Tips for Successful Toddler Activities from a Teacher Mom

How do I make setting up and cleaning up activities easy with two toddlers?


It sounds great, in theory, to do all these fun activities with your toddlers, and we know it’s good for our kids and fun, but the thought of doing something messy or involving lots of parts might send you running for the hills. So, how can we avoid that feeling of wanting to run and hide when it’s time to do activities with our little ones?

  • Be clear on your expectations.
    • Write them down if needed.
    • Communicate this with your children and tell them what you need them to do.
    • Practice, practice, practice! Make it fun, but it might help to practice how to help set up and clean up before it’s time to actually do it.
  • Keep activities as simple as possible.
  • Keep your supplies organized.
    • This includes making the time to put them away after an activity or at the end of each day!
  • Some people do really well with setting up their activities the night before, or even for the week ahead. Others prefer to gather supplies the morning of the activities or right before the activities. Try both and use what works for you!
  • Use what you have and adapt as needed.
    • Remember, there’s no one right way to do an activity, and it’s ok to try new things.
  • Have something ready for your children to do after the activity so that you can finish cleaning up and properly put things away.
  • Involve the kids as much as possible in the cleanup, even if it’s cumbersome at first. They’ll eventually learn and get the hang of it, making it easier for you.
  • Get a plastic shower curtain or tablecloth and use it to cover the floor for messier activities. It makes cleaning up a LOT easier!
    • This also works well for stuff like playing with blocks. Putting down a sheet (or tablecloth or shower curtain) makes cleaning up easier because kids don’t spread them out as far and you can grab the corners of the sheet and get the blocks in a nice neat pile in the middle.
  • Put clear contact paper on a table that’s used frequently for messy play. When the contact paper is too messy and hard to clean, lift it up and put a new piece down.
  • Use plastic place mats as work mats, as this defines their space better, keeping supplies and the “mess” consolidated. Plus, you can wipe the place mat off afterward. You could also make a work mat by putting contact paper over construction paper or a file folder.

A Few Thoughts About Expectations…

It can be SUPER frustrating when we’re trying to do something and our little ones aren’t cooperating. Or, we tell them to do something and they don’t follow through and do it. So, let’s try to think of ways to set ourselves and our children up for success before we even begin.

Questions to consider:

  1. What do you want your child to do?
  2. How are you going to help him/her do this?
  3. How can you say or show your child in a way that he/she will understand?
  4. What will happen if your child doesn’t listen?



Here’s an example of how you might introduce an activity and set expectations:

“I have a game I’d like to play with you. Would you like to play a game?” (wait for a response, which will likely be, “yes.”).


“Great! I’m excited to play a game with you. But, first, I need to tell you how the game works. Then, we’ll review the rules before we start playing the game….. (explain activity)… Any questions?” (wait for a response).


“During this game, if you’re not following directions and are being unsafe, I’ll give you 3 chances before we’ll need to put the game away.”  


I always ask for some sort of acknowledgment. I noticed that if I ask Sweet Pea if she understands, she often says, “no” because she doesn’t like what I said. So, I’ve changed it to asking her to acknowledge it instead and that seems to be helping.


ALL this being said, we’re learning through play, so it’s ok if your little one isn’t super serious about the activity or only does it for a few minutes. You need to start somewhere and build up from there.

If your child loses interest, try watching what they’re doing instead of encouraging what you had in mind,  and ask questions about it. Using, “I wonder what would happen if…” statements can help guide your little one back towards the activity (Check out my Connecting with Children through Conversations Guide for additional ideas!). Or, simply keep playing/doing the activity and talk enthusiastically/excitedly about what you’re doing. Often, when kids see that we’re interested in something, they want to do it too. You can also try leaving the activity out so that your little one can come back to it later.


What’s your “go to” strategy for making it easier to do activities with your little ones?