Playing for Parents: Toddlers to Grade 3

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Children have lots of free time during holidays and over the summer. There are plenty of activities and games mentioned in this handout to keep them occupied and learning at the same time. Most of these activities do not require anything more than things that you already have in your home. Remember, these activities can also be adapted to fit children that are older or younger than the age ranges mentioned in this handout.

With any of these activities, your attitude towards the activity will usually determine how much fun your children/grandchildren will have with the activity. Make sure that you have plenty of fun, too!

Keep in mind that some of these ideas will not work for toddlers, because the pieces may be too small for them (might become a choking hazard).

Classification, sorting, and counting

These are many skills that young children need to work on, and there are many activities that will help them practice these skills. There are also chores that can be turned into fun games that work on these skills.

Sorting: You can do this with things that are around the house (a tin of buttons, a basket of blankets, dishes (sizes of spoons, types of dishes), laundry (towels, socks, clothing type), and groceries (where it goes). You can sort by size, shape, color, room, type… You may also have your child help you with things like setting the table (you can teach them where certain dishes go or which side of the plate the silverware goes on).

Counting: There are many activities that can be made into a game to work on children’s counting skills. For example, have your children/grandchildren tell you how many chairs or tables are in the entire house (make sure that they recount, if they are wrong the first time). This works on both counting skills and classification skills.

Activities

Tea party with stuffed animals: You can have your child/grandchild use their imaginations and have imaginary tea and snacks, or you can make things like finger peanut butter sandwiches and water colored with food coloring as the tea. If you do have real tea and snacks, have your child/grandchild help prepare them. You can also have them plan the menu and control the conversation that you have during the tea party. Having them tell you stories about their stuffed animals works on their reading skills, too.

Small parade: This activity depends on how much noise you are comfortable with in your home. The children can dress up in some of your clothes or wear costumes, and you can all play the pots and pans (drumming) or other items used as instruments in the parade. If you are not comfortable with the noise, just have a dress up parade.

Music: Children love music, and you can just listen to the music and dance, listen to music and drum along on items around the house, create your own music with these items, or sing songs together (London Bridge, Ring Around the Roses, The Wheels on the Bus, Hokey Pokey, Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes, The Ants Go Marching, Do Your Ears Hang Low, etc.).

You can find the lyrics to these songs and more at The Teacher's Guide.

Word play: You can make learning words (vocabulary) into a fun game, such as I Spy (you can do this alphabetically, too, for more of a challenge). You can also go back and forth and see how many words you both can come up with that rhyme with a certain word, for example, "cat, bee, red, day …" For more word ideas, try Moms Who Think.

Building and stacking: Working on motor skills is important for children, and building things with blocks is a good way of working on those skills. If you do not have any blocks around the house, consider other things that your children/grandchildren could stack (bowls, boxes, books).

Bubbles: Children love bubbles, although this might be more of an outside activity, due to the mess it could make. You can also add in a little bit of science, by showing your children/grandchildren that a bubble will not pop if it is pierced with something that has bubble on it (dip it into the bubbles and then pierce the bubble).

You can also buy some bubble blowers with different shapes, and then ask if the bubbles will come out in a square or rectangle shape (bubbles only come out in circles (spheres) due to the surface tension holding in the air in, such as in a balloon).

Growing things inside: Watching things grow is very fascinating to children. It is also an activity that can easily be done inside, as well as outside. You can start with something like planting a seed in a pot (although, if you plant an apple seed, you can tell them that eventually it will have to go outside, because it will grow into a tree).

One easy thing to do to show how a plant grows is to take something like a lima or pinto bean, place it in a sandwich bag with a wet paper towel, then tape it to a window where it can get some sunlight. Then you can watch it grow together over the next few days (you can transplant this later into a pot to keep it growing).

Activities for all ages

One activity for children of all ages is to pull out the boxes of old photographs and look at them together. Children enjoy seeing how they looked when they were younger, and they also enjoy seeing the people they know when they were younger. You can even make the activity into a guessing game.

Working in the kitchen is also a great way of keeping busy and learning things. You can have the children help with the stirring, mixing, chopping (softer things like bananas), or spreading (butter or peanut butter onto bread). Turn creating the meals into a lesson (why you need to mix certain things together, what certain foods are made up of, the different types of food, etc.).

Reading: A great activity for children is listening to books. You can have a group reading together time, where you tell the story or do the reading, or you can have the older children take turns reading to the younger children.

Audiobooks are also great. If you need to make dinner or get set up for a new activity, you can turn on an audiobook and let the children draw or color while the book is going. Fiction books will take a while, so this can be done several times throughout the day or week.

Some books on the subject

Games for Learning: Ten Minutes a Day to Help Your Child Do Well in School / 372.13 KAYE
The Treasury of Family Games / 793 GLENN
A Lithgow Palooza!: 101 Ways to Entertain and Inspire Your Kids / 793 LITHGOW
The Ultimate Indoor Games Book: The 200 Best Boredom Busters Ever! / J 793 GUNTER
Rainy Days & Saturdays / J 793.01 HETZER
The World's Best String Games / J 793.9 KALTER