Things to do with toddlers before they turn two

Many of you have followed our list of 52 things to do with a baby and are hungry for more. What happens after Week 52?

Toddlers possess the amazing ability to simultaneously demonstrate knowledge about how the world works AND cluelessness about their role in it. (Sorry Sweetie, Mommy is not going to help you push the stove out of the way so that you can ride your plastic car through that part of the kitchen.) No longer satisfied by an activity gym on the floor, they are ready for some more exciting activities.

A helpful list of things to do with toddlers

Here are some that we like:

Indoor activities for toddlers (which are also handy when you need to make a phone call or complete an online purchase without someone hanging off your body.)

  1. Sitting in front of an open cupboard or drawer full of plastic storage containers and messing around with them.
  2. Hunkering down in an unexpected place, such as inside the closet or under a table. Throw a sheet over it to make it special. {tips for a better blanket fort}
  3. Squeezing and squishing play-doh. Fear mess? Keep the playdough in a sealed baggie while your child handles it.
  4. Drinking toddler tea out of a real ceramic cup (add lemon or a shake of cinnamon to warm water). We love this gender-neutral set for pretend play and real use.
  5. Turning regular shoes into tap shoes, and back again.
  6. Gathering all the washcloths in the house and laying them out in various patterns. “Shoot it out!” my daughter used to say. Washcloths are more manageable for little ones than baby blankets, but blankets are a good time, too.
  7. Playing with magnets on a cookie sheet or metal bucket.
  8. Helping sweep up with a little dust pan.
  9. Placing different lengths of Scotch Tape or masking tape onto paper or the side of a box.
  10. Sitting in a box. Yep.
  11. Taping up a train track on the rug. Choo choo.
  12. Getting silly with finger puppets.
  13. Playing hopscotch inside.
  14. Organizing small objects, like Cheerios, in a muffin tin.
  15. Creating a felt food feast.
  16. Pouring water between containers at the kitchen counter (AKA potching)
  17. Trying on all the hats in the house.
  18. Removing everything from the bookshelves. Maybe putting them back.
  19. Sticking and unsticking stickers! On the paper, on your shirt, on your cheek. Hooray.
  20. Playing in a ball pit from your old pack n play.
  21. Helping grind coffee beans (or is this just my kid?).
  22. Tearing up paper – use old magazines or newspaper.
  23. No-mess finger painting.
  24. Banging pots and pans really loud (not so great for that phone call).
  25. Solving puzzles like these simple ones.
  26. Running trains over the tracks you put together.

Outdoor activities for toddlers

  1. Discovering how chalk works on the ground outside
  2. Playing hide-and-seek with small toys or fruit from a tree, Easter Egg-style. (Give your child a bucket to collect the items you’ve “hidden” at the park or in your yard).
  3. Throwing. This simple act never gets old. “Let’s go to the park and throw sticks at the bushes!”
  4. Going anywhere in a bike trailer.
  5. Collecting rocks into a container. Stacking rocks. Lining up rocks. I’m surprised they don’t sell rocks at Toys R Us. I bet someone has tried.
  6. Pouring water in and out of a large container.
  7. Starting a butterfly garden.
  8. Playing fetch with stomp rockets or other “blast-off and chase” toys

Outings for moms with toddlers

  1. Home Depot or other massive hardware store. Check out the light switches, the door bells, the orange cones. Basically every thing your kiddo enjoys seeing in the world around him is sold there. Look at all those potties!
  2. Public Library. Since other people’s toys and books are more fun than your own, this is a place to enjoy them for an hour or two. No pressure to buy anything!
  3. Zoo, time to think about a membership, mama.
  4. Elementary school playground, watch some big kids or test your daredevil.
  5. IKEA. If you’re lucky enough to live near one, here’s a list of why it’s awesome for parents.
  6. Chase the garbage truck! Some days are easier to get out of the house when you know your garbage routes.
  7. Children’s museum (save money on membership when you follow our tips).
  8. Pitch a tent at REI.
  9. Sip pretend coffee at a kid-friendly cafe. (It’s called steamed milk, and they’ll make it not-too-hot if you ask.)
  10. Your friend’s house, where the toys are fresh and novel.
  11. Anywhere with trains.
  12. Push a doll stroller or drag a wagon around the block. Even better, find a friend with a baby in a stroller and let your toddler push her stroller on the World’s Slowest Walk.
  13. Ethiopian or sushi restaurant where eating with your hands is worldly.
  14. Indoor playspace with climbing, bouncing and toys you don’t need to keep at home.
  15. Bus ride, round trip.
  16. Take a class together.
  17. Botanical garden with leaves to touch and bugs to chase.
  18. Toy store; keep your wallet hidden, why not teach now that a store is like a museum of cool stuff to admire?

