Keeping your toddler busy when working with your preschooler

how to keep toddler busy entertained when teaching preschoolerAfter my previous post on Montessori preschool homeschool activities, I had a couple of mamas ask how I keep Lucy from interrupting Cameron when he is working. Keeping a toddler occupied while you work with your preschooler is no easy feat. I have been asked several times how I teach Cameron when Lucy is awake. I have previously done a round up of Montessori toddler activities including the best places around the web to find fun ideas for toddlers. 

Always keep in mind that the child’s likelihood to happily play independently is dependent on the child. Just as it is dependent on their personality as to whether they will try to interfere with someone’s work. Lucy is definitely more independent but loves to be in the middle of what is going on. She will still sometimes annoy her brother (what are little sisters for!?) but not very often.

As a toddler, Cameron was a hoverer and I never made much of an effort to encourage him to play by himself until he was over 2 and I was heavily pregnant. Many of the activities I used to do with him indirectly fostered independence but it wasn’t very often that you would find him spending much time away from me.

cammy tot

Lucy is very different to how Cam was, and he is too now. They’re both great independent explorers in play and learning.

So how can you foster independence? I think the key things that made a difference for us (aside from Cameron growing up and Lucy being naturally more independent) were:

1. I stopped viewing myself as The Entertainer. You don’t have to play alongside your child/ren all the time.

2. Similar to above, I let my kids be bored. Boredom is goood! Kids need to learn how to entertain themselves.

3. I started encouraging lots of time for free play and observing what interests each child. What are they drawn to? What are they struggling with? What keeps their attention? How can I incorporate their interests into learning and play?

4. I let myself see that my time and needs are important – so that they could too. If I stop what I’m doing for every interruption, what message does that send my kids about the worth of what I’m doing? Of course, there are times that interruptions are necessary but I had to realise that being entirely child-centered wasn’t helpful for any of us.

5. I gave them the freedom to struggle and make mistakes. This may seem obvious to many, but when Cameron was a baby and toddler, I subconsciously made myself responsible for his happiness and success. I would swoop in if he was getting frustrated with a toy and would correct him. This led to him seeking my guidance more often than needed and I thankfully recognised the issue in time to turn it around.

 the entertainerThere are countless ways to keep your toddler busy; but without encouraging independence and working on the above points, the most enticing activities won’t entertain your tot!


Yes, she will genuinely spend a decent amount of time simply pumping soapy water into a bowl, scooping clear water beads or transferring gems with a spoon. It’s that easy. It’s all about keeping it simple, engaging and (this one is important) repetitive but with little mess. For many great ideas, see my toddler activity pinterest board.

simple engaging repetitivelinkys

What tips do you have for keeping infants and toddlers busy? I’m sure there is more obstacles with more than two children.

I would love for you to share my post or leave me a comment if this has helped or inspired you :)

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  1. says

    These are fabulous tips and ideas for encouraging independent play!
    I often get asked ‘how do you do it all?’ and while I don’t have any magic answers people are often surprised to hear that I don’t usually play with me kids. Occasionally I will set up and activity that needs to be involved, and sometimes I join their play if asked or if it is something I enjoy… but most of the time I make sure they have access to toys and activities that they are interested in and then I let them do their work, while I do mine. We often work and play side by side, and often we chat or I help with this or that… but I don’t feel that it is my job to play with my kids all the time and so they don’t expect it of me…

    • says

      I am the same (now). I am the same with work/play side by side. I like them to see me read so I sometimes read outside while they are off exploring! Thanks for commenting Kate :)

  2. says

    I love all those tips. Many people ask me why all my children are so independent and that’s because I’ve allowed them to be. They love sister and mum play time but they also enjoy playing and entertaining themselves just as much!

    • says

      That is the greatest. It will help in so many areas of their life (the ability to be creative, self-directed, capable, confident little humans!) :) Thank you for commenting!

  3. says

    Awesome tips. I wish I started this earlier with my oldest, who only got less attention (I used to play with him ALL the time) when baby brother was born at 2.5 years. I think he would be a lot more independent if I would have stepped back sooner. Pinning to share with others – great post :-)

  4. says

    I wholeheartedly agree. Give them opportunity to explore and discover, let them be bored, provide a variety of everyday objects and let them get figure out what to do with them. What a great preschool ‘program’ this makes!

    • says

      Sometimes the simplest things are the best, I so agree with exploring and discovering everyday items (they are new to them!). Thank you for stopping by and commenting :)

  5. says

    I really enjoyed this post. I think like you, with my first son, he tended to stay close by, but is a wonderful independent player now. And my daughter also happily potters around while I am doing other things. But I especially relate to your points about not being the entertainer and letting them get bored. I think when they get bored they then come up with the most amazing ideas!

  6. says

    I absolutely agree with making sure you are not the entertainer. I create lots of invitations for play, but also make sure there is time for my children to create their own play every day. Unstructured time is essential and an important part of our days

    • says

      Definitely, I love invitations to play and those are helpful to independence and creativity in their own right. It’s such a pleasure to have you reading and commenting Elise :)

  7. says

    I am guilty of playing with my kids. Most days all my daughter wants to do is pretend (imaginative play), and that is a lot more exciting when there is another character to play with- so I always say ‘yes’ to her invitations.

    It will be interesting when Ike starts to move, touch, grab and want to do his own things.

    I’m bookmarking these ideas to come back to when that does happen.

    • says

      I definitely still play with Cam & Lulu (particularly Lucy), just much less. I think saying yes to those kinds of invitations is awesome. Thank you for reading and commenting Jackie :)

  8. says

    I love your points about letting them play–they are so capable!! I pinned this to my (CarlaINHouston) Toddler “School”!! board–thanks so much for sharing!

    • says

      Thank you Carla! I still have to remind myself (and them!) but all in all it’s something I know to be true and encourage :) I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  9. says

    These are some great activities and ways to keep your children occupied, or at least structured when you are teaching your other children. With two of my own at different grade levels I totally understand. Thank you for sharing and for linking up this week to the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop.

  10. says

    Lots of great ideas! It is always a balancing act to keep each age happy while meaningfully interacting with the others =)

    Thanks for linking up to TGIF! Hope to see you over there again later today =)


  11. says

    Rachel, coming across this post is so timely for me as I’ve come to a point where I’ve realized I just can’t be there to entertain my almost 2 year old son. You’ve got some great points here that make me feel so much better for him to discover playing independently and I like your point of creating play based on their interests…my son loves putting things in a box and taking them out or connecting things, so I must focus on that more and perhaps remove a lot of the toys/activities that are just in the way. Great post!

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