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household happies! muffin tins & ice cube trays!

Thursday, February 16, 2023

It’s the Thursday before a long weekend! YIPPEE!

Do you have special plans for Presidents Day weekend?

Laura is headed to Wisconsin to spend some quality time with Little L! Woohoo!

Laurie has plans with friends this weekend! Yay!

You may recall that in January, we shared our first monthly post in a series we call

When you know your Littles will be coming to your home - for a day-time visit, an overnight stay or perhaps even longer, you may want an arsenal of household items you can rely on to keep them busy! Our goal in creating these posts is to focus on one or two household items each month that we, as Grands, can use to create fun and engaging experiences with our Littles - from infancy on!

Here’s our criteria when choosing our monthly Household Happies!

The item(s) should already be found in anyone’s home!

If not - they need to be inexpensive to buy


they need to be easily accessible for purchase anywhere!

In addition…

The item(s) need to be able to be used in at least two ways for each age level!

In January, our Household Happies post focused on Q-tips and cotton balls

and the many ways to explore, play and craft with them!

You can read more about this here!

Did you happen to see this video of Little L

that we posted on Instagram in January? (On Instagram it's set to music...)

Little L had so much fun with the Q Tips and then the cotton balls, too!

As you can see, it's one of her favorite activities!

We also loved hearing from friends and readers

that they found success with the activities shared!

That makes our hearts so happy! ❤️

Today we continue to think outside the box

using two more common household items…

muffin tins and ice cube trays!.

Are you ready for this month’s edition of Household Happies?

Muffin tins and ice cube trays can be used in so many ways with our Littles,

often serving the same purpose!

However, there are other activities when one works better than the other.

In this post, we will highlight some of each!

One of the first activities a Little can do on their own is so very simple that we, in fact, often forget how important this step is in a child’s overall development. Give your Little a container (a bin, a bucket or a basket would work) and let him or her put objects in it. Then watch as your Little dumps the objects out of the container before beginning the process over and over again! This seemingly simple action encourages hand-eye coordination and starts to help babies with a very essential cognitive functioning skill – organization!


Babies and toddlers will be intrigued with muffin tins and ice cube trays

and the compartments in each and they will want to explore!!

Free-play teaches children how to entertain themselves and helps them develop their natural curiosity, learn to think independently and to stay on task. Our Littles are learning so much while exploring and experiencing the world around them!

Little L’s Muffin Tin Fun!

When Little L was about 6 months old and then again around 9 months old, I (Laura) offered a muffin tin with some small rubber ducks to her to play with. Both times, Little L only wanted to take the rubber ducks and put them in her mouth. Otherwise, she had no interest. Oh well!

Fast forward a few months… Little L and her mom and dad came to visit us in Minnesota last month and I set out a muffin tin once again along with a set of plastic balls we had. (These balls have been an excellent investment and we use them all the time… we just need to be careful when Little L’s sister-pup is around since she loves them, too!) I also looked around the house and found some other small, durable and safe items for Little L to use as part of her exploration. NOTE: If your Little is old enough and no longer putting things in the mouth, you can also use ping pong balls!

Little L spent about 45 minutes moving the balls from cup to cup or back into a nearby bin and she came back to this activity repeatedly! Success!!!

At another time during Little L’s stay, I wanted to expand on this idea of using muffin tins with her and tried something a bit more challenging! I’d seen the idea described here somewhere (on Pinterest or Instagram) and decided to give it a try!

I took some of those same objects I’d used in the previous activity and I put one in every other section of the muffin tin. Then I covered each space with painters tape. When it was ready, I let Little L have the muffin tin and I watched to see what she’d do! Little L was curious and tried to pick up an object without touching the tape but then she quickly discovered that she could pull the tape off to get to the object! Of course, at this point, she was much more interested in the tape than the object and it was equally fun to watch her as the tape stuck everywhere, surprising her. Again, I loved watching her solve this problem as she tried to get the tape off things!

(NOTE: I also was mindful of Little L’s comfort level - if I saw her become discouraged, I’d first encourage her but if the activity became too frustrating for her, I jumped in and offered help.) Again, this was a simple activity that she went back to multiple times during our weekend together!

Little D’s Ice Cube Tray Fun!

My (Laurie’s) Little D is six months older than Laura’s Little L so she is ready for some more complex experiences! Recently, I set up an ice cube tray with small plastic animals for Little D to explore! I could just see her little mind whirling, as if she was thinking, “Will this fit?” or “How many can go in here?”

We’ve both found such success using muffin tins and ice cube trays with our Littles!

Below are a few more engaging ways to use these household items

with Littles in your lives that are babies or toddlers!


Muffin Tins & Ice Cube Trays with Babies & Toddlers!

😊 When your Little is old enough to hold his/her head up while on the stomach, put a few items in the muffin tin cups and see if your Little will reach for the items!

😊 Turn muffin tins over and let your Little put objects on the “hills” or between them!

😊 As your Little fills the muffin tin with balls, you can take them out one at a time, turning the activity into a silly game. Shake the muffin tin and watch the balls spin in the cups or play "Peek-a-Boo" with the balls!

😊 Model how to turn the muffin tin upside down and, together, watch the balls roll everywhere! Have fun collecting them!

😊 Cut up a few empty toilet paper or paper towel tubes and let your Little use these to fill the muffin tin cups. You can also use puzzle pieces, plastic shapes or letters or just about anything that will safely fit in the cups!

😊 Use cotton balls or colored pom poms to fill the ice cube tray compartments (or the muffin tin works, too)!