52 things to do with toddlers before they turn two

Related: Best gifts for a two-year old.

Activity #37: Meow, bark and tweet at the pet store

Take your older baby to the petstore and dozens of maternity leave challenges

My friend Mary (who had her son Del in the same hospital the day after I had Julian) gave this idea to our Moms Group. She said that 13-month old Del loves the pet store where he can check out the animals, especially the birds.

Does your baby love animals? Mine really did (and still do) but when we went to the Zoo, I found that he couldn’t really see the large animals that were so far away from him in their habitats. A visit to Petco where he could get right next to the turtle tank and mouse cage was just as much fun — and closer to my house!

Take your older baby to the petstore and dozens of maternity leave challenges

To kill two birds with one stone (no-offense, bird lovers), you could be a really nice friend and offer to pick up pet food for that postpartum friend of yours, meanwhile taking your older baby on a super fun and free outing.

Fun things to do with babies, week by week

This is your 37th weekly challenge for rookie moms. Baby not old enough to appreciate the fish tank? Start at the beginning of our series of fun things to do with babies.

7 Ideas For Mom and Baby Halloween Costumes

This post contains affiliate links.

Family Halloween Costumes

Since I can still fit into my 9th grade cheerleading outfit (that’s a brag, not a humble brag), I have used it more than once on Halloween to coordinate with my son’s football player costume. I bet some of you would like to dress up in partnership with your babes as well.

Here are 7 ideas for mom and baby costumes:

Ideas for Mom and Baby Costumes

Olive Oyl and Sweet Pea from Popeye

Find Swee’Pea on Amazon and Olive Oyl on Amazon. Also available in Plus Sizes.

If Dad wants to get in on this family costume, he can click on this Popeye costume. Swee’pea seems to be mostly held by Popeye in the cartoons anyway.
Popeye Adult Costume

(Find these muscles on

Star Wars. Heather already declared her love for Princess Leia as a mom costume, which both masks a post-partum belly and allows kids of any age to be Luke Skywalker (white kimono-style top) or any number of other Star Wars personality. So what if Leia and Yoda never actually interact in the legends? This day is about fantasy.

Princess Leia and Yoda are a fun Mom and Baby Halloween costume

Her costume above is courtesy of Order placed by 4 pm get shipped same day.


For Toy Story fans, I like kiddo as Woody (or Buzz) and mom as Jessie. The outfits in the picture are available on BuyCostumes or Amazon, but even better for your toddler are the pajamas version of Woody.
Disney Toy Story - Woody Infant CostumeDisney Toy Story 2 Jessie Adult Costume

The sports theme I referred to could be accomplished a number of ways.

Baby as football; mom as football player, referee, or cheerleader. This one is from etsy, but you can make it with a brown onesie and white tape or fabric paint.

Mom and Baby costume ideas

Alternatively, baby can be a football player with a souvenir jersey and the right color leggings. Add black face paint under the eyes.

Order a referee shirt here. (Just add black pants. The whole thing they want to sell women as a referee costume is offensive. Of course, Sexy Referee! There’s also a teen version with a mini skirt. What?)
Referee Shirt Adult Costume

For Muppet fans, I kinda like baby as Kermit and mom as Miss Piggy, but I’m not wild about the way the Miss Piggy store-bought costume looks.  A bigger mom would rock a Hollywood-style dress with Miss Piggy glamour style than the lady in this picture, so let’s forget about her and envision Adele instead.

Kermit Toddler CostumeThe Muppets Miss Piggy Adult Costume

Dad, please don’t try to join the party as Gonzo. It’s scary.

The Muppets Gonzo Adult Costume

Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood
Vintage Wolf Infant/Toddler Costume

Baby lion and mom is Dorothy

Ideas for Mom and Baby costumes

Costume ideas for slings and carriers
Costume ideas for strollers and carseats
Costume ideas for bald babies

Tech Tuesday – Be in the know before a product recall is issued

Thanks to EMPOWERED SAFETY for sponsoring Tech Tuesday today.

