Activities to try with items you already own and adore.
A lot of us aren’t used to entertaining our kids all day every day. They go to daycare, or spend sections of time with relatives, babysitters, music teachers, etc. Travel-bans and shelter-in-place orders are making it so that we can’t take our children out of the home to entertain them at places like the movies, the playground, and the zoo.
We are all looking for new ways to keep them busy, for our sanity and theirs, and we don’t want to lose any of the progress they may have made academically, so we need to keep activities in mind that have an element of educational material.
- Letter Recognition. While the whole alphabet may be too much for some kids, it’s important for them to start to be exposed to the letters that make up the whole world around them. Generally, I like to start with the letters in the name of the child, and then maybe a pet, before expanding to all words.
2. Letter Blending. After learning a few letters, what they look like, and what sounds they make, children can learn about letters that make different sounds when they are together, like the “ph” sound in phone. It’s a great idea to start exposing them to this idea early, even if they can’t completely grasp the concept yet. We wrote the word “BLIP” because that was the name of a storybook we had been extra into lately.
Many children will be able to recognize the letter shapes before they can write them. Our daughter does a great job of finding every C in her environment, but can’t quite control a pencil.
3) Tracing Boards. Tracing boards help to bridge the gap between recognizing letters and being able to use them. They often come with child-sized pencil-shaped styluses to be used for tracing, or can be filled with sensory materials like rice, beans, flower petals, etc.
4) Fine Motor. In addition to learning to write the correct shapes of letters, it’s important to let children practice holding a pen and learning how they can move their hands to make lines while still maintaining control.
5) Practicing the Shapes. After kids learn to write, they will be able to start reproducing the shapes with other elements. M is a bit too big to be a considered a toddler, but he showed so much patience in turning these rice grains into his name that I had to share.
6) Learning the Sounds. Some rhyming words are spelled the same, and some are not. In this activity, W told me the names of her rhyming words from the pictures, we spelled them together, and then she circled the parts that were the same so that she could see that rhyming words generally are spelled the same near the end.
Beyond writing letters, other activities help to create solid fine motor foundations, and it’s important to remember that foam letters can be used for other activities too.
7) Painting. Painting is so rewarding for children. Using different sorts of brushes, paints, and surfaces will expand this activity and keep it exciting as well. I try to give C a purpose when she’s paining, rather than just piling up papers with toddler-art. If you’re worried about children eating the paint, try a food safe version like the one mentioned in my baby quarantine activities post with yogurt and food coloring.
8) Color Names & Recognition. Almost all items in your child’s environment have a color. You can talk to them about it whenever you see the opportunity, and they will start to tell you what colors they see pretty quickly.
9) Shape Names and Recognition. Just like colors, it’s important to let your child start to learn shapes. We use puzzles, foam, felt, and all sorts of other activities to talk to the baby about her shapes. So far, Squares are her favorite
10) Expand Understanding of Shapes. After learning about the 2D shapes in the world around them, kids can learn how to put those shapes together to create 3D structures.
11) Try New Things. Especially as the food that we would normally be buying from the grocery store becomes unavailable due to over-shopping, we can use this time to due food experiments with our children. Sometimes even changing the shape of the food can throw children for a loop, so it’s important to be patient with them.
12) Let Them Help. I know it isn’t always feasible, but when we can it’s great to let them get involved with the food preparation process. It’s such an easy way to teach math and chemistry as they get older, and they get to use their creativity.
13) Share With Them. Especially if they got to be a part of the prep, children love a good tea party. They can bring all their stuffed friends and use child sized, fancy plates, none of which they are necessarily allowed to do on an average day. I saw one blog post from a dad who treats his tea-parties with his daughter as kingdom planning sessions, and talks to her (as if she was the queen) about how she would problem solve and cooperate with the people in her community.
14) Build Together. Indoor forts are great too, but we followed some CDC quarantine protocol by taking out play outside for a while and built a teepee. Right now, it looks a little bare, but as the weather warms up plants will grow up the sides, like a trellis, and C will be able to better hide inside the fort.
