OK, here’s the disclaimer: I was not asked to review or rate any of the following products. I am not being compensated in any way for promoting them, aside from the joy I get from passing along a great find to others who might be blessed by it.
So…now that we have that out of the way, here are some of my (and my toddler’s) very favorite learn-by-playing resources.
As in books, books, and more books. I told you here that if all you do is read to your toddler A LOT and play with him A LOT, you are doing enough. I can’t overemphasize the importance of reading to your children. I won’t take the space here to go into that further, but there’s plenty of research out there for you to delve into if you don’t want to take my word for it. I’ll simply say that it is essential that your child develops a great love of books, and NOW is the time to get him started. That means providing two things: a large variety of books that YOU read out loud to your tot…
…as well as an assortment of sturdy board books that are his to play with and “read” on his own. He should have easy access to this second set of books so that he can handle them any time he chooses.
Put them in a place where he can see them and reach them, and make sure he is able to put them back as well. (In other words, forget the bookshelf for this set. Get a big box or tub to hold them so he can easily retrieve and replace them.)
On a side note: I am a HUGE fan of the public library…but NOT for board books. I have seen way too many booger-picking, book-chewing toddlers to want to see those books go into my little one’s hands and mouth! Invest in a set of fun, colorful board books–you don’t have to buy them all at once. Ask for them (and give them) for Christmas and birthday gifts, and watch for sales and good deals while you’re out and about. (I’ve found some really good deals at surprising places like Marshall’s.) And by all means, use the public library as much as possible to check out the books YOU will be reading TO your tot. Need a starting point for what to read? I recommend Dr. Seuss. That guy was brilliant!
A good children’s Bible
This is the most important book in your child’s collection! Yes, your little one should have his own toddler Bible that fits in his little hands so he can “own” it, carry it around, and take it to Bible class. But what I’m really talking about here is a good, read-aloud children’s Bible that YOU read from every day with your tot. There are many good ones available and I don’t claim to know which is best, but I’ll share a few of my favorites from the ones we own, along with reasons I’m partial to each:
The Rhyme Bible This is what we’re currently reading to our toddler during our family devotionals in the evenings. I have always loved this one because of the fun rhyming text. Our kids have loved it, too—it was the first “Bible” our older children each read on their own, and they couldn’t put it down! The art is cartoonish but fun, and the lyrical verse makes us want to keep turning pages. It makes Bible time FUN. Love the Rhyme Bible!
Classic Bible Stories I love this one because the art is absolutely gorgeous, and the passages are just the right length for little ones—one opening for each story, with the beautiful illustrations (by Italian artist Tommaso d’Incalci) taking up much of each double-page spread. There are 28 stories in all.
The Reader’s Digest Bible for Children I picked this one up at a used book sale somewhere and I love it because it’s big, full of all kinds of Bible stories (waaay beyond Jonah, Noah, and Baby Jesus!), and is probably the most accurate re-telling I’ve found. I should say here that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a children’s Bible story book that didn’t contain some biblical inaccuracies, which means that you—the parent—will just have to be on top of your game while reading. At this stage it’s not too big of a deal, because you’re the one doing the reading and your tiny tot won’t even know if you’re changing the words. But you’ll have to do a lot more of that with some books than others, so it’s nice to have one that you can just read and enjoy! I should also mention that this book is not written on a toddler level, so it may not be the one you start out with…but reading to your children above their level is also a good thing. (I’ll save that for another post…) If you have older and younger kiddos doing Bible time together, this might be a good choice.
Paint with water
Here’s an activity that’s right up near the top of my daughter’s list of favorites, and the fact that it’s super CHEAP and EASY to set up makes it a favorite for me, too.
Because this is something a toddler can do independently, it’s great when you need to “buy some time” for something else…especially if you save it for special occasions. My daughter loves to paint with water, but she knows she is only allowed to do it while I’m doing our morning Bible study with the older kids. This keeps it special for her and buys some sweet silence (and stillness) for the rest of us while we study. The fact that there’s virtually no mess is icing on the cake. You can find these at any discount store or bookstore.