How to Stay on Top of Safety Recalls

It seems like safety recalls happen frequently in the field of baby products, which is reassuring because it means there’s a system in place to keep consumers — and their babies — protected. But at the same time, every time I hear of a major one, it gives me a creepy feeling, knowing that I’m lucky, and someone else found out about a faulty product too late.

Here are some excerpts from letters consumers write:




That’s three different notes, all filed about the same car seat.

Well, it turns out that it doesn’t take just one consumer complaint for a recall to be issued. There may be many complaints — even hundreds — before a formal recall is required.

For example, 1.9 million units of my carseat of choice were recalled in 2014. The first consumer complaint relevant to the recall was dated January 2009. Five years passed, and in that time, 177 consumer complaints were filed.

Here’s how you can tune in:

A website called Empowered SAFETY contains a database of over half a million baby and children’s products. When you subscribe to the premium service and create a profile, you indicate which items you own, where you live, and the age and gender of your children.


How to stay abreast of children's product safety recalls

Empowered SAFETY sends emails, prioritized by urgency, about safety issues related to products, food safety (which may be regional), home safety, and health and wellness issues (also regional).

This is the only service that alerts consumer to complaints before a recall has been issued.

How to stay on top of children's product recalls

If you want to see the specific complaints, you can click on the product. Note that you’ll see the complaints exactly as they’ve been made by consumers to government agencies or on blogs, so grammar and spelling police, you’re going to need to relax. It is helpful to see what real parents are saying, however, and to be made aware of the specific problem with the product, ie is it a buckle that breaks or padding that shreds so badly it becomes a choking hazard. (I never would have thought of that one!)

Empowered SAFETY offers a two-week free trial on their website, and I’ve got a promo code for you guys for 28 days free: ES28DAY94. Click through to Empowered SAFETY to use it.

We’re also giving away a 6-month membership to one lucky winner. I love that we are able to give away this valuable — and clutter-free!– safety tool.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thanks again to Empowered SAFETY for sponsoring this post.
Tracking Pixel

Activity #36: Take a photo of your baby at the pumpkin patch

Take a photo of your baby at the pumpkin patch

Your 36th weekly challenge is a seasonal photo assignment. You can’t take a bad picture in a pumpkin patch. Good assignment, right? Find a pumpkin patch. Go. Take pictures. Where we live, you can get a good old fashioned farm for a half-day outing, a street corner covered over in hay, or a mound taller than a man at the neighborhood grocery store (this is true, we made a whole guide to East Bay pumpkin patches). Your future self won’t be able to tell the difference.

Use hay as a background, too.

Pumpkin patches are the best scenery for baby pics
{source: backpacktobuggy}

Pumpkin patches are the best scene for baby pics

{photo: Marketing Mommy}

Rookie Moms Challenges

If you do this, we would LOVE to see your photos on our rookiemoms facebook page or tagging us on instagram (@rookiemoms). Is your baby too little or is it the wrong season where you live? Choose another challenge.

On being a working mom: Practice makes imperfect okay

Working outside the house is a whole different story after maternity leave than it was before. Being away from the babe can be gratifying and stimulating, but also stressful. And I’m not talking about guilt, whose impact truly varies from mom to mom. I’m talking about the logistics that make a job and parenting hard to balance.

From getting ready for work in the morning while a little person is demanding attention to making sure I had sufficient food in the house to feed us, it was tough for me. And when my nanny canceled in order to tend to her own child who needed her? I had to stay home from work. And let’s not even talk about pumping. Now I know there are numerous tricks that working moms master along the way (hello, grocery delivery services), but on the first day? The first month? The first year? There’s a steep learning curve.  My friend Mary, her family’s breadwinner and mom of two, encouraged me, “Give yourself permission to learn on the job.”

No one knows how to do their new job entirely on the first day of work, she reminded me, so how would you know how to be a Working Mom the first day that becomes your new title?

After some practice, it gets better. (So friends, don’t quit your job just because the first week back is so awful.)

Mary even gave me a bottle of champagne when I had my second child and told me to save it for the day that Ryan and I felt like, “Okay, we got this. We have two kids and it’s working.”

