Small Spaces, Quiet Places: Keeping a Busy Toddler Busy!

My son is busy, busy, busy! I get him outside as much as possible – the playground, the pool, even the backyard with a hose and some beach buckets. But there are always those times when he can’t be running around in circles, climbing on tables or jumping on the couch, when he needs to be quiet. Mission Impossible. Why are all the must-be-quiet places also small spaces?! It’s like trying to contain a tornado in a soda bottle! So learning the hard way, I’ve come up with quiet toys and activities to keep my son occupied, whether in an airplane, restaurant, doctor’s office or ballet practice waiting room. He might spend 30 seconds with one, which does not help much on a three-hour plane ride, but Mama’s got a deep bag of tricks!   Small Toys

Toys, Tricks and Treats

Toys: Visit your local dollar store, Target, or area toy store for small toys that are also quiet. Green Alligator in Avondale and Heyday in San Marco have many small toys for travel or diaper bags.

  • Magic markers (or a paintbrush you fill with water) where the color in in the paper and the marker is clear. Even my son, who doesn’t know how to draw an actual picture, enjoyed making the colors appear.
  • Tiny cars: Traditional matchbox cars or mini cars (small as a quarter). 
  • Mini Playdoh: birthday party favor sized that can be cleaned up or thrown out as needed.
  • Tiny plastic animals: My daughter loves these. They are cheap and keep her imagination busy!
  • Small Legos – We all have dozens of Legos we step on throughout the day. Pick up the tiny pieces and put them in a Ziploc snack bag for easy entertainment.
  • Crayons – Always have a pack with you. I keep the restaurant freebie crayons in my bag.
  • Squigz Suction cups: Ever watch a two year old try to unstick two suction cups? You only need two or three in your purse for some solid minutes of entertainment.
  •  Silly Putty – My son pulled apart an egg of silly putty one string at a time all the way to Montana last summer.  Sure it made a mess, but he wasn’t screaming!
  • Travel Magna Doodle or Etch – A – Sketch – No mess alternative.
  • Disney/Movie Figurines – Disney is great at producing pint sized figurines of your favorite movie character. Whether princesses or Cars, my kids love these for tray table play.
  • Wikisticks: Make great jewelry, homes for above mentioned tiny animals, or tic tack toe games. 
  • Pipe Cleaners and beads: Just a few of these keep a toddler busy.
  • Flap Books: Easy to find at Target with many doors to open and close.
  • Busy books: There are any number of felt books with buttons, zippers, ties, beads, pockets…check out Pinterest to make your own!



Things that are small and must be eaten one at a time: Raisins, Goldfish and Cheerios. I put mine in a reusable pouch, which cuts down on the crinkly cellophane sounds, especially in church! Also useful are lollipops (sugar free for long plane rides!), fruit snacks (Annie’s Bunnies are a favorite),


I keep a medium sized toiletry bag stocked with play items near the front door. There are some things in the bag I only let him play with in a quiet space, and others that change, like my son’s favorite car of the moment, or snack, or crayons. That way I can always grab it if we have a doctor’s appointment or dance lessons that day. In the end there’s always the games on my phone or our Leap Frog, but I try really hard to leave that for a meltdown moment. I’ve found over time the above items work best.

What are your tricks for small spaces and quiet places for toddlers?


Meg Sacks
Meg is a working mom of four and an avid community volunteer. She has worked in corporate communications and media relations for more than 18 years, for a Fortune 500 company as well as a non-profit. She took some time off to enjoy life as a stay at home mom after the birth of her first child in 2008. Her sweet, introverted daughter, was excited to welcome her baby brother in 2013, and then boy/girl twins joined the family in 2016. Meg finds being an “office mama” a constant balancing act and never-ending challenge but enjoys the opportunities it offers her for personal growth. A Virginia girl at heart, she loves Florida’s warm weather, the great quality of life Jacksonville offers her family.


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