- Animal sounds: You can help your baby to learn animal sounds by asking, "What does the sheep say?" And answer, "The sheep says baa!" I started this by reading books such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See, and also singing songs like "Old McDonald Had A Farm."
- Shapes Ball/Box: Using blocks in different shapes - cylinders, triangles, and rectangles as well as squares - simply trace your blocks onto a shoebox lid and cut around your shape outlines. Then return the lid to the box and enjoy putting the shapes through the holes, shaking the box full of blocks, and taking the blocks in and out of the box. Tupperware also makes a great toy for shape play.
- Dry and Wet Sensory Learning: You will need two new (or clean) sponges for this game. Leave one of the sponges dry, but get the other wet. Let your baby touch the dry sponge and say, "Dry." Then touch the wet sponge and say, "Wet." After playing for a while, ask your baby to hand you the wet sponge or the dry sponge.
- Water Play: Playing with water is a great sensory experience for your baby, and another great way to introduce the concept of "wet." Place a plastic bowl or tub of water outside, (or on a towel if you are inside). Let your baby splash! You can also use stacking cups or measuring cups to scoop and pour the water.
- Clapping Games and Songs: At this age, babies love to mimic your actions. You can do simple pattern clapping with your little one. Sit with your child facing you and clap your hands 3 times. Encourage your baby to clap the same pattern. Repeat with different rhythms. We spend a lot of time singing songs such as "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands" and "Baby's Little Hands" which goes to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus."
- Lots of Socks: Letting your baby play with the socks in each load of laundry gives them something to do while you finish folding. The next time you're folding your clothes, pull a few socks out of the laundry basket and see if your baby is interested in trying one on. Your toddler may enjoy tossing socks into the air. You can also fold socks inside themselves to create sock balls. Show your baby how to throw the sock balls into the laundry basket.
- Icy Toys: This is a fun activity for bath time. Freeze a solid (not plush) toy in a plastic container filled with water. At bath time, put the frozen block with the toy inside in the tub with your baby and watch them play as the ice melts.
- Easy Shakers: All you need as an empty plastic water bottle filled with rice or dried beans. Your baby will have fun making music, and you can get dinner on the table!
- Paper Play: Playing with paper is a great way for your baby to explore their sense of touch. Give your baby some different types of paper materials, such as plain printer paper, aluminum foil, wax paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, etc. Let your baby crumple, tear, fold each type of paper. You might be surprised how long this activity can keep your baby entertained!
- Empty and Full: Simply fill a plastic water bottle or other clear container with some small objects such as buttons, dried beans, or pom-poms. Replace the lid tightly. Take a second water bottle, but leave it empty. Let your baby hold the full container and say, "Full." Then hold the empty container and say, "Empty." After playing for a while, ask your baby to hand you the full or empty container.
- Pillow Highway: If you have a rambunctious little one, this is a great way to expel some energy! Form a winding path or "highway" out of pillows or couch cushions on the floor of your nursery or playroom. Let your baby crawl or walk down and around the highway. Your baby may also get a kick out of it if you lay down and become a "speed bump" that they get to crawl or climb over!
- Bubbles: Even something as simple as blowing bubbles can be a real treat to your little one. If it's a nice day, bring your baby outside and blow bubbles for them to watch, crawl or chase after and, of course, POP! Even on rainy or cold days, you can blow bubbles in the tub during bath time!
- Ocean in a Bottle: This mesmerizing toy is sure to capture your baby's attention! All you need is an empty plastic water bottle. Fill the bottle about 1/3 full with water, then add a few drops of food coloring. You may also drop in some small beads, glitter, or sequins if you have them on hand. Then fill the bottle up to the top with baby oil. Tighten the cap securely, and let your baby watch the waves!
- Highchair Peekaboo: This is a great diversion to keep your baby entertained in their highchair while you're making dinner. Take three stands of ribbon, each about two feet long, and tie one end of each to three small toys. Then attach the other ends with suction cups or tape to the tray of your highchair. Demonstrate to your baby how they can pull the ribbon onto their tray and the toys will come up and say, "Peekaboo!"
