10 Toddler Activities to Make Waiting Time Fun, Worry-Free and Interesting

Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Prerna of The Mom Writes.

Playing the waiting game doesn’t have to be filled with tears, threats and meltdowns. Let’s be honest, grown-ups too don’t really like to wait. So, it is even more difficult if you’re a toddler or preschooler asked to remain patient and happy while waiting for something or someone.

However, if you have a few “make-a-toddler-happy” tricks and treats, playing the waiting game can be quite interesting and even fun.

Here are some simple yet effective sanity-savers to make waiting worry-free for you and your toddlers.

1. The Waiting Room Coloring Kit

Put together a waiting room coloring kit to keep toddlers engaged and occupied with drawing, scribbling, doodling or just sticking stickers on colored sheets of paper. My waiting room toddler kit consists of the following:

  • A drawing notebook with blank sheets of paper to draw and scribble. I use sheets of paper that have one side written on and one side blank. Simply fold the sheets of the paper, blank side facing up, use a paper punch and thread them together with a ribbon.
  • A pouch filled with left over crayons, washable felt pens, and coloring pencils from used sets. I also include a paintbrush and a lidded container with plain water in it for magic painting.
  • A plastic sheet that can be colored on and then wiped clean.
  • A Magic Painting book.  I get mine from the local stationery store and buy them in bulk. You can get similar ones on Amazon as well.

You can put all of this together into a small backpack or pouch and leave it in the car, waiting and ready to be used.

2. Have Fun Waiting with and for Food

Waiting at a restaurant can be tough on a toddler. After all, he is hungry and the food isn’t there yet! So, here’s what I do and it usually works with older kids as well. Carry a packet of Cheerios or any other snack with a hole in the middle. Carry a few, clean thin ribbons in different colors and have your toddler thread them through the holes. Glue the ends of the ribbons to stiffen them up and make threading easier. Keeps my daughter busy and even, becomes a snack while she waits for her food.

Another foodie waiting activity is to carry a packet of mixed nuts (check for allergies) or even, different colored or shaped candy and let your toddler sort them before proceeding to eat them.

3. Waiting Room Games

Games are a great way to keep a toddler or couple of toddlers busy and engaged while they wait for the doctor, for the bus/train/plane, at an office, or any other place which requires them to sit around for a while. A few favorites are I Spy and the Treasure Hunt with a few variations. Play I Spy with magazines, books and other things in the room. Also, you may have to adapt it a bit to suit your toddler or preschooler’s age and interest. With mine, colors and shapes are a hit, so I generally go, “I Spy from the corner of my eye something really blue”, and then she runs and picks up whatever looks bluish to her!

The Treasure or Scavenger Hunt is simple. Flip through magazines and ask your toddler to pick out a red car or a green umbrella or any thing that he would be able to identify easily. Keep it simple and easy to prevent any frustration at not being able to identify something.

4. Toys to Make Waiting Fun

I haven’t bought a single so-called ‘waiting room’ toy. However, I do have a stash of toys that I pull out each time we’re stuck in a traffic jam or are just waiting for someone or something. My waiting room toy kit consists of the following:

  • A couple of simple puzzles.
  • A push and go car or similar toy.
  • Couple of freebie toys from McDonald Happy Meals
  • A small, cuddly doll to snuggle with on long rides. This is more of a comfort object than a plaything.

You can create your own waiting room toy kit by putting together a few toys from your preschooler’s existing collection and storing them in a special backpack. Keep this along with the waiting room coloring kit in the car.

5. Songs to Pass the Time.

Kids love singing and music. Classics like “If you’re happy and you know it…”, “The wheels on the bus…”, “Old MacDonald had a farm…”, “Where is Thumbkin…” and others are a great way of passing time anywhere. Keep CDs with favorite tracks in the car and pop one in as soon as you notice your little one getting a little fidgety or bored. Sing along and you’ll have fun as well.

6. Waiting in the Car.

While most of the activities here can easily be adapted to a car ride, there are a few activities that are great for a toddler who’s tired of being in the car seat. I play “Mama Says” which is a spin-off of Simon Says. Play “What’s that Car” and ask your preschooler to name the color or the type of car.