And you know how much I like to get a gold star when I do something hard.

The gold stars we earn as working moms may still be rough around the edges. Practice does not mean perfection. It means that when you arrive to drop your child off at daycare and realize he’s out of diapers and you didn’t bring any, you understand that asking to borrow some doesn’t make you a failure. It means shrugging off mistakes and figuring out how to work around them.

I give merit badges for problem solving.

rookie moms merit badge

When I was on my first maternity leave, I geared up for going back to work by acting like I had a job. Sort of.

Last year, Kids in the House interviewed me about All Things Rookie Moms, here’s what I said about how to “practice” for working moms.


Easy chalkboard paint projects

While my kids were out of the house one day, I got a little crazy crafty and painted their bedroom door. It was previously all dark wood, which I didn’t like anyway, so I painted the trim white and the inner panel with black chalkboard paint. I was influenced by my Internet friend Amy, who painted an outdoor chalkboard door at her house.

Chalkboard door for kids room and other chalkboard paint ideas

Doing the lettering is a whole other story. That day, I posted on Instagram, “That chalk art shit you see in restaurants is way harder than it looks.

This month, I saw all this good stuff from Colorhouse Paint, who makes chalkboard paint in a variety of lovely colors.


I liked this simple decoration of a wall which could be for a nursery or a home office. Or even better, for those who are using one room for two purposes, this could be a nice way to mark the space with personality for each function. Tutorial here >

How to paint a chalkboard "bubble" on the wall

How in the heck do you paint a circle on the wall? This tutorial has a little string trick that can help.

Use a chalkboard wall as ever-changing wallpaper

I love this arrow wall because it’s like having wallpaper that you could change every few months. And, after scouring the chalk art on Pinterest and nearly hyperventilating from the level of difficulty, I appreciate how great this simple motif looks. Here’s the tutorial >

Colorhouse paint is no VOCs and no toxins. Find it in many colors on Amazon>



How to make an iPhone costume for your baby’s stroller

How to make an iPhone costume for your baby

I wanted to make a huge iPhone that could be used as a costume on Halloween by attaching it to a stroller or car seat. My daughter was my helper, so she got to be the first model for the finished product, even though she is too big for a stroller.

iPhone tutorial: Halloween stroller solution

Materials needed:

  • Piece of foam core – sold at a craft store or office supply store, usually 30 x 20, about $5. I asked in the frame department at Michael’s and they had larger pieces in the back.
  • Box cutter – I call a big utility knife a “box cutter” but while I was working on this, my parents kept calling it an Exacto knife, so see the picture below to get my drift.
  • Pencil
  • Sharpie
  • Yard stick or large ruler/straight edge
  • Optional: Silver tape for metallic edge. Found at Michael’s or here.

How to make an iPhone costume

When I set out on this project I believed that the key to the board looking like an iPhone was to get the ratio of height to width — and the proportions of the screen — exactly right, so I prepared to do some serious 7th grade math to figure it out for you. Once I researched the size of the iPhone and saw how many variations there are (iPhone 4/5/6) I realized that the exact measurements are not SUPER important, but you can just do what I did and it will certainly look like a recognizable mobile phone.

TUTORIAL: iPhone Costume

Protect your work surface with a discarded cardboard box and cut your 30 x 20 piece of foam core to 30 x 15.5.


In other words, simply cut 4.5 inches off the width. And then cut the corners to be rounded.

I drew my lines straight by using a Sharpie on the back side of the board and then used the box cutter to make the slices as needed.

Next cut the screen out.

The screen is centered on this type of phone, so it’s pretty easy. Measure 5.5″ from the top and the bottom and one inch in from the sides. Use a ruler again to draw a large rectangle for the screen on the back side of the board.

The edges may be a bit jaggedy because of the inner foam material. Hiding them with a border of silver tape helps.

How to make an iPhone costume

Next, you need the details on the front of the phone. I used a short juice glass to trace a circle for the home button. The curved-edge box inside the round home button was made out of silver Duck Tape-brand tape that I cut free-hand. You could just use a pencil.

How to turn a piece of foam core into a huge iPhone

I modeled my camera lens and speaker details on my sister’s iPhone 4 after looking at my own iPhone 5 and thinking hers looked more iconic. The sideways thermometer shape (know what I mean?) that represents the speaker/camera is about 5 inches long. I did a practice drawing of that on the backside before drawing it with pencil on the front.


