Toddler Activities

Invitations To Play

Play is the way children learn, so it’s obviously an important part of each day. I know in my house, play can go from fantastic! to wtf is going on around here?! in about five seconds flat and that’s when I know there needs to be some focused time to recalibrate our energy. That’s when I invoke the simple invitation to play.

Invitations to play, or provocations, don’t have to be complex or messy or even a lot of materials. They can be as simple at the one shown above, some transportation stacking toys on a wooden tray. Basically, a provocation is a term used in the Reggio Emilia model that means to help expand or encourage thoughts, discussion, or creative thinking. In a classroom setting, it would probably be open-ended materials connected to what the children have been learning and talking about; if gardening is the hot topic, then there might be an activity with flowers, or seeds and a magnifying glass, or some pictures of plants growing, or a book about gardening set out in a special place where children can explore the medium on their own or in small groups.

At home, I like to set out invitations to play (as I call them) for my two-year-old at times when I know he’ll want to do something different or when things are getting hairy. I have lots of manipulatives (mostly open-ended materials that can be used to build specific skills) and a few special trays stored away that only come out for these invitations so it can help to frame the activity and let him know that something special is about to happen. I don’t keep them out for too long, just enough time until I feel like he is at the end of his focused attention and ready for the next adventure (even if that’s just dinner or bath or a trip to the grocery store).

These play invitations can be incredibly helpful on so many levels, including:

*Building independent play skills

*Encouraging creative thinking and conversation

*Increasing focus and attention

*Recalibrating energy levels

*Deepening cognitive thought

Setting up an invitation to play in your home can be so easy while also bring so much richness to your child’s day! Some tips:

*”Frame” the materials with a special tray, small rug, or placemat, or whatever you have available and only use that when it’s time to invite some special focused playtime. I also have a small toddler-sized table that I put the provocations on, but a coffee table or even the floor work too!

*Have some manipulatives and/or other simple materials that are kept out of the everyday rotation to pull out just when needed. I have some bins with all kinds of different manipulatives and interesting objects, but it doesn’t need to be limited to materials. Sensory objects (like play dough, sand, water, shaving cream, etc.) can also be a fun invitation to play, or art projects. Leaves, grass, flowers, or other natural items found on a walk or in the yard can also be sweet for building, making indoor fairy or gnome homes, or just exploring with a small magnifying glass. Anything that isn’t used on the regular (or indoors) will spark some interest! They don’t always have to be open-ended either, things like puzzles, paper and scissors, weaving and lacing materials, and books have a specific use and purpose, but can still give that focused, independent time while also giving them a chance to think deeper about a topic. (Yup, even toddlers can think deeper about things!) Materials like the stackers that are pictures are also a two-fold material, the stacking part is a given but the objects themselves can also be used as cars that are driven around the tray, to set up a construction site, as building blocks, whatever! They open themselves up to being a creative material when a toddler or preschooler is left to their own devices.

Other simple ideas could be:

Fabric scraps (and a glue stick)

Small blocks

Different lengths and textures of yarn

Cards and envelopes

Buttons (with supervision)

Flowers, leaves, and other nature items

Tea bags

Cotton balls and Cotton Swabs

Literally anything alongside a magnifying glass can be interesting!

Muffin tins are also a great source of fun for invitations to play since they can provide lots of open-ended scooping and sorting time.

*Try a little each day, even if it just once a day for five minutes. Focus and attention will increase gradually for some kiddos, especially younger toddlers, and some days even five minutes is a huge win!

* Connecting the invitation to something you know your kiddo is interested in is always a help. My Bub loves anything trucks these days so we’ve been doing a lot of that, but it could even be something you just chatted about over breakfast. Your kiddo noticed the leaves were falling? Great, bring some of them in with a glue stick and some cardboard. Whatever! I don’t always connect the invitation with something we’ve talked about or are interested in because it’s good to introduce new things too, but I like to have at least a few that are a direct connection to something I know my two-year-old is interested in or thinking about during his day.

*Challenge yourself to let your kiddo explore without your help or ideas. The invitation to play isn’t like a party where you both RSVP, it’s for them to check out something on their own without adult intervention or input. You can sit at the table with them, and chat if they start talking, but give them some space to do their thing.

What do you think you’ll invite your child to play?

parenting, Toddler Activities

One Potato, Two: Simple Transition Songs

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Any song can really be used as a transition song as long as you use it consistently so your child knows whats happening, but here are some specific ones that might help your toddler and preschooler move on to the next thing and are so short and easy that you won’t forget the lyrics!

