This article is updated as Scarlett is growing up, so you’ll see different month ages mentioned here.
1. Shape monsters activities
Originally I made these shape monsters for stringing activity but we found some other ideas how to play with them. They are made out of felt sheets (you want stiff ones to keep the shape). I cut out squares, triangles and circles, put googly eyes on them and made a slit in the middle of each shape. Googly eyes are optional if you think your child might put them in his or her mouth. Scarlett wasn’t interested in taking the eyes off, so I kept them. I made an identical pair for each shape. Here are a few ways how we play with these shape monsters:
- First of all, having those slits in the middle of each shape, allows Scarlett to put them on her fingers, so they kind of turn into finger puppet monsters. When she puts one shape on her finger, I ask her to find identical one and put it on the finger on the other hand.
- I have been using a plastic box from a bento box take-out that we ordered recently for sorting activities. Shapes can be sorted by type in each container section.
- I separated two identical pairs of shape monsters into 2 piles. As Scarlett takes one shape from one pile, I ask her to find a matching pair from another, and arrange them on a table in pairs.
Another activity idea is to put these shape monsters on craft sticks or straws.
2. Move the buttons into the circle
Put a few buttons in a ziplock bag, add some hair gel, draw a circle on the back of the bag, and tape it to the window. The purpose of the activity is to move all those buttons inside the circle. It’s great for development of motor skills for those little fingers! I also drew eyes and a nose of a cat, to make it look like he’s eating the buttons. Another variation of this activity is to place buttons of 2 colors in the bag, and draw 2 circles of those colors on the bag, and then the goal of the activity would be to move the buttons to the circle of the same color.
3. Fishing game for toddlers
This game took me 5 minutes to make. I cut out shapes of fish from cardstock paper, placed adhesive magnetic discs on each one, and made a fishing pole by wrapping a strong magnet in a piece of tulle, and tying it to a pen. We took turns catching and releasing fish, and it was fun!
4. Tickle game
This is a very fun game to play with a toddler. Hide a feather underneath one of the wipes pack flip lids attached to a board and encourage your toddler to look for it. Once the feather is found, use it to tickle your toddler with it. I keep all the other windows empty, but as an option, small flat animal toys or magnets can be placed there for discovery. I used hot glue to attach flip lids for durability but they are still sticky if you use them right away after removing them from a wipes pack. This game was inspired by The Tickle Book which has flaps with tickle monster hiding underneath.
5. Paint on ice
Painting can be more fun for kids when they paint on something unusual. We tried painting on ice, and it seemed like a great painting and sensory activity for her, she was very curious about what is happening. We used regular finger paint and brushes for this activity.
6. Matching socks
I saw how interested Scarlett was in sorting clean laundry, so I gave her baby socks to practice pairing them. These socks worked great because they have animal faces on them, she really enjoyed matching them, and I had a 5 minute break.
7. Popcorn sensory play
I was thinking about a safe filler for sensory bin for Scarlett, because she often eats raw pasta that I’m trying to make sensory bins from. She is also a very picky eater, so I keep thinking about ways to integrate food into play, to increase a chance of her eating some. Organic popcorn works great for sensory play, it also contains 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving. We play by transferring popcorn into different cups with spoons, scoopers, feeding animals and each other.
8. Put hair elastics on doll’s legs/hands
This is a great activity to practice fine motor skills. Scarlett has been first trying to take off the elastics from the doll’s legs that I put there, but now she is learning to put them there herself. There is a variation of putting hair elastics on a bottle, but I found this one to be more interesting to her.
9. Matching animal figures to book images
First 100 Animals book is great for this activity. I ask Scarlett to look for a toy that’s on the picture and place it next to it. We invested in a variety of Schleich Animals, because they have a very good quality and resemblance to real animals, but any animal toys would work for this activity.
10. Finger puppets made out of a latex glove
These finger puppets took me less than 2 minutes to make. While they don’t look exactly like ducks, Scarlett was still excited to watch me sing “5 little ducks”, she then tried to put them on her fingers and overall seemed to believe these were ducks. Older kids can get really creative with latex glove finger puppets, and glue feathers and other materials to them.
11. Sticking foam letters to the window
This activity also gave me about 10 minutes of mommy time. Foam Letters stick to a window or mirror when wet, so I sprinkled them a bit with water and gave Scarlett the container. She seemed really impressed that the letters were sticking to the window, and kept taking them off and putting them on. It’s also great for learning letters.
12. Build a tower and crush into it with a truck
It’s a lot of fun to see a tower being crushed into by a truck. We have been using these Stacking Cups for a variety of activities.
13. Sort hair elastics by color of the straw
This activity is great for color sorting, it’s easy to set up and clean up. If a child doesn’t sort by colors yet, he or she might enjoy just placing hair elastics on straws regardless of color.
