"…And she smiles at the future." ~Proverbs 31:25

Posts tagged ‘play’

Tot School Fun (Tiny Tots Week, Day 2)

Young children LOVE to learn new things, and I love being there to watch my little one’s eyes light up as she discovers and experiences new things every single day.


Before I go on, I need to get one thing off my chest. As far as education goes, I strongly believe that there are only two things that you really NEED to be doing with your toddler:

1. Read to her. A LOT.

2. Play with her. A LOT.

Young children learn by playing. This isn’t just my opinion; there is a ton of research to back it up.

Our hula girl doing her funny little dance

My own experience with my oldest children also validates this position. They are both excellent readers and communicators and have done well all through school, although we did very little in the way of formal schooling when they were toddlers and preschoolers. We read A LOT, played A LOT, and interacted A LOT, and learning took place naturally, as it does with all young children.

So, if all you do with your tot is read, read, read and play, play, play…you are doing enough! (Read that again and again until it sinks in.)

I adamantly insist that you not feel guilty if you are not doing any type of formal education with your little one. Having said that…I also know that some little ones–especially those who have older siblings who are “doing school” at home–are more than ready to get in on the action and have their own “school.”

My youngest falls into this category. Her whole face lights up at the mention of the phrase, “tot school,” and she’ll drop whatever she’s doing and come running the instant she hears the words. If I don’t bring it up, SHE will ask ME. She is only two and a half, but with three older homeschooled siblings in the house, she wants her special learning time, too.

Of course, I am using the term “school” very loosely here, in reference to short, simple, FUN activities that my toddler and I can enjoy together when we have the time and inclination. There is no schedule. We don’t do it every day. Sometimes we do it more than once a day, IF she wants to, but never for more than about 15 minutes at a time. So please, if you take away some of these ideas to try with your little one, let him be in the driver’s seat. Enjoy the activities only until he loses interest (or ideally, before), then switch gears and do some more another day. The learning will happen; just have fun!


So, what do we do at our house when it’s time for tot school?  Well….in addition to reading zillions of books, working lots of puzzles, and doing the typical toddler play activities like scribbling, dancing, singing, and pretending with dolls and animals, these are a few of the more structured activities our toddler enjoys:


Transferring objects from one container to another is always a hit with young children. You can see from Remington’s smile how much she enjoys this activity!

On this particular day, Remi started moving the marbles into the empty water bottle with her fingers.

Eventually we moved to transferring them with a pair of kitchen tongs.

Both activities are great for promoting hand-eye coordination. (I think next time we’ll try a spoon.) And she had just as much fun pouring the marbles back into the original container.

In the end, she wanted to play with the marbles–examining them, rolling them around, and making a LOT of noise with them!

Here’s another transferring activity Remi enjoys. The idea is to use the scoop to move a pompom into each indentation of the paint tray. (All these pieces came from Dollar Tree.) You could do the same with your kitchen tongs and an empty ice tray.

It’s not as easy as it looks…at least not when you’re two… and at first I was a little afraid that she’d get frustrated when she “missed.” But, I needn’t have worried. Look at her reaction:

Each time a little pompom rolls away, she gets more tickled. I have priceless videos of her laughing hysterically every time she messes up. (Yes, it’s just one more example of HER teaching ME. What if that were my reaction to all MY mess-ups?)

You can also have your toddler try to transfer beads with a scoop, or cotton balls with a clothes pin, or dice between plastic cups. Don’t worry about success–just let him have fun! (In this case, that IS success.) He will get better with practice.


Stringing beads is another great way to “work on” hand-eye coordination.

We have wooden beads, plastic beads, giant buttons, foam pieces…She loves to string them all!  Lacing cards serve the same purpose and are also fun. Or, try stringing loop cereal or tube pasta. Once the concept of stringing is down, you can start working on patterns.

Counting Games

Personally, I think children should be taught about shapes, colors, letters and numbers  through fun and games, NOT flashcard drills. Here’s one example of how to make that happen:

Some days at snack time, I will draw a simple blue oval on a piece of paper and tell Remi that’s the pond. I give her some Goldfish crackers and she counts each one aloud as she places it in the pond.

