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.

 

Advertisements

Make your own toddler toys: Jar of spoons

I love this kind of activity. It takes approximately 30 seconds to put together and older babies and toddlers love it! Obviously being glass, care must be taken so that it will not drop onto a hard surface. I use my jar for highchair time, in the playpen or for mat time as these all occur over carpeted floors. You may prefer to replace the glass with something metal but make sure it makes a great sound as that is part of the attraction.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child drops the spoons into the jar which makes a satisfying jangle and tips them back out again. That’s it!

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Baby and toddler toys – beginning posting

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development
  • Concentration

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • 1 jar
  • a bunch of small spoons

Teaching Toddlers to Cut

Thin card strips (about one inch) are a good first cutting experience. Parallel and diagonal lines can be added to the strips for a new challenge once random snipping has been mastered.

With older siblings to watch, the littlies are always very keen to cut. Rather than have them constantly nag me or try to grab those scissors and have a go on whatever is handy when I’m not looking, I prefer to spend some time and teach them to cut safely – under supervision! It is great for long stints of uninterrupted school time with older children while young ones are happily occupied on a purposeful and satisfying activity.

The stiffness of straws makes them easy to hold and cut. Cut straw pieces can be used for threading activities.

A good pair of child-sized scissors is important. Make sure that they have a larger hole in one side of the handle so the all of the child’s fingers can fit inside, rather than the kind that have two equal sized small handle holes. (See the pair in the photo.) I also buy proper scissors straight away, rather than safety scissors, simply because of the frustration children feel when scissors are not sharp enough to cut well. The initial paper based cutting experiences outlined here would be fine with safety scissors, but once they move on to the straws and other materials they may not be sharp enough.

Streamers are more difficult to cut because they do not stand stiffly out from the "holding hand."

Cutting strips should be about one inch wide so that the child can cut completely through the strip in one snip. Sliding scissors forward and making a second snip to cut through paper is a more difficult skill and should be introduced later. Show your child which hole is for the thumb and check that they continue to hold the scissors correctly with the blades facing away from them. Young children tend to turn their hands around, rather than the object they are cutting, which causes them to end up in all sorts of interesting and uncomfortable positions.

A new level of difficulty. Use cut beads for various craft projects later.

The first material to present is the easiest to cut – one inch strips of thin card stock. Regular paper is too thin and does not stand out stiffly from the child’s hand, flopping down and making it difficult to cut. Remind your child to keep moving their holding hand away from the scissors as they go.

Tinsel makes pretty off-cuts for craft projects. It is quite difficult to handle for beginner cutters though.

I usually set my cutting activities up in the same format (same tray with basket or two wooden bowls) so that once familiar with the task, there is no need to re-explain what to do when a new material is introduced. Scraps are caught in the empty bowl or basket and can be collected and used for art activities such as gluing or collage.

Curling ribbon is also quite difficult to cut because it curls! Add snippets to your collage or other crafty supplies.

When the first cutting experience is presented I demonstrate first, explain what they need to do, then supervise very closely for a time, until I am sure that the child has mastered holding the scissors correctly, points them away from their body, moves their holding hand while cutting, collects their scraps in the container provided and is generally using the scissors in a responsible manner. I am then able to relax my supervision a little and begin to vary the materials once interest in those already available is beginning to wane.

The photographs throughout this article are in a suggested order of difficulty. Stick with thin card strips until the skill is well mastered, moving to thin card strips with straight and diagonal lines to cut along, before introducing the other suggested materials. Moving too fast will simply result in frustration as the material proves too difficult for the child to manipulate and cut successfully. Other items (such as the animals pictured below) can be added to keep interest levels high. Following on from here, a variety of interesting papers, shapes and other materials can be presented, including those that require the child to slide the scissors along and make several cuts. Start with free cutting, straight lines, then curves and other shapes.

My toddlers love this activity. They focussed for an incredibly long time, cutting the streamers into food for the animals to eat. (The scissors should be presented on the tray with the blades facing away from the child.)