14. Make a tree by flattening playdough balls
This activity was a success for us. We started using playdough when Scarlett was about 20 months old, and it seems that every day Scarlett likes it more and more. Today I gave her a plate with green playdough balls, drew a tree trunk, and showed her how to flatten the balls in order to make the tree crown. It’s great for motor skills and for sensory experience, but I still have to watch her closely to make sure playdough is not going into her mouth.
15. Learning emotions and complimentary colors
Complimentary colors are colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel. They are: green and red, blue and orange, yellow and purple. So I thought of drawing the faces with the opposite emotions on the balloons of the opposite color- happy on red, sad on green, surprised on orange and another sad or angry on blue (turns out angry is the opposite emotion of surprised). I used large googly eyes with eyelashes that I got at a Flying Tiger store (that store has so much cute stuff – it’s dangerous), but eyes can be drawn as well. I’m not sure if Scarlett got my idea, but she had fun with these balloon faces 🙂
16. Walking on bubble wrap road
If you get any packages with bubble wrap, don’t throw it away! I taped bubble wrap to the floor, and Scarlett had so much fun walking on it. She also crawled on it, and tried to pop the bubbles with her hands. It’s a great sensory experience. I probably enjoyed it as much as her, but had to get off the bubble wrap road to leave the popping for her – the sacrifices we do for our children 🙂
17. Fox family hand print art
We made this hand print art for father’s day, even though dad participated in this project as well to leave his handprint. I first painted a blue background on canvas myself, let it dry, and then had our family leave their handprints. I like that it’s ready to hang, great for memories, and perfect for our fox themed room. I found this good deal on seven pack of 12″ x 12″ canvas and we are using them for our projects.
18. Inserting craft sticks into a box
This is an easy activity to set up for any DIY enthusiast, like me. I taped 3 pieces of different color construction paper to the top of the box, and made slits in the box to fit the craft sticks. The idea is for a toddler to insert Colored Craft Sticks of the appropriate color into the slits. The activity complexity can be variated by cutting slits in different directions, and this is how I made this box, but my recommendation is, actually, to make the slits in the same direction, as I saw how hard it was for a 19 month old Scarlett to find the right way to insert sticks.
19. Blowing on feathers attached to an umbrella
I tied feathers to a string and taped them to the umbrella, so Scarlett can sit inside it. The idea is to blow on feathers to see them fly, since blowing is so good for training mouth muscles for speech development. But she seemed to enjoy just sitting under the umbrella and playing with them as well.
20. Rolling ping pong balls into houses
This title of the activity explains itself. We used colored ping pong balls and played with the whole family. After we were done rolling ping pong balls, we switched to sending cars to these little garages – it turns out Scarlett’s has had a collection of little racing cars that were great for this activity.
21. Sensory play with frozen flowers
We had flowers left over after Mother’s day, so I put some of them into an ice cube tray and froze it. Later on, it was a fun sensory experience for Scarlett to play with these flowery ice cubes. She poured water on them from a teapot and watched them melt.
22. Stickers on a frog window activity
First, I drew a picture of a frog on a piece of paper. Then I put it inside a clear sheet protector, taped it to the window and gave green round stickers to Scarlett to put it on a frog. Scarlett is 20 months old now and it seems that she understood what she needs to do. We tried this activity at 18 months as well, and at that point she was placing stickers all over the sheet. I like to use clear sheet protector since stickers can be removed and changed position, and also because the drawing can be reused with another sheet protector.
23. Matching foam numbers to their outlines
Foam Letters are great for all kinds of activities. Here we just match a number shape to the outline of the shape. I used markers of the same colors for the outline. At 20 months, Scarlett easily does this activity. I’m not sure it’s because we did lots of bingo matching games with her or not. This activity is great for learning numbers if you are saying them loud once they are matched.
24. Obstacle course
When it’s over 90 degrees hot in New York, we try to come up with gross motor activities to do at home since this baby doesn’t like to sit still. My daily rotation boxes turned out to be useful for building an obstacle course. I showed Scarlett how to step over the obstacles and she got busy repeating.
25. Montessori animal match game/bingo game
This game was inspired by Montessori Animal Match game. I made this bingo game by glueing these flash cards to 3 poster boards – for each member of our family. I selected flash cards for the objects that I could put in a bag. Then we followed the rules of a bingo game – I pulled objects from the bag one by one and placed them on the board of the person who had that picture on. Whoever fills the board first wins the game. This is an associative lotto game because the objects do not look exactly the same way as they are pictured on the cards, so the child has to associate it with the card. Another version to play this game is to match cards from a deck to cards on the board ( for this, you will need 2 identical packs of flash cards). This game is great for learning new words and letters. I don’t think Scarlett understood the winning part of the game yet, but she enjoyed matching objects.