 

For getting ready to go somewhere, including somewhere in the house:

Here We Go Marching:

Here we go marching, marching, marching, here we go marching now

Here we go marching (into your room, into the kitchen, into the car, etc.) 

Here we go marching now

( I add verses to this, like walking, skipping, jumping, dancing, etc. You could choose one that you like best and stick to that or do a few verses. It’s the rhythm and routine of the song that is the big win here.) 

One Potato, Two Potato

One potato, Two potato, Three potato, Four

Now we’re getting ready to walk out of the door

One potato, Two potato, Three potato, Four

Here we go now, right out of the door!

For getting ready to sleep:

Are You Sleeping? (Sung to the tune of Frere Jacques)

Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?

Let’s lay down, let’s lay down

Ready to dream, ready to dream

Good night now, Good night now

For Eating:

Chew Chew

Chew chew chew your food

Chew it all up

Chew chew chew your food

Then drink from your cup

 

They might seem overly simple or silly, but that’s what makes them so effective. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need a lot of words to tell them what to do, its something almost mindless that triggers their over-working brain to keep it on task. You can sing these every time you need to head to bed, to the car, or to eat and they will quickly get the message without you having to do a lot of negotiating, explaining, or cajoling. Plus, music soothes the savage beast, even when its just a three-second ditty that lets your kiddo know its snack time. So take it as a win, and get singing!

Toddler Activities

The Magic Pear: Easy Games for Young Preschoolers

As summer winds down, I’m realizing that I am exhausted and ready for Fall. My two-and-a-half year old heads back to preschool in a week (nine days to be exact, but who’s counting?) Even though he only goes part-time, it’s still a necessary break for both of us as I can feel our patience, both his and mine, is beginning to run thin at times. It doesn’t help that his sister was born during his last week of school and is really taking up time and attention…and leaving me pretty exhausted each day. As if a constant ball of two-year-old energy isn’t exhausting enough! But I digress. All I know is at this point in the summer I need some easy games we can play that keep him engaged while I am sitting (or more likely nursing my newborn) and this one fits the bill! This game originated in Africa and references the baobab trees that grow in Madagascar.

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One kind of Baobab tree

There are two versions of this game but they both use the same basic rhyme:

Ti-Ki-Boom, Ti-Ki-Boom, Ti-Ki-Boom, Ti-Ki-Boom

Down The Baobab Went The Hare

Ti-Ki-Boom, Ti-Ki-Boom, Ti-Ki-Boom, Ti-Ki-Boom

Up He Came With The Magic Pear

(I’ve also heard people use the phrase “Chicka Boom” in place of “Ti-Ki-Boom”)

 

Version 1:

Get a pear (real or pretend). No pear? Any object will work, and you can just call it a pear. Preschoolers are great at pretending! One person hides the pear and then sings the rhyming song. When the rhyme ends, the other person has to find the magic pear. Easy, but hours of fun!

Version 2:

I made this version up when I was literally too tired (and busy nursing) to actually get up and hide the pear anymore. It’s basically “I Spy” (my son’s other favorite “mama-gets-to-sit-down” game) but with this rhyme instead. I will say an object in place of the word pear and my son will have to find that object. So, I would say, “Up He Came With The Magic DUMP TRUCK” and he’ll race around looking for his dump truck. Super easy. When Ir un out of things for him to find, I will start to use colors or shapes, like “Up He Came With The Magic PURPLE” and he’ll have to find something purple. I do this with I Spy a lot too, since he wants to play for so long that I often run out of things to find so this keeps the game going a little longer.

Why play these games? Besides the “sitting down while keeping energetic kids occupied”-which is really the best part!-they are fantastic for cognitive function. Both versions build object permanence, recall, and deductive skills as well as memory and spatial awareness. Adding in using shapes or colors to look for strengthen your child’s knowledge of…you guessed it…shapes and colors. Both games also are wonderful for honing focus and listening skills since children need to listen to the rhyme so they know what to look for and when they can starting looking. These are the types of games that really get your preschooler kindergarten-ready!

