My favorite toddler activities are simple, engaging and inexpensive. Sensory activities like the ones done with foam trays rescued from the recycle bin are a great fit – the trays readily available and they lend themselves to easy activities for toddlers to explore.
The foam trays I use come from our grocery shopping – I wash out meat and produce trays. You could probably ask for unused trays at the deli if you wished.
Note- of course you are aware foam trays can present a choking hazard when they break into small pieces; only do activities that you feel comfortable supervising.
Favorite Toddler Activities with Recycled Foam Trays:
Our latest favorite activity – stab toothpicks or dried noodles into the tray and thread on beads or cheerios.
Break and destruct!
The kids like the satisfying crack the foam trays make as they break up.
They are also fun to stab with a fork (Affiliate link to the cool digger fork in the picture ’cause my kids have loved them so much: Constructive Eating Utensil Set)
Give a cup and you’ve got something to stash the broken pieces in.
User the foam trays to hold pom poms or other play supplies. We’ve used foam trays as boats in the bath and as paint pallets for art.
Print on the trays
Make marks and dents in the foam with play dough toys, a pasta wheel or cookie cutters.
This could be a fun activity to extend by painting the imprinted tray and then printing the pattern on a piece of paper – if you’re in the mood for a little mess 😉
It’s easy-peasy to grab any number of little containers and a couple handfuls of rice or beans for some scooping, touching sensory exploration.
Here my toddler has half an old egg carton, a funnel, a foam tray and some scoops to keep her busy and allow her to learn about her world.
The ideas above may seem too simple, but they are not only engaging, they are giving your child just the sort of input her developing brains is craving. Learn more about the benefits of sensory play in this excellent post on the need for sensory activities, by Amanda of Not Just Cute – she is talking about preschoolers, but the same holds true for our toddlers.
Isn’t it nice to be able to relax and let our kids enjoy playing with simple materials and know that they are being “kept busy” but also learning beautifully?
About the Author
Alissa is a resilience coach, cartoonist, and advocate for ‘connection, not perfection’. She’s dedicated to helping others find a sense of safety and belonging inside themselves so they can heal, connect, and build authentic, joyful lives.