😊 Fill an ice cube tray with water, adding a drop of food coloring to each section. When frozen, these can be popped out and put in your Littles’ bath water. Your Littles will love “chasing” the ice cubes around in the tub while trying to grab the ice cubes before they melt! (Again, watch your Littles closely, especially in the bath tub! While the ice cubes will be slippery and hard to hold, you'll want to watch to make sure they don't go in little mouths!)

😊 Fill each muffin cup or ice cube tray with a different food your Little safely enjoys eating, and let him or her explore and nibble!


Free play will once again be an important and meaningful way to use muffin tins and ice cube trays when introducing them to our older Littles - those in preschool and up! In addition, you can use both in several other creative ways, often improving fine motor skills, spatial skills, letter/number/color/shape recognition, counting, sorting, patterning… the list goes on and on! Below are some ideas we’ve highlighted!

Muffin Tin Geoboards

Do you know what a geoboard is? It looks like a peg board and is often used to create shapes and designs using rubber bands to do so!

(a geoboard set available on Amazon)

Well… you can turn a muffin tin upside down and use it as a geoboard, too!

Just grab some rubber bands and start making shapes on this simple DIY geoboard.

(PLEASE NOTE: A mini muffin tray works really well for this activity!)

This activity is a great way for your Littles to use their imagination while, at the same time, working on fine motor skills, hand strength and shape recognition!

Animal Rescue with Ice Cube Trays!

Of course ice cube trays can also be used for creating activities with what they are intended for - making frozen ice cubes! Read below for a fun twist from Laurie!

I (Laurie) put together this next ice cube tray activity and asked my sister to do it with her

3 year old grandson, Little B. According to her, this was the longest he has ever been engaged in a single activity with her!!

Here's what to do... Find smaller objects that fit in ice cube tray compartments.. We used plastic animals because Little B LOVES animals. Then fill the ice cube tray with water and freeze overnight. Pop the ice cubes out and put them on a tray to keep the melting water contained.

Give your Little squirt bottles, spray bottles, eye droppers, basters, etc. that have been filled with warm water.

Encourage your Little to use these tools to melt the ice cubes in order to...



#1 - Things can get a little wet! Have a towel close by. My sister thought this would be

an excellent way to play outside on a hot summer day!

#2 - Keep checking the water to make sure it is warm enough to melt the cubes.

Try this Version with Older Littles!

To expand upon the ice cube Animal Rescue activity above provide your school-agers with tools such as small, light hammers and mini screwdrivers to chip away at and then chisel the items out of the ice.

(Make sure your Little’s skill level is safely ready for this!)

Check out our ideas below for more ways to use these two household items

with your older Littles - preschool and up!


Muffin Tins & Ice Cube Trays with Preschoolers and Older Littles!

😊 Put a different color of paper in the bottom of each muffin tin or ice cube tray OR for school aged Littles write color words on pieces of tape or labels and put one in the bottom of each muffin tin cup or ice cube compartment. Then, using different colored pom poms, buttons, crayons, or other small objects, have your Little sort the items by color, putting each in the correct spot! To make it even more challenging, see if your Little can transfer the items using tongs!

😊 Using the same concept, write a number from 1-12 on a label or on a piece of tape. Put each number in the bottom of the muffin tin or ice cube tray! Using pennies, buttons, stones or beans, have your Little count out the correct number of objects and put them in the correct container. For school aged Littles you can challenge them by writing a number sentence (addition or subtraction) on the label or piece of tape and then have him/her show the answer with the correct number of objects!

😊 Using an eye dropper, let your Littles move water from one compartment of an ice cube tray to another! Another Idea: Add a few drops of food coloring to a compartment and then predict what will happen if you add a dropper of a second color to it!

😊 Use the muffin tin (or ice cube tray) as a playdough creation station! Add googly eyes, pipe cleaners, buttons and more and then let your Littles’ imaginations soar!

😊 Make Muffin Tin Crayons (from Our Best Bites) for a fun spin on things!

😊 For older elementary Littles who love science and engineering, give this Muffin Tin Marble Maze activity (from Fantastic Fun & Learning) a try!

😊 Your older Littles will love experimenting with this Muffin Tin Rainbow Science activity from Inspired Little Learners!

😊 And, of course, you can’t go wrong with whipping up a batch of your favorite muffins with your Little acting as chef! (Use a simple muffin mix for younger Littles!)

Oh my goodness! The possibilities seem endless!

If you’re still looking for more ideas,

these three sites are worth checking out!

from CBC Parents

from Teaching Littles

from The Activity Mom

We hope this month’s Household Happies! post provided some

Grand inspiration for you and your Littles!

If you have any other ideas for us to add to our lists, please share!

Next Monday, Laurie looks forward to sharing her repertoire of

Finger Plays & Rhymes with Our Littles!

with us all!

In the meantime, we'd love it if you checked out

our blog’s Facebook page and/or our Instagram site!

We post there regularly with reminders and additional content!

Have a great weekend!


Mar 19, 2023

I am watching my three year-old nephew this week and am in need of some fun inside ideas- these (and the fingerplays!) are perfect!! Thank you!!

Mar 19, 2023
Replying to

We are so glad that you found these ideas helpful and we hope you'll come back and visit often! Have fun with your nephew! Such fun!


Mar 02, 2023

I love all these ideas. I have four grandchildren ranging in age from 6 months to 4 years. The muffin tin and ice cube trays will keep all of the busy and happy at Grandma's house! Thanks for sharing. I'll be back for more ideas!!

Mar 04, 2023
Replying to

We are SO glad you've found us!! Sounds like you are quite busy with your four Littles! Thanks so much for connecting!

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