Salad Spinner and Blocks

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Items found in your home are some of the best toys to promote development in babies. Using a salad spinner and some blocks can create an activity that will help your baby search for objects, take the salad spinner apart, try to put it back together and older babies can try to spin the blocks inside using the knob. It is great to develop curiosity and cognitive skills. 

Always give your baby some time to explore a new object on their own first. This will help them develop focused attention and nurture their curiosity. Once they have taken the time to discover their new toy, play with them and repeat key words to help with their language development. Say "inside" when you or your baby place a block inside the spinner. "May I have a block?" and open your hand is another phrase you can use during this activity.

You can also start showing them how to share by giving them a block and saying "yours" then taking it back and saying "mine". 

Playing with cups

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I always have a few cups on hand for a spontaneous activity! They are fun to play with, simple and inexpensive. Stack them then smash them, stack them inside each other, hide objects in them, run around and kick them....the list goes on! 

 

 

 

 

Here is a short video demonstrating a baby exploring the cups. 

 

Getting children excited about activities

I love setting up a small "pop up" creative space for my baby. Painting, jewel sorting, motor activities etc. I let my 11 month old baby select what she wants to do and for how long she wants to. 

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Age recommendation: Baby and toddler (you need to be with them for this activity and they should not be putting anything in their mouths given the small objects). 

Materials: Water paint, tape, paper, jewels or rocks, muffin tin, mason jar, water bottle, marbles. 

How to play:

  • I love the element of surprise. I love preparing these types of "pop up" play or creativity spaces when my daughter sleeps so that when she wakes up I can see her eye light up. I also enjoy seeing what she feels drawn to first and how she initiates her own play. How she explores new objects. 
  • Paint and Tape: We painted on some white paper and then added some tape on top (then my daughter painting on the tape as well).  
  • Jewels, muffin tin and Mason jar: For this activity, i game my baby both the Mason jar and muffin tin and demonstrated that she can place the jewels in either object. We sorted same colours together and I repeated the words "same" "different" "blue" to help with language development. 
  • Marbels and water bottle: I used this activity as a motor and coordination activity. I demonstrated how to place the marble into the small opening of the water bottle then allowed her to figure it out. 

Learning and development: At around 12 months, one of the cognitive milestones is that your child explores objects by shaking, banging or throwing them. They should also put things in a container and take them out. Lastly, around this age, they should follow simple directions such as "pick up the marble". 

Building confidence through science

School can be demanding on your elementary school children. From day 1, they need to do well on tests and be their best. They feel the pressure and this pressure can decrease motivation and confidence. I have seen in first hand with clients I worked with privately. Children that have lost all motivation regarding school to the point of not even wanting to think something through during homework and simply saying "I don't know". Play, in some cases, can turn this around. I love using science experiments and activities because they get children curious and excited about learning again. 

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Snap Circuits are a wonderful way to play, explore, feed ones curiosity. A child can follow the instructions or figure out on their own how to build various models of electrical circuits. How to light a light build or turn a small fan on, for instance. 

Seeing a child figure out an electrical circuit and "turn the light on"...literally lights them up as well!! As parents and as teachers, we need to figure out how to keep children curious, motivated and confident. Stepping away from school work but still learning about science is a great way to build up there confidence. If something goes wrong in the circuit and the light doesn't light up, guide them and question rather than tell them "this is an easy one, you should know how to do this!". 

Give them some time to play on their own, but take the time to sit with them as well. There might be one model that is difficult for you as well! Challenge yourself. Allow them to see what you own inner voice sounds like and how you conquer challenges. 

Have fun playing! 

Oobleck...a solid and a liquid!

I have been making this with children of all ages for over 6 years and I have yet to meet a child (or adult) who doesn't react to Oobleck by saying "coooooollll". 

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Age recommendation: Toddler, Preschool or early elementary.

Materials: Corn starch, water and a bowl. 

How to play:

Full details and instructions can be found on the Scientific American website. Oobleck is an interesting substance to play with because it can be both a hard substance and a liquid substance at the same time. Use a small deep bowl for this activity. This way you can "punch" the substance and also place your entire hand in the bowl as well. This activity gets messy. Make sure you have your floors covered or do this outside. It is well worth the mess though!

