Staying at home with a toddler during lockdown may just be one of the most challenging things you have ever done. Just as they are reaching the stage when they are desperate to explore their world in more and more detail, your four walls become the limit of their experience.
Without the meet-ups with friends, classes, groups and trips to soft play, the farm or swimming pool, what can you do to keep your little explorer happy, busy and full of wonder? The good news is, your little one's development won't stop just because you can't go out, you just need a bit of planning, a few household items and an acceptance that you are doing your best.....
Read on to discover a few of our favourite toddler activities to do at home. I have divided them up into two sections: activities which need a little preparation and those which you can quickly pull out of the bag for those times when you just need some instant entertainment!
Prepping activities the night before is a good option if your little one is now into a regular bedtime routine. Just a few minutes gathering bits and pieces after dinner, will save frantic moments the following morning. If you're super organised, plan a few days' worth of ideas in advance although it's good to be flexible here depending on your child's particular interests (and mood!) on the day. I've always found it helpful to have a dedicated space to store prepared activities so if you have a spare box, basket or shelf, set it aside in advance. Have a look through the ideas below and choose any that you think your little one would like to have a go at ...
Opening and Closing
Gather three or four containers with lids such as jars, plastic food boxes, bottles or gift boxes. Present them to your
child with the lids on correctly and show them how to remove and replace the lids on one or two before
inviting them to have a go.This will help your little one to gain awareness of shape and size as they try different ways to match up containers with lids. It is also a great way for them to explore how to use their hands in different ways to achieve what they are aiming for.
A quick word about praise here .... instead of saying "Well done" when your child achieves something, think about being more specific and saying something like "You put the lid on!" which will help them to clearly see what they have achieved.
Place a few of your child's favourite toys in a basket, ensuring they have something in common. For example, a car, digger and bus or a cup, bowl and spoon. Use the traditional Montessori 'Three Period Lesson' to teach them the vocabulary associated with these items: First, name each item, one by one ("this is a bus" etc), Second ask them to show you each item ("show me the car"), Thirdly ask them "What is this?", one item at a time. This is such a robust method for teaching new words - by moving through the three stages you will really be able to see your child's understanding. It is definitely worth choosing items your little one is interested in naturally as they are 100% more likely to show an interest and be willing to engage.
You will need a fairly sturdy cardboard box, coloured lolly sticks (or plain ones which you can colour in yourself) and coloured pens.Then cut slots in the base of the box using a sharp knife use the pens to colour a small area surrounding each slot (make sure you use the same selection of colours as you have the lolly sticks in!). Show your little one the sticks and slots, naming the colours with them and demonstrate how to post a stick into the corresponding slot before inviting them to have a go. By attaching actions to the learning in this game, your child will be greatly supported in remembering the colour names as they post each stick. (young children's learning tends to be more successful when they have physical actions to support their memory). In addition, their fine motor skills will be put to the test as they work out how to align, insert and push each stick into the slots with accuracy.
I have never yet met a toddler who doesn't love a few chores! From the age of around 12 months, most children are super keen to replicate everything that you do and household chores seem to be strangely fascinating to toddlers (if only that lasted into adulthood!). So, whenever you need to get something done around the house, think about how you can involve your toddler. A few ideas to try: Squeegee the shower screen, wipe the table, sweep the floor, empty the washing machine, put the shopping away, feeding the pet, making the bed, putting items into the dishwasher .... there are really very few things they can't have a go at as long as you adapt it to be safe and manageable for little hands.
Take a few photos on your phone of objects or places around the house from the angle your child sees them from (depends if they are walking!). For example: bath tap, sofa cushion, a cup in a cupboard etc. Let your child look at the photos, talk about what they see together and then, one by one, ask them to take you to show you where these things are in the house.
This activity is a lovely simple way of extending vocabulary as well as giving your child confidence and self-esteem as they will feel they are leading the game as they take you around the house.
You'll need a medium sized sturdy cardboard box for this one. Cut two holes in one side, big enough for your child to fit an arm in each. Then add a few familiar items into the box (eg toothbrush, ball, banana) and close it up again (or turn upside down) so that your child cannot see what's inside. Invite them to put their hands in and feel one object at a time and guess what it is. Using their sense of touch alone, without the help of seeing an object really helps to refine that sense and take in tiny details of objects to help with categorisation and exploration.
Gather up a few different coloured plates /bowls/sheets of paper and a collection of objects in these colours. Ask your child to place each item on the corresponding place. You can start by demonstrating the idea a few times first, reinforcing what's going on by saying "I'm putting the BLUE car on the BLUE plate" etc. This type of sorting activity serves as an early preparation for maths and numbers as your child begins to understand the concept of grouping. You can use a similar strategy when asking them to help tidy up their toys (eg "bricks in the box, books on the shelf") or getting them to help you put the shopping away.
Find a selection of different types of paper - tissue, greaseproof, old cards, sandpaper, toilet roll, wrapping paper etc and let your little one explore how they scrunch in different ways. Show them how to use both hands to tear the paper into smaller pieces. Provide them with a bucket or bowl to collect their little pieces as they go along. Once you've found a selection of paper, this has got to be one of the easiest games going but will keep your toddler busy for ages. On top of that, they will be doing wonders for their muscles as they explore the different movements needed to tear each different paper type.
Next time you go on a local walk take a bag or bucket with you and encourage your child to collect natural objects they spot along the way such as leaves, sticks, pine cones. You can use these to start a little nature collection at home, building on it each day or, if you have some paints, let your child paint their found items. At this age, children love to paint actual objects rather than paint on paper and they will extend their concentration levels as they have to work out how to move the objects around to get paint onto the different parts.
