As a stay at home mom (and former teacher), my main concern with my toddler (aside from basic necessities like eating and sleeping) often has to do with his development. I often ask myself, is he developmentally on track and am I doing enough to help him achieve developmental goals? After almost two years at home with him, and a discussion with my aunt who is a social worker specializing in working with young children, I have some basic learning activities up my sleeve that I know help my toddler.
I am 100% not an expert, so please if you have any questions, consult your pediatrician or at the very least use this handy milestones site from the Center for Disease Control.
First, you have to know the types of skills you are hoping to work on with your toddler:
- Gross Motor Skills – These are the movements that occur in big muscle groups like walking, running, kicking, throwing, climbing, and jumping.
- Fine Motor Skills – These are the smaller muscle movements like using their fingers and hands (pincer grasp anyone?).
- Cognitive skills – These are basic thinking and problem-solving skills like matching and sorting.
- Verbal skills – These are the talking skills or responding to your verbal commands.
- Social/Emotional Skills – These are their abilities to interact with others and respond to others.
- Self Help Skills – These are their abilities to take care of themselves.
The next thing to know is that most of the activities I listed below fit into SEVERAL categories. I just have them listed in the skill set that it most matches. Finally, this list contains activities that are free or super low cost. Enjoy trying some or all of these!
Find your activity:
Gross motor skills
- Play fetch with the dog (or cat)
- chase your toddler around the house or backyard
- practice stairs at the park on a jungle gym
- make a play obstacle course at home
Fine motor skills
- stack blocks (or shoeboxes if you have them lying around)
- building legos (I like Mega Blocs because my toddler won’t choke on them)
- use pipe cleaners to lace Cheerios and make edible jewelry
- use pipe cleaners to lace through the holes in your pasta strainer
- Play hide and seek with a small object like a ball or pacifier by placing the object under a cup and having your child find the item
- get on all fours and drive toy cars/trains around the house. Toddlers also enjoy cars/trains being driven up their own legs and arms (or your mama!) make sure to throw in some “beep beep” or “choo-choo” noises.
- Match objects to their picture. I draw basic shapes on paper and point out those shapes in everyday life. For example, draw a circle, and go around the house or outside pointing out circular things.
- Pretend play with a doll or toy. My son likes to “feed” his toys when sitting at his little table. He also likes giving them kisses before bed.
- Obviously read books, books, and more books. Any kind and all kinds act as learning tools.
- Sing silly songs with hand motions. My son’s favorites are the Itsy Bitsy Spider and Twinkle Twinkle.
- Play following directions games/songs like Head Shoulders Knees and Toes.
- Get some flash cards (or draw your own, or print off online pictures) and review them by name and/or sound.
Social and Emotional Skills
- The easiest “tool” here is a good old-fashioned play date. Kids learn a lot from interacting with other kids.
- Invest in some toy farm animals. It’s a great way to show how to take care of other creatures by feeding them, petting them, and giving them hugs. Bonus when you use words like please and thank you.
- Let your kid play with Tupperware or pots and pans while you cook. They can pretend to cook along with you. Or if you are really brave, let them cook with you by tossing the salad or mixing things in bowls.
- This one costs money but I see lots of rewards from it. Buy some kind of mini musical instruments like a tambourine or shakers so they can sing along with you and help make music.
- Let your toddler help you clean the house. Give them a broom, or a rag to help dust. It’s amazing how much my toddler LOOOOVES to “play” clean up.
- Let your toddler brush your (and their own) hair with a hairbrush. Let them try making their own ponytail. They can also practice on dolls or other toys. Same thing with a toothbrush or washcloth.
- Get some cups and spend some time at the kitchen sink or refrigerator water spout area. Let your toddler fill up their own cups and experiment with drinking on their own or dumping water on their own. Make sure to have towels handy because this gets pretty wet.
- Make bubbles at the bathroom sink while washing hands. This helps them to learn/enjoy the act of washing hands by themselves. It’s really easy too, just suds up your hands, make a fist and then turn that fist into an O shape and blow.