7. Reading while Waiting.

Books are a great way to keep a toddler happy. I keep a few picture board books as well as some with nursery rhymes and favorite stories in the backpack with the toys. You can pick books that your toddler is currently reading or ones that she enjoys all the time and put those in to the waiting room backpack.

8. Waiting with Crafts.

I know. Waiting is not supposed to be art and craft. But it can be so much fun and can keep both you and your toddler engrossed so you wouldn’t even realize that time has flown. Couple of easy-to-do ideas are:

  • Cut shapes out of construction paper and have your toddler glue them or save some wooden ice-cream spoons and use them instead of the paper shapes. Keep a glue stick handy.
  • Carry packets of stickers and let her just peel and paste them onto notepaper, in the coloring book or on plain construction paper. Turn these into cards or scribble pads later.
  • Make penne poles. Akin to the Cheerios-threading exercise, just carry some uncooked penne in a Ziploc pouch and let your toddler thread them into poles or bracelets.

9. Puppet Time.

Hand and sock puppets are great for passing time. Turn old, orphan socks into cute puppets by simply sticking buttons for eyes and using a felt pen to draw other features. I always have one in my handbag and it has never failed me.

10. The Waiting Room Kit

The complete waiting room kit can include all or something from everything mentioned above. In addition, you may want to include:

  • Snacks. Will keep hunger pangs at bay in a restaurant and keep them busy in the car or at the doctor’s. Include a bottle of water as well to wash things down.
  • A mini-purse or wallet just like yours, except fill it with fun stuff – some keys, fake money, colored post-its, play keys or some hair clips or bracelets and a little treat, like fruit leather.
  • Bubbles. Great for whiling away time anywhere and guaranteed to delight a cranky toddler.
  • A small dry-erase or chalkboard board can be a pleasant addition to the coloring kit. I just got my toddler a chalkboard and she adores it.
  • A couple of wrapped “gifts”. I use leftover bits of wrapping paper to pack small plastic spoons, a brand-new Crayola or matchbox car or even, a small Ziploc filled with raisins and chopped almonds. The excitement and thrill of unwrapping and discovering something inside keeps toddlers busy and happy.

Waiting can be pleasant, interesting and even, educational if you have everything you need. Vary the activities regularly. Switch the toys every now and then. And it helps to always be prepared. I found that taking the time out to prepare two small backpacks with zippered compartments holding snacks, all the supplies for crafts and coloring, some toys and books was all that I needed to save my sanity and keep my toddler happy while we drove around town, waited at the clinic or killed time at the airport. These fun activities will turn waiting into yet another opportunity to bond, interact and engage with your little ones.

How do you make waiting fun for your toddler? What works best to prevent a meltdown at the checkout line or in a restaurant?

Prerna Malik is a mom, a wife, a writer and woman who believes in living easy, green and simple, parenting with love, writing with passion and creating a home that invites you to put your feet up and relax. Find her sharing her journey and experiences with all of this at The Mom Writes.

51 Responses to “10 Toddler Activities to Make Waiting Time Fun, Worry-Free and Interesting”

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  1. Lain Ehmann says:

    A game we live to play in waiting rooms is to have magazine scavenger hunt races. We each grab a colorful magazine and take turns choosing what item we are looking for — a man with glasses, someone swimming, a cloud– and then we have a race to see who can find that item first. My older kids love this game, too!!

  2. Paul says:

    For the portable coloring kit, a friend of mine makes these portable crayon carriers that are a nice idea. I don’t stand to make anything from this post or anything, and my friend doesn’t even know I’ve mentioned it here. You could certainly make something like this for yourself if you didn’t feel the need to spend extra cash for it.


  3. Jodi says:

    I’ve never wanted to be a mom who carries around a whole bunch of stuff with her. So with my toddlers, we just found things to play with wherever we were. Doctor’s waiting room? Count the fish in the fish tank, or look through a magazine and find all the pictures of airplanes (or helicopters, or whatever the current obsession is). Waiting in an airport? Watch the planes! Waiting in a restaurant? Do what I did as a kid: crumple up the straw wrappers, put a drop of water on them, and watch the snake grow.