Learning and Development: You can use this to develop scientific inquiry and also build on pincer grip. You can place one marble in a deeper bowl and make your Oobleck in this bowl. Ask your child to try to get the marble and take it out using only their thumb and index finger.  You can also challenge them to make a ball with Oobleck. The faster you move the substance around in your palms, you will see a ball form. The moment you stop rolling your palms around it will liquify and drip back into the bowl. Ask questions about observation such as "how does it feel?" "what happens when you hit it quickly?" "how can you get your hand to sink to the bottom?". 

Spatula Hockey

A ball is always a fun item to play with. I was trying to think of a new activity my son could play and since he loves using a rubber spatula I thought that combining these might be fun...and it was!

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Age recommendation: Baby, toddler. 

Materials: Spatula or wooden spoon (one for your baby and one for you!) and a small ball. 

How to play

  • If your baby is not walking yet but is able to sit, just sit in front of them and hit the ball gently with a spatula to pass them the ball. You can hold their hand with the spatula or let them figure it out on their own. Repeat some action words for language development such as "ball" (while pointing to it) and "hit the ball" (as you hit the ball). 
  • With a baby that is able to walk, have then hit the ball with their spatula as they walk. You can dedicate a space in the room as the "goal" or have them keep hitting it until they get to the other side of the room. Walk around with them and hit the ball as well! Encourage them to chase the ball a little as well. 
  • With a toddler/preschooler, you can have 2 "goals" place on opposite sides of the room and run rather than walk, trying to score in each others goal. You can even have a score board and first person to get 5 goals wins. Have your child add a sticker or a dot to a scoreboard and help them count to 5. 

Learning and Development: This activity focuses on coordination. Around 18 months, a baby should run a little (according to the CDC milestones). This is a wonderful activity to encourage this. At 18 months, they should also understand 1-step verbal demands such as "hit the ball". 

Colourful rice activity

Which child doesn't enjoy the colors of the rainbow! This activity was lots of fun! It was mess free since the rice gets "painting" in a Ziplock so my baby was able to join us in the fun.

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Age recommendation: Any age as long as your baby does not put this in their mouths. You need to monitor them as they play.

Materials: Rice (we used Basmati), Ziplocks, Tempera Paint, large tray and container.

How to play: Full instructions along with a video can be found on The Imagination Tree website. 

Learning and Development: This is mostly a discover and play activity. It is a great sensory activity for young children. I added some small animals along with fine motor tools from Learning Resources and trucks (not seen in picture). These types of activities are wonderful to help build concentration skills in children. They are calming and allow parents to "take a breathe" (as long as you get used to the mess some create!). If you want to work on executive function skills, you can ask your child to guide you into some imaginary play with the animal figurines. Is the rice their food? Is it their home? Allow your child to decide what role you play. If they create a scenario (i.e. the giraffe ate the lion's food), you can even ask them how your "animal" should react. This will help them build emotional awareness and self-regulation skills as well. 

 

Asking your child to read to you

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I have realized that there are a few books that are simple enough for my toddler to read to me. There is such a joy and pleasure of sitting back and having your child read to you. 

I love the book, Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton. The words are simple (colours, clothing and the word OOPS!) and the book always makes my children laugh. 

Doing this with my daughter has helped her build confidence and excitement to read. I have also begin to give her more complicated books and give her the green light to tell me the story. She expresses such a joy in doing this and it warms my heart. I love hsaring these moments with her. If only they could stay this young forever! :) 

Curious Neuron Recommendations: National Geographic Kids Books

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I love these books! In our house, we use them we when play pretend library and when we play school. I love taking a book out and asking my 3 year old to select a page or animal and then we sit down and read it together. I learn so much from these books as well! 

They are wonderful in sparking interest, curiosity and wonder about the world around us. 

DIY Colour within the lines

We started practicing colouring within the lines, but I felt that pictures in colouring books were too small. I took out some large drawing paper and drew a big design with a black marker. This helped my toddler begin to understand the concept of colouring between the lines. 

