Let me just say I am a huge fan of any activity that allows my son to play quietly for the most part. But truthfully as much as technology is a part of our world, I don't want that to be the only way he learns. I’ll admit there are some really great apps out there (we’ve downloaded a few) and learning programs on the boob tube, but they don’t allow you to truly interact with your child one on one. I try my best to avoid battery operated toys because I’ve found them to be, in my opinion pretty useless except as noise makers. I am really partial to those that also are truly learning centered and create interactive “play”. My favorites by far are those made by Melissa & Doug. They are handcrafted and often include extra ideas on how to further your “play” with your little one. And being the budget conscious mom that I am, I managed to find all his Melissa & Doug toys at places like Marshall’s/TJ Maxx, Michael’s (they have great sales or a coupon on them for 40% off and even buy one get free during the recent Christmas season) and a great store called US Toys, which I’ll discuss later. But I also find things at the dollar stores, Target's famous dollar section and things around the home to create my own activities for him. Here are a few of the ones that are my personal faves as well as some of his. Side note, my little one is 2, well 25 months if you want to get technical with it but you can definitely introduce a lot of these things sooner as I did to aid in sensory play.
This was his first Melissa & Doug bought for his first Christmas.
Here is a classic shape sorter that includes other shapes you won't see in other similar ones. We play with this one quite a bit. He pulls it out at least twice a day.
On the bottom of the cube are examples of other activities that can be done with it besides sorting. I love this because sometimes you simply run out of ideas.
Another updated version of a classic, the ring stacker, that includes more colors and shapes. As suggested you can have your little one sort by color, shape or even put them in a bag to guess the shape. This one is really great for sensory play. He hasn't quite mastered the squares because of the interlocking but I know he will eventually.
This one I bought him for Christmas and he has played with it nonstop. He loves chopping and cutting things up. There is a wooden knife in there somewhere and he's missing the tomato. We have begun cutting foods in the kitchen where I allow him to use a butter knife to help cut his snacks and occasionally a small paring knife while holding his hands. He always wants to help and "do it" as he says.
Of course the fun just doesn't stop there. I've also a included a music section put together using items purchased from the aforementioned US Toys (bottom 2 and one egg has gone rogue) and Target's (top 2)dollar section. Side note, I know this one isn't exactly noise proof, but it may buy you some time to do one thing around the home!
US Toys store is by far one of the best stores I've found locally not only for the small music instruments I've found, but art projects large and small for home or classroom, study aids and activities for children, educational (Melissa & Doug included) and recreational toys and party supplies all in one place. I also picked up these stacking cubes which we also use to identify his colors. He hasn't really paid much attention to the animals on the squares but its cool. He tends to pick those out from the books we read.
Please excuse my ashy hands. I know, I know......washing your hands constantly especially with a toddler, I don't always reapply lotion. Ah well...
Now for the more DIY moms and dads, here are a few things I've put together using simple things in my home including egg cartons, plastic containers from the farmers market outlet that once held some cherry tomatoes, blue glass stones I found in my bedroom at my parent's home and much more. Some of the accompanying pieces were found in the dollar store as well such as the plastic straws and shoe strings. These activities focus on building fine motor skills as well as fostering his creativity.
These shapes and string came together from the dollar store! They are pretty thick cardboard which seem to stand up to the rough hands of this little guy. But then again, he hasn't quite mastered this skill yet but he is definitely into identifying the different foods from the shapes.
Another dollar store find except for the paper, which was leftover from the decorations of good friend's baby shower and the glitter I found in my old bedroom. I seem to have stored all types of things in my room and I don't remember why. Any who, I don't let him handle the glue by himself just yet because he's so heavy handed. But I do allow him to pick where the glue goes and allow him to put the pieces where he wants and distribute the glitter.
Last summer I created a sensory box for him using an old shoe box that included dried beans and macaroni, a plastic shovel and these large black stones. He liked it at first but quickly grew bored until my mother-in-law gave him and old egg carton and he began shoveling the food and stones from the shoebox to the egg carton. He required two hands at first, but with time his motor skills improved until he was able to do use just one hand. The same concept can be applied here. I think moving items from container to another is by far his most favorite activity. I am constantly finding stones and blocks all around the house.
The pom poms and popsicle sticks which come precolored are great for color sorting as well as art projects. And once again all dollar store finds.
I like this activity because its another fine motor skill building one but he seems to be disinterested. Maybe later he will get into it. It can help with pattern building along with color sorting.
As I mentioned earlier these are just a few things but I'm always on the look out for more, especially now that I am trying to teach him the phonetic sounds of the alphabet. I wish I had taught him that first instead of the letter names but ah well. You live and you learn. I am also trying to find activities to teach him his numbers. He knows them by sight but not the actual amount of each. I love the montessori method but just about every site I find has loads of information that makes it overwhelming for me. And some of the tools used in the montessori are a bit pricey although I could definitely make my own. But I'm still trying.
Moms and dads, what are some of your toddler's favorite activities or method of learning? Please share!!