Activities to make for babies and young toddlers

Trying to find interesting activities to keep older babies and young toddlers interested and focussed for any length of time can be a battle, but it is one that is worth persevering with. If you spend the time training your young children to sit, focus and concentrate and extend this time as they grow, you will be teaching them the self-control that is vital for all learning later. Not to mention the fact that you can go out to a friend’s house, to a restaurant, a school assembly or any other public event and take your child along, with the peace of mind of knowing that you will be able to enjoy some uninterrupted time in an adult situation. Toddlers need to be taught hand, voice and body control and this can begin at a very young age.

Here are a few ideas for home-made or readily available activities you can give to an older baby or young toddler during times where they are required to stay in a set boundary and play with the toys you have supplied (e.g. mat time (blanket time), room time, playpen time, highchair time and table time.)

Even quite young babies will enjoy pulling these dolly pegs out of the holes in the tissue box and carefully inserting them back in again. If they are pushed all the way in, the hole on the bottom of the box allows the child to pull the peg out from underneath. Posting and small spaces activities are great for developing fine motor control.

Stacking and unstacking objects is fascinating for toddlers. I was given these melamine plates for Christmas and my twins used them over and over again.

Cooking like Mummy is always popular. Go through your play food and cooking equipment and make up little sets. Don’t forget your kitchen junk drawer, pots and pans and any other smaller kitchen equipment that toddlers can safely use. Add small dolls and teddies for toddlers to feed.

My plastics are stored in a crate which I can plop out on the floor for little ones to unload and sort through. Stacking and unstacking, trying on lids and just exploring it’s contents is very absorbing. Perhaps you have a suitable cupboard that you can designate for young children to access while you are working in the kitchen.

I had trouble finding reasonably priced magnets that very young children could easily grasp. The flat, flexible style of magnet are not good for babies because they have trouble getting them off and end up peeling the edges back. I went to a $2 shop and bought 4 wooden jigsaw puzzles and a packet of strong round magnets. I glued the magnets on the back of the puzzle pieces and got a great, economical set of animals for the fridge, whiteboard, or metal biscuit try.

This very large bottle is a great posting container. Pegs, popsticks or any other thin object can be pushed through the lid hole and pulled back out through the open slot in the front. The edges are taped where they were cut to cover the sharp edges. I originally saw this used as a water pouring activity with a funnel in the spout and a large flat tray underneath to catch spills. The children were scooping the water out from the large front hole and tipping it back into the funnel at the top.

These oversized popsticks are placed into slots in the lid of the icecream container and can be pulled out and pushed back in.

A set of plastic chopsticks has been used in many different ways over the years in my house. Another small spaces activity; poking them into the holes in the side of this tissue box

I glued a bunch of cardboard tubes together for the little ones to put the chopsticks in and out of.

This quoits set amused the babies for quite a while as they took the rings on and off.

This Velcro fruit makes a great ripping sound as you pull it apart and stick it back together. Include the wooden knife for older toddlers to practise their early cutting skills.

I used some polystyrene foam covered in wide weaved fabric (burlap I think?) for this early hammering activity. (The foam has a tendency to crumble with use and I didn’t want any of the young children being able to get it into their mouths.) Golf tees and a selection of washers to bang into the foam have been well used by all of our children.

Outdoor activities: “There’s nothing to do!”

Choose toys that promote cooperative and group play.

Outdoor time is important for children. They need exercise and time to let out the energy and noise that has been building up inside them during quiet times indoors. In our family, it’s a time for all the children play together and I find it goes so much better if they find some kind of game, project or activity to do together rather than just milling about without a purpose.

Toys that can be used by multiple children at a time are more versatile.

Older children can usually make good decisions as to how they are going to use their time, but the younger ones need a little more direction of some appropriate play ideas. I find if I spend just a few moments getting them started I can leave them and they will happily play together for quite long periods of time. Friction and bad choices are more likely to happen when I send them all out at once without some guidance.

It’s a bit harder when the weather is wet (see wet weather ideas) but make the most of the fine days and be flexible with your routine. If the weather is fine in the middle of the day and may not be in the afternoon (when you usually send them out), make use of the sunshine when you have the chance.

