Free & Frugal Toddler Fun: The Winter Edition

The weather hasn’t exactly been cooperative. Normally by this time, we’ve seen several snowfalls. This year? We’ve had one dusting that lasted maybe an hour before snowfall turned to rain and snow turned to slush.

Layer on the pandemic and COVID restrictions, and it’s easy to see why any family would feel like they have cabin fever.

Here are some of our favorite free and frugal family activities that are keeping our toddler busy–for at least a few minutes at a time–this winter:

Decorating cookies & more

While you absolutely positively can make both sugar cookies and buttercream frosting from scratch, you don’t have to! We’ve done a few rounds of these, varying in degrees from homemade to store bought!

The highlight for HP, of course, is slathering on a layer of frosting and then loading up the cookies with as many sprinkles as will stick. And then eating the rest.

Thanks to the red sugar crystal sprinkles, HP always looks like he’s found a fabulous red lipstick by the end of our adventures.

We also tackled two different gingerbread houses this year. Both kits were in our basement from years gone by. Because we don’t eat our gingerbread houses (sometimes I cheat and use hot glue to hold the roof in place!), we didn’t mind the very stale building materials.

Creating ornaments galore

We’ve been creating a lot of different ornaments at home, and HP has also been working on them at Grandma-Care during the day while my husband and I are Zoom Schooling.

Some of our favorite toddler-friendly ornaments include:

I have to say, the results have been better when my husband and I aren’t in charge! Quality of the crafts aside, HP is thrilled to add ornament after ornament to our tree this year. Glitter pine cones are next, and we’re hoping to find a way to display those all through the winter.

Making it a movie night

We decided to try out a Christmas movie and make a special Christmas dessert to go with it. I anticipated that the movie would be a dud and the dessert would be a hit…and I was wrong on both counts!

Our library had a few copies left of the original Grinch cartoon (remastered on DVD), so we picked up a copy. Then, we did a Target drive up for reindeer chow ingredients. After that, it was time to get to work on our movie night.

HP had so much fun helping with the reindeer chow, but he actually refused more than one bite of the finished product. And that was after we omitted pretzels as an ingredient because he hates them! I was so shocked that he was turning down what is basically a decorative lump of chocolate, peanut butter, and powered sugar!

However, he really enjoyed the Grinch. It’s only the second movie he’s ever sat through (The Gruffalo is the first–also short and sweet!). We had to pause it in three different places so he could call the PAW Patrol to report the Grinch’s thievery and shenanigans, and he’s watched it probably three more times since then.

Building a bird feeder–kind of!

Martha Stewart I am not. It doesn’t matter if it’s cooking or crafting, if the ingredient list is long or the directions are overly complicated, I’m not doing it.

But we’re at the age where it’s key to keep HP busy, so we’ve been exploring a lot of different crafting options. In this particular instance, we wanted to do something that would draw him outside. (It’s so much easier in the spring, summer, and fall to find frugal outdoor fun!) So we made bird feeders!

Equipped with one of his plastic knives and a jar of peanut butter, he coated the outside of toilet paper tubes. Then, we tried out different methods to sprinkle on bird seed. It actually turned into a really fun sensory experience for him. He tried out pinching, scooping, shaking, and rolling. Once the tubes were covered, we set the aside for them to dry and then we hung them outside in the trees.

We’ve made more squirrels happy than birds, but it was still a really fun and super frugal craft. I spent $3 on a bag of wild bird seed at the grocery store, and it’ll easily last the winter and beyond.

Creating holiday light scavenger hunts

As of this post, we’ve seen holiday light displays:

  • Around our neighborhood
  • Around our town, using various maps
  • At a wildlife center
  • At a nearby park

We also have tickets to see the holiday lights at the zoo and at another near by park. (Pro tip: If you’re in the Chicagoland burbs, these are seriously everywhere! Most events require tickets, but many tickets are $Free.99!)

While the magic of holiday lights hasn’t faded any for HP, we are mindful of the fact that his older cousins maybe are getting a little bored with this. So, I started making the kids their own scavenger hunt sheets and offering candy and small prizes (for the car rides home when everyone can unmask with their household!).

Free & Frugal Toddler Fun This Winter

With many of our favorite indoor play places closed, we’ve had to get creative our free and frugal fun this winter. Thanks to a combination of crafts, cookies, and outdoor adventures, we’re keeping plenty busy and having a good heaping of holiday fun.

Now if you excuse me, I’m going to keep refreshing the forecast until I see snow.

So Tell Me…What free and frugal fun are you and your family up to? Are you having better luck on the snow front?


  1. Sak

    Thanks for the suggestions. Have you ever read Those Darn Squirrels? It would be a nice book to go with the squirrel feeders.

  2. Julia

    My 5 and 3 year olds think it is the best thing ever when I find new coloring pages online and print them out. Keeps them busy for a little while at least! There are a lot of free Christmas themed printables out there.

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