Want to enhance these games? Reading about the baobab tree is easy as there are a large number of terrific children’s books about these special trees. Here is one of my favorites from back in my full-time teaching days:

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This Is The Tree: A Story Of The Baobab Written by Miriam Moss and Illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway


Another way to enhance the learning is to use the phrase Chicka Boom instead of Ti-Ki-Boom and then read the classic Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. You can take that even further by having your child look for letters or letter sounds…I’ve done this with a felt letter set so students, including my son, can find actual letters but if they are ready to move past letter recognition, have them find something that starts with the letter B or has a B sound, etc. You get the gist.

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Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault.


Hope these games can help you get some rest as you sail into the Autumn. Enjoy!

 

Toddler Activities, Uncategorized

Learning Songs: Singing The Scales

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Most people know the classic Do, Re, Me for singing the scales, and there’s also an alternate version that can go both up and down the scales to further the tonal distinctions. Learning the scales is important for musical ability and cognitive development, but also for experimenting with more nuanced social cues. When talking to other people, different tones can indicate different meanings. A lower tone of voice can indicate seriousness, a higher tone might be more playful. When understood in conjunction to other social cues, such as a smile or gesture, a toddler can understand when another kiddo is asking to play even if they speak different languages by the tone of voice being used. Just like they can understand a stern voice might mean stop, or a soothing voice tone is all about comfort.

Do Re Mi 

Doe A Deer, A Female Deer (touch all fingers to thumb to create a deer face)

Ray A Drop Of Golden Sun (spread fingers wide to indicate the sun)

Me, A Name I Call Myself (point to self)

Fa, A Long Long Way To Run (have two fingers run along opposite palm)

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread (pretend to pull a threaded needle)

La, A Note To Follow So (“roll” hand away from mouth)

Tea, A Drink With Jam and Bread (pretend to drink a cup of tea)

And That Brings Us Back To Doe, Doe, Doe, Doe (make deer face again)


This alternate version goes both up and down the scales, and you can point to each body part mentioned:

On My Toe

Is A Flea

Now He’s Climbing

On My Knee

Past My Tummy

Past My Nose

On My Head

Where My Hair Grows…

On My Head (now scales will go back down)

There Is A Flea

Now He’s Climbing

Down Over Me

Past My Tummy

Past My Knee

On My Toe

Goodbye Flea

Both of these are fun little finger plays and easy songs to sing at any moment in any day!

 

Toddler Activities

Counting, Numeral Matching, and Dump Trucks

IMG_5741.JPGSo, my two-year-old is super into trucks and lately we’ve been doing a lot of counting, so one muggy morning I wanted to combine those two things but didn’t have much in the way of time or supplies. With my son’s help, I made a quick number matching game and a counting game with one of his faves: dump trucks. (Which are super easy to draw, so win-win.) He was able to play with these for quite awhile, then brought them into his indoor sandbox.

All I did to make these was draw a bunch of dump trucks and cut them out, then drew the “boards” on some scrap paper, which literally took under ten minutes. I honestly think cutting things out was the longest part! My son liked them so much that I’d love to re-create them for the felt board, and will post about these games again briefly when that project is done. Because I’m the at-home/working/pregnant mom of a two-year-old that doesn’t like to nap, so obviously I have a ton of time to make felt board games. (Insert sarcastic eye roll here.) Ha, ha.


As simple as these math games are, they do introduce (or reinforce) some basic foundational math ideas. One important aspect of early math concepts is known as one-to-one correspondence. This is when a child can point to objects and count them in order.

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For very early learners, having both the numbers written on the bottom and the pre-drawn boxes can really help with beginning counting, numeral recognition and understanding, and learning that one-to-one correspondence. The boxes help kiddos figure out how many are there while still grasping those counting and recognition skills. Once all the trucks are in place, it’s much easier to point to each one while counting. (This could take many, many tries and this activity is a success if one truck gets in each box the first time!)

The repetition of counting “one,” then “one, two,” then “one, two, three” is also incredibly helpful for toddlers since repetition is often their best way of learning. (Ever wonder why your two-year-old says the same thing a million times, or wants to read the same book over and over and over until you can recite it in your sleep? When you feel like your brain is starting to melt from all this repetition, just remember this is how they are learning….if you can before the brain melting, that is.)

One note on this game, I wrote the numbers on a separate piece of paper not just because of space, but because I wanted to remove them at times. I think it’s great to practice counting both with and without numerals being a part of the visual because sometimes less is more when learning new things! I also wanted to give my kiddo a chance to count all the trucks, since he’s really enjoying counting to ten and is all about including all the trucks all the time.