26. Making a swing for animals
Scarlett loves to get in a swing so much – as soon as I mention the word “swing” she runs and climbs in the stroller. So we decided to make a swing for animals at home as well. We made one by tying 2 ribbons to a box and tying the ribbon to the stool. Then we got a bunch of animals lined up for the swing. Scarlett took so much pleasure in swinging them – it turned out to be a great pretend play.
27. Balancing balls on paper tubes
This is a no prep activity – I love those. It’s great to teach kids what size balls to pick to place on paper tubes – large balls will not stay up, and super small balls will fall inside the tube. Placing balls on tubes without destroying the nearby structures is another learning experience.
28. Sponge water play
Scarlett has been going through a sink water play recently. A while ago I showed her how to carry a step stool to wherever she wants to stand, and now sometimes I regret I ever showed her 🙂 That stool is going everywhere, and in particular she loves bringing it to the bathroom, so I spend a lot of time sitting in a bathroom with her. She loves washing animals in water – I try to bring a different one each time, and she also loves sponges. Sponges are great, they are bright in color, and are so fun to squeeze water out of them and soak them in water again.
29. Sorting pompoms by color
First, I placed round stickers of different colors in an ice tray. Then, I put pompoms in a container and showed Scarlett how to find a pompom of a matching color and put it in the appropriate slot. We used 4 colors: 3 primary colors: red, yellow and blue, and we also added green. We used 0.75″ round stickers – I got the larger size stickers so we can use them for other projects and Scarlett would be able to hold them with little hands. We used 25mm pompoms of primary colors.
30. Kisses and tickles game
This game is my short version of Djeco Bisous Dodo Bedtime Card Game. The Bisous game is really cute, I got it for Scarlett but we only use half of the game for now. The game includes cards, a boy and a girl figures, a bed and a a little mattress. The game is played by taking cards from the deck until 3 cards are found – a pillow, a lovey and a sheet – that’s when the child (a boy or a girl) is ready to go sleep. While you look for those 3 cards in a deck, you come across other cards that you need to do actions for – kiss the tummy, kiss the forehead, tickle or sing a song – we play this part of the game. I removed cards with a sheet, a pillow, a lovey and some other cards from the deck, and only kept the action cards. We play in a way that she takes a card from a deck, and I do the action to her – tickle her, give her kisses, sing a song, etc. I recreated a short version of the game in this printable. It includes 12 cards with actions that we mostly use. It’s really fun to play!
31. Sensory walk
Walking on different sensory surfaces is a great massaging and stimulating activity. I used cardboard stock to cut out feet shapes, and then used hot glue gun for gluing sensory materials: rice, cotton balls, bottle lids, beans and stainless steel scrubber. I made 2 of each with an idea to use them later for Montessori guessing activity, when a child is blindfolded and has to match 2 identical surfaces. After making these, my advice is to make these sensory boards in rectangular shapes – it would be easier for a child to walk back and forth on them.
32. Domino effect
Jenga game is so great to have. Besides using it for a fun jenga game (when our toddler is asleep), we also use it for a variety of toddler activities. For example, creating a domino effect. I help Scarlett build these lines of blocks, and then she “helps” me by knocking off the first block and watching all others fall gracefully.
33. Sorting frogs by color
I was looking for a while for a collection of animals of different colors for color sorting activities. Sorting bears were just more expensive, so I was happy to find these jumping frogs. These jumping frogs are great for little fingers to practice fine motor skills and they are just so fun! We also did this quick sorting activity – I placed 4 sheets of construction paper of different colors and selected frogs of those colors to be sorted to the sheet of the appropriate color.
34. Pair matching
Pouch food lids are great for activities. I arranged lids of different colors in a row in an egg organizer, and asked Scarlett to find a lid of the matching color and put it next to it. First, she was putting the lid of the matching color on top, and perhaps it’s an easier way to group them by color.
35. Blowing candles
Every mom will decide for herself if it’s a safe activity to do with a child. We’ve been learning to blow candles for a while now so Scarlett knows not to touch them. Blowing activities are great for the face muscle development and are often used by speech therapists. I placed floating candles in the water in the container, and put a towel underneath. These little candles are very easy to blow on, and it was an exciting activity for us!
36. Colorama board game
Colorama board game is great for toddlers, it has a few different levels of playing. The easiest one is: you split all shapes between the players and everyone has to find the matching space for their shapes by taking turns. We also play with it as a puzzle – Scarlett gets all pieces and looks for the matching space. It’s great for learning shapes and colors. One note though, the shapes can fit in the child’s mouth – so you need to be extra careful if your child is still putting things in the mouth.