- Magnets: We have a set of magnets with letters and numbers that I bought at a garage sale for $1, as well as a few picture magnets I made from some unframed photos we had around the house. Your baby will enjoy rearranging magnets on the fridge.
- Edible Finger Painting: After reading Mouse Paint, in which three little mice climb into jars of red, yellow, and blue paint, we did some finger painting to explore colors. Our paints were made by adding a few drops of food coloring to Greek yogurt. (You could also use vanilla pudding.) WARNING: This was very messy, but a lot of fun!
- Body Stickers: With this simple activity, your baby can learn about their body. All you need is a sheet of small stickers. Take an individual sticker and place it on your child's belly button and say, "Belly button!" If your child is old enough to point, ask them to point to the body part before you place the sticker. Your baby may not be able to identify any body parts when you start out, but this is a good way to track learning as you continue this activity over time. As your baby learns, go ahead and add new body parts that your baby doesn't know.
- Mapping Daddy: When my husband was out of the state on business, we got out a map of the United States to see where Daddy was working. I taped a picture of Daddy over his location and a picture of me and Emma over the Twin Cities. While he was gone, we spent some time looking at the map each day. You can also do this activity with a picture of your family on the map at your location and pictures of other loved ones all over the map, so your baby can learn your relative's faces, names, and locations.
- Xylophone Music: We were lucky enough to find a toy xylophone at a garage sale before Emma was born, and it has been a good investment! I usually start by striking the xylophone once, then I let her hold the striker. Sometimes she strikes it once, sometimes she bangs and bangs! We take turns playing. Lately we have been working on having Emma repeat the number of strikes that I do, or playing a musical pattern. Some days she follows my strikes very well, other days - not so much! If your baby is not ready to repeat patterns, continue playing and keep trying patterns in the future.
- Button Jars: Emma enjoys listening to the buttons as she drops them plink, plink, plink into the glass jar, and shaking the jar like a rattle. We also practice sorting them into piles by their color, size and shapes, and counting them over and over again. I only use buttons that are too big for Emma to swallow, but always use adult supervision when playing with small objects and glass containers.
- Blanket Sledding: This is just a fun, silly way to travel around the house. Place your baby in the middle of a blanket. Hold the edge of the blanket securely and gently pull your baby around the room. The blanket will slide better on a hard surface like hardwood or tile, but can also be done on carpet. I like to narrate each room as if they were different train stations. "Next stop, kitchen!" This is certainly one of our favorite activities, and you will probably be asked to do it over and over again!
- Stuffed Animal Hide & Seek: Emma is very active and loves to explore. One of the games that we play is to hide a few of her stuffed animals throughout the house, then hunt them out! Starting out, it works best to use toys that make noise so they are easier to track down, and as your baby gets more advanced, you can turn down the lights and search with a flashlight!
- Paper Tube Megaphone: One of the ways babies learn is through their sense of sound. Distorting and magnifying your voice can be an interesting experience for your little one. Make a paper tube megaphone out of empty paper towel rolls or toilet paper tubes. I put painters tape (the first kind of tape I found in the drawer) on both ends of ours because Emma tends to put the end in her mouth when she talks into it and I didn't want the paper to disintegrate if it gets wet. Sit on the floor, facing your baby and talk through the paper tubes. Let your little one hold and talk through their own paper tube.
- Forest Sensory Basket: Discovery baskets, or sensory baskets, are a simple way to engage your little one in learning about the senses as well as language learning. When Emma was younger, we had a lot of fun with our ribbon sensory basket, but now that she is older and less apt to put things in her mouth, we are expanding our sensory experiences! In our forest sensory basket, we have a variety of stones, twigs, leaves, acorns, and pinecones. Let your child touch and explore each object, and try to use many different words to expose your child to language as you describe the texture or appearance of the objects as hard, crunchy, shiny, etc. Let your child move things around, and you can describe objects as they are over, under or beside each other, etc.
- Stickers: Toddlers love stickers! Plus, manipulating stickers with their tiny fingers is great for fine motor development. Emma can't peel stickers off the sticker sheet by herself, so I peel off a dozen or so and lightly stick them to a piece of plain paper. Then she entertains herself by unsticking and re-sticking them all over the paper. Playing with stickers can also be a great counting and color sorting activity!
