Having an extensive list of activities for 18-month-olds on hand helps you build an interesting, varied routine for your toddler.
Toddlers thrive on routine and want to engage in the same activities on repeat. Creating a routine is important. But it’s easy to find yourself in a rut, quickly growing very bored of the same activities at home and around town. Adding new activities to the mix will prove beneficial for everyone.
Why is it important to have a regular rotation of activities for 18-month-olds?
There are few key reasons why it’s critical to create a routine with toddler children that includes a healthy mix of activities.
- Developing different skill sets. Creating a weekly routine with a wide variety of activities ensures kids are developing their social, emotional, fine motor, and gross motor skills. giving them the tools they need to succeed as preschoolers and beyond.
- Getting them outside regularly. Going anywhere with young children, even the park down the street, is a major effort. But it’s a critical component of their health and development. Spending time in nature offers numerous benefits for toddlers [sources – 1 | 2] while exposing them to a healthy amount of germs, which builds their immune systems [source].
- Keeping everyone’s sanity. If you’ve spent any extended time with toddlers, you know how quickly it can become monotonous. Toddlers thrive on routine and will happily play with the same toys, eat the same foods, listen to the same music, and watch the same TV episodes over and over again. Routine is so important. But parents also go crazy watching the same episode of Peppa Pig or playing trains on the floor so many times. Keeping a list of activities for 18-month-olds on hand and working them into the weekly routine ensures everyone stays happy.
What types of activities are best for 18-month-olds?
I see a lot of toddler activity posts that are just huge lists of process art ideas. If you have a kid that loves art and is happy to try new process art every day, that’s great. However, as an activities list goes, it’s a little limited. Personally, I have a very active, very social toddler son who needs to spend a lot of time outside and engaged in activities with other people. He will do art projects but only finds them so interesting. So I need a much wider range of daily activities.
In this activities for 18-month-olds post, I’ve broken it down into three primary types of activities, which are as follows.
- Organized classes. I am not a huge advocate of organized classes for young children and never imaged that I’d sign my own kids up for them before age two. But again, I have a very social child who needs a lot of time with other people and has thrived well in organized classes. There are a number of classes for two-year-olds and then tons of classes for three-years-old and up. There aren’t nearly as many classes for toddlers under two. I’ve compiled the best options for 18-month-olds.
- Unstructured or minimally structured out of the house activities. Most of the time, when I’m out and about with my toddler son, we aren’t doing an organized class. There are lots of ways to get out of the house with toddlers that are free or very affordable and provide the freedom and tools they need to develop their social, gross motor, and fine motor skills.
- At-home activities. Mixing up the routine at home is critical for keeping everyone active and engaged, including the parents. I’ve detailed many of the things we like to do at home, which goes well beyond process art.
18 months is a great time to start toddler swimming lessons. Toddlers are very aware of the process and are able to participate actively much more than they would at 12 months. Starting at 18 months gives them a nice length of time to master early skills before moving up to a transition class without parents.
Personally, I recommend swim classes at a dedicated swim center, such as Swimtastic or Goldfish, as opposed to the YMCA. The quality of the staff tends to be higher and more consistent, and the facilities are nicer. ISR survival swim lessons are also a good option for toddlers.
Gymnastics is an awesome class option for active toddlers. They work on waiting their turns, taking directions from new adults, and following a sequence of tasks, all while getting to do activities that they love. While the exact classes will vary from one facility to the next, many centers offer parent-toddler classes for toddlers as young as 18 months.
One key benefit of enrolling your toddler in gymnastics classes is that it often includes access to open gym. On cold, rainy, or snow days, getting to burn off much needed energy at the gym is a much-welcome opportunity.
Gymboree starts at the infant level and has classes up through five years old. Their child-centered approach combines play and music to engage young minds and promote creativity and development. There isn’t a Gymboree center anywhere near me, so I don’t have personal experience with it. But you’ll find Gymboree in quite a few metropolitan areas.
Kindermusik or Music Together
Kindermusik and Music Together are both well-established, research-based music programs that are great for babies through preschoolers. The classes come with a range of materials to use at home, which helps justify the price point. You can find a number of Kindermusik and Music Together materials and class previews on YouTube, which may be helpful in determining if this type of class is a good fit for your 18-month-old toddler.
Dance classes are another great option for toddlers with a lot of energy, especially if they love music. This description fits most toddlers, right? There are a ton of dance class options for toddlers starting at 18 months from park district centers to dedicated dance studios and everything in between. Like all organized classes for 18-month-olds, toddler dance classes involve close parental supervision and participation.
Mommy and Me art classes
Mommy and me art classes are a perfect option for parents who are passionate about exposing their children to varied art techniques but don’t necessarily want to invest in a lot of supplies or make a huge mess at home all the time. It takes stress out of the equation completely. Look for Mommy and me art class offerings at local art museums as well as paint ‘n sip studios, which sometimes have family nights.
Home Depot workshops
It’s a little known fact that Home Depot stores offer a variety of kid DIY workshops throughout the year. Their website doesn’t specify an age range, but I know fellow parents who have taken toddlers under two to the classes.
