Updated on April 9, 2020 by Lyric Fergusson
The best way to keep their little minds occupied and foster that love of learning is to pick activities throughout the day that allow them to learn and discover while they play.
These activities listed below will simultaneously allow your little one to explore and play and also give you some hands-off time. We also go over a list of free activities for 16-month-olds that you can do with your toddler at home (towards the end of the article).
21 Engaging Activities For 16-Month-Olds
Music is crucial for the development of young kids which is what makes it a fun and stimulating activity for your 16-month-old. There are many different ways to incorporate music into your toddler’s daily routine, but my personal favorite is to give my son a musical instrument and put some music on and allow him to play his instrument along with it. It could be anything from classical music to nursery rhymes and it will still be a fun and stimulating activity for your little one.
It’s a well-known fact that reading is great for children’s development, but it might be less well-known that allowing them to “read” to themselves is a fun developmental activity as well. Colorful books with lots of pictures are stimulating for little minds and toddlers can build a love of books before they learn how to read. I find that books that are able to be wiped are the best option because they tend to become messy after some use.
Toddlers love to do things that they see their parents do. This is what makes little tools like toy cell phones or toy remotes so much fun for little ones. An added bonus to this activity is that learning how to press buttons can help them to work on their dexterity and fine motor skills in a way that just feels like play.
At sixteen months old, toddlers are still learning how to walk and are often still quite unsteady on their feet. A great activity to let them practice and still allow them to have their independence is by letting them use a walker. It provides some stability and there are fun toys on the front to keep their attention when they get tired of walking.
Coloring is not only a fun activity for little ones, but also great for dexterity, fine motor skills, and mental stimulation. However, coloring can get very messy if left unsupervised with the wrong tools. That’s why I always chose to go with mess-free options for my little one when I wanted to have hands-off time and I loved this mat for that reason. As an added bonus, it is reusable which means less cost for more fun.
I don’t know a single toddler that doesn’t love bubbles and they are a simple and easy way to keep your little one’s attention for some time. However, most of the time it is fairly time consuming on the parent’s part which is why I love using bubble machines to keep my little one busy. It encourages active play as they jump and run to pop bubbles and mom or dad can enjoy some time to themselves.
Sensory activities are so important for toddler’s development and they love to do them. Sensory books are a great way to incorporate these into your little one’s daily schedule in a simple and mess-free way. They can practice turning pages and looking at the colorful pictures while they feel all the different textures in the book.
Splash pads are a fun and safe way to let your little one cool off on a warm day. Because there is only about an inch of water in the bottom, parents can relax from a safe distance while their toddler plays with toys and cools off with this fun outdoor activity.
Sensory bins are great fun and (as the name suggests) an awesome sensory activity. All you need is some rice, beans, or oatmeal as a filler and some fun, small but choking-safe toys for your little one to dig for. An added bonus to this activity is that you can change out the toys every once in a while so that it feels like a brand-new activity for your toddler.
10. Build a Fort
Forts are always a fun activity for 16-month-olds and it’s a great way to contain some of the mess from toys and activities. Whether you build a fort or put up a play tent, you can put books, stuffed animals, and other toys in with your little one and let them enjoy their own private room for a little while. Who knows, they might even take a nap!
Ball pits are a fun sensory activity for young toddlers and it’s a great way to encourage active play while indoors. All you need is a large bin or kiddie pool and some soft balls to fill it with and you have a personal ball pit that creates a safe and fun activity for your little one.
It’s never too early to start introducing shapes to your little one and shape sorters are a great way to do that! It allows your toddler to independently discover shapes and hone their spatial awareness skills in a fun way.
Puzzles are a fun way to introduce shapes and how they fit together to your little one and wooden puzzles are great because they are much more durable and won’t get soggy if they find their way into a toddler’s mouth. This stimulating activity will allow your little one to strengthen their cognitive skills.
Sixteen months old might be a little young to entirely learn their colors, but the sooner you introduce your toddler to colors and allow them to begin familiarizing themselves with those colors, the better. Color sorters are a fun and pressure-free way for young toddlers to start to build a strong basis in colors.