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Age suggestion: Toddler, Preschool

Materials: Large drawing paper and markers. 

How to play:

  • You can either prepare the activity or ask your child to do it. Scribble some circular shapes on a large piece of white paper. Make sure the shapes you are drawing are closed up (see picture). 
  • Give your child the goal of drawing/colouring inside each little shape and not passing the lines. 

Learning and Development: You can learn colours with this activity and learn how to draw within the lines. If you have a 3 year old, you can try to get them to copy the circle shapes with you since the CDC states that around the age of 3, a child should copy circles with a crayon. 

Shape and colour matching activity

We have begun learning shapes in our house and I realized that I didn't have any objects or toys to help me teach my toddler her shapes through play. I had some felt paper so my toddler and I worked together to create an activity. Mind you, I am not creative or artistic so this was the best I could do (please don't look at my stars!). 

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Age recommendation: Toddler, preschool 

Materials: Felt paper and scissors. 

How to play:

  • I chose to work with 5 different shapes, however you can introduce only 2-3 at a time. For each shape, you need to cut out 2 of the same shape but not in the same colour. 
  • In addition to your shape, cut out a few strips felt paper. These will be used to "match" your shapes or colours (as seen in the picture). 
  • If you are doing this with your child for the first time, introduce the shapes first and have them place one of each on the left hand side of a felt paper and again one of each on the right side. Name the shape and the colour as you do this. 
  • Again, if you are, for instance, using this activity to teach colours, point to the pink star at the top of the left side (see picture) and say to your child "this one is pink, can you find another shape that is also pink?". Place one side of your felt strip and then ask them to place the other side on a matching colour. You can do the same for shapes. 

Learning and Development: You can learn shapes and numbers from this activity. Also, looking for something that is the "same" or "different" is an important skill to develop in preschool years. 

Paint plastic wrap

I found this activity on Facebook, but I can't find the person who posted! I want to make sure that I don't take credit for this awesome activity! All I know is that we had a blast doing this.

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Age recommendation: Toddler, Preschool

Materials: Tempera paint, clear plastic wrap, paintbrushes 

How to play:

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  • We first flipped the kid's table in our playroom.
  • We then took our plastic wrap and wrapped it around the tables legs.
  • We added some of our paint onto a plate and started painting the plastic wrap. My toddler LOVED it. We have an easel which she uses, but for some reason, painting on this plastic wrap added a fun factor to it. 

Learning and Development: You can use this activity to learn colours, draw shapes, build on language by having great conversations with your child as you have fun painting! If you can get the table to be high enough, you can even have your child paint while being on their tiptoe's, which is a motor milestones for 2 year olds according to the CDC

Playing pretend grocery store

I love pretend play! I get to be a child again and get a glimpse of my daughters incredible imagination. I didn't have any pretend money so I made some on my own. 

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Age recommendation: Toddler, preschool. 

Materials: We used our Learning Resources fruits and vegetables, Little Tikes Cash Register, white paper, star stickers from the dollar store, and other play food items (tea set). 

How to play

  • We cut out small pieces of paper (equal sizes) for our pretend money. 
  • I wrote numbers 1-5 and on each paper added some star stickers to match the numbers. I made them with my daughter and I had her add the stickers to the small papers.
  • I added a "price" to our play items with star stickers.  
  • We then placed random play food items and tea set items around the playroom. 
  • I first played the cashier and asked my daughter to go "grocery shopping". She had a small basket and filled it up with items. 
  • Since she basically collected everything we laid out, I divided the items into "small bills" since we were practicing counting between 5-10. For instance, I combined the small blue plate and the red tea cup so her bill added up to $6. I asked her for 6 dollars and together we figured out which one of her little paper money as equal to $6. Stick to what you are introducing to your child or what you would like to teach them. Do not overwhelming them. This is meant to be fun. If they are not getting them right it is ok. Keep playing the game with them regularly and it will come. You want to make sure that they enjoy themselves and stay motivated, strong and confident. 