Felt boards

Felt boards are an excellent independent activity. They make great table activities (although usually they use it up against the wall rather than actually at the table) and if you have a small version can also be used for highchair time. They require no special skills and are completely open-ended. Language development is enhanced as children create and tell their own stories using the pieces provided and they will keep a child’s attention for an extended period of time. The children in my family have enjoyed using the felt board and still choose to do so even as they grow older.

I made this felt board at Uni as a mini assignment and almost failed because the lecturer thought it was too big to be easily portable!! Now I use it all the time and love the fact that it is large enough for one child to set up a large scene or even for two children to play side by side.

To make a felt board, all you need is a very light piece of plywood or very strong piece of card. Box card is no good as it usually has corrugations and will tend to crease along these. Mine is strong card and has stood the test of time, although the corners are getting a little dog-eared now. If I was making it again I’d go for thin, light wood. Buy a large enough piece of felt to cover the board, with enough overlap to stretch around and glue (hot glue gun is ideal) to the back.

Use your imagination to cut out any number of felt shapes. You may like to have a mixture of animals, people and recognizable characters, as well as an assortment of shapes for building houses, gardens and whatever the child thinks up (i.e. squares, circles, triangles, grassy clumps, stems, petals, tree trunks, leaves, circles for flower centres etc. The possibilities are endless)

Basic colouring books are a great source of simple shapes that you can trace and transfer onto the felt pieces to cut out. I also have several sets of felt figures that go with specific stories which allow the children to re-tell these favourites to themselves.

It is helpful to have the board on a slight lean to help the pieces to stick and some people even stick Velcro dots (hook side) on the back side of each piece for extra grip.

That’s it! Easy to make and hours of play for your child. As with most of these activities, start simple. Put out a few basic shapes to begin with, or just the garden pieces, or animals and fences etc. Older children like to have them all at once and create complicated scenes but the toddlers will be more focussed with less to choose from and rotating pieces to keep their interest levels high.

Toddler and table activities: Playdough


Playdough is a timeless activity that is loved by children of all ages. Whether you buy commercial playdough or make your own, it is an open-ended activity that is suitable for a variety of ages. With the addition of a few new accessories every now and again interest will stay high and children from toddlers upwards will have a ball. I even know a Mum or two who like to get in there and do some modelling of their own!

The highchair is a good place for playdough as the mess is easily cleaned up. A child getting up and down from the table will have dough mashed everywhere. Do not leave the dough out in the air when it is not in use. If it is re-wrapped in a plastic bag and stored in an airtight container it will last for ages. In really hot weather it may need to be stored in the fridge. My last home-made recipe batch would easily be 6 months old and still soft. I have had some batches last almost a year.

One of the biggest readiness factors for playdough is whether your toddler has developed the self-control not to eat it! I make my own so I know at least there is nothing harmful in it, however gobs of salty dough can’t be that good for them so until my children are generally able to resist the urge to put it in their mouth I refrain from letting them use it. (I say generally because surprisingly even an older child will occasionally be caught with that giveaway playdough eating smile!)

Initially, just the experience of touching and squeezing the dough, flattening and pulling it apart and so on will be interesting. Keep it simple and introduce new accessories only when interest has waned and then only one or two items at a time. Biscuit cutters are not very successful until the child has the dexterity to roll out the dough and press the cutter into it – a surprisingly difficult task for a toddler. If you are sitting and playing together with the child they will probably enjoy this but will not be able to do it alone. Store accessories in small containers and rotate to keep interest levels high.

Here is the recipe I use. I couldn’t tell you where it came from but it is a great recipe. Cooked dough always lasts longer than cold mixtures but it does make a mess of your pots. Choose a very large pot, and stir continuously throughout the process. It starts off very liquidy and nothing happens for a while, but once the dough begins to form it will solidify quite quickly. I usually enlist my husband’s help towards the end as it gets very difficult to stir once the dough is forming. Keep going until the dough has lifted away from the edges and there are no wet looking patches left. When you have finished, tip the dough out to cool and fill the pot with water. If you leave it overnight to soak, the next day it will all just lift off. If you try to scrub it clean you will be there for ages.This I know from experience!

