12 Creative Ways to Make Learning Fun for Toddlers
Every parent I know is on the constant lookout for simple ways to distract a toddler just long enough for mom to get dinner started or dad to throw a load of laundry in. They are little human tornados, and distractions are invaluable for parents to take a little break.
In that spirit, we developed this list of 12 learning games to engross your toddler and give them a head start on finding science, reading, and math exciting. Have fun with these activities at home or when you’re out around town — every place you go has a learning opportunity if you know where to look!
- Cut a palm tree out of construction paper and attach it to your refrigerator. Using magnetic letters, act out the story Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by making the magnets fall out of the tree. Bring that book to the next level by making the alphabet come alive!
- Give your child colorful stickers and colored paper in the same hues. Encourage them to match the red stickers to the red paper. For older children, write the name of the color on white paper and ask your child to match the stickers to the right area (red stickers under the word “RED,” for example).
- Take two shallow bowls or cake pans and put a small number of dried beans in one and a smaller number of beans in another. Ask your child to guess (without counting!) which bowl has more. Make this activity more difficult by using beans and grapes, or very similar numbers of beans in both bowls. This activity helps your child recognize numerical equivalency between two sets
- Fill a roasting pan with a few pounds of uncooked rice, and cover the floor with a sheet for easier clean up. Give your child sand toys to explore in the rice. Hide small objects in the rice and ask them to find the treasures, or drive toy cars through the rice to see how they roll differently than on floors.
- With every push on the swings, whisper in your child’s ear an animal and have him call out what sound that animal makes. Then reverse the process and make the animal noises, asking him to call out the animal name.
- Use a piece of chalk to write the numbers 1-5 on pavement and draw a circle around each number. Give your child a bucket of ice and ask her to throw one ice cube in the circle marked 1, two cubes in the circle marked 2, and so forth. Count out loud to help her associate the number with the quantity of ice cubes!
- Make healthy cookies by combining two ripe bananas with one cup of oatmeal. Ask your child to peel the bananas and add them to the bowl one at a time, and pour in the cup of oatmeal. Add goodies like raisins or chocolate chips (count them one by one!) before baking at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
- Use words such as “rotate,” “flip,” and “move” when solving puzzles or when playing with blocks or Legos. Your use of spatial vocabulary when playing with these toys helps your child recognize that a square is still a square when turned onto a point, for example.
- Teach your toddler about momentum by racing toy cars, balls, and other rolling objects down a playground slide. Vary the size of the objects (tennis balls vs. soccer balls, for example) to see which ones roll faster!
- Collect pine cones of varying sizes and ask your child to line them up according to size. Encourage her to make observations about the pine cones (what shape are they? what tree did they come from? which ones are heaviest?) and record them in a science journal.
- Take your child’s lead and improvise with his toys. Pretend a stuffed cat is a dinosaur and make it roar. Turn a circular block and spin it like a top. Help him see his old toys in new ways!
- Point out vehicles you see around town and talk about which ones are big, bigger, and biggest. A parked tractor becomes a lesson when you point out the big wheels and the little wheels, and how the deep grooves in the tires help give it traction on uneven ground.