(Sometimes Remi abandons her art mid-page in favor of a nail-painting session…But she’s sitting there, quiet and happy, so I’m happy, too.)
I’m a big fan of wooden puzzles. Actually, I’m a fan of lots of puzzles…We use foam, floor, jigsaw, and more…But the wooden puzzles are my favorites.
They hold up so well and are easy for chubby little hands to manipulate.
You can get them at most toy stores, discount stores, and bookstores.
Find & Fit
I found this at Half Price Books and fell in love.
I even love the case, which is an all-one-piece, super-sturdy box with Velcro closures. Here’s the open view:
It contains LOTS and LOTS of big, sturdy cards with push-out mother and baby animal pairs. I love these cards because there are so many things my toddler can do with them. They can be used like flashcards, to teach the names of the mommies and babies…
…and she can fit the animal shapes in like puzzle pieces, figuring out which pieces go with which cards.
She can match up the mother animals with their babies…
…and put them on their little stands for imaginative play.
As you can see, we have LOTS of fun with this set!
Beethoven’s Wig CDs
(Vol. 1: Sing-Along Symphonies & Vol. 2: More Sing-Along Symphonies)
The guy who did these fun CDs is a genius! He added hilarious lyrics to well-known classical pieces by the great composers. My toddler can’t get enough! After the last song ends, they all play again without the funny lyrics, and I must admit that I didn’t learn nearly as much in my college music appreciation class as I did from these CDs, as far as being able to recognize the pieces and composers. Plus, it’s pretty cool to be driving down the street and hear your two-year-old belting out phrases like “When you’re an opera star, with a large repertoire…” She knows about composers like Verdi, Schubert, and Paganini, and I would never have figured out on my own how to teach her about them at this young age. Love, love these CDs.
NOTE: There are five different volumes…We didn’t care for the third and haven’t heard the last two, but I highly recommend the first two CDs. You can go to the website to watch a video, see all the lyrics, and listen to the songs. (The lyrics are much funnier when you hear them sung. Trust me, you’ll be hooked.)
Teddy Mix & Match
Another one of my daughter’s favorites, this is THE BEST memory-type game I’ve ever seen:
Although I’m only showing a few, there are LOTS of cards in this set—so many that we started out using just a few at a time and have been adding more and more as she gets better at playing the games.
Beside being thick, sturdy, and extremely cute, the cards are also BIG, as you can see here–just the right size for a toddler’s hands:
What do we do with these? First, we try to make matches of all the different pairs of bears. Remi makes up names for them, like Sleepy Bear, Pocket Bear, etc. Then we turn them over and play a memory game with them. Sometimes she likes just pretending with them, making them talk to each other, and making up stories about them. They came two to a punch-out card, and I saved some of the card backs so we can also use them as stencils to make and decorate our own bears when she’s a little older. I ordered these from Sonlight Curriculum.
Normally, I am not a big proponent of using flashcards with younger children, at least not for drilling, but my daughter does love to spread them out, stack them, and bang them on the table. This is my favorite set of flashcards for toddlers:
(Apologies for the awful phone pic above…It was a last-minute addition so you could see the what the box looks like…kind of…) I love that these cards are so BIG. I love that the clear, colorful photographs are so eye catching.
And I love that on the back of each, there are simple science facts to share with your child and examples of how the animal is mentioned in the Bible.
Kumon First Steps Workbooks
Until I came across these, I was adamantly opposed to workbooks for toddlers. I scoffed when I saw their claim to be appropriate for ages 2 and up. Now, I’m eating my words, because I love these adorable little workbooks, and more importantly, so does my toddler. And yes, they ARE appropriate for 2-year-olds. Each small page has one simple task to complete, and they increase in “difficulty” incrementally. My daughter begs me to do more, no matter how many pages I let her do. (I have to keep her looking forward to next time, though, right?) Just look at how proud she is of her “work.”
