Dec 17

101 Cheap or Free Activities to do with a Toddler in the Winter

by Hannah Holt »

one comment

My son turned ten last week.

Asleep Logan running

That went quick! Around ten years ago, my boss called during  my maternity leave and told me I needed to return to work full-time or find a new job. Three months earlier, we had agreed I would return to work half-time, so this was a drastically new plan. It would require me to find a different child care provider for starters. Add to this, I was hormonal and sleep deprived. Suddenly, I didn’t feel super motivated to return.

So I took a part-time, work-from-home editing job and left the world of engineering. Within a matter of weeks, I went from a go-go-go career to having my days almost completely unplanned. It was slightly terrifying for a Type A personality like myself.

It was also the middle of winter, and the weather was terrible. We needed things to do together, so I started creating “go lists.”

Fast forward ten years, now I have four kids and still work from home. I can’t remember the engineering height requirements for a bridge over a railway, but can I entertain a toddler in the winter? You betcha!

So when my sister-in-law asked me for a list of things to do with her toddler, I was like–YES! Yes, I have a list of things to do. In fact, I have many lists! And because there’s nothing worse than planning something expensive and having a toddler melt down in the middle of it, I keep everything free or cheap.

Here’s my giant list of 101 Things To DO With A Two-year-old In The Winter:


  1. Make paper chains
  2. Finger paint
  3. Roll out clay snakes
  4. Make a chunky pasta necklace (rotini is a good size for little fingers). If you want to be FANCY about it, here’s how to dye pasta.
  5. Collect a few large cardboard boxes and cut out doors and windows. You have a play house! Ta da!
  6. Make animal masks out of paper plates and string
  7. Cut out paper snowflakes
  8. Glue cotton balls on paper to make snowmen

10 day of xmas

9. Using two cups and a string, make a telephone

10. Check out the “Kid Craft” category of this blog for more ideas


11. Have a dance party

12. Splash in the bathtub

13. Jump on the bed…you know you want to

14. Build a blanket fort

15. Create an indoor obstacle course

16. Have a tickle fight

17. Ask the child twirl in a circle ten times and then have her run across the room (remove any furniture with hard edges first)

18. Sing simple action songs, like a) Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, b) The Wheels on the Bus, c) Ring Around the Rosie, d) The Noble Duke of York, e) Baby Bumble Bee, f) The Itsy-bitsy Spider, g) Where is Thumbkin

19. Do yoga together

20. Have a strength and flexibilty competition: see who touch their toes the best, jump the highest, etc.


21. Make up a puppet show

22. Dress up like your favorite movie characters

23. Pretend to be community helpers and rescue the stuffed animals

24. Pull out a bunch of pots and pans and make a drum set

25. Get out dolls and play house

26. Write your own theatrical play and perform it

27. Go camping in your living room

28. Set up a teddy vet clinic

29. Decorate the laundry baskets like race cars and push them around the house

30. Listen to Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals and dance like you are the different animals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBGEf4urGNo

(or just pretend to be your favorite animal)


31. Read stories

Logan reading

32. Listen to music

33. Play The Sleeping Lion (Mom lies on the floor with her eyes closed, and the child tries to get as close as possible before Mom grabs her)

34. Brush Daddy’s hair/Brush child’s hair

35. Watch a movie

36. Make a nest out of pillows and pretend to be birds

37. Sing gentle songs: Hush Little Baby, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, All the Pretty Little Horses

38. Hang up Christmas lights and turn off the overhead ones

39. Sip hot cocoa or herbal tea together

40. Paint each others nails and have a spa day (just be sure to put down lots of newspaper first)


41. Play I Spy

42. Become “Shape Detectives” and go on a shape hunt

43. Sing Old MacDonald to practice animal sounds. If this becomes too easy for your child, sing the sounds wrong on purpose and watch for the righteous indignation of a two-year-old correcting you!

43. As you read books together, search for specific letters or objects on each page.


44. Practice counting by placing mini pom-poms in cupcake pans

45. You can also sort mini pom-poms in a cupcake pan by color

46. Say Mother Goose poems and have your child guess the rhyming word, “Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candle____.”

47. Play the Preposition Game. Ready, set, get ON the couch. Ready, set, get UNDER the couch. Now run AROUND the couch, etc.

