Fun and Educational Activities for Toddlers
Ten easy and inexpensive activities to keep your toddler engaged, and you sane.
By Reader's Digest Editors
Even the most inventive parents sometimes run out of games to play with their children. Here are a few easy and inexpensive activities to keep your toddler engaged, and you sane.
Bounce a beach ball
Lightweight, large balls are easiest for little hands to handle. Slightly underinflate a beach ball to make it easier to grip. Then sit across from your child and roll the ball back and forth between you. Help your child sit with legs spread so the ball rolls between them. Then try moving farther apart before tossing the ball in the air to your tot. As your child gets better at catching, increase the distance between you. This activity demands fast reflexes and a sense of spatial awareness, so don’t expect too much from your child too soon. But practicing alone builds eye-hand coordination, gross motor skills, and social skills as your child learns to play with you in a noncompetitive way.
Materials needed: one inflatable ball
Play sticky note games
Take a few colored sticky notes and put them all over your body (on your elbows, legs, feet, belly, head, ear, etc.). You could also use a stuffed animal or a doll. Then ask your toddler if she can get the purple note stuck to your ear. Or ask her where the green note is. Or ask her what color note is on your belly button. Or ask her to put the yellow note on your arm. This game helps your toddler recognize colors and the names of body parts, and have fun at the same time.
Materials needed: colored sticky notes
Sort the socks
Ask your child to help you sort a group of things. For example, if you are doing laundry, ask your child to help you put all of the big grownup socks in one pile and all of her little socks in another. Or ask her to put all the white socks in one pile and the colored socks in another. You could also play this game with groceries, asking your toddler to help you sort food, such as sorting produce by color. This sorting helps your child develop fine motor skills and recognize shapes, sizes, and colors.
Materials needed: almost any household objects that can be sorted
Hide and peek
Hide a small object such as a toy animal in your fist. Make sure your child is watching as you close your hand around the object and hide both hands behind your back. Ask her, “Where did the zebra go?” Then bring both hands back out in front of you, and ask, “Can you tell me which hand has the zebra?” When she chooses, open your hand slowly to build suspense. If the hand she chose is empty, let her choose the other hand. Express surprise and joy when she finds the animal. To make things more challenging, switch the object to your other hand behind your back. You can also give your little one a turn at hiding the toy while you guess where it is. This game helps your child learn object permanence and how to take turns.
Materials needed: an object that fits in the palm of your hand, such as a small wooden animal
Paint with sponges
Take a normal dishwashing sponge and dampen it slightly. Then let your toddler paint one side of the sponge with nontoxic, washable kids’ paint. When she is done, have her pick it up and press the paint side of the sponge onto paper. When she lifts it she can see the nifty colors and shapes she has created. Explain to your child what happens when different colors are mixed together. If you do this on sturdy tissue paper you could even use it as wrapping paper for that next birthday present!
Materials needed: dishwashing sponge, paintbrush, kids’ washable nontoxic paint
Buy a set of bubble wands in a variety of shapes and sizes so your toddler can explore the concepts of big and small. Then take everything outside so you can explain how the wind carries the bubbles away, the same way it blows the leaves around in your yard. Encourage your child to crawl or run after the bubbles and reach for them on his own. If you want to concoct your own bubble solution, mix a cup of water, a tablespoon of glycerin (readily available online or at your health-food store), and two tablespoons of dishwashing detergent. Then let your child dip the wand into the liquid. Bubble games boost eye-hand coordination and gross motor skills, as well as language development. Plus, your youngster will learn about cause and effect (when you touch a bubble it pops!) and basic physics (bubbles are round bits of air encased in liquid).
Materials needed: bubble solution or dish soap, water, and glycerin, bubble wands
The matching game
Take out several household items that have a match or a corresponding part, e.g., a cooking pot and lid, a pair of socks or slippers, toothbrush and toothpaste, a fork and a spoon, crayon and paper, or a comb and a hairbrush. Separate the matching items into two groups. To play the game, choose something from one of the groups and invite your toddler to find its match in the other group. When you see that your child understands the concept, switch roles and you find the match to the item your child picks. Continue until all the items are matched.
Materials needed: household objects with mates
Name what’s missing
Choose three different objects. Show the objects to your child and ask her to name them. Note the colors and compare sizes. Is this one bigger or smaller than the others? How are they the same and how are they different? Ask her how many objects are in the group. Then have your child cover her eyes while you cover one object with a cloth. Tell your child to look again and tell you which object is hidden. If your child is uncertain, offer helpful hints. You can also try switching roles so your child can have the pleasure of correcting you. This activity helps your child gain spatial and object memory skills.
Materials needed: three household objects
Organize the Tupperware
Use this activity when you need some time in the kitchen. Fill a cupboard with all of your child-friendly containers, such as plastic tubs and lids, rubber spatulas, and popsicle trays. Let your child explore the cupboard, pulling things out and examining them. You could also try spreading out the plastic tubs for her, showing her how little ones fit into bigger ones. Hide small items in bigger ones to allow her the delight of discovery. This helps her develop fine motor skills.
Materials needed: plastic storage containers in lots of shapes and sizes (boxes that fit inside each other are particularly fun); assorted smaller items such as toilet paper rolls, empty thread spools, old socks, flannels, plastic spoons
Draw a doodle
Tape some big sheets of thick paper onto the floor or a table and let your toddler express her inner artist. Start off with just a few crayons in primary colors so she isn’t overwhelmed by choices. As she picks up each crayon, name its color. Washable crayons are safest for your walls and floors! Praise your child’s creations and display her work. It will show her how much you value her efforts. Drawing helps your child develop fine motor skills, understanding of color, and understanding cause and effect.
Materials needed: paper, masking tape, crayons
Sources: toddlertoddler.com, pbs.org, babycentre.co.uk, whattoexpect.com