As they progress through this activity, you can further challenge them by taking away the pre-determined boxes:

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Two other math concepts are numeral recognition and matching. Numeral recognition has two parts, knowing “how many” and also what the actual written numeral represents, i.e. the number one stands for one dump truck. This concept is similar to early literacy in that children start to recognize that the letter A is a symbol for specific sounds that can begin the word “apple” or “alligator.” Generally speaking, early learners are taking in both of these ideas around the same time which can be helpful in the learning process and is sometimes referred to symbolic representation.

(Side note: Although related in their cognitive functions, symbolic representation can be different from Piaget’s theory of symbolic function, which also begins around age two. Symbolic function is best represented in dramatic play, where a child can pretend a box is a fire engine or that they are making tea using an old cup. A two-year-old knows what a fire engine or a cup of tea are, and can use another object to symbolize them. I will write more about this in another post on dramatic play, since it is such an important part of child development…and because I love me some dramatic play time! Tiny tangent over.)

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So, back to matching and numeral recognition. Having a small board like this where the dump trucks can park next to their numbers can help with both of those ideas. Matching the written numerals can create a cognitive connection so the numerals become more recognizable and familiar. Also, I think that taking away the counting aspect can make it easier for some early learners to focus on the actual numerals when just starting out. Again, less can be best when first introducing big ideas.

Whew! So that’s some early math talk. But all these different learning aspects (literacy, art, science, math…) are interconnected and pretty interesting when you start seeing how your kiddos brain works!

Oh, and please see my previous post if you want some simple counting songs. Music is deeply connected to learning and soothes the savage beast…which could be a cranky toddler or the tired parent of said cranky kid.

Hope your day is filled with fun learning love!

Toddler Activities

One and Two: Simple Counting Songs For Learning Early Math

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We’ve been super into counting songs (and dump trucks, obvs) in our house these days! Simple finger-play songs like these help familiarize little ones with numbers and counting, obviously, but also with other early math concepts like addition. Here are two finger-plays that are so easy you can sing them in your sleep, as I do most nap times. Yawn.

Now One More

Sung to the tune of Where Is Thumbkin?

Where is One? Where is One?

Here I am, Here I am (Show one finger)

We’re so glad to see you, so very glad to see you

Now One More, Now One More

Where is Two? Where is Two?

Here I am, Here I am (Show Two Fingers)

We’re so glad to see you, so very glad to see you

Now One More, Now One More

IMG_5745 2.jpgCounting small blocks while singing 

Continue until ten, or twenty, or until you or your kiddo falls asleep, whatever! Sometimes in less sleepy times, I use props (like blocks or finger puppets) instead of my fingers so that we can lay them out and count them after the song ends. Counting  one to ten, then counting down from ten, also adds the idea of subtraction, especially if you remove a prop with each number. For most early learners, addition and subtraction are easier to understand when using concrete objects like blocks or clothespins or spoons, whatever you have around. It can also help reinforce one-to-one correspondence (when your kiddo can point to each object he or she is counting) and the ideas of  quantity (basically understanding which is “more” or “less”).

Side note: More and less also can help with social skills, as sharing and equality come into the mix: “You have four trucks and Jolie has none. You have more. Can you share the trucks?” Not to say this will always work, of course, but it’s worth a try when sharing gets hairy!


Two Little Blackbirds: The Counting Version

Two Little Blackbirds, sitting on a shoe (Use one finger from each hand to represent a blackbird)

One named One and one named Two

Fly away One, fly away Two (fly the blackbirds away one at a time)

Come back One, come back Two (fly the blackbirds back to the middle)

Two Little Blackbirds sitting on the floor (continue finger movement throughout song)

One named Three and one named Four

Fly away Three, fly away Four

Come back Three, come back Four

Two Little Blackbirds, sitting on some sticks

One named Five and one named Six

Fly away Five, fly away Six

Come back Five, come back Six

Two Little BlackBirds, sitting on a gate

One named Seven and one named eight

Fly away Seven, fly away Eight

Come back Seven, come back Eight

Two Little Blackbirds, sitting in a den

One named Nine and One named Ten

Fly away Nine, fly away Ten

Come back Nine, come back Ten

(You can find another version of Two Little Blackbirds in a previous post)


                                                          PS Want more number and math games for early learners?  I’ll post about some quick and easy counting games I made for my two-year-old in literally five minutes with limited supplies (paper, a scissor, and a few markers.) Yup, the dump trucks from the top photo are pieces to the game.