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Simple and Budget-Friendly Crafts and Sensory Activities for Toddlers

We’ve all had those days when everyone, especially mom, needs some downtime or a new peaceful activity in order to survive the rest of the day. Enter budget-friendly crafts!

Wouldn’t it be fun to feel prepared with a few fun, budget-friendly crafts in advance of the meltdowns? You can be super mom and whip out a box of prepared supplies for crafting and save the day. Invite your friend and her toddler over and enjoy the fun together! You may even be able to enjoy a cup of coffee together and some good conversation while your toddlers explore and create.

Toddlers have a need for sensory activities that are engaging and stimulating as an important part of their development. Just because this kind of activity is productive and implies a mess, it doesn’t mean it has to come in the form of a giant, unexpected, stressful mess. Here’s a bundle of simple and fun budget-friendly crafting ideas that are safe if your toddler goes in for a taste and are easier to clean up.

budget-friendly crafts for toddlers

Playing with soft colorful play dough never gets old!

A little tip is to have your toddler craft while in a diaper or underwear. Simply prepare a bath while you finish the activity, take off the bottoms and let the warm, bubbly, soapy water clean up the rest!

Homemade Play Dough

We love using homemade play dough in our house. It has been a favorite since my daughter was one and she continues to use it eagerly at age seven. We recently tried adding glitter to a batch and making sparkly playdough but I don’t recommend this for toddlers in case they ingest it. Keep the sparkly additives in mind for children who are a bit older.

Materials:

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 Tablespoons cream of tartar (found in spice aisle)
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • OPTIONAL for an amazing sensory experience: add 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla extract OR a few drops of essential oil such as lavender or peppermint to each batch made.

Sift together flour, salt, and cream of tartar. Add to pot and add water and oil. Turn stovetop on medium heat and stir constantly. Add scent of choice while stirring. I highly recommend adding a lovely scent but keep in mind if you use cinnamon, it will muddy your colors so you might want to add it to a separate batch. When dough becomes a ball, remove from heat and add food coloring for the desired color. TIP: Mix food coloring in a separate bowl before adding to warm playdough. Knead until color is consistent throughout. Pair your homemade playdough with seasonal cookie cutters and PLAY! Playdough will keep soft in an airtight container or a sealed ziplock bag for at least a week.

Homemade Finger Paints

This homemade edible finger paint recipe is extremely easy to make and uses common items found in your pantry. While it is safe for children to put into their mouths, it is definitely not delicious so it will not encourage further sampling. This paint has a wonderfully smooth texture that feels perfect for finger painting and sensory play!

Materials:

  • 4 Tablespoons of cornstarch
  • Cold water
  • 1 Cup of boiling water
  • Liquid food coloring

In a saucepan, mix the cornstarch with enough cold water to make a paste. You don’t want it to be runny. Think peanut butter. Pour in 1 cup of boiling water and stir thoroughly so there are no lumps. Turn burner to medium heat and stir. The mixture will start to change and you will notice some clear streaks forming. Once you see this, turn off the heat and continue stirring. It will start to thicken and turn into a wonderful, pudding-like consistency. Spoon equal amounts into empty jars or yogurt containers and add food coloring, mixing until combined. Remember, you can mix yellow and red to make orange, for example, and play around with other color mixing. This paint recipe does not have any preservative in it, so it is important to check that the paint has not expired. We tend to use it one sitting but it would keep for a few days in the fridge if covered.

Dyeing Pasta for Crafting

Multicolored pasta is so simple to make and is perfect for string necklaces, using inside sensory bins, or as counters for learning. It also works for collaging with glue onto construction paper or to make hanging pasta-mobiles! Kids will undoubtedly come up with their own use for the colorful shapes as well.

Budget-friendly craft

Fun colored pasta for all kinds of crafting!

Materials:

  • Ziti or similar hollow pasta
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Liquid food coloring (Gel-based coloring makes beautiful colors as well)
  • Large Ziplock bags that seal well
  • Trays or cookie sheets
  • String (if making necklaces)

Add about 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol and around 12 drops of food coloring to your ziplock bag, and swish it around. Then add 1 or 2 cups of dry, uncooked pasta to the bag. Mix really well and lay the bags on the trays. Let the pasta sit soaking this way for several hours, flipping about halfway through, and massaging and mixing the pasta and dye to be sure all surfaces are coated. The rubbing alcohol is necessary because it helps lock the dye into the pasta rather than it getting all over your children or your nice furniture.

Once the pasta is vibrantly colored, drain the liquid out of the bags. Line your trays with aluminum foil (not 100% necessary but it makes for easier clean up) and spread the wet pasta out to dry overnight.

Pack the finished product, your dyed pasta, into clear baggies or in empty containers for your kids to grab from to work with. Let them string it onto yarn and make long beautiful strands of color!

budget-friendly craft for toddlers

Simple pasta necklaces are fun for toddlers!

Decorative Hanging Bird Food

As the weather cools, my family finds watching birds at a bird feeder to be one of the most relaxing things to do while eating breakfast each morning. Here are some super simple treats to make for the birds that also look beautiful hanging outside your window! Use this activity as an excuse to learn about and identify birds in your area.

Materials:

  • Box of O-shaped cereal
  • Cranberries
  • Thin twine or string

Simply string the cereal with a big plastic needle onto wine. Poke through the cranberries carefully in advance for your kids and use them every so often to add color to the string. I hold the needle up while my toddler places cereal atop the needle and it slips down. This is great for learning coordination. Attention span can be short for this one so they may end up snacking while you continue with meditative and relaxing activity on your own! String the decoration onto a tree or bush of any kind and enjoy watching the birds feast.

Budget-friendly bird food craft

Stringing ornamental handmade bird food brings days watching out the window and enjoying the variety of feathered friends who visit.

Materials:

  • Birdseed
  • Sturdy bread (you can also use toilet paper rolls, apple slices, rice cakes, or whatever you have on hand)
  • Cookie cutters
  • Room temperature peanut butter
  • String or twine

Use a cookie cutter to create shapes from slices of sandwich bread – at this point, you can leave it out overnight or for a few hours so it is a bit stale and firmer. Poke a hole through the bread (or other material) with a toothpick, leaving enough room so it does not tear while hanging. Thread some string through the hole and gently tie a good knot. Spread both sides of bread with peanut butter. Let your toddler dip and press the shapes into bird seed by laying it on the birdseed covered plate or a tin with several inches of seeds, turning over to coat thoroughly. This does need some close observation so that the shapes are not mushed too much. IF that happens, don’t fret. Mush it all into a ball with peanut butter and seeds and you will have an alternative organic creation to hang. Hang your creation outside where you can enjoy watching the birds nibble on them daily!

What budget-friendly crafts do you enjoy with your children? Please share, we would love to hear your favorite creative activities with your toddlers!

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