The activities that you do with your child in the first 3 years will greatly impact his or her development in a number of areas. “Activities” are a little different than “free play” because they often involve some setup (and clean up) work, as well as planning. You might think of doing “activities” with your child as playing with a purpose! Activities can still be open-ended and involve creative thinking, problem solving, and cooperation - skills that your child would build during unstructured play. Next time you are looking for a quick skill-building, FUN activity, you might one to try one of these:
Sensory bin – create a sensory bin easily by adding rice/pasta/beans + cups/spoons and other themed items. Add in some toys like animal figurines, or foam letters and numbers.
Finger paint – all you need are your fingers, paint, and paper!
Kinetic or moldable sand – add some shovels, or seashells that you can bury under the sand and search for. You can also use toothpicks or craft sticks to pretend like you are digging for bones!
Water beads – you can buy water beads at a craft store. Fill a bin with the beads and water for a fun sensory experience.
Touch-and-feel books – talk about the difference between rough, soft, silky, or sticky.
Cloud dough – mix flour and baby oil for a very interesting and moldable substance. Softer than play dough but just as fun.
Play car wash – get a small tub full of soap and water; add in some cars, wash cloths, and sponges to scrub them clean.
Play scientist – fill a container with a little bit of water and add in items that you can “experiment” with. What happens when you add cotton balls? What about ice? Paper? What sinks or floats?
Ice cubes – freeze items in ice cubes (like small dinosaur figurines); have your child use water and a turkey baster to try to melt the cube and get to the item
Water drawing – all you need is a chalkboard, water, and sponge brush.
Baby doll wash – using wash cloths and sponges, pretend to give your baby dolls a bath
Book-based Activities (learning without reading!)
Talk about the pictures and create your own story
Count the pages (if it’s a long book, estimate)
Identify particular words or letters on the pages
Play a “what’s that?” game and point to a picture and see if your child can name it.
Play a “can you find..?” game; “can you point to the robin?” “can you point to the barn?”
Play a search and find game with the pictures
Find the longest and shortest words on each page
Identify the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story
Name the parts of the book (title, author, spine, back page)
Read the book in a funny voice (opera voice, underwater voice)
Sing the book
Read it, then draw a picture
Indoor Gross Motor
Scavenger hunt – make a map for your child (or draw pictures) of some things he should try to find around the house (great practice for going up and down your stairs)
Balloon Fun – blow up a bunch of balloons, attach them to the ceiling with string; hang at a height your child can gently hit them with the palm of his hand.
Obstacle Course – create an obstacle course out of pillows, baskets, laundry baskets, buckets, broom…then jump, climb, run!
Pillow Pile – collect all of the pillows in your house and make a huge pile; cover each other with the pillows and jump in them.
Hide and Follow – rather than playing hide and seek, you hide and when your child finds you, your run while he chases you to the next spot
Balance “beam” – with masking tape make a “balance beam” on your floor. You can make it a shape or line or even a letter. See if your child can trace the masking tape with his feet
Nature Walk – collect items in a paper baggie that you find, and make a collage out of them; OR, wear a piece of masking tape or duct tape on your wrist inside out and try to collect “little” pieces of nature
Sidewalk Chalk – draw a picture or making a hopscotch grid; combine sidewalk chalk with water play: draw a picture then see if you can “erase” it with the water from a hose, squirt bottle, or squeezy water bottle
Obstacle Course – an outdoor obstacle course can include things like a slide, hula hoops, jump ropes, tunnels
Relay Race – try racing your child from one spot to another; first try running, then hopping, then galloping, then skipping!
Water Table – invest in an inexpensive outdoor water or sand table; HOURS of fun, especially on a hot day.
Paint Rocks – find some large rocks and paint pretty pictures on them. These make great presents!
Using Everyday Items
Beanbag (or sock) toss – try to see how many you can throw in a laundry basket!
Laundry sort – talk about colors, patterns, shapes, types of clothing, seasons
Pot & pan band – Make music by banging two lids together, or drumming on the back of a pot. Put some music on in the background for added inspiration. What makes the loudest noise? Softest? Highest? Lowest?
Cardboard boxes – what can you make with a cardboard box? A car? A hiding spot?
Toilet paper rolls & water bottles – save your empty toilet paper rolls and water bottles to make crafts out of; also, toddlers love to put little items (like pom poms or buttons) inside and dump them out again
Cereal boxes – save your empty cereal boxes to make blocks for building. You won’t mind if they get torn or destroyed.
Process Art Ideas
Color a giant box – if you happen to have a giant box (or you can buy one from staples), place your child inside with a set of crayons or markers. Have him color the “walls”.
Window art – using window safe markers and crayons, let your child create a scene.
Table art – cover your kitchen table with butcher paper and let him scribble or paint.
Collage – make collage art out of newspaper pictures, feathers, sandpaper etc.
Watercolor & crayon – have your child draw a picture with a white crayon on white paper; watercolor over it to “reveal” his design
Paint and press – place some paint drops on one side of a piece of paper; fold it in half, press down, and open to see a really cool symmetrical picture.
Activities without ANY materials needed
Find the sound. Have your child close his eyes, then clap your hands. Let him point to where he thinks the sound is coming from.
Follow the leader. Do a movement and see if your child can mimic you. Begin with one movement then see if he can do two movements, then three or 4 in a row.
Color game. Sung to the turn of The Farmer in the Dell… “spaghetti sauce is red, spaghetti sauce is red, I can think of lots of things that are the color red”. Can you think of something red? Follow along with other colors and objects.
Identify the parts of your body.
Make up a story. “Once upon a time…” ask your child “what comes next?”
Count. As high as you can, by 2s, in another language, by 10s.
Sing songs. Some favorites include: Wheels on the Bus, If You’re Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands, or Old MacDonald
Naming game. Name a category and have your child name as many things as he can that fit in that category….it’s like Family Feud for kids.