    All this means I don’t have to plan and haul around activities, and it increases skills in engaging with and observing where we are. My older child now has excellent observation skills.

  4. Since I carry so many tech gadgets, I usually allow them to play age-appropriate games I have downloaded on my phone. My 4 year old loves them, and it keeps her very busy and focused. For the 1.5 year old, I bring lots of thick, colorful crayons and lots of simple white paper. That usually does the trick!

  5. Dominic says:

    We purchased a zippered coloring book at World Market on clearance for $9.00. It is a wipeboard color book that uses dry erase markets. We then throw in some other activity sheets from the internet and a pencil and our 4 year old loves it for at least 5-10 minutes while we wait for the doctor or food.

  6. Prerna says:

    Hi everyone,
    Thank you so much for the wonderful ideas.
    @Lain- Magazine scavenger hunt races are a really fun idea. Perfect for when you’re waiting with a group of toddlers or preschoolers!
    @Jodi- Those are some really cool things to do without the baggage of things to carry. Thank you for sharing!
    @Angelica- Wow! Electronic games sound like a great way to help kids wait and pass time on long car rides or even, at the restaurant. Am not a very techy person myself, so unfortunately can’t share these with my toddler:-)
    @Dominic- Thank you for sharing about the zippered coloring book. It sounds perfect for your waiting room kit:-)
    @Paul- The portable crayon carriers sound interesting. Thank you for letting us know about them.

  7. Wendy Irene says:

    I love your ideas Prerna! I think you are right putting some time into preparing a waiting kit is worth it when you really need something to entertain them!

  8. Sukilou says:

    Love, love, love your ideas! Thank you for sharing them :)

  9. Prerna says:

    Hi Wendy and Sukilou,
    So glad you liked the ideas! Thank you for your kind words!

  10. Genevieve says:

    I also don’t like to carry a bunch of stuff in my purse and have found that especially my very active 3 year old enjoys games that not only get his body moving but also use his imagination. I play a game similar to Simon Says but change the statements from touch your nose to stand tall like a tree or floppy like a wet noodle. It helps keep him focused and uses his imagination. Another game I like to play is to use our five senses to describe a favorite place, what does it look like? Feel like? what sounds do you hear of food would you eat? Sometimes we start to add things and make of favorite places like marshmallow clouds. Its a lot of fun and really helps to pass the time works great in the car with multiple age children as well.

  11. These are all great ideas. I think I’ve used some version or other of these when my kids were little. There was one thing that was great to keep them entertained. It was the kind of book with glossy pages showing scenes and stickers at the end. The could create different scenes and make up stories by reusing the stickers over and over. I don’t know the name but that was the concept.

    Loving blessings!

  12. These are great. I think some of them will work well for my 15 month old. Do you have any good game suggestions we can play that are good for development at his age for any time?
    BTW have a laugh with these videos for real moms. My family company put them together and they are great for putting mom in a good mood:)

  13. Leah says:

    My favourite gift for kids 3 and up which isn’t really toddler age, is a pencil necklace. It’s portable entertainment and kids love to wear them, so you don’t have to carry anything extra except a couple of sheets of paper. Just drill holes in a package of stumpy pencils, thread them onto some elastic string and knot between them, then knot to tie around their neck. Great fun! The bubbles are a great idea too for littler kids. I would imagine it’s also fun to delight a waiting room filled with lots of bored adults as well as your toddler. Everybody loves bubbles.

  14. Carolyn says:

    You’ve got some great ideas here. I believe that it is our responsibility, not to spoil a child, but to encourage and teach and give them what they need to cope with the situations around them. Waiting is one of those times.

    Informative post. Thanks.

  15. Gemma says:

    These toddler games, that’s how I see them, are fantastic. Thanks for the tips!

  16. These are all great ideas. Waiting time can also be a valuable opportunity to teach a child about meditation. Similar to telling a story, leading a simple guided imagery is entertaining and helps impart lifelong relaxation skills to the child.

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