Here are plenty of ideas to get you started. I’d love your ideas too, so please leave a comment if you can think of something to add to the list.

  • Weaving wall Bend and tape the ends of a piece of chicken wire or large piece of plastic garden trellis etc. Provide a variety of materials for children to insert and weave through like string, wool, fabric strips, ribbons, straws, feathers and nature items like leaves and sticks.
  • Washing dolls/teddy clothes Set up a tub with soapy water and a string washing line with pegs and set out the dolls clothes for children to wash and peg out to dry.
  • Washing the dishes Wash plastic tea sets and sand toys and anything else that will survive a good dunking. Provide wash cloths and T/towels to dry.

It was a damp day so the children made a “waterproof” cubby with our outdoor sheets.

  • Camping & sheet cubby houses Old sheets and curtains that can be draped over outdoor play equipment, chairs or a rope tied between 2 poles are a great open-ended activity. Have snack time or lunch in the tent. Provide tea sets and other pretend play equipment to add variety.
  • Watering Children love to water pot plants and gardens. A hose turned on very low (just a trickle) will keep a toddler going for ages.
  • Boats Place end caps on a length of gutter, use a plastic crate, half a shell sandpit lid or whatever else you have on hand to fill with water. Sail boats or float objects in the water. These can be actual boats (bought or those that the children have made) or just leaves, sticks and other nature item.
  • Bird watching/animal care Install a nesting box with viewing flap or birdbath to encourage birds in the backyard. Avoid feeders that encourage birds to become dependent on you providing food. Keep pets.
  • Water painting Provide house paint brushes and containers of water for children to “paint” paths, patio floors, walls etc. Make clear guidelines as to where the water may be used. Most hardware stores have very cheap sets of large brushes.
  • Pavement chalk Available through most discount variety stores, pavement chalk can be the stimulus for many other games. Designate surface to be used that will be washed clean by the rain to limit cleanup or provide brooms and water as part of the activity. My children like to draw road signs, arrows and directions on the paths around our backyard which then leads on to many other creative vehicle games.
  • Paddle pools, water tables, sprinklers and other water play activities in warm weather. (See here and here.)
  • Hoppers (see here.)

Sand play will always be a favourite and is great for a wide variety of ages.

  • Sandpits Shade will make these more attractive in summer. Add water for instant (but messy) mud fun. A toy oven or even a cardboard box oven and some old kitchen equipment (eg pans, pots, utensils, plastic plates, cups etc.) promotes pretend play. “Shops” is a popular game and some kind of shop front such as a small bench, limestone block etc. will spark interest. Children can collect nature items to “sell” and pay with leaves etc.
  • Herb and veggie gardens Planting, watering, weeding, tasting and other fun to be had here.