- Pom Pom Drop: I first saw this idea from how we montessori on Pinterest, and logged it away in the back of my brain. Then the other day, Emma and I were over at my mom's house and my mom and I were busy with a project in the kitchen. Emma was getting bored, but we needed a few more minutes to finish, so I whipped up this quick activity for her. All you need is an empty toilet paper roll or paper towel tube, some tape, a bucket, and a handful of pom poms (or small blocks, or crumpled paper, or really anything that will fall through the tube). Then let your baby drop the pom poms through the tube and into the bucket. Repeat! I'll be honest: After a few minutes, Emma decided it was more fun to just carry the bucket around and scatter the pom poms on the floor like she was planting seeds. But it did capture her attention for those precious few minutes and we will certainly be trying it again.
- Ball pit: Emma was first grandchild and niece for both sides of our family, and subsequently, she is quite spoiled! In fact, for her first birthday, she got a personal inflatable ball pit! It's the kind of thing that I would probably never buy for her myself, but she really does love it, and it can be a great way for her to expel some energy. For those of you who don't have an overzealous Auntie to buy an inflatable ball pit, you can also use your Pack-and-Play or plastic kiddie pool. The balls themselves are actually pretty cheap. You can order them from Amazon, and we've actually picked some up at our local Goodwill and Once Upon a Child since Emma's birthday.
- Piggy Bank: Whenever Grandma and Grandpa come to visit, they bring coins for Emma's college fund. Emma loves to put the coins in her little piggy bank and hear the quarters and dimes go plink, plink, plink. It's also a lot of fun to empty the bank and let her drop the coins in one after the other. We practice counting and Emma works on her motor skills by carefully lining the big quarters up with the narrow slot. Little ones should always be supervised when playing with coins since they are a choking hazard.
- Box Adventures: I got a new bread machine this week because my old one died, not very gracefully, while
burningmaking its last loaf of bread. So not only did I get a new toy, but Emma got two new boxes to play with! Let be honest, everything is more fun in a box! She read in the box, played puzzles in the box, even sat in the box and talked to her doll. It's a great reminder to look for play in the simple things.
- Ocean Sensory Basket: Discovery baskets, or sensory baskets, are a simple way to engage your little one in learning about the senses as well as language learning. When Emma was younger, we had a lot of fun with our ribbon sensory basket, but now that she is older and less apt to put things in her mouth, we are expanding our sensory experiences! In our ocean sensory basket, we have a variety of shells, stones, coral and driftwood. Let your child touch and explore each object, and try to use many different words to expose your child to language as you describe the texture or appearance of the objects as hard, crunchy, shiny, etc. Let your child move things around, and you can describe objects as they are over, under or beside each other, etc.
- Pushing Pom Poms: This is such a simple idea, and very easy to make. Take an old plastic container and cut a few small holes in the lid. The holes I made are just about the same size as the pom poms, so Emma doesn't really have to push them in, but she does have to line it up pretty well. It's a good fine motor activity and keeps Emma occupied for a good length of time.
- Squishy Bag: This fun activity will aid in
developing your little one's hand muscles! This is a pretty basic recipe
using water and cornstarch. I've included the amounts I used, but you
could probably adjust the amounts with the same results. To begin, boil 3
water. In another bowl, add a small amount of cold water to 4
tablespoons of cornstarch to make a paste. Slowly add the cornstarch
mixture to the boiled water. Continue to cook and stir until the mixture
is thick, then add food coloring. Allow the mixture to cool and pour it
into a Ziploc bag. You can also add glitter or small toys inside the
bag. Seal the bag securely. I put a layer of duct tape or
packing tape over the opening for added safety. Let your baby enjoy
squishing and squashing the bag!
- Kitchen Items Sensory Basket: Discovery baskets, or sensory baskets, are a simple way to engage your little one in learning about the senses as well as language learning. When Emma was younger, we had a lot of fun with our ribbon sensory basket, but now that she is older and less apt to put things in her mouth, we are expanding our sensory experiences! In honor of our upcoming Thanksgiving celebration, I put together a kitchen items sensory basket with a variety of bowls, metal and wooden spoons, big and small pots, potholders, whisks, and measuring cups. Let your child touch and explore each object, and try to use many different words to expose your child to language as you describe the texture or appearance of the objects as hard, crunchy, shiny, etc. Let your child move things around, and you can describe objects as they are over, under or beside each other, etc.