37. Scooping lids out of water
Here is another activity with food pouch lids. Scarlett loves it mostly because it has to do with water probably 🙂 She’s still struggling using the scoop from Learning Resources Tool Set, she uses 2 hands to handle it, but it’s definitely getting better. Great activity for motor skills and tool handling.
38. Famous paintings match-a-card with velcro game
I wanted to get Scarlett to develop taste in art early on, and I decided to start with the most famous paintings of all times by the greatest artists: Botticelli, da Vinci, Suerat, Salvador Dali, Picasso, Van Gogh, Kandinsky and others. I picked the brightest paintings and thought of a way we can play a game with her using these paintings at this age. We have been doing a few matching card activities for a while, so I also added velcro squares to get each card attached to its spot for more interactivity.
We got 12 paintings arranged in 2 sheets. Each painting has a title with the name of the artist and the name of the painting underneath it. I printed 2 copies and used Adhesive Cardstock on the back of both sheets to make them thicker. Then I cut one copy into cards and added sticky velcro squares. For now we are playing match-a-card game, but later on it can be played as a bingo game when all cards are assembled in a deck, and players take turn picking a card. Whoever fills their board first, wins. The printable file can be download here.
39. Number sorting
We did this activity in order to get Scarlett to learn to recognize numbers up to 5. First I arranged foam numbers from Foam Letters and Numbers Set in paper plates, then we took each number that previously cut out from felt, and found a matching plate for it. As with the first activity with the shape monsters, stiff felt sheetswork the best.
40. Whack a mushroom Montessori activity
We made mushrooms by placing pouch food lids on craft sticks inserted into a box. We used the box I previously made for craft sticks sorting by color but any box can be used if you cut out the bottom and make slits on top. Then a toddler can really have fun by whacking each one of those “mushrooms”.
41. DIY Domino
We made these domino blocks by sticking round labels to Jenga blocks. At 22 months, Scarlett is able to follow my instructions in looking for a block with a certain color label on it. So far we were able to build a domino road by connecting the matching colors. It’s great for reinforcing color learning, and can be later used for a regular domino game. Jenga blocks can be substituted for large craft sticks.
42. Stringing activity
We have a String A Farm set for stringing activities but here is an easy version of stringing with paper tubes cut in pieces. A string with a stick can be made at home as well by using a pen and a string, similar to the one described in the fishing game above.
43. Sweep pompoms into the square
This is a great Montessori activity to get kids involved into household chores and to make it fun. I used a tape to make a square on the floor, and gave Scarlett this really cute broom that I got from the Flying Tiger store. Then I showed her how to get pompoms into the box. Pompoms can be substituted with anything else, for example, pieces of paper.
44. Blowing pompoms into the house
I think I wrote a few times already about the importance of blowing activities for speech development. Here’s a simple activity we do – blowing pompoms into the house. Any box can be used for this activity, the bigger – the easier it is to get pompoms into it. We originally started with mini pompoms since they are easier to blow, and later moved on to bigger size pompoms.
45. Discover family members in boxes
This game can be either played as a memory game or as a discovery game. Younger kids will have fun discovering familiar faces. I made it for the purpose of playing a memory game – I arranged pictures of family members in different boxes and the purpose of the game is to remember where each person lives. That’s why I decorated each box differently. Our grandparents live far so Scarlett doesn’t get to see them much so I thought this game would be helpful to remember them. But she seems to have most fun discovering herself!
46. Animal action cards
These animal action cards are hit with Scarlett. She started to do some of these action when she was about 18 months old, and now at 23 months old she is able to do almost all of them besides standing on one leg like a flamingo, and puffing her cheeks like a chipmunk. She asks me to play with these cards over and over again. I showed her how to do the actions the first time we played with these and now she does them on her own. It’s fun for the whole family, we clap when she does it right, and she gets to let her energy out in a fun way. The digital version of these cards is available on etsy here and a printed version is here.
47. Memory game
I lay out 4 cards in front of Scarlett. I name them. Then I flip cards over and ask her where one of the cards is. For example, I lay out cards with balloons, a car, a flower, and a cat, I flip them over, without mixing, and then I ask her: “Show me where the flower is”. She flips a card and we check if she got it right. If she got it, I keep that card picture side up, and ask her to find a cat, and so on. The quantity of the cards can be increased as the child gets better at the game.
A free digital version of the cards from the pictures above is available here. I printed those cards online at www.photoaffections.com/freeprints, this website allows a certain amount of free prints per month, I just paid for shipping. Printing them on photo paper makes them more durable, but they can also be printed at home.
If you like this post, check out my post about right brain education method that targets memory and creativity development in early childhood. That post includes some free download materials as well.
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