Mixing it up!
This is a bit of a messy one - you have been warned!
Provide your child with a selection of food ingredients, bowls, spoons, whisks etc and just let them loose! Some of the items to try could include flour, cornflour, custard powder, food flavourings, rice, pasta, water, ketchup, oats - just provide them in small amounts in little pots or bowls. Then just let them get on with experimenting by pouring, stirring, squelching etc. They will be exposed to such a range of textures, smells and sights doing this - the more sensory input the better! This activity is really all about letting their creativity run wild and, as with all Montessori based activities, the learning comes not from any end result, but instead, from the process of 'doing'. Your child will be experimenting with how to manipulate objects and materials, learning about how materials change when combined with others and how they are capable of creating something new.
Cardboard ball chutes
Save up your empty kitchen roll/toilet roll insides and when you have a few tape them to the wall using masking tape and use for posting items through such as craft pompoms, small balls, blocks and anything else your child wants to try. This is great for hand-eye coordination and they also get to explore the idea of size as they try out what fits and what doesn't.
These activities are all super simple and can be thrown together in a few seconds for those times of the day when your little one just needs something different to do right now!
This may not seem like much of an activity to you, but most young children LOVE any type of play involving water! Half fill your washing up bowl with warm water, provide a cloth or sponge, some handwash or soap, a towel and away they go. Whilst they are swishing about, talk to your little one about the different parts of their hands, show them how to access the soap and how to make bubbles. If (or when!) there are spills encourage them to take responsibility by wiping them up themselves. Warm water play is an instantly calming experience if you need some way of distracting your toddler or getting them to settle for a few minutes. Your child will also be learning about self-care which supports their growing emotional development.
Still on the water theme (!) - bath time doesn't have to be just for the evening. If your little one loves playing in the bath, why not use it anytime? Full of bubbles and toys it is a great opportunity to use gross motor movements and take a step away from the normal routine. You don't have to stick to the traditional bath toys - don't overlook how much fun kitchen bowls, sieves, ladles etc can be or why not add some ball pool balls or other waterproof toys? Change the experience by altering the lighting or adding different types of music too!
Let's Pretend - Shopping
All you need for this is the contents of your kitchen cupboard and a shopping bag. Let your child spend time choosing items from the cupboard, arranging them on a surface and talk about what they have chosen together. Then you can act as the customer and ask for a few items to put in your bag before swapping round with your child. Simple stuff really but this comes with so many opportunities for language and, in re-enacting familiar experiences like this, your child is making sense of the day to day experiences they may currently be missing.
Grab some cushions from the sofa, set them out in a line and get your little one stepping from one to another without touching the floor. You can adapt the level of difficulty according to your child's stage of development so that they either have to just take a small step or have to jump from one to another. To extend it further, try taking turns pretending to be different animals (eg Big elephant steps with trunk swinging or hissing snakes wriggling across cushions on their tummies). Key gross motor skills will be supported by this game as your child uses their body in different ways to balance, step and land.
If you have houseplants give your child a small dish of water and cut a small piece of sponge for them to use to wipe the leaves clean. This not only helps them to develop respect for living things by treating them gently and with care but also helps them to develop more control in the muscles of the hands and arms as they learn to squeeze water from the sponge and sweep along the leaves.
If your child has a favourite peg puzzle set it up in two parts - the empty tray in one room, the pieces laid out in another. To complete the puzzle they will have to walk between the two rooms each time they add another piece. The benefit of this is that, as they go from room to room they are having to keep in their mind what piece they are looking for so they are building on their capacity to visualise the properties of objects they can't see. This is best suited to older toddlers approaching the age of two but younger children could do something similar with bricks to build a tower or rings from a stacking toy.
As the title suggests, this is all about exploring spices! Raid your spice rack and sit down with your toddler to explore each one by looking, smelling and shaking. Avoid anything like chilli which could cause a reaction but gentler spices and herbs like nutmeg, mixed spice, oregano, basil, coriander are all great contrasts to explore. This activity is perfect for a few quiet moments and will serve to refine your little one's sense of smell amazingly. All of the senses are seen as crucial in Montessori learning as your child will rarely experience something without using at least one sensory 'clue' to find out about it. So the more experiences your provide to awaken their sensory awareness, the better!
Choose some large hollow pasta from the cupboard (Rigatoni is perfect, Penne a bit too small) and let your child have a go at threading the pasta onto a string. Top tip: Wind some sellotape around one end of the string for the first 4 or 5 centimetres to make it rigid - it will so much easier to poke into the pasta. If this is still too tricky, try threading onto straws to start with. This is another good cooling down game, helping with concentration, perseverance and strengthening of the hands and fingers.
Using masking tape (or similar) tape out a path along the floor. For crawlers or new walkers, keep it as a simple, straight line but for older toddlers be as creative as you like, including bends, curves and spirals! That's it! Your little one has their very own path to walk, run, jump or slide along, practising their balance and exploring how they can control their body to move in different ways. (You could also use this for driving small toy cars along, marching teddy bears etc.)
I hope this has give you at least a few ideas to use at home with your little one. If you've enjoyed any of them, it would be so lovely if you could share your photos either on Instagram or Facebook - you'll find us @smallbrightlearning. As a small, independent business we really do appreciate your comments and feedback. Thank you! Emma xx