Some ideas for entertaining your toddler now that you can't rely on either the excitement of the Holidays, or fair weather activities:
Make a Pillow Mountain
This is a great way for even the youngest tots to exercise gross motor skills. Pile up pillows and sofa cushions on the floor for your child to climb and jump on. Later, add some imaginary play. Pretend to be birds in a nest or bears in a cave. Sing Pop Goes the Weasel as your toddler "pops" out of the pillow pile. Encourage her to crawl through the "tunnel" of two pillows you hold against one another.
Read the "Baby Teddy" Album
My son loves looking at the little album chronicling his first year. He enjoys identifying all the family members and I enjoy the "down-time." Looking at photographs also provides a good opportunity to build vocabulary and introduce spatial concepts such as "behind" and "next to:" (" Pop-Pop is Mommy's father," etc. and "Who is sitting next to Baby Teddy?" etc.)
Stop and Go
This is a fun way to work on coordination, help your child learn to follow directions and (best of all) discharge some toddler energy. When you shout "Go!", you and your toddler start running, hopping, twisting, dancing, etc. When you shout "stop!", you both stop moving and "freeze."
You will likely have to demonstrate and play this game several times until your child "catches on." And, if your tot is like mine, he will be better at "going" than "stopping." (My son's version of this game is to answer No when I say Stop and keep running!)
Prep: On a piece of craft paper, posterboard, or cardboard, trace three plates to form a snowman, (dinner plate on the bottom, luncheon plate in middle, saucer as the hear). Trace a cup to make buttons on the bottom two circles. Cut a black square, red (or green or blue) rectangle and orange triangle from construction or other colored paper. This should take about ten minutes.
If she can, have your toddler re-draw the circles, by following the line you made with a crayon or marker (good for fine motor coordination). She can add a face or other decoration (my son added feet) to the Snowman with the markers and/or crayons and fill in the buttons with collage items (don't worry about the "spillover"). Help her glue the square on the head as a hat, the rectangle between the top and bottom circles to form a scarf and the triangle on the face as the carrot nose. Again, don't worry if the placement is off and you end up with a "Picasso snowman." You're having fun, not creating representational art.
Explore an Instrument
Aside from the fun of banging on a piano and singing "Old Macdonald," "Twinkle Twinkle" -or any childhood favorite that can withstand the "accompaniment"- instruments help demonstrate concepts like high and low, loud and soft, left and right.
If you're inspired, you can show your toddler another way to "play" the instrument. Flit over the piano keys like a butterfly, pound them like an elephant and slither over the ivories like a snake. Strum guitar strings like a bumblebee, a bird or a lion.
Make Music and Sing
If you do not have a real instrument willing to weather toddler handling, make your own. Overturned laundry baskets and wooden spoons make a great drum set. Bells (available for Christmas decoration) are great fun to ring while singing Jingle Bells (no matter the season).
Or, for more portable instruments, turn a pot lid and wooden spoon into a bass drum - or two pot lids into symbols - paint-stirrers make rhythm sticks and cardboard tubes can be used as megaphones. Note: Avoid pot lids with thin edges. An over-zealous marching toddler can hit himself in the head or face with the lid and get cut.
You can extend this activity by making instruments as a craft project. Cover and decorate a coffee can drum with paper or fabric. Decorate with markers, paints, magazine pictures, stickers, fabric scraps, etc. Beat the plastic lid with hands or "drumsticks" made from plastic or wooden utensils.
Tape two heavy-duty paper plates together to make a tambourine; before adding the last piece of tape, insert some dried beans. Cardboard tubes or other toddler-sized plastic containers can be covered, decorated and filled with beans, rice, or pasta to make maracas. Seal the ends well with paper and tape (toddlers will want to open the can or tube to see what's inside!)
Note: While it's tempting to make drums and maracas by using wax paper and a rubber band to seal the can/tube, rubber bands are dangerous for toddlers.
Nancy Morse-Kelly is the founder of Toddler Place, a center for mothers and young children to participate in fun, learning classes and activities. Copies of her booklets Toddlers at Home I and II are available by sending $2.50 per booklet requested to:
610 Love Point Road
Stevensville MD 21666
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