48. Practice the alphabet song

49. Trace the first letter of your child’s name on paper and have them try to place beans on the lines

1 day of xmas

50. Teach your child a new gymnastic move, like how to tumble, twirl, do a cartwheel, or jump on one foot


51. Make your own playdough

52. Bake cookies. Everybody likes cookies!

53. Put a little flour into a cake pan and let the child play with it while you make dinner

54. Pull out the dried rice and beans and some measuring cups to create a sensory tub


55. Fill a shallow pan with baking soda and give the child droppers fill with food coloring tinted vinegar

56. Have the child fetch items you need as you are cooking, “Can you find an egg for me?” “Where are those tomatoes?”

57. Pop some popcorn using this trick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mFtCDKU7As

58. Make a smiley faces in yogurt with raisins

59. Build robots out of everyday kitchen items

robot craft1

60. Check out the “Kid Kitchen” category of this blog for more ideas, or see this post: 20 Kitchen Ideas for a Rainy Day


61. Have the child help with simple clean up tasks like putting socks in a drawer or placing blocks back in a box

62. Hand the child a colorful feather duster and let her have at it

63. Give the child a piggy-back ride while you vacuum

64. Have the child fetch toys from under beds

65. Give the child a broom and let her “sweep” (just don’t have high expectations)

66. Give the child a cloth and let her wipe the baseboards (just don’t expect her to stay on task for too long)

67. Let the child unload the dishwasher by handing you plates and cups

68. Let the child put rinsed spoons and plates into the dishwasher when it’s time to load

69. Help the child clear the table

70. Fill up the sink with soapy water and let the child “wash” some toys


71. Pull out toy cars and make a race track with masking tape

72. Play tag

73. Play hide-and-seek

74. Play peek-a-boo

75. Try simple card games like Snap and Go Fish

76. Hide the Object (you can play Hot and Cold or just give hints)

77. Tint shaving cream with washable food coloring and paint in the bath


78. Set up ten plastic water bottles at the end of a hallway, grab a rubber ball, and go bowling

79. Build a city out of wooden blocks or Duplos

80. Blow bubbles and chase them. These no-spill containers are my favorite.


81. Cut out little construction paper hearts and hide them all over someone’s room

82. Create a crepe paper maze in the hallway

83. Place balloons over someone’s doorway, so that the balloons will fall when the door opens


84. Hide a plastic mouse in the silverware drawer

85. Draw a love note for someone on the bathroom mirror with dry erase markers

86. Put a plate of cookies on a friend’s front steps (attach a string to the plate). Ring the door bell and hide around the corner. When your friend reaches for the cookies, pull the string and make the plate move.

87. Using a toothpick, leave a message in the top of a freshly opened jar of peanut butter

88. Hide all of someone’s clothes while they are away at school or work

89. Blow up a balloon (but don’t tie it) and release it in a room when someone least expects it

90. Switch the ingredients in the sugar and salt shakers. See if your child notices a difference. 😉


91. To the library for story hour

92. To the store and let the toddler pick out the fruits and vegetables for the week

93. To the children’s museum (I think a membership to at least one museum is an investment in your sanity. I have one membership and rotate it annually so I don’t get too tired of any one place.

Billy goat Ethan

94. To a fast food restaurant with a play place

95. To a friend’s house

96. To city hall or a fire station (you might need to plan ahead for this)

97. To the mall to run around

98. To do some touristy thing local to you, like touring the Federal Mint in Denver or Temple Square in Salt Lake City or Powell’s Books in Portland

99. To the pet store to watch the fish and puppies

100. To a toy store with a play area

101. Bundle up and GO OUTSIDE!

Bundled 2

Oct 26

Kitty Litter Cake

by Hannah Holt »


This attention grabbing Halloween cake is deceptively delicious. If you’re brave enough to serve yourself a scoop, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Kitty Litter Cake

Kitty Litter Cake

18.5 oz spice cake mix (flavor optional, choose your favorite)

2 5.1 oz packages instant vanilla pudding 

12 oz vanilla wafer cookies, crushed (a blender works well)

6 to 10 Tootsie Rolls

1 kitty litter pan (new!)