Church or community moms’ group
A church or community moms’ group offers just the right amount of structure and commitment for many moms with small children. You can get out of your house and socialize with moms who have kids of similar ages while giving your kids a chance to socialize as well. I have found the most moms’ groups through a local Catholic area moms Facebook group. If you’re interested in this type of group and don’t know where to start looking, I would check for a similar Facebook group or just start asking your mom friends.
Similarly, I’ve had the most consistent play dates with mom friends with whom I either had a private Facebook group or shared message thread. We can throw out dates or ideas for future outings without the pressure of every single person feeling like they have to commit every single time. Most of the play dates I’ve had for my toddler son have been extremely low-key at someone’s house or a local playground. Don’t ever feel the pressure to organize a Pinterest-worthy play date with lots of beautiful snacks and art projects.
I’m sure this goes without saying but a playground outing is always a good bet with an 18-month-old toddler. It’s nice to create a small rotation of local playgrounds with toddler-friendly equipment that you both enjoy for your sake as much as the toddler’s enjoyment. Finding playgrounds with ample shade, benches, and even a few picnic tables is always a plus, too.
When you live in close proximity to the zoo, it’s worth getting a family membership, so you can come and go as you please without the pressure to spend a lot of time on any given visit. Most toddlers do much better with two-hour zoo trips than all-day excursions. Some zoos offer classes for toddlers under two as well.
An visit to the aquarium is a nice way to mix up the routine when you’ve been going to the zoo a lot. I realize that many areas of the country don’t offer easy access to aquariums, but it’s a good option if it is available to you.
A petting zoo is a fun option with toddlers who will often get just as much, if not more, out of a smaller petting zoo experience than a full zoo or aquarium trip. One-time petting zoo entrance fees tend to be a lot cheaper than full zoo and aquarium entrance fees as well.
A trip to the farm may include picking your own produce, petting/visiting farm animals, attending seasonal festivals, and of course, enjoying delicious farm foods and homemade goodies. Even when there isn’t much happening at the farm on a given day, the experience offers a lot for toddlers.
Many libraries feature wonderful children’s sections with extensive content offerings that include books, DVDs, audiobooks, and even board games as well as a play area. We often visit libraries in other towns either with friends or just to explore their cool features (such as a train you can climb in). Check your library’s website for toddler classes, including but not limited to, story time and music time.
We are fortunate to live within easy driving distance of two great art museums, one of which features a dedicated kids’ studio, which is what I’ve pictured above. I frequently take my son to all sorts of events and exhibits at the art museum that aren’t necessarily kid-specific, such as Art in Bloom. A stop at the kids’ studio helps break up the trip for him. As I mentioned in the organized class section above, you may find toddler art classes available at your local art museum.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I love visiting Milwaukee’s conservatory, the Mitchell Park Domes. I haven’t missed a special exhibit in about four years, which means that Tommy has been with me to a lot of them over the past couple of years. He always enjoys visiting the Domes.
For 18-month-old toddlers, an old school zero-depth entry wading pool is a great fit. It’s much smaller than a regular pool or even a splash pad, which is less overwhelming for the toddler and makes it much easier to keep an eye on the kid. Many communities have free wading pools as part of public parks. I have no problem paying for wading pool access at a nice pool, but it’s always good to have a free option.
Splash pads vary a lot in size and scope. Some splash pads are very toddler-friendly while others are completely overwhelming. Again, splash pads tend to be less intimidating than full pools but may not always be a great fit for young toddlers, especially when they’re busy. Look into splash pads in your area to see if there any any toddler-appropriate options.
I have a lot of friends who rely heavily on their gym or YMCA memberships to get them out of the house with their toddlers on a regular basis. You can strike a nice balance at a gym or YMCA with organized or unorganized joint physical activities and then getting a short break from your toddler while you take a class and he/she goes to the on-site daycare facility.
Many malls feature a play area. They can be a fun change of pace from regular playgrounds, especially when it’s raining or snowing. Mall play areas are often more toddler-friendly than fast food play places, which are better suited to preschool-age kids. Malls also offer the opportunity to ride the escalators and elevators, which are always popular toddler activities.
Pet stores or animal shelters
Pet stores and animal shelters are an easy, enjoyable way to visit cats and dogs as well as other smaller pets without the time commitment or price point of visiting the zoo. The big box pet stores often have small pets for sale as well, making for another simple, quick place to visit animals with your toddlers.
There are numerous amazing children’s museums all around the country. If you aren’t familiar with the options in your area, do a Google search for “best children’s museum [city, region, etc.].” You’ll get the most results in urban areas but may be able to find children’s museums in virtually any area of the country.
Throwing rocks in the lake
There is no limit to the amount of time that small children will stand at the water’s edge and throw in rocks. Since Tommy’s been able to walk, he’s been fascinated with gathering rocks and throwing them in Lake Michigan. We’re extremely fortunate to live very close to a Great Lake. But any small or large body of water works well.