  • Blackboards use blackboard paint or prepared board and make coloured chalk available. Good for shops and many other pretend play games. Also paint brushes and water work well on blackboards.
  • Woodwork Provide real tools and the oportunity to use them in a safe way. An old tree stump or large block of wood with hammer and nails to pound in. Lengths of wood to cut in a vice. Small wooden wheels or bottle caps with holes drilled in to hammer onto wooden blocks for vehicles. A designated workbench and good selection of tools and materials to work with will be well used.
  • Wheat tray Large bags of wheat are available from places like City Farmers for a reasonable price. Use sand or water toys and many of the ideas in the sensory table post. Caution – it does attract mice and birds so keep in an airtight container and teach children to sweep up spills.
  • Jumping Provide an old mattress for children to jump and bounce around on and perhaps a low, safe launching place to jump from. A waterproof covering is ideal but not essential.
  • Trampolines are a standard favourite and buying one with a safety net reduces the associated risks.
  • Balls and skittles Weight plastic bottles with sand or wheat and glue closed.
  • Hoops, buckets, bins and beanbags Hang hoops or create other targets (eg. buckets) to throw beanbags through or into. Older children can use a scoring system.
  • Vehicle tracks Make oversized road signs (stop/go sign, traffic lights etc.) and set out markers (beanbags, rocks, sticks etc.) for a race track for children to use their bikes or ride-on toys around.
  • Cardboard boxes Old large boxes can be cubbies, forts, boats and a myriad of other things. The bigger the better, just let the imagination run. Adult help to cut windows, viewing flaps, insert card tube telescopes etc will add to the fun.
  • Bubble blowing A variety of blowers adds to the interest. Provide small containers so that spills do not waste your entire supply. There are many homemade recipes for mixtures on the internet – glycerine is usually needed for good bubbles.
  • Stocking ball  (See here.)
  • Treasure/scavenger hunt Bury “dinosaur bones” in the sandpit (bleached chicken bones) or give children a list of items to collect around the yard – make it pictorial for young children. Spray-paint rocks gold to make wonderful pirate treasure and hide them in the sand or around the yard. Kids love to search for treasure.
  • Kites & parachute men Easy run-along kites in windsock style can be used without help. Parachute men can be made from garbage bag plastic attached to toy men or popstick people for dropping fun if children are able to climb up on playground equipment or similar.
  • Spray bottle water tag Choose small spray bottles for little hands.
                                          Yes, that is my eldest SON on the right!
  • Dress-ups & mirror Spread out a sheet so that clothes can be looked through without getting too dirty. Providing a mirror enriches dressing-up games and makes them so much more appealing.
  • Window washing Provide a small amount of soapy water and a window squeegee for lots of fun.
  • Finger painting/soap painting Lux soap flakes mixed with warm water and a little food colouring and whipped makes good finger paint that washes off quite well. (Be careful about the kind of food colouring you use and possible staining of clothes.)
  • Musical noise maker Hang pots and pans, old tools, cutlery or anything metal that will make a satisfying sound when banged and tapped.

  • Butchers paper wall art Mount a large roll of butchers paper on the wall with a smooth surface behind. Child pulls down a new length to paint or draw on before cutting off their finished creation.

Send out the dolls, teddies and prams and lots of “family” type play takes place. My eldest son likes to role-play protecting the “family” from many and varied dangers and going out hunting in the vein of Little House on the Prairie.

Rainy day and wet weather indoor activities

Now that the wet weather has begun, there will be days when we are inside most of the day. Energetic children need some outlet and without outdoor time to let off steam, some energetic indoor activities are a must. That surplus energy has to go somewhere and that “somewhere” will not be good if we don’t channel it appropriately. Here are some ideas for winter days to keep a variety of ages well occupied and to help create a peaceful (although not necessarily quiet!) and productive atmosphere in your home.

Dressing up Pull out the dress-ups and let the creative juices fly. A mirror low enough for them to see themselves full length greatly enhances the joy of this activity and once dressed up many other imaginative play activities can follow. Stock your dress-up box with pretty, spangly, sparkly bright things for the girls, but don’t forget to cater for the boys as well. While commercial costumes are great, they somewhat limit creativity. Op shops are a great source for props and perhaps the best items are a selection of large fabric pieces that can be used for anything that takes the children’s fancy. Choose different fabric types, colours and textures to promote different kinds of pretend play. Eg. chiffon is good for veils, stiff netting for tutus, red satin for hero capes etc. Don’t forget to take photos of the wildest outfits. Keep them for their 21st birthday parties!

Some specific ideas are scarves, hats, shoes, belts, beads, bangles, gloves, handbags, crowns, wigs, men’s ties, workmen’s safety clothing, old dancing costumes, bridesmaid and flower girl dresses and a variety of men’s and ladies clothing. Cut clothing down to suit younger children (eg. shorten sleeves in a men’s jacket, cut off the length in a ladies nightie etc.)  Raid Mum and Dad’s and the Grandparents’ wardrobes for the brightest, most “out there” items that you will never wear again and chances are they will be a hit. Take the kids with you to an op shop, swap-meet or market and let them help you pick out the most interesting items they can find. They may surprise you with what they like.

Our Doctor’s surgery. Certain children prefer to be patients, rather than Doctors or Nurses!

