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.

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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.

 

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

Routines: Playpen time – Toys and starting late

An example of my playpen ready for playpen time. An attractive selection of age appropriate toys - not too many - of different types.

My toys are stored in plastic crates so that a good selection of toys of a variety of types are all ready for me to pop into the playpen. Crates are rotated from day-to-day so that interest in the toys presented stays high for quite some time.

For those of you who have older babies or toddlers who have not yet been introduced to playpen time, here are some notes on starting late.

Starting late:

For a baby or toddler who has had a lot of freedom, the transition to a playpen can take a little time.  Make sure it is a good time of day to begin (not when they are hungry or tired) and start will a small increment of time – even 5 minutes. Put in a small basket of toys, or a toy or two in each corner of the playpen, instruct the child that they need to play here and that Mummy will be back to get them in a little while.

Yes, they probably will cry and that’s ok. If you are consistent and stick with it, your child will come to play happily for this time. You may like to play a CD or favourite book on tape, letting you child know that they can come out when the CD or story finishes or set a timer and tell them that playpen time will be finished when the timer beeps. Having a cue of some sort to signal the end of playpen time is helpful in the training period because it lets the child know that it is the signal, not their crying, that has decided playpen time is over for the day.

Start with the small increment of time and stick to it, coming in immediately once the signal sounds (timer beeps etc.) and with a happy face and positive tone say something like “Playpen time is finished, you can come out now.” A well fed, well rested child, with age appropriate toys is not harmed in any way by a little time in the playpen, in fact it actually helps them to develop those all important concentrating skills that will enable them to learn so many important things later.

Initially, have playpen time 2 or 3 times a day for 5 minutes. Once your little one is used to spending this short period of time in a playpen, gradually start to extend the time. Once they are spending longer blocks of time in the playpen, reduce the number of times in a day you use it to two and then once a day. By around 12 months all of my children would happily play in the playpen for around 45 minutes which extended to an hour by the age of 18 months. I have watched them examining objects with intense concentration, seen the cogs ticking as they use it in different ways and investigate everything about it. Babies and toddlers often do not do this for longer than a few moments unless you create situations that foster this skill.

Once a child is characterised by happily spending time in a playpen then on odd days you can make exceptions when they are not happy eg. extra tired, sick etc.

Although you may be thinking “My boisterous 12 month old will never do that” let me encourage you that they will. There will certainly be a transition time involved, however if you are consistent, playpen time will be a pleasant time for you both.

Introducing playpen time as part of a daily flexible routine will greatly improve the success you have with it. Trying to implement one planned moment in a day of chaos and unlimited choices for a child will be very difficult.

Routines: Playpen time

What is playpen time?

Time when a baby or young child plays in a safe environment within a set boundary with a selection of age appropriate toys for a set amount of time.

Why have playpen time?

Playpen time is introduced as a regular part of a flexible daily routine. Independent playtime away from all other distractions teaches a child how to focus and concentrate on a few selected items, rather than flitting from one activity to another. It teaches them to be content on their own and to know that it is ok to be separated from Mum for a short time – that she will come back. It alleviates the separation anxiety many young children feel when Mum leaves the room because they know through experience that she will return and they will be ok.

Playpen time provides you as a parent with a period of time where you can take a shower, complete some of your own responsibilities or homeschool older children – all the while knowing that your younger child is safe and happily playing with their own toys.

How do I introduce playpen time?

Ideally, introduce playpen time from before your baby can even crawl. (See tomorrow’s post on starting late.) An emotionally healthy baby can lay or sit for a short period of time happily focussed on their own toys in a secure and safe environment. Make it a part of your daily routine, a couple of times a day for 10 or 15 minutes right from a very young age. If you wait until they can roll and crawl to get where they want and then suddenly impose a barrier, baby will be frustrated and let you know. If they are used to spending some time in a playpen every day it will simply be something they expect and happily participate in.

Obviously babies need lots of time with Mum and other family members, cuddles, attention and the like – I am not advocating using a playpen continuously throughout the day. It is for planned periods of time and for a reasonable length of time.

Where?

Somewhere that you can check on your child regularly, but where they cannot see you. Somewhere away from the traffic flow of the house. When siblings or others walk by, a child’s attention is diverted from what they are doing and they will swiftly become discontent with being there. If they see you check in on them, they will likely cry for your attention and want to get out, whereas once settled an uninterrupted child will happily focus for an extended period.

When do I use it?

When your child is well fed and well rested and at a consistent time each day. Make it a part of your routine so that the child begins to know what will happen throughout the day and is happily ready to go in when that time comes.

Toys

Choose a small selection of toys. Too much choice means that children will not focus on any one item but swap and change from one to another. Ensure that toys are age appropriate; not too easy or too difficult for them to use. If the toys are not interesting to the child, playpen time will be a struggle. Rotate toys so that there is regularly “new” toys to enjoy.

I sort my baby and toddler toys into several plastic crates – one for each day of the week. This way, I don’t have to go though wondering what to put in today – I simply put in the next crate. It also means they only see the toys once a week so they are fresh and interest stays high. When I only had one child, I didn’t have as many toys as I do now so rotating was harder, however I will be adding lots of ideas of toys to make for toddlers and babies so check out those blog posts for ideas. You could also swap toys with friends or join a toy library.

Toy storage

Do not expect children to pack toys in to bags or boxes, it is too fiddly and time-consuming. Open baskets and crates are best as toys can quickly and easily be plopped inside. Large toy boxes are also not a good idea as all the toys get jumbled together, pieces are all mixed up and it is very difficult to quickly pull out a good selection for playpen time.

I have a mental list of categories to help me ensure a good selection of toys which varies according to the age of the child:

(For babies) Something to:

  • mouth or cuddle (favourite teddy or any suitable baby toy)
  • look at (stimulating cardboard books, fabric books, photograph books)
  • listen to (music makers, squeakers)
  • feel (texture related toys)
  • kick or bat at (dangle toys, those that clip on the side of the pen)
(For toddlers) Something to:
  • read
  • push (vehicles)
  • stack
  • open and shut
  • touch and handle, tip or put into the containers (shells, rocks, pegs)
  • wear (hats, necklaces, bangles, scarves )
  • build or construct with (Mega-blocks, Duplo, magnetic blocks, stickle bricks, train tracks)
  • pretend play with (teddies, dollies, bottles, dishes, cups, clothes, food)
  • post (a hole in the top of a small cardboard box with something to post like noodles, blocks, pipe cleaners, straws or pegs)
  • practice with (I wander through the house looking for items they are currently interested in like hair brushes, hats, shoes, cleaning cloth, tea towel, hair clips)
  • solve – puzzles (beginner peg puzzles)
  • make music or noise with (maracas, clappers, drums or other percussion, pots and pans or battery operated toys)
Toddlers plus:
See this post on room time.
Packing away

Teach your child to pack up right from the first use of the playpen. Initially it will be you packing away with them watching. Encourage them to help you put the toys away, perhaps placing a small item in their hand and guiding it to the basket and thanking them with a big smile for helping Mummy pack up. It won’t take long for them to understand what you want them to do and you can gradually pull back on the amount of packing you do until the child is completely responsible for this task themselves.

Several of my children have been heard to vigorously start throwing toys back in the crate without me telling them to do so – a very clear sign that in their opinion playpen time is done! While this is very cute, it is important that they realise Mum decides when playpen time is done, not them, or they will simply pack their toys away after a few minutes and expect to come out.


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.