Welcome to toddler camp! When we found out we’d be spending the next several weeks at home with a toddler, I knew I needed to do something to break up our days and keep us all busy and distracted. I came up with the idea of picking a theme for each day, and basing all of our crafts, shows, books and activities around that. I’ve been balancing hands-on activities with hands-off activities, so we can still get work and house chores done.
I’ve been calling it Toddler Camp and think all these ideas would apply for any school break or summer break where you need extra things to keep your littlest ones busy! Today, I’ll share the rough schedule we are using, along with the different categories and the list of themes!
Then over the next few weeks, I’ll share an individual post for each theme with more details, and link them all back here so you can use this as your main landing page for everything. I hope this is helpful and calms nerves of everyone feeling a bit uneasy right now!
Why Themes Work for Toddlers (And You Too)
If your toddler is like mine, they get HOOKED on one movie or toy or book and want to watch/play/read it over and over again. And there’s NO getting them to try anything else. It gets kind of exhausting and boring for the parents, am I right!?!?
For some reason, telling them that the day is “themed” completely eliminates this. Arlo had been watching Ratatouille every day but when it was Music Day he excitedly agreed to watch Coco when I told him that’s what we were watching for “Music Day!” Even if you don’t theme the whole day, but just one activity or aspect of your routine, it really does the trick.
Our Daily Camp Schedule
I decided to create a daily schedule, that allows for structured play time, work time for each parent and free play as well. Usually we just kind of play our days by ear but with so many days ahead of us, I wanted to have some structure that I could fall back on.
We do not follow this schedule to a tee, and we don’t follow it every day, but it’s helpful to feel like we have a “plan” if things start to feel overwhelming or daunting.
7AM – 8AM: Wake up, eat breakfast
8AM – 9AM: Show, free play
9AM – 10:30AM: Crafts + Sensory Play (Parent A, while Parent B works)
10:15AM: Morning snack
10:30AM – 12PM: Active Play (Parent B, while Parent A works)
12PM – 12:45PM: Lunch prep (free play) + lunch
12:45PM – 1PM: Themed books
1:15PM – 3:30PM(ish): Nap (Work time for both parents)
3:30PM(ish) – 4:30PM: Snack, show, free play (Parents wrap up work)
4:30PM – 5:30PM: Craft or sensory play
5:30PM – 6PM: Family walk or free play (depending on dinner prep needs!)
6PM – 6:30PM: Dinner
6:30PM – 7PM: Free play or bath
7PM – 8PM: Bedtime routine
Below you’ll find a bit more information about each category and what to expect when I start breaking down each theme!
Shows and Movies
Even if your child is home, you often still have to work. *raises hand* We’re lucky we still get a chunk of nap time (which we plan to convert to “quiet time” when naps finally end), and can also work after he goes to bed, but I purposely included several chunks of screen time throughout the day so that we can sneak in a few extra minutes of work here and there while he’s busy and entertained.
We notice a direct correlation between sensory play and overall behavior throughout the day. The more sensory play to be had, the better the behavior and the fewer the tantrums. Sensory activities tend to be the biggest (and longest running) hit in our house, too. In these daily themes, I’ve been including everything from typical sensory bins to science experiments in this category.
We are used to going to parks and playgrounds to runaround so not having the ability to get out that toddler energy, physically, is a struggle. Make it a point to do some sort of “active” game or activity every day to help! From obstacle courses to scavenger hunts to musical chairs, something that gets everyone up and moving is super helpful.
Here is a list of indoor active play ideas:
- Kid’s yoga
- Obstacle courses
- Fort building
- Dance parties
- Hide and seek
- Treasure Hunt
- Jumping on the bed/couch/pillows (with supervision)
- Making “stepping stones”
- Red Light / Green Light
- Creating tunnels with blankets over chairs
- Freeze dance
- Races (“How fast can you run?”)
- Running challenges (“touch the fridge, then my hand, then the chair, etc.)
- Ninja Warrior inspired courses/challenges
- Extended bath time
- Dress up/performing
- Musical Chairs
- “Snowball” fights with pom poms
- Indoor Trampoline
- Building with a Nugget
Crafts and Projects
Crafts don’t just help keep my little dude busy, it helps keep my mind busy too! With each theme, I’ll include 2-3 easy crafts to do, with supplies you likely already have in your home. I also love to make crafts that have a purpose, like for use in imaginary play later on in the day or that could be used to send happy mail to family and friends.
We read every day before bedtime, as well as before naps and for each theme, it’s been fun to go through our at-home library and see what books fit! Some are a really good fit, and some just have one or two pages that fit the theme but that’s ok! Like I said above, it’s helpful to use this method so you aren’t stuck reading the same book every single day over and over! It also helps you pull out books you might have forgotten about or deemed “too young.” We’ve been pulling out board books and doing “challenges” to help them feel a little more age appropriate, like “can you spy the ____?” or “How do you think ___ feels right now?”
Having structured and sensory activities is really important for Arlo to thrive. That said, I still firmly believe in the important of free/unstructured playtime. It allows kids to use their imaginations and get creative. Being “bored” is a GOOD THING! I allow for that within each day, so that he doesn’t become so dependent on us to constantly dictate his every move.
During free play, he’ll pull out some of his toys or games, or take one of the crafts we’ve made and do some imaginary play with it! This is also a great time to pull out some on-theme toys or puzzles and leave them in their view to keep the theme going! I try to be as hands-off as possible in this time, so he continues to learn how to entertain himself.
Theme Day Ideas
Here is a list of the themes we are doing. As I do posts on each individual theme, I will link them below so this will act as an index of ideas!
- Shapes Day
- Music Day
- Ice Cream Day
- Space Day
- Rainbow Day
- Bugs Day
- Wild Animal Day
- Under the Sea
- Spa Day
- Things That Move
The Theme Basket
I wrote each theme onto a little slip of paper (you could also use popsicle sticks!) and put it into a basket. Every night at dinner, we pick a new theme at random. That way, he has something to look forward to the next day and I have a bit of time in the evening after he is in bed to prep and think through the activities for the following day.
If you have older kids, who can dive more deeply into a topic, you could try picking a new theme every couple days or every week (over a long summer break, for instance) and learning more fully about each one. But daily change-ups works really well for my toddler!
p.s. On a related note, my friend Elsie has an ongoing “music jar” that I find so inspiring! Instead of picking a theme a day, they pick a musician each week and play that music for their kiddos so they’re getting a well rounded music education. More about that here on her site!
I will gradually upload full breakdowns of each theme, with ideas that we used plus others too! Keep an eye on this post where I will be sure to link everything, and if you have ideas for other themes, leave them below!!
Hang in there. We are all doing our best and that’s exactly what we should be doing!