Pretend play Dressing up links in beautifully with pretend play and there are so  many options available. The children may be able to come up with their own ideas but I find that if I offer a little structure to begin with, the play is more purposeful and has a sense of direction. That usually takes the form of setting out a selection of objects to suit a theme, rearranging the furniture with the children’s input and spending a few minutes getting play started by joining in. Often I will model a couple of ways to “pretend” with the objects I have provided which sparks off ideas of their own and I then leave them to it.

There was a lot of pirate related pretend play while we were reading Peter Pan. The old street directory got a great workout as the ship was navigated about.

Some of the play ideas we have set up are:

  • Washing day Strong card box with flap as lid, filled with shredded paper or cornstarch packing beans. Milk bottle lids glued on as nobs, empty washing powder box and scoop, dolls clothes to wash and string line and pegs to hang clothes out. Maybe even real soapy water in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry if you are game and don’t mind a little mess!
  • Doctor’s surgery (See photo above) Pillow slip coat (cut hole for head and two holes in sides for arms or use an old white business shirt), doctor’s bag, identity badges, bandages (strips of old fabric/sheets) film canisters, empty bottles and containers for medicine, old mattresses/dolls bedding for human or toy patients to sleep in, notepads, telephone books, appointment pads, clipboards, pencils and pens. A huge hit for my children is a supply of currants to use as sugar pills after reading the Little Golden Book “Nurse Nancy.”
  • Shopping centre Pretend food, household items, money, tray for cash register, shopping bags and baskets. Making their own pretend money and items to sell keeps them occupied for a while.
  • Beauty salon/hair dresser Old clean bottles, jars, empty make-up containers, cotton wool balls, brushes, combs, sheets, curlers, hand mirrors and stools or chairs. You may like to warn children that there will be no real cutting of hair under any circumstances!!
  • Office/post office Computer keyboard/typewriter, variety of papers, files, clipboards, pens, pencils, scissors, telephone, envelopes, contact paper “stamps”, cardboard box with slot and back flap for posting letters, calculators and mail bag.
  • Fix-it shop Play tools, safe real tools like screwdrivers, old electrical equipment with cords removed for tinkering with, Mecano or other construction sets.
  • Icecream shop Card cones, pompoms, cotton balls or small bouncy balls, icecream scoops, empty icecream containers, felt, cardboard or other pretend toppings, squeezy bottles, paper cups, spoons, small bowls, pretend money etc.
  • Shoe store Chairs and foot stools (could be just a box), lots of shoes and shoe boxes, mirror.
  • Restaurant/cafe Tea sets, pretend food (felt, wooden, plastic, salt dough or pictures from food junk mail glued onto paper plates), paper or thin card to make menus, pens and pads of paper to take orders, table cloths, napkins, place mats, coasters, empty clean food containers (cereal boxes, milk cartons, coffee jars etc.) vases, aprons, trays. Making salt dough or cutting and gluing pictures of food onto paper plates to make meals is an activity in itself.
  • Vet clinic or pet shop Stuffed animals, vet outfit and doctor’s kit (see doctor above), box cages/beds, collars, leads, bowls, brushes and blankets.
  • Florist Artificial flowers, a variety of vases and containers, ribbons, block of florists foam to stick stems into. (The grey foam crumbles less than the green.) Make your own flowers with popsticks and pattypans, paper cut-outs, small branches from the garden etc.
  • Car wash (Outdoor idea) Turn the hose on low and add buckets, sponges, suds, “polish” cloths and empty container. Use to clean ride-on cars, trikes and other outdoor toys.

Reading corners When we set up this little reading nook with child and teddy sized chairs, blankets, cushions, pillows, foot rests and crates of books, the children sat and read for hours! Books that they hadn’t had off the shelves in months caught their attention simply because they were put out in full view again and it was like re-discovering old friends. The netting is a mozzie net for a queen sized bed that I loved the idea of and never used in our bedroom because the ceilings were not high enough. It has served as a room divider for countless pretend play areas and the kids love it.

Puppet theatres Hand and finger puppets are easy to make using socks, paper bags, wooden spoons, toilet rolls, felt, fabric, wool, ribbons, stuffed toys and many other readily available items or widely available for purchase. Set up pairs of chairs, use a broom or mop handle to hang the front sheet on and let the creative juices flow. Have periods of rehearsal and performances with the rest of the family acting as the audience. Older children could even write scripts and cooperate together to act out stories or find scripted plays already written by surfing the net or borrow from the library. Video the performances and watch them again later for another rainy day activity.