15) Plant. We started things inside, and I’m glad we did because we got 6 inches of snow a few days later. C has been excitedly waiting to see sprouts in our trays, and diligently reminding me to water them. When the snow melts again, we will be able to move some of the plants outside and spend all of our time in the garden.
16) Hike. I expected this to go a lot worse than it did. I didn’t give my child enough credit and assumed that I would have to carry her by the time we got half-way to the destination, and the whole way back. She rocked it though, and even decided to extend the activity herself by collecting rocks, acorns, and leaves that we used to do other projects when we returned home, and talked about while we hiked.
17) Climb. My child loves to climb, run, jump, roll, and basically do everything that expends some of her energy. We’ve been working on our natural playspaces outside so that she has room to do all of the above, and we are so glad that we’ve already started now that playgrounds seem like dangerous places to be.
18) Discuss Weather. Rain or snow doesn’t mean your child should stay inside, it means that you should talk to them about how to properly dress themselves for the elements. My child loves to wear her boots to jump in mud puddles, and carry an umbrella to keep her head dry. Kids benefit so much from being outside, even when its hard as a parent to want to sit through the rain or snow.
19) Gross Motor Skills. Like jumping, rolling, etc. Throwing and catching get children using their entire bodies, coordinating their arms and their eyes, and focusing on a specific task. We love to play ball, whether it be rolling, kicking, or throwing.
20) Clean up & Check for Ticks. Especially now we need to instill in our children the importance of good hygiene. Telling C that we are checking for ticks has helped her understand, and even sometimes remind us, that it’s something that needs to happen every day. Besides, she LOVES bath time.
21) Read Some Stories. I’m not going to get into all of the benefits of reading with children, so just trust me when I tell you that they are pretty much endless. If you’re tired of the books you have now and can’t get more from your local library, check out some of the authors reading their stories on YouTube during these difficult times.
22) Read Some More Stories. When we are done reading by ourselves, we share the stories we enjoyed with some of our animals. Who wouldn’t get a kick out of reading a book about a cat, to a cat?
23) Take Care of Your Pets. We have a lot of pets, more than most people. Christina spends time with all of them, which is developing a great sense of responsibility for her.
24) Talk About Your Pets. As a 4H youth, one of your main events every year is a public presentation. SO MANY kids do their presentation on their pet, and its easy to see why. Talking about pets allows kids to feel a sense of pride, and encourages the pets to be friendly and cooperative. It also gives children a chance to talk about their responsibility to their pet, verifying it to themselves.
25) Let Them Mimic You. In addition to trying to do a million educational activities with my little one, i’m trying to use this time to get some projects done around the house. We planted trees, then built a fence and a compose bin to help us care for them. C also tried to build a fence, with her rainbow blocks.
26) Pretend Play. Pretend play has so many possibilities, and gives children a great chance to mimic their caregivers and figure out how to act in certain situations, and exposes them to the vocabulary of specific situations. C got to help her Daddy put up some shelves, and she had a great time doing it for herself for the rest of the day.
27) Learning Life Skills. In addition to doing all of our construction projects, we’ve been doing pretty extensive disinfecting. For toys, I soaked them in warm water with vinegar, so that there were no toxic chemicals sitting on the surface if Christina decided to put them in her mouth, though she seems mostly past that stage. She loved helping me put them in the bucket, and then stirring them around to make sure that they all got soaked.
28) Togetherness. At the end of the day, this time in our lives doesn’t need to be scary to the children, even though it’s scary to us. I’ve seen parents call it a reset, and note how they now have time to teach things that they otherwise wouldn’t, like sewing on a button or tilling a garden. C doesn’t seem to have noticed that there is too much different going on in the world, except for the fact that mom & dad have been spending extra time at home. We’ve been holding her a little extra tight and snuggling a bit tighter. We hope you and your family get to spend the same quality time.
Let us know how you are spending your quarantine time with your family through our Facebook. IG, email or dropping a comment below. Good luck to everyone in these trying times, and let’s all keep washing out hands.