Learning and Development: Around age 2, the CDC states that a child should play simple believe games. Pretend play allows for lots of learning such as:

  • Language development: You can remove the number aspect of this activity and simply play grocery shopping. Place a few items and first go around the room with your baby or toddler and name each object you see. Then you can walk around with them and ask them to find "the banana". 
  • Numbers: This is a fun way to introduce number recognition, counting and math. 
  • Memory: You can create a small game called "Grocery list". Tell your child they have to go "buy the food you need for dinner" and give them the list verbally. For instance, "chicken, plum, banana" (depends on which pretend food items you have!). Then have them go out to your pretend grocery store and see how many items they can remember. Start with 2-3 and make your way up! 

Edible Paint

I was excited to introduce my daughter to painting. She was about 9 months old and I found this wonderful activity in the book called 150+ Screen Free Activities for Kids by Asia Citro. My daughter painted a little then ate the rest of it...I was glad it was made from Greek Yogurt! 

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Age recommendation: Baby (as long as they can eat dairy)

Materials: Plain Greek Yogurt, recipe calls for Kool-Aid packets but I used food colouring, small containers and paper (used my roll of paper from IKEA) and a plastic table cloth from the dollar store to cover your floor (you might want to place a bib on your baby as well!)

How to play

  • Decide how many colours you would like, then divid your yogurt into a few bowls depending on how many colours you will be using. With very young babies I suggest only a little yogurt (2-3 spoons per bowl) since from experience it will all end up on their clothes or in their mouths! 
  • Add a few drops of food colouring and stir until you get the desired colour.
  • Lay some paper out.
  • You can either finger paint or use paint brushes. Start by showing your baby what to do. You can also take their hand and dip it in the paint and show them how to spread it across the paper. 
  • For some older children (12-24 months) you can also paint using an easel since this upright position is important for motor skills and writing skills. 

Learning and Development: The 9 month CDC milestones state that a baby should be able to point at something. This activity allows your abby to practice this. You can get them to keep their finger out and show them to dab their paint in different locations of the paper. This is more of a sensory and arts activity. Allow them to explore the texture and give them time to create any work of art! 

 

 

Lava Lamp Experiment

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Age Recommendation: Preschool or early elementary school 

Materials: See materials and instructions from Science Bob website

How to play:

Learning and Development:  With a child as young as 3, you can use this activity to spark their interest in science and to development scientific thinking. Ask questions that describe observations such as "what happened when you poured the oil over the water?" or "when did the food colouring start falling into the water?". Learning to observe and describe is part of scientific thinking and these simple science experiments are a wonderful way to introduce this.

You can then move on to questions that support explaining procedures such as "how did you get the food colouring to leave the oil?" or even scaffolding questions such as "what did you do first?" or "what did you do next?". For full details on questions you can ask to help children develop scientific inquiry read this article written by C Hoisington (2014)

Executive functions can also be developed through this activity. You can name the steps you read in the instructions and see if your child can remember the steps. The CDC states that a child around the age of 3 should be able to follow 2-3 step instructions. 

Discovery Basket

People will often ask me which toys I recommend for babies. There are a few, however, even if you surround a baby with toys, they often want to play with objects their parents are using. So I often recommend discovery baskets filled with home objects.  

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Age recommendation: Baby

Materials: A basket, box, bowl or anything large enough to fit a few household items in. Objects that are baby safe, a whisk, rubber spatula, wooden spoon, ice cube tray, baby spoon or cup, small container with lid and so on. 

How to play:

  • Place about 4-5 objects in the basket.
  • You can add some baby shakers inside, baby puzzle pieces or silk scarves. You want to add different textures or sounds. Leave the same objects in the basket for a few days. When your baby stops going to the basket to explore, change the items. 
  • This activity is meant for them to explore on their own, however, spend some time with them to "narrate" what they are doing and what they are seeing. For instance, as they pick up the whisk, observe it, feel it, then place is on the floor you can say, "You took the whisk for the basket (point to whisk then the basket as you say these words). Do you want to put it back in the basket? You want to place it on the floor!".