- Cheerio Challenge: I found this idea over at Productive Parenting. The idea is to place a few cheerios inside a plastic bottle without a lid, then let your child figure out how to get the cheerios out of the bottle to eat! I thought Emma might be a little beyond this activity as described, so I ended up using a few plastic containers with various lids for her to problem solve! She enjoyed the challenge and also the reward at the end.
- Stair Climber: Whether you have stairs in your own home or not, it is important to teach your child stair safety! Whenever you have the opportunity, spend time going up and down stairs with your toddler. Stay near your toddler or hold their hand. Stair climbing is also a great time to practice counting!
- Hat Dress Up: Emma is still a little too young to really enjoy playing dress-up (although she does like to wear a pink tutu over her clothes) but every once in a while, we like to play dress-up with hats. I gather up a few of Derek's baseball caps, my big floppy sun hat, an old Halloween pirate hat, and a couple of thick winter stocking caps, and let Emma try each on. Emma gets a good look in the mirror as I describe the hat or cap.
- Color Scavenger Hunt: Emma has been working on learning colors. One great activity to explore colors is a scavenger hunt! We simply take our laundry basket from room to room in the house and collect items of a certain color. This past week, we found a jumble of BLUE items, including the laundry basket!
- Silverware Sorting: Try this simple sorting activity with your toddler. I guarantee your little one will enjoy helping you with this chore. The next time you empty the dishwasher, let your toddler put away the spoons, forks, and any knives that are not sharp. You can put the divider on their highchair tray or even the floor and give them a container with the silverware in it. Put a spoon in with the other spoons, and a fork in with the other forks, then let your toddler do the rest of the work. Even if their sorting is not perfect, it is still a great motor skill activity.
- Muffin Pan Fun: This is a fun activity that you can do with supplies you probably already have around the house. Give your toddler several golf or plastic balls and an empty muffin pan. Help your toddler put each ball in a compartment. Your little one may want to dump them all out, gather them up, and repeat the activity. You can turn this into a good learning activity by counting the balls as you put them in, and even counting the full and empty compartments. If you have colored plastic balls, you can name the colors or sort balls by color. This can also be a great distraction activity when you are trying to prepare dinner or clean up!
- Sink and Float: The concept of "sink" and "float" can be easily taught through play. You can either play this game with a bowl of water, or at bath time. Put a rubber ducky or ball in the bathtub. Tell your little one, "It stayed on top of the water. It floats!" Then put a toy car in the bathtub. Tell your little one, "It sunk to the bottom of the water. It sinks!" Continue the activity with other items you find around the house that sink or float. You can even play a guessing game before placing the item in the water. "Do you think the wooden block will sink or float?"
- Obstacle Course: With the snow piling up outside, I've been looking for activities that we can do to burn off some excess energy without having to get all bundled up. An indoor obstacle course will not only help develop gross motor skills, but also helps combat cabin fever! Just use your imagination as you set up an obstacle course for your toddler. You can use chairs, tables, boxes, cushions, pillows, (you name it!) to create a course that offers areas for walking, crawling, going under, going over, etc.
- String Path: Another great way to keep your child active indoors is to make a path for your child using string. I have an overabundance of yarn at my house, so we made a bright purple string path - very easy to follow! Tie one end of the string to a piece of furniture and continue creating a string path throughout your house. Have your child enjoy following the path, by walking along the string. It is especially fun to have a surprise treat waiting for your child at the end of the path!
- Toothpicks in a Jar: One of my new favorite activities to keep Emma entertained in the kitchen is to give her the task of putting toothpicks into an empty spice jar or sprinkles container. It's good for developing fine motor skills and also keeps her occupied for a few minutes without making too big of a mess!
- Ziplock Painting: This is another great creative mess-free activity I saw here at The Hippy Housewife. All you have to do is squirt a bit of paint into a large Ziplock bag, put a white piece of paper underneath, and tape the whole thing down to the table with masking tape. I have also seen these taped to a window. It went well (and stayed contained within the bag) so we will probably try it again on the window in the future.
