Children ages 1-4 are at an integral phase of development where they learn about their world from everything they see, hear, touch and do. Give your toddler a wide range of fun and interesting activities like games, crafts and educational opportunities to help her make the most of this important time.
Whether you're not feeling well, have a sleeping baby, or your toddler is in need of some downtime, every toddler needs some play featuring less active pursuits and quiet, calm skills. Quiet activities help toddlers learn to calm themselves, be independent, and take a break while still having fun. St. Louis Children's Hospital suggests activities like reading and completing puzzles to help little kids reboot for the day, especially for kids who no longer nap.
Turn Your Home Into a Town
Designate each room as a different place in your community such as the bank, grocery store, home and school. Your child can play alone as she pretends to shop in the pantry and cook with toy food, or you can join in. Take turns being the worker and the customer so your child sees both perspectives. Stretch your imaginations further and create an assembly line from a factory where you work together to pack up canned goods and deliver them to the store. Toddlers love feeling grown up and helping with important tasks when it looks like fun. Each time you play, add in new elements to keep creativity and interest flowing.
Give a Nature Tour
Stroll around your yard, or a local park if you don't have a yard, and describe the plants you see for your child. Keep the focus at his eye level and point out everything you see. For example, you could say "Look at these yellow flowers. They are so small, aren't they beautiful? How many yellow flowers do you see? These are buttercups." Include any observations you can such as directions like left and right, colors, shapes, sizes and numbers. Ask your child to describe plants with you. Take turns being the tour guide to help your child gain new perspectives.
Adapt a Game
Toddlers aren't great at sitting still for long periods. To make the most of board and card games, adapt the rules that include some calm yet active directions. This helps toddlers learn self-control and uses creative means to meet their needs.
For example, when you play a matching or memory game, you can add chances for physical activity when a player finds a match. Just like football players do touchdown dances and teams high-five after a score, you and your toddler can celebrate a win. When either you or your child find a match, decide on a fun way to celebrate. Make up a special handshake with one to three moves like an individual clap, slap both of your hands with the other person, and make the sign for "I love you." If you need a silent celebration, require the player who finds a match to stand up and walk over to the other player for a hug.
According to child development experts, children need a half-hour of structured active play and an hour of unstructured active play every day. Limit your toddler's sedentary activities to no more than one hour at a time. Physical activity can be anything where your child is moving around. Everything from dancing to running and throwing counts as active play. New, original outdoor, indoor, and other toddler games help break up the day and engage toddlers because of their novelty.
Cosmic Kids provides a virtual yoga class combined with story time for kids of all ages. Host Jaime leads kids through recognizable stories like Star Wars and Moana in short yoga sessions. Each yoga pose is part of the story and her silly outfits with crazy backgrounds look fun. Videos include lessons and stories for all energy levels and time frames so you can choose an episode that best fits your current needs. Watch them free online on the Cosmic Kids website, on YouTube, or purchase DVDs. Kids will gain gross and fine motor skills along with learning mindfulness and how to follow directions. While toddlers may not be able to correctly model each pose, they'll have fun trying.
Start a Race
Toddlers love to show off how fast or good they are at new things, so everything can become a race. Because of their active imaginations and ability to fantasize, toddlers are able to imagine themselves as winners in any scenario, says Parents magazine. Through competition, kids learn about self-esteem, tenacity, and empathy. While your toddler might not be the best winner or loser, races offer a chance to believe they are the best.
Classic races like relays or Simon Says are fun and easy for toddlers, especially if you don't have time to plan something new. If you don't have a timer on your oven or your phone, you can always count out loud to time your toddler at any activity from getting dressed to picking up toys.
Dance to the Music
Experiences listening to, moving with, and making music come with great benefits like helping children develop creativity, social skills, and improve cognitive functions. Banging on pots and pans and singing silly, rhyming songs are a great place to start, but adding the element of movement takes musical activities to the next level for toddlers.
Make time each day for dance time to expel energy and bond with your child. While any kind of music will suffice, expand your child's horizons by including music from different cultures and genres. Look for music with no words or words that are age appropriate as your toddler will likely start to sing favorites after repeated listening. Follow the directives in songs with built-in dance moves and try a little freestyle dancing where you move as your body directs, copy your toddler's moves, or have her copy yours. Add in small instruments and play to the beat or use your hands to clap and tap along with the song. Whenever you see your toddler needs to get moving, turn on some music and shout "dance break!" Then have a quick dance party together.
Exploring and understanding the senses is important in toddler brain development. Any play activity that activates the use of smell, sight, hearing, touch, or taste helps little kids learn about their body and the world around them. One basic sensory activity toddlers love is playing with play dough or clay. Kids use their sense of touch, smell, and taste if it's edible play dough to manipulate an object and learn what happens when they move it in different ways. Make your own nontoxic play dough with Kool-Aid or peanut butter in case your child tries to eat it.
