Homeschooling with toddlers: Duplo copy and build

Here’s another fun yet educational activity for your toddlers or pre-schoolers to do while you homeschool the older children (or just get some dinner cooked!) It works as a Montessori style tray activity, table activity, playpen activity or mat time (blanket time) activity and can be adapted in difficulty to suit a wide range of ages.

Assuming you own Duplo (or any other suitable construction toy) and a digital camera, it costs almost nothing to make and is simple to put together. Older children could be enlisted to make the models required.

Simply make a selection of small models, photograph them individually and put only the pieces needed to construct each one into separate containers. Print the photos (laminate if you want them to last) and put them with the corresponding model and that’s it! The child simply uses the blocks supplied to copy the photo. The activity is self-checking in that there will be no spare blocks left at the end if they have copied correctly.

The easiest model for a 2 year old to copy might simple be a stack of 3 or 4 square Duplo blocks. Each set given from then on can increase in difficulty by adding more blocks and changing the complexity of the designs. It may need some teaching at first for the very young children to grasp the concept, but once they understand what to do they will be off and running. After each model is created children can play with the little set of bricks and try to make something different with it. Little boys in particular love to build, however my girls have enjoyed the challenge of making the colours and shapes of the blocks match exactly.

Homeschooling activities for toddlers: Pasta play

Cleaner than water and sand – but just as much fun – pasta play is a great activity for busy toddlers. Useful for mat time and any time that you need to keep little ones happily occupied. If you have trained your toddlers to stay on a designated area for blanket time (mat time) then they will happily spend time tipping, pouring, filling, scooping, posting and otherwise manipulating pasta shapes.

All you need is a couple of bags of dry pasta, a variety of containers and a bunch of scoops and ladles and you are all set. Spread a sheet out on the floor to catch the dropped pasta and clean-up is a breeze. Simply collect up all the accessories into a container or tub of some sort, flick the pasta onto the sheet and pick it up by the four corners. If you will be using it regularly then find a container big enough to put the sheet bundle straight into (rather than tipping the pasta off the sheet) and you are all picked up in seconds. Of course, teaching little ones to help pack up is an important skill and if everything is being tossed into an open container then it is an easy matter for them to help you clean up.

Yes, they will probably have a bit of a chew as well, but it is just pasta! Keep an eye on them as always because  pasta could pose a choking hazard for toddlers but all in all, this is a very easy activity to set up and by simply changing the containers and accessories you put with it you can renew interest and keep the activity fresh.

It works well as a sensory table activity and can be adapted and set up as a Montessori tray activity for practical life posting, scooping, sweeping, pouring etc. The photo above shows pasta play set up at my sensory table in two plastic crates, however for toddlers I prefer the sheet method as they tend to spread it far and wide around the sensory table.

Homeschooling activities for toddlers: Cutting, gluing & stickers

We survived our plane trip to Melbourne despite our flight being cancelled and having to travel in the middle of the night.  All those carefully planned activities for the children (ideas here, here and here) weren’t even touched as the youngest 3 were snoozing both on the way there and on the way back! Oh well, there were plenty of times during the conference itself that the twins enjoyed their activities while having some quiet mat time during the day.

We were home just in time to finalise all our new year school plans for our moderator visit this week and to continue getting organised for our new addition as that due date is looming ever closer.

If you are looking for ideas to keep a toddler well occupied while you school older children, then stickers, glue and cutting have always been a big hit in our family.

The stickers and coloured paper are separated into separate sheet protectors so the toddler can take out just what is needed for that morning (and to stop all the stickers being used in one day!) After the stickers are stuck they draw on the paper as well and some quite interesting scenes have been created.

For a younger toddler, I set stickers out in individual zip lock bags with an interesting item to stick them on to. This is for the age where just getting the stickers off the page and onto something is quite time-consuming and absorbing in itself.

This picture shows 10 weeks worth of sticker activities. One morning a week was designated as "sticker day" and that kept the activity fresh and interesting. Card tubes, paper plates, bottles and any other interesting containers are great.

Another quick and easy to prepare activity is gluing. I filled old photo envelopes with an assortment of pre-cut paper shapes (from the scrapbooking isle at K Mart) and put each with a sheet of coloured paper. A glue stick completes the activity (I use the blue glue sticks so the toddlers can see where they are putting the glue) and away they go.

10 used photo envelopes, 10 sheets of paper and a bunch of paper shapes to glue equals 10 weeks worth of happy toddler fun during school time with the older children. Again, one morning a week is "Gluing day" to keep it fresh and interesting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cutting activities I used this year came from a variety of sources on the web. I googled “free printable cutting activities” and just printed away! Lots of dotted lines to cut on, pictures to cut out etc. For a younger toddler, see “Teaching toddlers to cut” for ideas on how to set up their cutting activities.