Visit a construction site
Parents with 18-month-old children who are fascinated with all things vehicle-related have probably already been talked into visiting a construction site. For my son, even watching sewer repairs or lawn work in the neighborhood often proves fascinating. The bigger the vehicles, the better.
A plant nursery offers ample opportunities for sensory exploration and early learning discussions about shapes, colors, smells, etc. Starting gardening with kids from a young age gives them futher sensory development. It also helps them take ownership of the food they eat. Incorporating a visit to the plant nursery as part of a gardening experience is great.
When you’re hiking with young children, short, flat trails are ideal. Even when you’re planning to carry your toddler in a hiking backpack as opposed to having them walk the whole way, it’s best to keep hikes on the shorter side. Choosing the right hiking experience with young children will offer outdoor fun for the whole family.
A water table offers hours of fun for toddlers and preschoolers at a very low price point. For 18-month-olds, I love a single level water table, like the Step2 WaterWheel Activity Play Table. Until kids are at least two and a half, they’ll have trouble reaching the upper level of a two-level water table. Don’t feel a lot of pressure to buy fancy water toys. Most of the time, my son is just as happy to play with a kitchen measuring cups and spoons in his water table as anything else.
Sensory bins allow toddlers and preschoolers to explore sensory experiences in a low-pressure, age-appropriate environment. There are a ton of sensory bin resources with suggestions for bin fillers and sensory themes for different seasons, holidays, and interests (i.e., dinosaurs, the ocean). Switch up your sensory bin materials periodically to keep the activity interesting and engaging.
Cozy Coupe or push car
My son received a push car for his first birthday and a Cozy Coupe for that year’s Christmas (right around 18 months) and is still going strong with both of them at two years old. He’s used both of them extensively inside and outside and loves taking the push car to the park. If you’re going to spend money and make the commitment to store larger vehicles, I can’t recommend these two cars enough.
Process art refers to any type of art activity that’s more about the process than the final result. It doesn’t matter if a painting created with a fly swatter or yarn looks amazing as long as toddlers enjoy the experience. While process art certainly isn’t limited to toddlers and preschoolers, it’s a popular activity for this age group. Similar to sensory bins, there are well over a hundred easy process art ideas for toddlers, many of which you can do with household items and inexpensive tempera paint.
Box fort or blanket tent
Sometimes you can’t go wrong with the classic kid activities, and box forts and blanket tents are no exception. For an 18-month-old, a large box on its own makes a great toy. You can take it one step further and turn a large box into a house or other building or make a more complex structure with multiple boxes.
Splashing in puddles
My son always looks forward to a chance to splash in puddles following a rain storm or when the snow is melting. Get a good pair of rain boots, so their feet don’t get soaked immediately.
Sled in the house or on the grass
I’m sure it sounds ridiculous to suggest using a toddler sled on carpeting in the house or outside on the grass. We’ve found that both of these options allow for faster, smoother pulling than traditional rides on the snow, which my son likes a lot more. Just make sure to keep the sled on carpet or rugs in the house, so it doesn’t scratch up the floors.
A bath is arguably the single easiest and most effective way to let toddlers play in water without getting the entire house wet. We use the clear plastic shower liner and tie the fabric curtain out of the way. The bathroom stays dry, and my son can splash a lot. Just a few of his favorite bath toys include watering cans, stack and pour cups, water wheels, the pull and go submarine, and the Green Toys Submarine.
Touch and feel board books
Touch and feel board books have always been some of my son’s favorite books. Any book that involves a sensory or interactive element is pretty much guaranteed to keep his attention. I’ve covered a number of Tommy’s favorite touch and feel books in my baby favorites and toddler favorites posts. Just a few highlights include Never Touch a Dinosaur, Backyard All Year, and Snappy Little Colors.
Toddlers love music and dancing and have no shame about busting out crazy dance moves. The best part about dance parties with toddlers if they have no judgement as well. Your son or daughter won’t judge your dance moves or lack thereof. My toddler son has understood how Alexa works since well before he could talk. He frequently goes up to Alexa and asks for music for dancing.
One of the best parts about Tommy’s second birthday was the ballooons. He’d been asking for grocery store balloons for weeks. I finally let him pick out a few favorites. It was such a huge hit. He carried them around the house constantly. I also bought a similar set of balloons at Target that I filled up at home. He played with them for a solid two months after his birthday. You don’t need a birthday as an excuse to fill up a few balloons for your 18-month-old.
Bubbles are another very inexpensive toy that offer hours of fun for toddlers. I bought several sets of big bubble wands for Tommy’s first birthday that have been so awesome. They’re extremely durable, and the bubble solution is high quality. Tommy also loves light-up bubble blower wands.
Hilariously enough, we don’t own a play kitchen. It’s become the sought-after item when we’re at friends’ house or anywhere that has a toy area (i.e., the swim center, the library). So we’ve kept it that way. But a play kitchen is another classic favorite you won’t regret owning. It will create hours of imaginative play opportunity straight through the preschool years.
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Toddler parents, what are your go-to activities for 18-month olds? Are there any activities you would add to this list?
I’d love to hear about your favorite classes, around-town destinations, and at-home activities with your young children!
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