1 plastic pooper scooper (new, too!)

green food coloring

  1. Prepare the cake and pudding according to package directions. Add a few drops of green food coloring to 1 cup of the cookie crumbs and set the rest of the cookie crumbs aside.

  2. Crumble half of the baked cake into the kitty litter pan. Spread half of the pudding over this layer.

  3. Add the rest of the cake on top of the pudding and cover with the remaining pudding.

  4. Sprinkle the non-colored cookie crumbs into the pan with the cake/pudding mix.

  5. Soften the Tootsie Rolls by placing in the microwave for 10 seconds on high and shape to resemble cat scat. Arrange the Tootsie Rolls on the cookie-pudding cake mixture.

  6. Sprinkle all with the green cookie crumbs. Serve with pooper scooper.

Sep 28

The Cup of Truth: A Life Lesson From Caramel Corn

by Hannah Holt »


caramel corn

Caramel corn is one of our favorite fall snacks. It’s crunchy and oh so delicious! It’s easy to make, too, as long as you have a Cup of Truth nearby.

What’s a Cup of Truth?

It’s simple. I keep a cup of ice water on the counter next to my caramel pot. When I think the caramel is finished I take a small spoonful of syrup and drop it into the ice water (aka: Cup of Truth). The water cools the molten caramel quickly, so I can test to see if it’s reached the perfect hardness.

Removing the caramel from the heat too soon turns it into a sticky mess. This type of caramel corn will dislodge dental fillings!

Removing the caramel too late will burn it. YUCK.

There’s a small window of caramel perfection. Hence the need for a Cup of Truth.

cup of truth

My kids all hang out around the Cup-o-Truth because they like sneaking cool bits of caramel before the full batch is ready. While they linger for sweet snitches, I talk to them about feelings and stuff. I say, feelings can be like a pot of boiling caramel.

Sometimes someone does something so mean it makes you bubble with rage. You might even want to spill your thoughts right then and there.

But friendships can been ruined unnecessarily that way…and dental fillings, too.

How do you know if feelings are truth or just heat-of-the-moment steam?

Put them in the Cup of Truth.

  • take a breath
  • take a walk
  • sleep on it
  • put it on ice

Once feelings have cooled, it’s easier to see what (if anything) needs to be discussed. Then you can speak with confidence, knowing the words will be the right words. (And not a sticky mess.)

Okay, now who’s hungry?

Carmel Popcorn

1 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

½ cup light corn syrup

1 tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla

5 quarts popped popcorn

  1. Melt butter in a thick bottomed pot on low heat.

  2. Add the sugar, corn syrup, and salt to the pot. Then increase the heat to medium and stir until boiling.

  3. Boil for about four minutes without stirring. The caramel will resemble the color of a brown paper bag when finished. Check for hard crack readiness by spooning small amounts into a cup of ice water. The caramel should be crunchy (not squishy).

  4. Remove from heat and add the vanilla and soda. Mix well.

  5. Use a spoon to drizzle the popcorn with the hot caramel. Stir the popcorn with a spoon every few minutes until completely cool. This will keep it from clumping together.

  6. Enjoy!

Jul 22

Recipe for an Emergency Kit

by Hannah Holt »


Six backpacks hang in our garage. They have food, water, clothing, and other supplies so our family could make it through 72-hours. You know….in case stores are closed and we need to leave fast and the earth is falling down all around us.

Most of the time the packs just sit there, but every six months, I rotate the water/food/etc. I was going through the packs last week and in a moment of laziness decided we didn’t need them anymore. Then media outlets exploded with this news: the entire Pacific Northwest is going to suffer a devastating earthquake ANY FREAKING DAY.

The hype is a little overrated. I’ve lived in the northwest for almost 30 years, and I remember them predicting the same thing about 25 years ago. We’ll have a huge earthquake some day. There’s no doubt about that, but “any freaking day” could be tomorrow or–300 years from now.

In any case, I decided I’d at least keep the backpacks in rotation.