Teddy Bear’s Picnics Everyone has dolls and teddies and when all the favourites are pulled out it makes for quite a crowd. Get out all the pretend food (see ideas under “restaurant” in pretend play above) and provide non-messy snacks like sultanas and Cornflakes for the kids to enjoy as well.

Sheet tents, cubbies and camping games Get out the sleeping bags, pillows, sheets, doonas, suitcases, backpacks, bags and torches and clean off the table for some fun tent making. Couch cushions and lounges also work well, as do chairs. Once the camping area is set up, packing the bags with tonnes of camping necessities will keep them occupied for quite a while. If you have real camping items like billies, folding chairs, 2 man tents etc. let the kids incorporate these into their games. Of course the next question will be “Can we sleep in our tent tonight Mum?”

Jumping mattresses It needs some planning to keep it safe, but some mattresses or piles of pillows and cushions on the floor in an open area and something stable to jump off is a great way to get rid of extra energy. Teach the kids how to do forwards and backwards rolls and award points for the most interesting jumping styles.     

Dancing and moving Don the dress-ups, put on some boppy music and get moving. Double the fun if Mum joins in and great exercise for you too. Play musical bobs, statues, follow-the-leader or other games to keep interest going.

Stocking balls You need a covered back veranda or patio for this but it is a great activity for all ages, particularly older boys. See instructions here.

Chalk boards and table activities Not for energy releasing, but when you’ve moved around a bit and want something quieter to do, here is a list of ideas to sit down and do at the table. Surf the net for unlimited art and craft ideas for older children.

Bubble-baths Plop the little ones in a nice deep hot bath and toss in some bath toys, containers, scoops, watering cans and cloths and let them tip and pour to their heart’s content. Set the older children up just outside the bathroom door and read aloud from a good book or listen to an audio book while you supervise the little ones from inside the bathroom. There are thousands of free audiobooks available to download from www.librivox.org (Be aware that most bubble-bath liquids have toxic substances in them. If you are going to use one, do your research and buy a product that is not harmful to your children, especially girls. The suds won’t be quite as good but their health is more important than good bubbles!)

Our pasta play sensory table.

Sensory trays Again, not a physical activity as such but so many ideas to use that will keep all ages going, however many are directed at the toddler and preschooler ages. It’s this age that I find harder to keep well occupied for lengthier time periods anyway, the older children are able to direct the use of their time much more productively. Heaps of ideas and a full explanation here.

Rainy day activities: Balls and stockings

Ahh, the first rains of winter have hit. Easter as usual has suddenly turned cool and I must dig out the winter clothes and have a trying on and handing down session as the children’s little goose-pimpled legs are freezing.  While I quite like the rain (especially if I am curled up somewhere warm with a good book to read) it brings with it its own challenges for a household full of energetic children. What do you do with them when it’s too wet to go outside and all “sitting and concentrating” capacity is gone?

Time for the stocking balls. We are lucky enough to have a large patio area out the back that gives us a reasonable amount of play space under cover. I gather up a bunch of old pantyhose, stockings or tights and slide a tennis ball inside one leg before tying them to the cross beams of the patio. I hang a couple at a time so several children can play at once and have them at varying heights to cater for a range of sizes. They also need to be well clear from each other and preferably out of walk ways or those toddlers will almost definitely end up with someone’s bat in the face.

We use bats from the totem tennis set, tea-ball bats and whatever else we have at the time and everyone whacks away as hard as they like. (A sturdy cardboard tube is a good option for those not so coordinated toddlers.) Boys in particular seem to like this activity, using up energy and having a good time smashing away. The stockings do tend to stretch after a while so perhaps hanging them a little higher than you actually want them would be useful and yes, the balls will eventually break through the stocking. Mine have lasted for several weeks at a time and can simply be thrown away and replaced when they wear out. An economical and easy to set up activity that will help to bring peace to my household this winter. Now, where are those stockings…

Outdoor activities: Hopper races and obstacle courses

We are blessed to have a great backyard. Plenty of space and very child-friendly. We still however hear the occasional moans about not wanting to go outside and having nothing to do. While that doesn’t wash in our house and the children are sent out anyway, I am finding that they are not sleeping at night as well as they should be and I suspect it is because of lack of physical exercise. In the heat they tend to gather in the shady sandpit and while it is lots of fun, doesn’t give them the exercise they need.

