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
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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.

Toddler activities: Sensory tables

My sensory table in the kitchen; set up for water play.

Sensory tables are an excellent way to keep a toddler absorbed and concentrating for a good length of time while you homeschool older children, cook some dinner or wash the dishes. They are filled with open-ended activities and once the basic set-up is in place, are easily updated with the addition of household items for a new “theme.” Toddlers will love them and learn to focus and concentrate in the process.

A low table is ideal, however a large crate with lid, old television stand, coffee table, big wooden box or regular bench or table with the legs cut down will all suffice. I used a very large, sturdy crate with a fitted lid and covered it with a beach towel for a non-slip surface.

The sensory tray itself needs to have low sides (around 20 cms high) and be quite large. Under-bed storage crates or something similar are ideal because plastic lends itself to water and sand play and can be easily cleaned out. If the shallow crate comes with a lid this is even more ideal as it can be clipped into place when the tray is not in use.

For water play (as in the photo above) I have a smaller crate that I fill with water and a very shallow tray that goes underneath. This gives me a dry area for the accessories that are not in use and somewhere to put muffin trays for sorting and other activities near the water tub. For dry activities like pasta, the accessories can be kept in the large tray with the pasta and just put to one side.

The tray needs to be low enough for a young child to stand at comfortably, with their hands able to reach to the bottom of the tray. With very young children, you may choose to provide a sturdy step to bring them up to height, rather than cutting the table down too low – remember they will grow very quickly.

Think about age suitability. Scissor activities are not appropriate if it is likely that your 12 month old will get hold of them! Put towels underneath the table for indoor wet play. Plan for an easy clean-up by spreading out a sheet or blanket underneath when your child is using dry materials and simply gather the spills up in the sheet to tip back into the sensory tray when they are finished. You may choose to line it with fabric to cut down the noise, although this is sometimes part of the fun!

Now – what to put it in? (Keeping in mind of course that some materials pose a choking hazard and will not be appropriate for children who still like to put everything in their mouth.)

Some ideas are listed below and there are heaps of other great ideas at:  http://www.perpetualpreschool.com/sensoryideas.html

 

material in tray accessories to add
cheap costume bead necklaces (On strings for children to cut apart.)  Tie scissors to table legs so they are always available and do not get lost in the tray. Provide large tweezers to pick beads up and sort into muffin tins or other multi-compartment trays. Use beads for art and craft activities once interest has died.

 

sand plastic flowers, garden tools, rocks, pebbles, gloves, spray bottles for garden play.
sawdust or washed blue chip gravel or pea gravel or dried coffee grounds or dried tea leaves trucks, cars, rocks, pebbles, road signs
sawdust or shredded paper or packing cornstarch beans magnetic bingo wand and magnetic bingo chips (Chips will attach to wand as it is swept through the tray) or large horseshoe magnet (or similar) with paper clips, cutlery, metal pencil sharpeners etc
water aquarium rocks, pebbles, plastic bait fish or sea animals ($2.00 shops are a good place to look) aquarium net, small containers/buckets for caught fish.
water or wheat (Extremely large bags of wheat are available for at places like City Farmers.) turkey basters, squeezy sauce bottles, cups, containers, funnels, tubes, measuring spoons, sifters, egg cartons, pots, pans, jugs, measuring cups etc.
shredded paper or cotton balls or packing cornstarch beans or birdseed, wheat, pasta, rice, split peas or other clean grain. plastic or wooden letters/numbers/shapes and sorting trays to place in once found. Could be colour coded trays/containers to encourage sorting. Puzzle pieces – put puzzle tray for pieces to be inserted into once found, until picture is complete.
smaller tray – can be a table activity buttons, tweezers and iceblock trays for sorting.
chosen dry material foam board (from craft shops cut into animals or shapes to sort.)
smaller tray – can be a table activity beans and numbered egg carton (child to put correct number in each egg cup.)
ribbons, segments of curling ribbon, strips of crepe paper etc small sections of gutter guard, small hole chicken wire or commercially available weaving mats to thread ribbon through.
water sinking and floating – ping pong balls, boats, sponges, rocks, shells, other household  objects that float and sink. Encourage child to make a prediction before they check to see if the object sinks or floats. Aquarium nets to fish out objects once tested.

