try to act like they’re smarter, and safer, and making better decisions. You’re seriously going to pick apart the strap covers? I can tell you’re one of those moms that likes to one-up other moms and act like you’re better than everyone…in reality you’re probably very insecure. I feel sorry for you.

      • Reply
        September 3, 2013 at 6:54 PM

        This as just an outright nasty comment. It’s one thing to point out your annoyance with the comment, but some of the things you said we’re hurtful and probably not true. Elena, you just had a post about not hating on each other, but this comment seems very hateful.

        • Reply
          Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
          September 3, 2013 at 10:07 PM

          You’re seeing it from the standpoint of a person who also always points out any “perceived” car seat safety issues. The commenter is talking from the standpoint of being sick of the car seat/stroller/etc police who feel it is their duty to tell every mom out there that her straps are too loose, clip is too low,seat is installed wrong…. It is not their responsibility to point these things out. And yes, it does come off really nosy and meddling when people do that.

          People have said far worse things than this comment.

          That being said, I think Teresa’s comment was probably one of the sweetest “car seat” comments I’ve seen. She apologized beforehand and seemed to mean well.

          But I just totally see where Arden’s “attitude” is coming from. It’s not necessarily directed at Teresa, but all the other moms out there that put it upon themselves to ensure that no person ever breaks the car seat rules even if they use common sense while doing it.

          • Corinne
            September 3, 2013 at 10:38 PM

            Always? Okay.

            I can definitely see how it can be annoying when there are constantly comments from people regarding “proper” car seat safety is bring used. I’m sure that gets old. And if they want to point out their annoyances, go for it. I just think the accusing and negativity about that comment was uncalled for. I understand there have been worse comments on your page, but since your post about not being hateful toward each other? I just feel like you should practice what you preach, even in what you allow in your comments. How can we stop hate from spreading with comments like that?

            There was no name-calling, demeaning, or anger in this comment, yet I feel my point was respectfully made.

          • Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
            September 3, 2013 at 10:59 PM

            You are right.

      • Reply
        September 3, 2013 at 10:19 PM

        Whoa. I am not smarter or safer than anyone, I did the same thing with my daughter before I had my car seat inspected by a CPST. I know that Elena cares about car seat safety and I didn’t know if she knew about this particular thing. If (God forbid) they were in an accident and Lexi had those on, it would make Clek not liable. If I was using something that was potentially not entirely safe, I would want other parents to help me out too. But I guess that’s just me and I shouldn’t have assumed other parents felt similarly.

        I don’t think I’m any better than any other parent, nor am I particularly insecure (apparently just a jerk?), I just thought from one relatively new parent to another, it might be something that Elena might want to know. I’m sorry if it came across rudely, I would never intentionally put down another parent or make them feel bad and I’m very sorry if I did so.

        • Reply
          Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
          September 3, 2013 at 10:58 PM

          Teresa, I thought you came across well. I didn’t think you were being rude or anything. You were sweet.
          I just get why Arden commented the way she did, because most “car seat commenters/moms” aren’t so nice about and they are incessant.

    • Reply
      September 3, 2013 at 10:24 AM

      Why do so many people make comments as “concerned Mommies” when really, they’re just trying to make Elena look irresponsible? She’s obviously a caring mother who cares about her child’s safety. You’re acting like she’s an idiot and can’t take care of her own child…

  • Reply
    September 3, 2013 at 3:23 PM

    Yay, I love your product recommendations, keep them coming! It’s great for me, because my son is about 8 months younger than Lexi, so I benefit from reading your posts as it gives me time to prepare for his next stage. For instance, I just got some great Christmas ideas from this post. xoxo

  • Reply
    September 4, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    Wow! Seven hour total commute every two weeks! Do you do the whole seven hours in one day, or do you stay overnight in Orlando to break it up? My heart goes out to you- that is a lot of driving with an eighteen month old!

    I love the enormous roll of paper for drawing. That is a great idea.

    Just curious- is there a reason the drawing chair has to be a chair that she doesn’t eat in? I didn’t see that explained and I didn’t understand. Does she automatically think “food” in the eating chair? Is it just a mess or convenience issue?