My usual response to the “I have nothing to do” complaint is to tell the kids to sit on a chair and think of something. I let them know that in 5 minutes I will be coming back and if they don’t have a plan will be giving them something to do. The children all know this is code for WORK so usually they will quickly re-direct themselves. If not, a corner of my garden gets some weeds pulled out or the sand around the sandpit gets swept up. Good exercise for them and great for me!

One outside activity we have done together that was enjoyed by everyone was hopper races. We set out hoses, broom handles, ropes, sports equipment, mats and a bunch of items from around the backyard and arranged them into an interesting obstacle course. The children then hopped through with their hoppers, circling some items, jumping over others, hopping backwards in some sections and weaving through other parts. They helped design the course and decide on the level of difficulty. Handicaps for the younger and slower members were decided on and the races began. Lots of hot sweaty fun was had by all and what’s more, they were totally exhausted by the end of it. Mission accomplished!

Routines: Room time

Amazing things can be created in room time!

At around 18 months to 2 years of age, a toddler is ready to transition to room time instead of playpen time. Having said that, my two and a bit year old twins still have playpen time rather than room time for a number of reasons – space and lack of available rooms being two!  The following are some ideas for how to go about room time. My next post will help you to transition to room time smoothly. (It may be helpful to have a quick read through these posts first: playpen time, toys and starting late, choices)

What is room time? A time each day that is set by Mum when a child plays in their room (or a designated room) for a period of time determined by Mum. Do not confuse room time with a child choosing of their own volition to spend time playing in their room. This is a time chosen by you, with toys chosen by you (or a limited choice for older children) for the length of time chosen by you.

Tips for successful room time: 

  • try to arrange the room so that you can check on the child but they can’t see you.
  • start with 10-15 minutes and work up to longer time periods over several days. Even children who have been contentedly spending an hour in their playpen need smaller time increments to start with. This is a new freedom and you want to be able to praise them for their success in staying in their room and making wise play choices. Once the transition has been made and all is running smoothly you can increase the time again.
  • get the child started on an activity they enjoy before you walk out.
  • do not plan to use this time for the first week or so. Hover nearby, check on children frequently and deal with situations before they get started. Remember, the purpose of the short time period to start with is to finish while it is going well and praise, praise, praise! Do not be tempted initially to extend the time because it is going well and leave it until a problem happens – end on a good note.
  • start when you know you will be able to be home for a few days in a row
  • for young children, consider doing it through the weekend until well established
  • have it at a similar time each day
  • set out the toys you want a toddler to use or provide a limited selection of toys for an older child to choose from – not unlimited access to everything in the room.
  • introduce packing away from first use – demo, help, then independent. Have an easy storage system such as open crates. Sort toys out. One large toy box for everything not a good idea. Toys get lost, pieces are mixed up, toys are buried and forgotten and children can’t be bothered digging through to find what they need.
  • The success of room time depends on the focus and control that you are modelling and teaching throughout the whole day. A child who has too many freedoms and will not obey you during the day will not suddenly obey you when it comes to room time. Using a gate in the doorway can be useful for little ones during the initial transition and takes away the temptation to keep coming out. However a child who is not being trained in obedience will find a way to get out if they REALLY want to, despite the barrier.