 

sand, shredded paper, crepe paper strips, sawdust or birdseed, wheat pasta, rice, split peas or other clean grain. plastic animals, bugs, rocks, shells. farm accessories etc.

(Wheat is available from places like City Farmers for $10.00 for a huge bag. Cheap enough to just sweep up spills and throw out if dirty.) Provide insect or animal books for children to look up their “catch” as they unearth their finds.

iceblocks of a variety of sizes use salt to stick blocks together to create ice sculptures
water different kinds of rocks to scrub, wash and dry (provide t/towels, scrubbing brushes, cloths etc.) Set up a couple of factual book about rocks away from the water for children to try and find their rocks and research rocks in general.)

 

shredded paper, packing beans fishing pole (wooden pole with string tied to the end and a magnet tied on the end of the string.) Cut fish shapes out of card and glue a paper clip to the nose of each. Write numbers, letters, sight words or whatever you are working on onto each fish and have child name them as they are caught. If they cannot recognise the letter etc. toss the fish back and catch again later. Do not work on too many new letters or numbers etc. at a time – ensure most catches are successfully named!

 

dog food stuffed animals, pet accessories, bowls (For the child who is old enough to resist the urge to eat the biscuits!)

 

nature items dry leaves, rocks, sticks, pine cones, honky nuts etc. with magnifying glass. Add plastic animals, bugs, cars etc. later, after the interest in the nature items themselves has worn off.
straws provide different sizes and colours for children to chop up. Tie scissors to leg of table to stop them getting lost in the tub. Once straws are all cut into smaller pieces, hide other objects (as for the ideas above) to find and sort or use cut straws for threading.
fossil dig freeze plastic dinosaurs in a deep tray in a thin layer of water coloured with food colouring. Once frozen, add another layer of different coloured water and so on. Dig out the fossils with metal spoons. Read dinosaur books and information about palaeontology as an intro or follow-up.

De-bone a chicken and soak bones overnight in bleach. Bury “fossils” in selected material for children to dig out.

 

cutting bright scrap paper, wrapping paper, magazines, pictures etc. for children to cut as desired. Hole punches, fancy scissors and staplers can all be added.

 

water pure soap flakes and hand beaters.

 

soapy water dolls clothes, tea sets or plastic dishes to wash and dry up or peg onto string line. Add dish mops, sponges, pegs, bottle washers etc.

 

corn starch packing beans can be used to hide many objects and are edible (ensure you get the correct ones. Encourage children not to eat them, just know they won’t be poisoned if they do!)

Once you have used them for a while dry, you can provide spray bottles filled with water to dampen the beans which are then mouldable.

 

soap and paper clay grate one bar of  soap and mix with equal amount of water then combine with one roll of white toilet paper (torn up) to make a mouldable sculpture material.

 

cities layer bottom of tray with garden soil and sprinkle well with grass seeds. Provide water spray bottles for daily watering. As the grass grows, lay small blocks for roads and add cars or other accessories. Make junk model city buildings and houses and trim “lawns” with scissors.

 

sand shells, seaweed, flags, buckets, yoghurt pots or other containers and water spray bottles to dampen sand.
chosen dry material spray small rocks gold or use plastic jewels or vase rocks as treasure. Link to pirate stories. Make box pirate ships to pile treasure into.
marble run clear flexible tubing, wooden blocks or real pipe and a variety of joiners to create pathways for marbles.
chemistry lab fill a container within the main crate with water. Provide “lab coats” to keep scientists clean and dry. Have a number of small jars containing vinegar, baking soda, flour, salt, oil, red, blue and yellow coloured water. Put small teaspoons in non-liquids and eye droppers in liquids. Children choose two ingredients for each experiment to mix, observe result, then rinse mixing jars in water. Provide t/towels for drying before starting a new experiment.
colour mixing as above, but only with the 3 prime colours in water. Perhaps use before introducing chemistry lab.
soap finger paint beat pure soap flakes, a little food colouring and water to form a thick, shaving cream consistency. Finger paint in crate or directly onto table surface. If painting onto table surface it is better done outside and hosed off once finished. Provide shirts or aprons to protect clothes. Make a print of painting by smoothing paper over lines drawn with fingers or plastic objects.
supersand equal parts cornmeal and dried coffee grounds make “supersand.” Use with many of the ideas listed here.
water different sized bottles and containers. Draw lines for children to fill to. Work together to decide which holds more.