Now that your posterboard resembles a phone, figure out how you will attach it to the stroller. Zip ties will work, but once it’s on, it will be difficult to take on and off. I used a piece of ribbon on each side.

Halloween costume ideas for babies

Related: More stroller and car seat costumes for babies

How to paint your big pregnant belly

Painting a pregnant belly

A question we’ve received from readers more than once is this: What type of paint is safe for painting my pregnant belly?

Well, this confirms there are tons of women out there as weird as I am.

However, I’m not a dermatologist or even a paintologist, so I am usually hesitant to make a guess, even to share what seems like common sense, because what if I’m wrong and you get a rash and your baby comes out with rainbow stripes? I don’t want that level of responsibility.

How to paint a pregnant belly

When I saw this Pregnancy Belly Painting Kit — I think it was used at a Mom 2.0 event, I thought I should share it. Someone has done the research to figure out a formula that will paint on skin and not hurt anyone.

It’s about twenty bucks and has 8 colors in it, plus some helpful instructions inside.

This video shows more of the belly painting that happened before I took the picture at the top of this post. I’m in the video, too! (I have no relationship with the company – just got a chance to see the bellies!)

How to hack a baby’s activity playmat

Thanks to Stef from for this guest post.

How to use a baby activity gym at all stages

While an activity gym can be a great choice for unrestricted play, some can overwhelm babies of certain ages. How do you make one of these playmats work for your baby, plus get more bang for your buck as they grow?

Today we’ve got two activity gym hacks from Stef the Nanny of She transforms two popular baby playmats and makes them work harder from newborn to crawler.

How to make this baby gym last longer in your house

Skip Hop Activity Gym (The one pictured is Alphabet Zoo but you can also do this with any playmat that has a removable cloth base that is machine washable like the Tiny Love Gymini.)

Newborns who cannot yet sit up. These babies need less, not more stimulation. Too much action can make them cranky and unable to focus. By eliminating the twenty toys and do-dads that come with typical activity gyms and shutting off the music you can create a zone of calm where they can focus on one toy at a time, therefore extending their attention span (aka learning to *play* on their own).

  1. Detach the bottom mat of your gym from the cross bars.
  2. Remove any toys that are snapped or stuck on the mat with hook and loop.
  3. Flip it over so the blank underside is showing and reattach it to the cross bars.
  4. Take off all the toys that hang off the cross bars normally.
  5. Add the one toy with a mirror OR a string of plastic links instead.
  6. Place a book or mirror to the side of your baby to look at when they turn their head or when they are on their belly.How to use a baby activity gym at all stages
    How to simplify your playmat for an infant

Babies that can roll and sit: Now they are more ready for all the toys that come with the activity gym as well as the music it may play.

“Cause and Effect” is one of the most effective ways they learn so placing a burp cloth or favorite security blanket over the cross bars for them to pull down will be a big favorite. [Read more...]

Activity #33: Build your own portrait studio

Rookie Moms Maternity Leave challenges

Set up a photo space to take pictures of your babyLook at my son. Sigh. This photo was taken almost nine years ago at a photo shoot for my former employer who had a last minute need for a baby model.

Although I am usually opposed to studio photography, there is something about it that’s easy to look at. I guess that’s why our generation’s parents took us to Kmart for portraits all those years.

Well gone are the days of Sears Portrait Studios, or JC Penney, with their free 8×10 offer. I guess every one who owns a fancy camera has put them out of business.

Your assignment this week: Build your own temporary “portrait studio”.

This is the 33rd week of our rookie moms challenges.

Create a blank space in a corner of your home so that you can achieve the type of simple photo we got from department stores in the past. Cheesy or adorable – there is a fine line. And when it comes to your own baby, I’m guessing you’ll side with “adorable”.

Try taping a sheet to the wall so that it drapes down on the floor and placing your baby on it.

Here’s what the pros use, so you can get the idea of how a backdrop is created. This gives your eyes a rest from the clutter of your home. Oh, sorry, is that just my home?

How to set up a photography backdrop in your home

Experiment with a prop or two, such as a single stuffed animal or a stool that your baby likes to pull up on. You can try for a more interesting background with textiles you may have around your house. Did you know that people who set up a lot of photos buy backgrounds like this vinyl photo of brick and wood? What the what?

