If your family is like mine, you may have found yourself suddenly at home a whole lot more often and running out of new ideas to keep a baby happily playing. These are some things that have worked for us—that’s me, my husband, and our one-year-old kiddo, Ezra—from these first several days of sheltering in place.

Full disclosure: I am not an early childhood expert. I’m just a first-time mom doing my best in this new and sudden reality, trying to really lean into the Innovator’s Mindset.

Flashlight Play

Close the shades and turn all the lights out in a room and play with flashlights. Shine them at the walls and let them play with their shadow. Wiggle your fingers in front of the light so they dance on the wall. Shine the light on one object at a time and name it. Make silly faces under the light, just like a kid at a campfire.

Dance Party!

We have music on almost all day. For the most part, we listen to what we want to listen to, but Ezra does respond to “kids music” more when it’s on. This doesn’t mean you’re stuck listening to the Wiggles (sorry, any Wiggles fans out there). Try this camp playlist that I made specifically for our youngest campers at Camp Galileo, or this Fun Machine playlist from camp that includes over four hours of all clean jams. Ezra thinks nothing might be better than one big person holding him and dancing while the other big person shows off their best silly dance moves for him.

Pillow Mountain

Gather every pillow in your house. Throw in couch cushions, large stuffed animals, and any other bulky plush items for good measure. Assemble the hoard in a giant pile and let them climb the mountain.

Ripping Paper

Give them an old magazine. Ezra loves to rip out pages. Once he has a few pages ripped out, I take them and tear them into strips, which he loves to watch. Then we throw the strips into the air over and over again. I don’t know why it’s so fun, but it totally is.

Yogurt Paint

Put plain yogurt into a few small dishes, then add a drop of food coloring to each one and stir it up. Let them finger paint with it, secure in the knowledge that it’s fine if they eat some.

We’ve done this twice so far. The first time, I put down butcher paper on the kitchen floor and let Ezra go to town. The next time I just put small amounts down on his high chair tray, which was less messy and had the bonus feature of letting me wipe away the yogurt when the colors got muddy and put down fresh spoonfuls so he could start again.

Explore Magnets

Break out a baking tray and stick on whatever you’ve got on the fridge. We don’t have that classic set of alphabet magnets yet, but that didn’t bother Ezra one bit. Since most magnets are choking hazards, adult supervision is required for this one.

Water Play

Take a middle of the day bath. Ezra loves bathtime, so we let him have an extra bath one day—why not? He was a little confused at first, but then delighted. We still did the normal bathtime routine before bed as well.

Pom Pom Drop

Save your toilet paper rolls! Use painter’s tape to attach these to the wall, then let them drop small objects into the tube (supervision needed with choking hazards, of course). I had a bag of pom poms that we used for this, but cotton balls or crumpled up bits of paper would work too.


While you have that blue tape out, just stick a long piece on their hands. I love watching Ezra focus on getting it off.


Not just for outdoors, though I would recommend blowing bubbles on a carpeted space as opposed to a tiled or wood floor so things don’t get slippery. If you don’t have bubbles at home, you can make your own mixture with water and dish soap.

Cardboard Boxes

Did you do an emergency Costco run to stock up on shelter-in-place groceries? I hope you saved those boxes! Just putting a cardboard box down in front of a baby will go a long way. I’ve also put Ezra inside of a box and pushed him around. He loved it, but my back didn’t after a bit. I made a hole in one side and looped a belt through so I could pull him along, which extended the game by quite a bit. Did I feel kind of silly pulling my kid around by a belt rigged to a box? You betcha. That’s okay.

Point A to Point B

We noticed that Ezra was starting to enjoy transferring everything from one spot to another (his favorite is putting all his blocks into the laundry hamper), so I’ve been laying down suggestions of things to transfer from one spot to another, and he usually takes the bait. For example, I put all the silicone cupcake liners into muffin trays, and laid them down on the floor next to an open mixing bowl. Yep, there he goes—cupcake liners go into the mixing bowl.

Fresh Air

We take afternoon walks, sticking to neighborhood streets and giving any other walkers we see a wide berth. I’m always amazed how quickly Ezra’s mood shifts when we step outside for a minute. Try to go outside each day in a way that feels safe where you live—to a backyard, or even just a driveway. At the very very least, sit in front of an (ideally open) window. If you’re window-sitting, try talking or singing about anything you see out the window. I usually go with Elmo’s Song but change it to “Ezra’s World” and sing verse after verse about whatever is happening outside.

Baby-Safe Painting

Heads up: these are a little more involved. If you want to go all Pinterest one day, here are two baby painting methods we’ve tried.

  • Put a piece of paper into a big zip-seal bag, then reach in and squirt some paint. You may need to water paint down a little first if it’s particularly thick. Seal the bag and tape it to a hard surface or the floor. Let them squish the paint around through the bag to see it spread and mix.
  • Put paper in the bottom of a tupperware. Add a few drops of paint and a few marbles or pieces of dry pasta. Pop the top back on and let them shake the tupperware.

For both of these methods, be sure to take the paper out to dry before it gets stuck to the plastic bag or tupperware. We cut ours up and made an Easter egg garland. To be honest, Ezra enjoyed watching me cut out the eggs and playing with the off cut scraps every bit as much as he enjoyed the painting part.

Santina Rohner-Moran is a former Galileo camp director and mom to a one-year-old. When she’s not wrangling the little man, Santina likes to sew and read anything other than board books.