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.