How to set up a photography backdrop in your home

On Amazon or Ebay, you’ll find all sorts of backgrounds that give the illusion of barn siding or brick walls or weathered shutters or decorative wall paper. But I warn you, if you don’t have the right lighting, your photos will not look like your fantasies. However, some of the backdrops are less then $10, so maybe it’s fun to try them out. (Browse a few options >)

My professional advice (and yes, having done casting for catalogs, I am actually qualified to give this) is to have your baby wear something timeless such as a solid colored onesie and jeans or overalls. The more skin you show, the better. Bare feet and bare arms make baby photography even more irresistible. Solid Cotton Leggings + Bare Feet = One Cute Picture.

No clean sheet? Just move some furniture out of the way and use a spot where the wall meets the floor.

How to set up a photography backdrop in your home

And my final words of wisdom: Keep a bib on your baby until you are ready to snap that shutter to avoid drool marks on the shirt.

See 51 other options for things to do while home with a baby
Get more photo tips from a pro

Photo of baby in bib: Sharon Montrose


On twins: bonding with each child

Gina Osher is The Twin Coach in Los Angeles. She bravely writes about some of the uneven feelings that twin parents may experience in hopes of helping other moms who are having the same challenge.

One of the fantasies that I had about being a mom of twins is how I would instantly love both my babies in exactly the same way. What surprised me the most when our twins were born is how very common it is for parents of multiples to feel more of a connection to one than the other. It is so rarely talked about that it causes a great deal of shame for those of us who experience it. This is not postpartum depression but rather an imbalance between how easily you connect to one twin over the other. This bond imbalance can fluctuate, shift from one child to the other and generally does not last – especially if the parent is proactive about it. This is an issue that I believe exists solely for those of us with multiples; a singleton mother may feel disconnected from her child at times, but she doesn’t have the side-by-side comparison staring her in the face which adds to the already enormous guilt.

When our children were born, our son arrived first. After 18 hours of labor he pushed his way out and was placed on my chest. He blinked at me and made a sort of mewing sound – like a kitten. I felt this huge rush of emotion and felt instantly that I wanted to love and protect him. He was a gentle, quiet, easygoing baby with plaintive cries. He needed me and he was easy to love. Our daughter was born an hour and 10 minutes after our son – right from the start she had her own ideas about how she was going to do things! She came out, red-faced and screaming. I was jarred by her loud sounds after so many hours of labor and didn’t know what to make of her. When she would cry at home she always sounded pissed off and insistent. She was more difficult to figure out. I had a hard time describing her personality when people asked. I actually felt like she liked our nanny more than me. I was having a hard time bonding. And I felt awful. Here was my little girl, so beautiful and perfect and who needed me so much. Of course I loved her. But I felt distant. It was so natural with our son. Why was it so hard with her?

At some point I began to realize that some of what I connected to in my son were personality traits of mine that I liked (being sensitive, being quiet, being cooperative). Our daughter has some of the traits I have that I struggle with (being bossy, needing to be in control, being opinionated). Also, she was just a little more difficult – she fussed more, slept less and didn’t eat as well. Things were generally tougher with her. I subconsciously compared the two of them. It was unfair to her, but he was just easier and it made it easier to want to be around him. I felt as though I wasn’t able to be the mother she wanted, as though I didn’t know how to help her. I knew I needed to spend more time with her. I needed to get to KNOW her. This insight fortunately coincided with letting our first nanny go. I had no choice but to spend all day and night with the two of them. And when my husband was available, he would sometimes take our son so I could have less on my plate and I would have alone time just with our daughter. I began to trust myself with her and to understand her cries and to know who she was. It took time and effort but suddenly I realized I was bonding with her!

Now that I am years past those days I look back and it seems so obvious that when you’re not connecting with someone you want to be close to, the best way to change things is to spend more time together. But when you’re an exhausted mom of newborn twins you aren’t always thinking clearly and sometimes you just want things to be easy – you don’t have the mental capacity for dealing with one more thing that needs your attention. Your hormones are all over the place and it is so easy to start feeling insecure and begin to doubt your capabilities. If you’re feeling this imbalanced feeling towards your babies, please know it’s normal. [Read more...]