Birthdays and travelling with toddlers

Our wonderful twins turned two today. It’s amazing to look back at their birth photos and remember how it all began.

Our three eldest chose to make gifts rather than visit the Mummy and Daddy shop and as we are travelling via plane to Melbourne this week we thought activities to keep the toddlers occupied while travelling were a good idea. They will also be good to add to the homeschooling activities for when school starts again as there will be no morning nap to keep these little ones occupied while I school the older children anymore.

Our 6 year old used coloured contact paper to cover a small box to make this Montessori style practical life activity. A bunch of straws to post through the hole at the top and a small window on the side to shake them back out again did the trick. It was a hit immediately and I had to hide it away to ensure that the novelty hadn’t worn off before we even got to the plane as our youngest lady seemed determined to repeat the activity over and over!

Our 8 year old designed this one completely on his own without any input from me at all. He covered strips of cereal box on both sides to make them look attractive and pulled out a plastic money-box to post them in. Another Montessori style practical life activity for the plane trip.

This was the four year old’s creation. Strips of contact around a baking powder tin, several length of ribbon tied together and a cross shape cut into the lid to pull it through. Again, it was a great hit with the ribbon being pulled out and stuffed back in (by a grown-up) at least 5 times in a row. This one is more a baby activity but will keep their interest for a while. For many more ideas for keeping children happy and content during a plane or car trip, check out this post on travelling with young children. We will be making up our snack bags and pulling out the water painting, drawing and other ideas again and hopefully this trip will go as smoothly as the last one did.

Make your own baby and toddler toys – ball posting

Ball posting is another very basic activity for babies and toddlers. Plonking the balls in through the hole and learning how to shake them back out again is absorbing and clear containers add to the interest. Ball posting is great for  playpen time and mat time, but not as good for table time or highchair time simply because the balls fall off and roll away.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child posts the balls through the hole and tips them back out again by shaking the container.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Practical life

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Container with lid (cut a hole into the lid slightly larger than the balls)
  • Balls or other objects to post and shake out again

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

Make your own baby and toddler toys: posting bottles

Babies and toddlers just love to put things inside small spaces and empty containers out. It is great fine motor practise and they will often concentrate for amazing lengths of time if the challenge level is just right. If a child is frustrated by their inability to do the task, simply change the activity for now and re-introduce it a little later. It should have an element of difficulty, but not so difficult that they cannot be successful. This is a great activity for highchair time, playpen timemat time or table time.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child posts the dolly pegs into the lid of the bottle and pulls them back out the bottom.

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Large plastic bottle with hole cut into the front. (Tape hole to cover sharp edges)
  • Dolly pegs or any other suitable object to post into the top of the bottle (regular pegs, wooden peg halves, popsticks etc.)

In this example the solid bottle adds a different dimension and the pegs are shaken out once posted.

The posting bottle can be combined with other skills. Sliding the dolly pegs on and off the edge of a sturdy cardboard box is a complete activity in itself. My children usually enjoyed taking the pegs off the box but did not choose to put them back on again. When they were finished with the activity we slid them back on to the box together as part of the packing up process and they happily practised this skill.

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

Make your own toddler toys: teddy food play


Teddies, cooking equipment and food are such an easy activity to put together for toddlers. Little boys and girls love to pretend cook and feed their willing teddy companions. I use this kind of activity for highchair time, mat timeplaypen time or as a table activity and it’s open-ended nature lends itself to long periods of concentration.

It is easily updated and kept fresh by simply adding some different containers, cooking equipment, food or teddy. It can be a “new” activity every week without much work on your behalf.

Simply look around the house, gather up some interesting containers, plates, cups, cutlery and the like, some kind of “food”, a teddy and you are set. Keep in mind the age of the child and choking hazards. Beans, pasta and jewels are best used under supervision or not at all if a child is very tempted to stick them in ears, noses and mouths or anywhere else they shouldn’t be!

Sometimes I use doll-house sized teddies and doll-house furniture so the teddies can eat at the table, go to sleep in a little bed afterwards and even sit on the couch to relax. I have used plastic food, felt food, wooden food, dry pasta and beans, jewels and rocks and even pictures of food glued onto card from junk mail.

As soon as your little one has begun use their imagination (pretend play) you can introduce this activity. For the very little children, you might even sit and play with it with them first, teaching by your example what to do with each item. Children with older siblings have had this modelled extensively, but a first child will not always know how to play unless you show them. They will of course work it out for themselves, but if you want a young child to use this kind of activity enthusiastically for an extended time, some modelling will go a long way to extending their play.