Young toddlers are so much fun. The amount of discovery and learning at this stage is incredible and if you’re like me, you just want to encourage all of it as much as possible. Which is why the way we play and interact with them is so important but can also be so overwhelming. How do you play with a toddler who doesn’t really know how to play by themselves yet? They are probably a lot more capable than you might think. I am currently a work from home mom with my 16-month-old Grace at home with me. She is BUSY, so having lots of different ways to play is so key to making it through the day. They can get bored pretty quick so it’s important for us to keep changing up what’s happening and even the environment we are in. So here’s a list of 9 easy ways that you can play with your young toddler every single day.
This one can get messy, but only if you let it. You get to control how many “ingredients” your toddler gets, so go with your comfort level. Letting them explore and practice their scooping and pouring and mixing is all part of the fun. It’s also great to have their own little set of tools that they are able to use. Sometimes a large wooden spoon or whisk can be overwhelming for a toddler so it’s nice for them to have something they can handle with more ease. To make things easier, I will prep all of the amounts of each ingredient and put them into small cups or containers. You can demonstrate with one item what you’d like them to do and then see if they can repeat it. I like to use a big heavy glass bowl to limit the amount of movement when they are mixing. Every time we have done this together, she gets better and better at it and now just knows what to do. That part for me is always so fun to watch and so worth the mess that might end up on the floor (great opportunity to teach them cleaning up!) Also, if you have a plastic serrated knife, another great activity is to teach them to cut. I find a banana is a great place to start!
Here’s some of the things we’ve enjoyed making together so far:
- Scrambled Eggs
- French Toast
SCOOPING AND POURING
G is currently in a stage where she just loves anything that involves scooping and pouring. This is one of the best toddler activities for her to practice so I encourage it as often as I can. Again, this can get messy BUT so worth it to watch the way they improve each time. There are so many options for this, here are some we’ve enjoyed:
- Water beads
- DIY Edible Sand (baked flour and oil)
- Fruit in Water
** it’s always important to use your own discretion when it comes to what you feel is safe and appropriate for your child based on where they are with mouthing objects. And even if they are no longer mouthing, it’s still important to supervise when working with small objects.
I recently purchased a laminator and I’m slightly obsessed with it! There are so many great printable resources available online or if you yourself are creative, Canva has some great editable templates specifically for flashcards. G pulls these out multiple times a day and I LOVE watching how quickly she has learned each of the flashcards that I go through with her.
I currently have 3 packs of flashcards:
- Family & Friends
I hope to make in the future, based on what she’s showing interest in:
- Fruits & Vegetables
- Body Parts
This is one of my favourite toddler activities, and it is inspired by Montessori. They encourage a toddler height station where they can brush their teeth, brush their hair, wash their face and their hands. By having their own station for this, this encourages their independence while also emphasizing its importance in their daily routine. When I looked at this on Pinterest, they all looked super cute but kind of out of my price range or ability to put together. I also don’t have a ton of extra space for this in our bathroom so I needed something I bit more compact. So I headed to my favourite store, Dollarama, and here’s what I was able to put together:
- Small table
- Face cloths
- Water dispenser
- Kitchen drying mat
It isn’t perfect, it’s a little on the short side for her. Ideally you’d want to mirror at her eye level but it’s totally usable and she is learning valuable skills in the process.
**the glass pitcher is fixed to the table with a strong adhesive just to avoid the chance of it falling over.
I HATE cleaning.. (I’m not alone in this right?!) so if there’s any way that I can make it more fun, I’m in! I’ve created a little cleaning bucket for Grace, again, all with items from Dollarama that she can use to help me clean. Her cleaning kit includes:
- Microfiber cloth
- Spray bottle
- Dustpan and broom
- Small Swiffer
The idea here isn’t to make it a game, so don’t just throw a bunch of something on the floor and say ‘okay clean up!’. Instead, when a mess happens, tell your toddler that it’s time to clean up and then go get whatever supplies they need. Include them in your cleaning routine. When it comes to cleaning products, I recommend only letting them use water or products you know are safe without any harmful chemicals.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
It’s never too early for arts and crafts, believe me! Your little one might really surprise you. We started with Ziploc bag painting. I squeezed a bunch of paint colours onto a thick cardstock and put it into a Ziploc bag. I would tape that to a table or floor and allow her to squeeze all that paint around. It actually makes for some really pretty art. I’ve even cut some of them into hearts and sent them to distant family members in the mail as a way to cheer them up during these tough times. G is also starting to really enjoy colouring. We’ve started with some thick crayons that she can hold well. We’ve also loved the Colour Wonder products for colouring with markers without the mess. Lastly, G is figuring out stickers. Watching the focus that is required from her to figure out sticking them on paper is mesmerizing to me. I suggest the thick foam stickers as they are easier for them to manoeuvre.
- Ziploc Bag Painting
- ColourWonder products
- Foam Stickers
- Paint with Water
- Washable Paint
- Washable Markers
- Tissue Paper & Glue (or to avoid glue, use contact paper)
I love the idea of dramatic play. This is really where their imagination can run wild. At the toddler stage, however, they still aren’t quite able to really grasp the concept of make-believe. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still try it with them. Here’s are a few that we’ve done so far:
- Tea party
- Cooking with play food
- Mommy and Doll
- Tissue Paper Ice Cream Shop
More importantly, I’m starting to collect items that I think will be fun for when she is really able to grasp dramatic play. Things like coffee cups and lids for their own cafe. Pizza boxes for a pizza shop. Doughnut boxes for a bakery. The possibilities are endless!
If you have a little one, I’m sure you’ve heard the word sensory multiple times when it comes to playing with toddlers. In our experience, it’s easy to equate sensory just with touch and forget about some of the other senses (smell, taste, sight and hearing). When I was reminded of this, I immediately ran to my spice cupboard and pulled out some things for G to smell. She was so fascinated by it and now every time I open our spice cupboard, she does a giant inhale through her nose! So the possibilities here are endless really, I mean just search sensory play on Pinterest and you will be bombarded with a ton of different ideas. Here’s some that we’ve enjoyed:
- Rainbow spaghetti
- Rainbow rice
- Jello dig
- Spice tray
- Animal noises
- Ice Cubes
OUTDOORS AND PHYSICAL PLAY
I don’t know about your little one but mine could be outside all day! It makes me a little nervous for winter as I hate the cold but hopefully I will brave it for her sake (and mine). Being outside is a great opportunity to teach her different athletic skills and test out their physical abilities safely. If you’re brave, you could even try and include them in your workouts. Here are a few things to try:
- Throw a ball to a person
- Throwing a ball at pins
- Kick a ball
- Swing a golf club
- Kick a ball while running
- Catch a ball
- Swing a bat
- Swing a hockey stick
Now for Some Real Talk…
This stage is both SO awesome and also SO challenging. Knowing how to constantly keep them engaged and occupied is really hard and exhausting. Sometimes she does amazing at engaging in the activities I set out for her and I feel like I’m just crushing motherhood. Other times it feels like all she wants to do are the things she isn’t supposed to and I’m lucky if I feed her a meal that isn’t just snacks. I get it, I see you, I am you. So please know that WHATEVER you are doing with them, it is enough. YOU are enough and you are doing AMAZING! Keep it up, Mom and Dad!
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