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      September 4, 2013 at 9:24 AM

      We drive around noon one day. I have meetings all afternoon/evening when we arrive. We spend the night, I have a couple of hours of work in the morning and then we leave for home. I would never be able to do 7 hours in one day with a toddler.

      And as far as the chair, I guess it doesn’t have to be a chair that she doesn’t eat it in. Im not sure why i said it.
      Just the one where you can take the tray off and there’s still something to protect them from falling aside from the straps.
      Because now that I think of she does eat in that chair but it’s the only chair we can use like this without a tray.
      I’m sure something like a booster seat will work too cuz it doesn’t have to have a tray.

  • Reply
    September 4, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    We have done four eleven hour drives (from NC to FL and back, twice) since our son was born, but I don’t think I could do that more than once a year!

    Thanks for explaining about the chair- any chair that a toddler will sit still in for ninety minutes sounds like a magic chair to me!

  • Reply
    September 4, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    I have nothing really useful to say, but just felt like adding that Lexi is seriously so cute. I love her curly hair in the painting pictures. She is just so adorable!

  • Reply
    September 5, 2013 at 3:15 AM

    Have you tried engaging her in the activities that you are doing around the house? I think that most toddlers love doing this around that age, and it is a great way to get things done _and_ provide them with learning opportunities. At 18 months, my son loved to ‘help’ with the laundry, with unloading the dishwasher, with sweeping the floors and watering plants… And he became really interested in cooking. So for his second birthday, instead of a play kitchen, we gave him a supply of child-sized (but real) kitchen items – an apron, kitchen towels, cutting boards, little pots, a knife, etc. It is a joy to have him as a kitchen helper; he loves activities such as cutting veggies, putting the bits into pans, and so on. While this certainly doesn’t qualify as ‘Mommy’s Free Time’, as you put it – in fact most tasks take longer, obviously – it is a really nice way to keep him engaged and entertained.

    One thing I didn’t quite understand about the chair that you mention above: you write that “she would always get up and run to do something else” when sitting in other chairs, and that a high chair prevents this from happening. But why would you want to prevent it from happening? Going off to play independently is something that we have very actively encouraged in our son, and something that he learned gradually through exploring and playing on his own for stretches at a time.

    • Reply
      September 5, 2013 at 9:41 PM

      Theresa- Where did you find the child-sized kitchen items? I would love to get my son something like that.

      I recently discovered that my son (22 months) can help scrub the shower. I use very safe, non-toxic cleaner for this, so I just give him a washcloth and we scrub scrub scrub together. It does take longer, but it’s one less chore to do during nap time and he loves it. He feels so important when he helps around the house, and it all seems like play at this age anyway.

      • Reply
        Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
        September 5, 2013 at 10:03 PM

        Ikea has great stuff.

      • Reply
        September 6, 2013 at 2:59 AM

        Hi Tarynkay,
        I live in Germany, and all our stuff was bought here, so I don’t have any shopping recommendations for the US. But if you are looking for inspiration, I would recommend the many awesome Montessori blogs out there, for example http://www.howwemontessori.com/how-we-montessori/in-the-kitchen/. I am not a hardcore Montessori advocate myself – some of it is a bit too earnestly educational and, well, German for my taste 😉 – but we do follow many of their principles more or less intuitively. For example, my son’s kitchen and cleaning utensils are stored at toddler height, so that he can access them independently.
        I agree with you: the sense of accomplishment that this kind of task instills in the kids is really awesome (and very cute). And coming back to the topic of independence, I have found that this type of activity has really fostered my son’s ability for self-reliance. For example, I will tell him: Listen, I really need to cook/clean/do x right now for a bit. Would you like to join and help me? Or would you like to go and play for a bit? for us, this is often a good way to avoid tantrums and clinginess.

  • Reply
    September 5, 2013 at 8:38 AM

    We got that Roger Priddy ABC sticker book for our soon when he was 18mo old and we had to fly cross-country. He LOVED that thing! He’s three now and it can still occupy him.

    Not sure why it never occurred to me to look for other sticker books of the same genre, but thanks for the rec on the set of six. I’m totally going to have to get those!

  • Reply
    Modas Friesennerz
    September 8, 2013 at 1:18 AM

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