This year, as we all desperately search for a little positivity, many of us are starting our Christmas celebrations a little early. Trees are going up, lights are twinkling, cupboards are filling up with yumminess and your little ones are beginning to sense that something special is going on.
We've put together ten of our favourite ideas for activities you can do at home over the next few weeks with your under twos to bring a little Christmas magic into their lives as we wait for the 'big day' ....
1. Festive Treasure Basket
For a multi-sensory play time, gather a collection of Christmassy bits and pieces such as ribbons, unbreakable baubles, tinsel, clean pine cones, bells, shiny paper, bows etc and offer them in a container for your little one to explore one by one and collectively. The more senses you can address, the better. When putting the collection together, obviously be aware of choking hazards and always supervise when they are playing.
2. Scrunchy Tummy Time
If you're trying to get some presents wrapped, set aside a roll for your little wriggly one. Lay a big sheet out on the floor, rough it up a bit first and let them kick, scrunch and roll! This is great for gross motor skills in babies around
3-6 months also makes a different way for them to explore cause and effect as they explore what their movements result in.
3. Stack and (un)wrap
Save a few of the million delivery boxes you've got piling up - Small + Bright boxes also work well ;) and wrap them in Christmas paper. Young babies not yet sitting can be encouraged to roll and reach for the bright shapes which are on a bigger scale than most toys. Older babies will enjoy discovering how to pick at the paper and find a way to rip it off. Toddlers can experiment with stacking and knocking down - who doesn't love a bit of tower tumbling? (especially when it's teaching very early physics!)
4. Matching game
Gather a collection of Christmassy objects of which you have two of each type. Of course, avoid any items which are unsafe such as breakable decorations or objects with small parts. Divide the collection into two halves, one for you, one for your child and take turns asking "have you got a ... like me?". This is a lovely simple way to encourage your young toddler to concentrate; as it involves concrete objects it is easy for them to understand the concept of 'same/different' and they are learning new vocabulary at the same time!
5. Seasonal Scents
If you have a few old spice jars, they are ideal for this activity. If not, use any containers and make a lid with holes in the top out of paper/foil. Add different seasonal smells to each jar (try orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pine needles, vanilla ...). Depending on the age of your child, either just let them sniff and compare or make two of each and ask them to match without looking at the contents. Refining the senses in ways like this is seen as perfect preparation for encouraging exploratory play.
6. Winter Clothes Basket
This is a lovely simple activity to leave out for your little one to explore independently once you have given an initial explanation. Put together a small collection of gloves, mittens, socks, hats and scarves and encourage your little one to examine each item, teach them the names, help them to identify where we wear each one and how to put them on. For older toddlers, you can introduce language to encourage awareness of warm and cold and reinforce this when you are inside and outside.
7. Mystery Stocking
Most little ones from about ten months spend lots of time putting objects in and out of containers. Not only is this great for motor skill development, it is also their way of finding out about size and space and also the notion that something still exists even when you can't see it. So, for older babies, put a few familiar items in a stocking for them to feel without looking and guess what they are. For younger babies, they will be happy pulling things out and trying to return them. They will probably want to do this over and over again; this kind of repetitive play is the number one way babies learn, with each repetition acting as a reinforcement of the connections they are gradually making in their brain.
8. Sensory Baking
If you're doing any baking in the lead up to Christmas, try making a little dough for your little chef to play with whilst you're getting on with the mince pies. Just give them a spare lump of dough, sprinkle some flour on the table top, add a few star cutters and wooden tools and they have a wonderful snowy scene to get their fingers squeezing, pulling and patting. Not only will they be building strength in their hands, this will also show them that you respect them as part of the family so much that they are able to take part in what they consider a 'grown up' job.
Here's another one to re-use all of those delivery boxes (these ones are especially lovely!). Cut different sized slots and holes in a selection of boxes and lay them out around your child on the floor. Find a collection of toys or other familiar items which are very obviously different sizes. Show your little one how to try to fit an item into a box, testing out a few of the holes you have made and using simple size related words, eg "too big"/"too small". Then invite them to have a turn. This is such a simple game but is so, so good for making connections about size and space. It is also great to encourage persistence in the belief that if you keep trying you will succeed.
10. Card basket
Collect a few Christmas cards with clear images and place in a basket on your little one's toy shelf where they can reach it independently. They can then choose to explore it when they choose and will be able to study the different images and begin to make sense of what they see. This is just a simple way of allowing your little one to absorb the sight associated with this time of year at their own pace. If your little one is an older toddler, you could also show them how to open the cards and point out that it has words inside and that it has been sent to them by someone special. In this way they are beginning to get the idea that other people think of them when they are not there as well as learning that the marks on the paper have particular meanings.
These are just a few really simple ideas to tailor your little one's play experiences at this time of year, so that they begin to understand that it's a special time which feels different. By including some Christmassy items in their play, they will feel involved in your family celebrations rather than seeing the changes as something that is happening outside of their day to day experience. I hope you find some of these ideas useful (and have fun!).