I should say again that it may be the only reason Remi is so interested in this type of activity is that she has older siblings being homeschooled right in front of her each day. Don’t feel pressure from anyone to use workbooks of any kind with your toddler–they just aren’t necessary. If, however, your little one is wanting to do what the big kids do, I highly recommend these over any others I’ve seen. There are lots of Kumon workbooks, so make sure you start with the First Steps series. I ordered mine from Amazon.
World’s Greatest Stories CDs
These CDs are such a great (and easy!) way to put God’s Word into your little tot’s heart and mind. The text of each is taken word for word, directly from the Bible (in your choice of KJV or NIV), but the man who reads it does so quite dramatically. There are even background noises sprinkled throughout, and the way these are done really makes the Bible come alive for little listeners.
I have always let my toddlers (and preschoolers and beyond) listen to these in bed at night, after the lights are out. Because the “stories” are taken directly from the Bible, your little one will actually be memorizing Scripture without even knowing it. And I’m not talking about “baby” memory verses, either. I remember when my son, Connor, had just turned four, and he walked in the kitchen for breakfast one morning calling out, “And the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa.” WHAT?! Turns out he was quoting from Esther 8:14. Get these CDs!
(NOTE: Although the text is straight from the Bible, each CD has an introduction and a conclusion—one sentence each—which isn’t…and these are fine on all but the Life of Christ CD. We used this as an opportunity to discuss what the Bible really
says doesn’t say about Christmas and Easter, so that, too, became a good learning experience. Just a little heads-up for you before you hit “play…”)
I ordered all six volumes directly from their website , which you can check for a list of included Bible stories and their texts. Again, this set goes way beyond your typical range of Jonah/Noah/Joseph’s coat stories included in most children’s Bibles. (HOORAY!)
Melissa and Doug products
I think I love everything they’ve ever made. They’re sturdy, usually wooden (or of other natural materials), and colorful. They’re all simple and educational, and you won’t need a single battery! They are of such high quality that my usual, penny-pinching self quietly exits the room when I see these items. I think they’re worth the splurge.
They have too many good things to mention here, so check their website for ideas for Christmas gifts, etc. You’ll come back and thank me! I have purchased these everywhere from homeschool conventions to yard sales. (A word of warning here: If I spot one of their products at a yard sale, you’ll probably want to get out of my way, and fast! I may just knock you down in my rush to grab it. Otherwise, I’m very sweet. Really.) 🙂 Good stuff.
Priddy books and flashcards
See that little pink face at the top? That tells you you’ve found a Priddy product. There is just something about their clean style that I love for young children.
Each book is interactive, and there are lots of choices. Here, Remi matches magnet pictures to the pictures on the board book pages:
You can see that there’s a lot of color and things to talk about on each page:
Here’s an example of their flashcards, complete with stickers. I love the clean design.
For older toddlers, I recommend their sticker books, too. I get my Priddy products from Amazon and Half-Price Books.
Finally, we come to my 2-year-old’s personal, number-one, top-favorite tot school activity:
Do-A-Dot paint markers
I’m pretty sure she would do this all day long if she could.
The paint comes from the spongy tip so you don’t need brushes or water, and the bottles themselves are spill proof. There are lots of free printables on the internet (type “Do-A-Dot” “printables” “free” into your search engine) which have circles to fill in, but you can also just give her a page from any coloring book and let her dot on the colors. Remi is also happy with a plain piece of paper to decorate. I found mine at a yard sale, but now that I know how much she loves them, I’ve got them on my Amazon wish list. Shhhh….Don’t tell her before Christmas…
There you have it, my very favorite resources for fun ways to teach little ones at home. Would you take just a moment to share one of your favorites in the comments?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. I have one more “bonus post” coming soon (if my computer cooperates). Here’s what else was included in Tiny Tots Week, in case you missed any days:
Monday: Helping our wee helpers
Tuesday: Tot School fun
Wednesday: Tot School on a shoestring
Thursday: Tot School organization
Friday: My favorite toddler resources
***Bonus post coming soon! (Update: It’s here.)