This is another thing that is not going to necessarily show its usefulness right away but letting your little one play with letters will allow them to familiarize themselves with it. The best part is that this activity can be a very mobile one. They can play with these magnets on the refrigerator or on a metal baking sheet whether that’s indoors or outdoors.
Blocks are a fun way to let your little one play independently. Building is going to be a fun activity for this age and beyond so it’s an activity that they can do for years to come. While your child is building they will unknowingly be honing their fine motor skills and stimulating their little minds.
Whack-A-Mole style games are a fun activity to allow your child to work on hand-eye coordination. There are smaller, more compact versions of this game that your little one can play in the comfort of your living room and it’s a fun developmental activity for sixteen-month-olds.
18. Play Pretend
Kids love to pretend and it’s great for them to have imaginative play time on a regular basis. There are so many fun toys for pretend play that can make this experience even more fun for your little one. Play kitchens, play workbenches, and other things like that are a great way to foster imaginative play in your young toddler.
Busy boards are a fun way for your little one to practice fine motor skills. They have zippers, buttons, laces, and other things that will help your toddler when it comes time for them to dress themselves. It’s a great learning activity to keep them busy for a while at a time so you can have a few minutes to yourself.
Water mats are a lot of fun for young toddlers to sit and play with. It gives them the feeling of splashing around in water without the mess that that creates. Most water mats come with little toys floating around inside so your little one can have fun pushing the toys around and watching them float back.
Your baby has probably learned to stand by themselves fairly recently by sixteen months old and is loving lifting themselves up and practicing their new skill. This table is a fun activity for that reason. They can enjoy playing with all of the different bells and whistles on the top of the table while building that leg strength that they need for walking around.
7 Free Activities for 16-Month-Olds
While all of those activities are super fun, sometimes it’s easier to make do with items you have at home for the time being. So, whether you want something free or want something now, these seven activities can be done only using things you can probably find around your home.
1. Build a Fort with Blankets
Although tents or fort kits may be simpler, you can absolutely build a fort only using blankets, couch cushions, or kitchen chairs. You can put toys, books, and blankets into the fort with your toddler and watch them enjoy their little room.
2. Paint with Water
If you don’t want the mess of paint, you can always just use water and paper. A paint brush is optional but most of the time they will probably use their hands anyways. Water will change the color of the paper enough that it will give your little one the same feeling as painting would without the necessary supplies and mess.
3. Play Music with Pots and Pans
While colorful instruments are visually appealing, some pots and pans turned upside down and a wooden spoon will do very similar things for your little one. Making noise is a popular pastime throughout all children, so you can turn on music and let your toddler bang the pots to their hearts content.
4. Get Fresh Air
On warm days, you can lay a blanket on the grass and spread out all of the toys that your little one already owns. Sun and fresh air are great for children and being outside might even wear them out enough that they will sleep well.
5. Play the Go-Get Game
A fun and educational activity is the “Go-Get” game. You tell your child to go get you certain items around the house and bring it back. It’s fun for them and it improves their listening skills as well as their memory. It is especially fun when they’re just learning how to walk and can toddle around looking for your requests.
6. Make a Sensory Bag
If you have rice, beans, or oatmeal and a Ziploc bag, you can make a sensory bag for your little one. It’s a bonus if you have some small toys you can throw in there but if you don’t they will still have fun squishing the rice around.
7. Make Music with a Homemade Rattle
All you need for this is an empty water bottle or a container with a lid and something hard like popcorn, beans, or rice. Rattles are fun for babies to make noise with and while they learn how to shake it they are improving their fine motor skills.
Young toddlers can keep us on our toes more often than not and it is sometimes a challenge to keep them entertained for more than a couple moments at a time. While I’m sure we would all love to be present and able to entertain them twenty-four hours out of the day, that’s not a reality for most of us as we have responsibilities, work, and need to be able to care for ourselves too. These activities may make taking that time for ourselves just a little bit easier.