Make A Sensory Bin
Engage your toddler's senses when you keep a sensory bin for individual or group play. Sensory bins can be small storage tubs or large, deep tables that you fill with items that have strong textures. The key to a great sensory bin is changing the contents frequently and using items safe for little kids. A few great sensory bin items include water, uncooked rice, dry corn kernels, dry noodles, material fibers like cotton or wool, nontoxic slime, and sand. Since toddlers have short attention spans, you want to change the sensory items on a weekly basis when possible. Add in some hidden objects or toys like scoops, trucks, and small cups so kids can experiment with manipulating the materials. Take sensory bins to the next level by asking your child to fill the bin with small objects she can find around the house, with your permission of course.
Digging for treasure is fun for kids of any age, but toddlers will be especially delighted to find surprises in unexpected places. Give your toddler a safe and easy sensory dig when you hide small plastic toys in Jell-O. Make the Jell-O as directed on the package. While it is setting, put small, washable toys in the mixture. You can make one big pan with lots of hidden toys or make individual cups of Jell-O in different colors. To make it more fun, match the toy color to the Jell-O color to camouflage the toy. When the Jell-O is set, give it to your child to dissect using his hands or small, safe tools like a Popsicle stick and plastic spoon.
Hide the Sound
Challenge your toddler to listen and locate a hidden sound somewhere in the room. You'll need a small alarm either on your phone or an alarm clock. Have your child hide their eyes and sit in another room where you can see her. Set the alarm for two minutes then hide it under or in something the child can move. Bring her into the room and when the alarm sounds, she'll have to follow the noise to find it. You can use any object with a repeated lasting sound so your child will keep hearing it until she finds it.
Creative thinking fosters self-esteem and ingenuity which help children become successful in other areas of life. Different people are creative in different ways, but all people can be creative in some way. Give your child opportunities to be creative through art, music, science, technology, and problem-solving to see where they are most comfortable. Kids who love to color will also love looking at different kinds of art. Children who are expert builders can try standard blocks and magnetic building materials.
Most toddlers are familiar with using crayons to color pictures or finger painting. But, kids can paint with unexpected items like ice cubes, Bubble Wrap, and feathers to make cool, textural art. Offer a variety of items your child can use to create a picture along with nontoxic paint. Have your child choose their own tools to paint with to further engage their creative spirit. Other fun painting tools include plastic vehicles where kids can drive them through paint and onto paper or balls they can roll in paint and across a piece of paper placed in a small box.
If your child builds with wooden or interlocking blocks, offer new materials to spark creativity and interest. Material options include unsharpened pencils, different sized boxes, cotton swabs, pipe cleaners, card stock, plastic cups, or board books. Offer your child a variety of materials and help them learn to manipulate or stack them into one, two, or three-story buildings.
Pack a Box
Similar to solving a puzzle, packing a box, suitcase, or the car requires some creative planning and problem-solving. Start with a medium-sized empty box and supply objects for your child to fill it with. You can use toys, books, clothing, items from the pantry, or smaller boxes as fillers. Place all the fillers around the empty box and ask your child to try fitting as many as he can in the box without breaking them. After his first try, see if you can rearrange items to show another way to fit more items in the box. Use this activity alone or as part of pretend play like packing for a vacation, working in a delivery store, or mailing a package.
Educational Concept Activities
Concepts like counting, shapes, letters, animals, and body parts are standard in the education of a toddler. A young child's best teachers are her caregivers, so it's up to you to help your child learn and understand these concepts. Nearly all activities a toddler participates in are educational because she has so much to learn about the world. A variety of toys and play experiences where caregivers point out these concepts in everyday life is ideal for toddler education. Other ways to incorporate specific concepts include:
- Teach your child about shapes using free, printable templates for common shapes you can cut out and share with your child. Use them like flashcards or play games to teach the concept and reinforce learning.
- Get online to help your child learn computer skills and have fun with age-appropriate games like ones to teach colors or letters. Simple skills like using the space bar or clicking the mouse alone with your help are all your child needs to play these games.
- Work on gross motor, fine motor, cognitive, and language skills with a variety of learning activities using everyday household items. For example, let your toddler play with pudding as finger paint or put on a finger puppet show.
Learning Is Fun
For a toddler, everything is new and interesting. Keep your little one excited about the world and knowledge with a variety of fun activities each day. No matter your budget or the amount of time you spend with your child, toddler activities are accessible to everyone. Look for unique, creative ways to present or talk about everyday objects and routines. The biggest point to remember when you plan activities for your toddler is to have fun, it's a child's best learning tool. Keep track of your toddler's daily activities on a checklist to make sure you're focusing on a variety of types and topics.