However many fish she can move into the water…i.e., however high she can count…is how many crackers she gets to eat for her snack (although we’ll soon have to discontinue this as her ability increases!)

This is a good motivation for a hungry toddler to practice counting higher, and a fun way to learn one-to-one correspondence as well. To change things up, you could draw a simple tree and let your little one add Cheerios as “fruit,” or have her add raisins to an animal for “spots.”  Let your imagination run wild and see what games you can come up with.


Learning to sort by color, size, or other similarity is a valuable skill for toddlers and preschoolers. Counting Bears are great for this…

…but your little one could also sort blocks, beads, marbles, buttons, Skittles or jellybeans, colored paper or felt pieces, plastic coins, Fruit Loops, Unifix cubes, crayons, game pieces, pompoms, colored pasta, Legos, foam shapes…You get the idea!  She can sort the pieces into a muffin pan, an egg carton, paper cupcake liners, an ice-cube tray, or whatever other divided container you can find. Just put one item of each color (or size, etc.) into each compartment to get her started, and let her figure out what goes where.

Small spaces

Poking an item into a small hole requires concentration and dexterity. There are lots of ways to practice this. I love these pictures of Remi inserting dry spaghetti strands into the holes of a shaker jar…

…because so many of the pieces ended up in her mouth!

(No, she’s not holding them in her mouth…She actually crunched them up and ate them.) Putting plastic coins in a piggy bank is another good activity of this kind.

Messy art

I know, I know, you were hoping I wouldn’t say it. But making messes is what little ones love best, so we might as well let them do it artistically! I don’t know any small child who doesn’t love to squish Play-Doh or plop paint.

As you can see, Remi’s style is great, gloopy gobs of pink paint…always pink…on top of more big pink globs. She’s very consistent! I have learned to let her do this on the tile, even though that means lugging the easel down the stairs. It’s worth it to me not to have to worry about cleaning paint spills out of carpet, especially since she sometimes “forgets” to stay on the paper…

(Ummm….Maybe we need bigger paper?) The immense pleasure this experience brings a young child is worth the mess and trouble…at least every once in a while. (Remi would do this EVERY day if I let her. I don’t.)

On days when you can’t handle the potential mess, try putting some thick paint into a zipper bag for your toddler to squish around in his hands.


Simple sticker books are big with my little one right now, too.

She also loves just placing random stickers…on paper, her clothes, and her skin. (It’s a good time to teach where stickers do NOT go, too.)

Independent play

In addition to the activities Remi and I do together (where I’m not teaching, as much as playing along, giving guidance, and encouraging), our tot school also includes some solo activities that can keep her busy while I’m working with the other kids. Toddlers and preschoolers are busy little people. If not provided with safe, fun activities to keep them engaged, they’ll find something else to get into! During this time, it’s good to have some parameters for your little one. We do this either by strapping her into a chair near the table where we’re working…

…or by giving her “blanket time.” Which of those we choose just depends on the activity (and how antsy she is at the moment). If it requires some space, I’ll put the building blocks, animals, Little People, play food and dishes, dolls, or whatever she’ll be doing on a blanket and she must stay on the blanket with the toys.

Reading to her babies during blanket time

Other blanket-time activity ideas might include cars, trains, Duplos, and stacking items like cups and boxes. If the activity is messy, I put her on a felt-backed plastic table cloth on the floor to play.

Often these independent play times produce a lot of NOISE…but this way I always know she’s safely occupied and within sight and reach.

I’ll be sharing lots more ideas during the rest of this week’s posts, so please come back daily and feel free to share your own ideas in the comments. I’d love to hear what keeps your little one happily learning. And don’t worry, tomorrow I’ll tell you how to enjoy the process without breaking the bank! Here’s what’s on for the week:

Monday: Helping our wee helpers

Tuesday: Tot School fun

Wednesday:  Tot School on a shoestring

Thursday: Tot School organization

Friday: My favorite toddler resources

And, the bonus post…

In the meantime, you might want to check out this site where I got some of my activity ideas.