Playdough

4 cups flour
1 cup salt
2 tbsp cream of tartar
1 tbsp oil
3 cups water
food colouring – add to water.
  • Mix dry ingredients before adding wet.
  • Heat in saucepan and stir continuously over low heat until a large doughy ball forms.
  • Turn out and roll in a little flour if sticky.
  • Allow to cool. Store in the fridge in an airtight container.

Below is a suggested list of items to add to the dough, beginning with the first toddler introduction and on through to any age child. The order isn’t important, although toddlers are fairly limited as to what they can do alone so I usually stick to this order to begin with. Older children will use whatever is of interest to them.

Toddlers:

  • plain dough
  • dough with glitter in it
  • a bunch of popsticks to poke into it
  • coloured craft matchsticks, also for poking
  • cotton reels, corks, film canisters, lids and other random bibs and bobs
  • plastic farm animals, fences and trees
  • dinosaurs and plastic eggs
  • plastic sea creatures and boats
  • shells
  • plastic bugs and rocks
  • artificial flowers
  • cars and road signs
  • plastic or lightweight hammers
  • rolling pins
  • biscuit (cookie) cutters
  • plastic plates, spoons and cups. (Do not give these to a child who is already tempted to eat the dough!)
  • playdough stamping tools
  • garlic press
  • many other store-bought playdough accessories

Toddler activities: Tissue box posting

 

This is a very quick and easy toddler activity to put together and all for free! All you need is an empty tissue box and something to post. Most of us have something lying around that will do; pegs, long Duplo blocks, cutlery, old credit cards, dominoes, popsticks or whatever you can find.

Make sure that the material does not pose a choking hazard, demonstrate what to do and let them at it! For the younger child, simply make the posting hole larger. An older toddler will enjoy the challenge of having to place the item in exactly the right position to get it in.

A great activity to use for mat time, playpen time, or even highchair time if the child is tall enough to be able to see the top of the box.

DESCRIPTION:

  • posting given object (in this case dominoes) through a slot in the top of a tissue box.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • practical life – posting

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • fine motor development; hand-eye coordination
  • concentration and focussing skills

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • tissue box
  • dominoes or alternative material to post (pegs, long Duplo blocks, cutlery, old credit cards, popsticks etc.)

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

Mat time on the go

In my previous post on mat time I wrote about how to use and introduce mat time to your little ones, including the benefits that mat time brings to you and your child. Mat time allows you to go anywhere and place a simple boundary on the ground for your child to play quietly in while you can relax knowing they are safe, quiet and happy.

How do you cater for mat time when you are out and about though? I like to keep an activity bag in the car or near the front door with some special toys inside that are used only for this purpose to keep interest levels high when I do pull them out. I don’t have enough commercial toys to put a whole bunch out of circulation so I like these toys to be simple hand-made activities or items that won’t be missed. I have a small mat that also stays in the bag, acts as the boundary and gives the children something comfortable to sit on.

I put everything into little bags, containers or boxes as this doubles the interest factor. Once we have finished with the toys I do have to spend a few minutes returning everything to its own container but as I don’t use them all the time, I’m happy to do that.

I use the following categories to help me come up with ideas of what to include:

  • books
  • vehicle (dinky car, Duplo)
  • stacking toy (plastic containers, cups, bowls)
  • containers to open and shut (bags, boxes, zippers, flaps, press-studs, drawstring, handbags)
  • something to wear (hats, necklaces, bangles, scarves )
  • something textured or unusual to handle, tip or put into the containers (shells, rocks, pegs)
  • construction (Mega-blocks, Duplo, magnetic blocks, stickle bricks, train tracks)
  • pretend play (teddies, dollies, bottles, dishes, cups, clothes, food)
  • posting toy (a hole in the top of a small cardboard box with something to post like noodles, blocks, pipe cleaners, straws or pegs)
  • household (I wander through the house looking for items they are currently interested in like hair brushes, hats, shoes, cleaning cloth, tea towel, hair clips)

With a small amount of preparation and some training at home, you can have a toddler who happily sits down for an extended length of time to focus and play quietly with their own toys. Perfect for Grandma’s trinket filled house or a coffee date with the girls.