If you are the parent of a toddler, you might be thinking about enrolling your child in any of a number of toddler classes so your child can engage in play and other activities with children his or her own age. These classes can be expensive, and many are not always geared for toddlers’ abilities. They look interesting on paper, but end up providing a source of frustration for your child, and this isn’t fun for anyone involved. Children learn by doing, when they engage in activities.
If you enroll your child in a toddler class, you don’t get to choose who else will be there, how many other children will be involved, and you don’t get much say in which activities are presented. These may become problems later (or sooner) because some parents won’t think twice about bringing a child to ‘class’ even if that child has a cold, the sniffles, or a fever. If there are too many, or rarely, if there are too few, children enrolled, your child may not receive the quality of interaction you were envisioning. The activities may change, at the discretion of the class’s provider, leaving you explaining to your tearful (and very disappointed) child that macaroni art is just as fun as finger painting. These problems can be avoided when you teach your child at home, and you can also do those same activities with other parents when you teach your child at home through educational play activities, and for a play group for your child to take part in.
There are many articles on Associated Content pertaining how to form play groups, and unstructured play is essential for a young child’s social development, but for those times that you (or other parents) want to provide a structured activity or two for either your own play group or for your own individual child, here are some ideas for you using items found in most households, and for little or no extra cash.
* Finger painting, but instead, with food. This is inexpensive, and also completely non-poisonous, barring any food allergies. For the youngest ones, you can use mustard and ketchup, mayo with a couple drops of food coloring to add a few other colors to the pallette, grape jam (it has a much better consistency than jelly does), and strawberry jam, for starters. Hand prints can also be made, and compared to other toddlers’ hand prints, and these also make a really cute keepsake for the parents, or made into cards for grandparents. This activity can be very soothing for toddlers, and can also introduce them to new tastes (be prepared with napkins or towels for those times when the taste is judged to be disagreeable), and can also give them an opportunity to engage in tactile and sensory development. Oversized t-shirts might be a good option, as many of these foods can stain clothing.
* Big bubble popping, with an adult using a huge bubble blowing wand. Kids love to pop bubbles, and a couple of big pluses for parents is that they’re renewable, so there’s no bickering over who popped whose bubble, and running around outside gives the kids fresh air on top of some exercise, which is sure to make nap time easier. Just keep the liquid bubble solution away from the kids, that stuff can really sting their eyes.
* A shape matching game can be really educational for toddlers, but needs a little bit of preparation. You’ll need some chalk, if you want to do this outside, and some different colored construction paper. Cut the paper into different shapes, square, triangle, rectangle, circle, diamond, pentagon, hexagon, with one set for each child. If kids seem to have trouble with these last two, you can use a soccer ball to show them but be prepared for a ‘game’ soon after, or eliminate the two shapes until later. Then, draw the same shapes, only much on a much larger scale, onto the walkway to the house. You don’t want to use the sidewalk for more than one or two children, as they can get to be too carried away and that is very close to the street. After you are done, have the kids take their individual set and match each shape to the drawing on the walkway. If it is windy, you’ll need to place something on top of the paper to keep it blowing away. If you don’t mind mopping up afterwards, you can also do this activity on a wood or tile floor, just test somewhere to make sure that the chalk doesn’t stain it permanently. I do this, and other chalk drawings with my son on a continual basis, and we haven’t had any problems yet.
* Making sock puppets using washable markers and old socks is a way to let your toddler’s creativity out. These are easily made, and each toddler can even make two, one for each hand, with little help from his or her parent. It helps to have a few already made, so the children can have a good idea of what it is that you mean. This can teach the children manual dexterity, give them a boost of confidence, and help them develop empathy by talking through and for their puppets.
* Save up some egg crates, and have the other parents do so, also. Make sure it is either paperboard, which is best for the environment, or Styrofoam, as you don’t want to mix them if you are going to recycle them after you’re done. Paperboard egg crates are easier to clean up of the two, though. When you have several saved, and all or at least most of the members of your play group can attend at the same time, put the egg crates on the floor, and ask the kids to stomp on them. My son, who is two, loves to do this activity. We don’t get to do it often, as it takes a while to save up the soon-to-be-stomped egg crates and once they’re stomped on, the fun’s over. Keep a big garbage bag on hand for when the stomping is done. This activity is good for helping the kids blow off excess energy and any frustrations they have (it’s harder to be two years old than most people think it is), and breaks the egg crates down to save space for those who recycle.
These activities can be done in small groups, solo with your own child, or with your own child and one friend. Enjoy your child’s childhood, because he or she only has one, and this will make sure that you and your son or daughter have many happy memories to look back on when he or she is older. This also provides another bond you will share with your child. Teach your child different skills through different activities, which will teach your child that learning is fun in itself, and this will affect how your child looks at learning for the rest of his or her life. You, as a parent, can greatly influence your toddler’s childhood’s quality by taking an active role in what he or she is exposed to, and by increasing the level of fun in the activities engaged in.