Thanks for stopping by!


When you have a toddler

Life isn’t always easy when there’s a toddler in the house. For starters, there are the messes–and I’m talking about the kinds of messes you could never have imagined. But oh, they are real…

Notice the oatmeal. Notice the wall beside her. Notice her expression of pure pride.

When you have a toddler, you have to always be sure to watch where you step.

Oh, were y'all gonna use these stairs for something else? 'Cause my children are sleeping.

When you have a toddler, you are constantly having to find creative ways to help her comprehend reality without completely dashing her childhood dreams.

She stood expectantly on the driveway with the net raised, calling sweetly, "Bird, come to me!"

When you have a toddler, she wants to do everything you do…

(although willingness far outweighs ability at this point)

…only she always ends up going a bit overboard.

When you have a toddler around, you note with chagrin that her “helpfulness” often turns out to be not very helpful after all.

You would NOT have wanted to eat dinner at our house tonight. Seriously. This was just the tip of the iceberg.

When you have a toddler in the house, you have to buy all kinds of special, child-sized equipment so that she will feel a part of all the rest of the family is involved in.

No, life isn’t easy when you have a toddler in the house.


There are some really wonderful things about having a toddler in the house, as well.

When you have a toddler around, you always have someone who looks up to you.

Adoration in progress

It’s kind of nice to have a little someone who wants to imitate your every move.

Doin' it like a real mom does...only a little less hip to work with

In fact, it kind of makes you want to do your best at every single thing you do, since you know those little eyes are going to be watching you.

When you have a toddler around, everyday experiences seem new and fun as you see them through her eyes.

And perhaps best of all? When you have a toddler in the house, you always have a reason to play!  You have a built-in excuse to drop what you’re doing and go dance around in the backyard sprinkler.

You always have bubbles on hand. You always have snacks available. You always have a reason to stop at the playground. You even have a built-in excuse to enter the play area at Chick-fil-A, no matter how old you are. (After all, someone has to supervise the toddler, right?)

Lately, I’ve been noticing that some unnamed persons have been taking advantage of this excuse to play. For example, although our toddler really does love to squish Play-Doh…

…I seriously doubt those chubby little hands created this:

(Although it wouldn't shock me if she tried to EAT it)

And, while we’re at it, how do those magnets I put on the BOTTOM of the refrigerator door keep ending up at the very TOP? Can my two-year-old really be held responsible for this?

So I guess we’re all taking advantage of the fact that, yes, having a toddler in the house is not always easy, but it is almost always a great deal of fun.

{Thank you, Lord, for letting us experience this again.}

We are blessed.

Thanks for stopping by!

Real moms open blinds

While the big kids were all off with friends, my husband and I decided to brave the heat and take our two-year-old to the playground for the afternoon.

After playing for a few minutes, she became very concerned about all the sand that was getting in her “flipper-floppers.” I remarked, in my very best take-note-of-this,-it’s-profound voice,

“If you want to go to the playground, you have to be willing to get some sand in your shoes.”

I immediately went into deep-thoughts mode, mulling over the reality of how the very best things in this life are usually the hardest, too….and yet they’re so very worth the “sand.”  (Think: Christian living, relationships, raising children, and so on.) But never fear, I won’t go further. This isn’t going to be that kind of post. Because, you see, my toddler wasn’t feeling the least bit philosophical with me. She just wanted to play.

She invited me into her “house,” and I happily obliged. We sat down on her “couch,” which she told me her husband had built for her. When I asked who her husband was, she thought for a bit before answering, “His name is Emily.”

So we sat together on the couch and I asked her, “What do you do in your house, ma’am?” Her answers:

I open the blinds.

I drink coffee.

I eat food–vegetables, I think.

(The adult world as seen through the eyes of a toddler…..If only it were as simple as that, right?)

When asked how else she spent her time at home,  she said, “I have a child. I read lots and lots of books to my child. And my child listens.”

Here’s my very favorite shot of the day, of the week, and of the month so far:

I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine. I hope you’re smiling today.

Thanks for stopping by!

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