Learning and Development: The CDC milestones for 6 months state that a baby should show curiosity for objects around them. They should also show interest in playing with you. 

 

Water filled Ziplock bag

Are you looking for a mess free quick activity? This one will keep your child busy and also create an activity you can play with them to learn the name of objects. 

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Age recommendation: Baby

Materials: A large Ziplock bag, large masking tape, small objects such as a die, pasta, small plastic animals, buttons, pom poms, beads etc. 

How to play:

  • Place your objects inside the Ziplock bag and fill it up, not to the top though, you need to be able to close it.
  • You should be able to lay it out flat on a table and then tape it down. 
  • Allow your child the time to explore and try to grab or pinch the objects. 
  • Take some time to sit with them and point to certain objects and name them (i.e. pasta, button, lizard and so on).

Learning and development: This is a great exploration activity and allows a baby to practice pinching, an important motor task. As with all our activities, language development is important. Although you can use this activity to keep your child busy as you cook for instance, you should also take some time to sit with them and describe the objects they are playing with. 

Curious Neuron Recommendation: Roll and Play by ThinkFun

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I played this many times with my daughter after she turned 1, and now at age 3 she still loves to play with her baby brother who is now 13 months. 

It is an easy game to play. Roll the big fluffy coloured die and select a card matching the colour you rolled. 

I love the cards they have. Some ask you to find an object with a specific colour, other cards ask you to perform an action (i.e. jump 3 times) or make animal sounds and some cards ask you to mimic an emotion. Brilliant! 

I absolutely love this game and the fact that you can introduce a game at such a young age (they recommend starting at 18 months). You learn to take turns and wait for your turn, you learn colours, animal sounds, emotions, counting and more! 

You can find this game on Amazon

Taping objects to a platter

This was an activity I was able to do with both my baby and toddler. I asked my toddler to tape various objects that I gave her and asked my baby to remove the tape to get the object back. 

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Age recommendation: Baby or toddler. Simply change the goal you set out depending on their age

Materials: Tape (I used electrical tape), small objects such as toy cars/trucks, popsicle sticks, crayons and objects from the kitchen. You don't want the objects to be too think or wide. 

How to play:

  • First you need to pre-cut your pieces of tape if your child is too young to do this.
  • Prepare small objects and let your child decide which they would like to tape to the tray.
  • Ask your child to tape the objects themselves, or again, if they are too young you can do this step as well. Always try it out with them first, see if you can teach them how to tape the objects as well if they never tried it before. 
  • If you have a small baby or young child that is learning how to speak, use action words such as "pull" and demonstrate how to pull the tape off. 

Learning and Development: The CDC 18 month milestones states that a child should point to something they want. This is why in this activity, we lay out all the objects and ask them which one they want to tape. Once they are all taped, you can continue building their language by asking them which one they will remove. Point to one and ask "Do you want this one?" then nod or shake you head while saying "yes" or "no". At around 18 months, a child should say and shake their head for "no". This activity also helps build their attention skills. Let them play with this activity to see how long they stay focused. Don't worry if it is only a few minutes, don't forget they are still young and building these skills! 

Mailbox number match game

Out for a walk? Bring along a marker and some Post-its to keep your child entertained! 

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Age Recommendation: Toddler and Preschool

Materials: Post-Its and Marker 

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How to play:

  • Prepare your Post-Its in advance by writing down one number on each Post-It.
  • Younger children: Stick to single digit numbers and ask them to match the number you wrote down with the number on the mailbox. If they get it wrong, don't say they are wrong right away. Question why they placed it there and work WITH them to find the matching one.
  • With older children: \the goal is either to help them learn to recognize the numbers if they don't know them yet or to help them practice recognizing them. Name the number, for instance, 9 or 11 and have them find it on the mailbox and place the Post-it on it. 

Learning and Development: The CDC milestones for age 4 states that a child should start naming some numbers. You can use this activity to teach them how to recognize them as well. Remember that every child is different. As long as this is a fun game for them continue playing. If their interest diminishes, move on and continue walking! You can even hand over the Post-Its and you become the person that has to match the numbers.