- Letter Jump: I saw this great alphabet learning game on Pinterest and had to try it! In the original post, they made letters out of painter’s tape right on the floor, and then used little flashcards with the alphabet to choose the letter to jump on. I cheated a little bit and used some alphabet foam tiles that Emma got for Christmas. I popped out the inner letter from a few of the tiles, threw the tiles all over the floor and put the letters in our laundry basket. One by one, I held up a letter from the basket, said the letter and Emma went and jumped onto the tile for that letter. There were a couple that she needed help with, but overall she did very well.
- Tongs Practice: Emma thinks that tongs are pretty neat, so one afternoon, I grabbed her little sand bucket, the tongs, and a few of Emma's bath toys. I showed her how to use the tongs to pick up her bath toys and put them in her bucket. It took her a few tries - one time using both hands, on time with just one hand - but she got the hang of it pretty quick. She also really enjoyed dumping the bucket after she'd picked up all the toys.
- Throwing Practice: Throwing practice is a great activity that Emma can do - with very little set up and clean up! - that I can either get down on the floor and play with her, or simply cheer her on depending on how I'm feeling. All this requires is a ball and a masking tape circle on the floor. You could also do this outside with a chalk circle. Simply set up your circle and let your little one throw!
- Car Ramp: This is another great activity that requires very little set up and clean up and is fairly active for Emma, but isn't too much for me. All I do is set up a ramp against the couch using a 2x4, or a piece of cardboard. Then Emma sends her cars and trucks down the ramp, then runs after them and send them down again.
- Shapes Jump: This is similar to the Letter Jump we've done indoors in the past. But now that it's officially summer, we get to play outside! I drew a circle, square, triangle, heart, hexagon, oval, rectangle, and plus sign on our driveway in chalk. I talked to Emma about each shape as I was drawing it. When I was finished, I had her stand in the middle and as I called out a shape, Emma went and jumped onto the shape. Bonus Points: Draw your shapes with a variety of colored chalk. Then, in addition to shapes, you can jump on all the colors. "Run to the shape that is BLUE!"
- Homemade Playdough: Emma loves to help me in the kitchen, and playing with playdough is a great way for her to play pretend with her cookie cutters when we're not making a real meal, as well as a great motor development activity. Here is our recipe for Homemade Playdough. Whip up a batch and let the imagining and sculptures begin!
- Bubbles: Emma loves chasing bubbles, and it is so easy to make your own! Whip up a batch and let the fun begin!
- Sorting Pom Poms: This is a great quiet activity rainy day activity! Usually I start Emma off with one color in each cup, and let her sort the pile into the appropriate cups. We do have various sizes in our pom pom collection so - although it is more challenging - sometimes I have Emma sort them by small, medium, and large sizes.
- Stacking Cheerios: I saw this great idea over at Toddler Boredom Busters. All you need is some playdough (check out my recipe for Homemade Playdough!), uncooked spaghetti noodles, and a handful of cheerios. Stick the playdough to the table, then stick in a few spaghetti noodles, and stack as many cheerios as you can! This is a great opportunity to practice counting as the cheerio tower grows higher and higher!
- Threading Fruit Loops: Emma has a fantastic set of threading beads that she gets to play with at her Granna's house. She loves threading the beads to make necklaces and bracelets, then enjoys taking them all apart and starting again. As soon as I can find a set on sale or at a garage sale, I'll get some for our house. Until then, threading Fruit Loops onto a length of ribbon or yarn is a good, cheap alternative. Fruit Loops work well because their hole is larger than Cheerios. Another trick that seems to help is to make a nice long "needle" on the end of your string with some packing tape. Emma was struggling at first, but when I made the needle a little longer, she mastered it quickly.
- Scooping Ice: This is such a simple, fun activity to do on a hot day! Toddlers always seem to relish getting dirty or wet and this is also a great sensory activity. We used two buckets with water and one with ice. Emma practiced scooping the ice up and dumping it into the water. It was also a great learning opportunity to watch the ice slowly melt in the water.