 Toys:

  • You may like to keep room time toys only for room time so that the interest level stays high. Alternatively, toys can be sorted into crates for each day of the week or changed on a monthly basis.
  • Have a system in place to put the crates/boxes etc. into. A low bookshelf or cupboard that the child can reach is ideal. A few shelves that are out of reach can also be handy for those toys that are not for general playtime but are saved only for room time or for playing with Mummy and Daddy etc.
  • Clear plastic crates allow you to see contents at a glance.
  • Remove lids and simply have open containers that slide onto shelves. Remember, the easier it is to pack away, the more likely the child will do it without a fuss.
  • Sort toys out into smaller containers of similar sort (as children get older, toys become more complicated and have more pieces – mixing sets or kits with other toys makes it difficult to access.)
  • Do not store toys in draw-string bags, cardboard boxes with lids etc. until the child is able to manage those by themselves. If they have to ask you to take a lid off for them, they will be coming out of their room to do so and/or unable to pack up without your assistance.
Transitioning from playpen time to room time:
  • Put the playpen in the bedroom to begin with.
  • Use a mat or some other kind of blanket/carpet etc under the playpen that will become the designated play area in the room once the playpen is removed.
  • Have the toys sorted out and in the same places you will put them when room time begins without the playpen.
  • Take down only one crate at a time and say every day that this crate must be packed away before another one can come out – while in playpen one crate is all they get, so include enough variety to last the entire session. This means that later there should be a controlled amount of mess – no more than the contents of one crate should ever be out at one time.
  • Pack up with the child to begin with, one kind of item at a time, in a methodical way – remember you are teaching them how to pack up for all those times later they will do it themselves. Say out loud what you are doing, “First lets put away all the cars, now lets find all the books” etc.
  • Once the child is used to helping you, do some together then leave them to finish a set amount. No consequence for not packing up is needed, they are simply not free to come out until it is done.
  • If  there is a lot to pack up, simplify the pile into perhaps one or two kinds of toys – too many items from different containers/kits will be confusing and children often end up sitting there packing away nothing at all. For example, if a box of Duplo is out, along with books and a puzzle, perhaps clean up the books and puzzles for the child and require them to do only the Duplo.

Removing the playpen:

  • Explain that they need to play on the mat or other area you have designated.
  • Remind them of the toys that they may choose from – the same system you have well established while still in the playpen.
  • Initially, continue with the crate system. As children get older and toys become more complicated, begin to slowly hand over the choice to the child eg. you choose 3 items from the shelf, I will choose the rest.
  • Pack away most of the toys in the bedroom to begin with and only have out a few options that the child can choose from. More can be added later.
  • Remove any treasures or irresistible things that shouldn’t be touched.
  • Always have a set place for items. Teach how to pack away every toy as it is re-introduced back into the bedroom or a new toy is added.

Troubleshooting:

  • Try to ensure that household traffic is not passing by the door of a child who is having room time or they will be constantly distracted and more likely to want to come out.
  • Keep activities that sound like a lot of fun away from the sight and hearing of a child in room time. If they love to paint and you use this time for the older children to paint, it is much more difficult for them to be content knowing what they are missing out on.
  • In large families where children share rooms there may not be enough room time rooms to go around. If you are homeschooling and have older children at home, they could perhaps use this time to complete school work and have their room time at a different time of day. I prefer to have everyone in room time together so I get a break therefore we use almost every room of the house. Toddler and baby nappers go in portacots in rooms other than those they sleep in. Middle ages have their own desks and toys set up in separate bedrooms, including their own sleeping room and the baby room. The eldest is the most mobile as his interested are more portable. A crate with wheels makes his Lego set moveable and books are easy to pick up and cart about. Any other project is collected before room time begins and moved to where he will be. This may be the family room or loungeroom or even outside if the weather is nice.
  • Make sure that the toys are age appropriate, interesting and provide enough stimulus to last the whole time. Older children move away from just toys and in my household are given their own desk around the age of 4. We give them a mini set of drawers stocked with all manner of craft and drawing items, scissors, glue, construction paper and all sorts of bits and pieces and they have a wonderful time creating with these every day. Construction toys are pretty much essential for boys and good books are great for all.

Having room time for everybody every day leaves me with a chunk of time every day to recharge and gives the children a much-needed break from each other. They are often refreshed and in much happier moods when they re-emerge. Those personality types who crave time alone are rested and recharged and the more sanguine children benefit from learning to be by themselves and using their time in a worthwhile fashion. The projects the older children get up to are often quite amazing and the time is rarely wasted.

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.