Here’s what makes up a typical 72-hour “go bag”:

  • a change of clothes
    • my kids are growing so this needs to be updated annually
  • personal hygiene items
    • toothpaste, contact solution, and medicines will expire, so check the dates
  • matches and a fuel source for cooking
  • a mess kit and/or a container for boiling water
  • an emergency blanket
  • a rain poncho
  • a flashlight
    • make sure the batteries aren’t connected to avoid slow drain
  • cash
    • we keep about $20
  • a first aid kit
  • a sharp knife
  • water
  • food

Rotating the food takes the most time for me. I’m slowly working in a rotation of longer term storage (freeze dried meals). But prepackaged emergency meals are pricey, so I also make some of my own.

Three days of food for one family


{Enough food to feed a family of six for three days. FYI, the fruit in the background isn’t part of the plan.}

Every six months, I have my family eat the food from their packs. This is because I don’t want to waste food and also the food needs to be something they’d actually eat. So before I planned a menu, I let my family sample a variety of different meal options.



{Re-hydrated Pad Thai, right. Pho rice, left.}

Then everyone voted for their favorite meals.



For each homemade recipe you’ll need a quart sized freezer bag. You can add boiling water right into freezer bags. Then stir and let rest until finished cooking.



Here are three of our favorite home-prepared emergency meals.


Rice Porridge

  • 1 cup minute rice
  • 1 Tb powdered milk
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup boiling water
  • optional: add raisins, nuts, and/or dehydrated apple slices



Mexi Rice

  • 1 cup minute rice
  • ½ cup tortilla soup mix
  • 1 ¼ cups boiling water



Sweet and Sour Rice

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 ½ Tb sweet and sour seasoning
  • ½ cup peanuts
  • 1 ¼ cups boiling water

You’ll notice my kids seemed to prefer the minute rice meals, but other good options for a starch base could be: couscous, instant oats, or potato flakes.

When I was making these meals, I went through the bulk foods aisle of my local grocery store and mixed and matched food that I thought might blend well together. My kids also liked instant potatoes with ranch dressing mix, and anything with cheese powder.

I was looking for high calorie/low cost options. Each meal I created averaged about 400-500 calories. At three meals a day or 1,200 calories, that’s enough to keep an adult going but probably not satisfied. Still, for an kit that needs to fit in a backpack, it’s just perfect.

Here’s what three days of food looks like for one person:

Three days of food for one person


Jul 16

Paycheck-2-Paycheck: A Budgeting Game for Kids

by Hannah Holt »


A few weeks ago, I offered to substitute for my son’s Sunday school class. Of course, I forgot all about it until I pulled into the church parking lot.

Summer brain strikes again!

In the short while before class, I skimmed the lesson on tithes and offerings. The material was thin. I needed something to fill more time, so I sketched up a quick money management game. It evolved into this.


{Note this version doesn’t have a charitable contribution option, but that could easily be added.}

Basically, the game follows a two-week pay cycle.

game board

You roll a single die to advance through the days. Every two weeks you collect a $1000 paycheck. That’s simple enough, but here are the variables:

  • The players choose all expenses and have to pay up with each paycheck. At the beginning, no one will be able to afford the best everything, so…
    • Are you willing to live in a smaller house?
    • Give up eating meat?
    • Only have one pair of clothes?
  • Along the way there are also a few random risks and rewards.
    • Need to visit the doctor? That will be $100.
    • Have a car? You’ll need to pay insurance on that.
    • Oh, look it’s your birthday. Grandma gives you $100! Yay.
  • You win by saving $1000 (after all expenses are paid). In the game, this is the amount of each paycheck. So winning means you’ve graduated from living paycheck-to-paycheck.

To play you’ll need:

  1. An instruction card
  2. A game board
  3. A decision sheet
  4. Play money
  5. Risk/Reward cards
  6. An expense tracker
  7. A die to roll
  8. A game token

Feel free to make copies for personal and/or school use. I just ask that you don’t distribute commercially. I recommend printing the risk/reward cards on card stock and gluing the game board to a piece of cardboard for better durability. When you’re all done playing, everything can be trimmed and folded to fit into a gallon bag.

finished game

If you want to make the game even more complex you could add features, like:

  • taxes
  • more bills (cell phone plans?)
  • charitable contributions
  • add risk/reward cards that include salary increases and decreases

So far it’s been a big hit with my kids. I hope yours enjoy it, too!