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Creative Activities to Do with Your Toddler or Preschooler

Updated on December 17, 2014
Image credit: http://www.brillbaby.com/teaching-baby/math/the-flash-method.php
Image credit: http://www.brillbaby.com/teaching-baby/math/the-flash-method.php

Are you looking for educational activities you can do with your babies, toddlers, and preschoolers? We all want the smartest and the happiest children and grandchildren possible. Below you will find some practical suggestions that I have used with my children from their earliest ages to attain this goal. This is part 3 in a 3 part series on this topic. Go to Creative Activities to Do with Your Baby or Toddler to see part 2 of the series.

I will cover the following in this post (part 3 of a 3 part series):

What About Play Time?, TV Time, Children and Exercise, Structured Learning, Adding in a New Baby, Teaching Math, Car-Schooling, Busy Schedules: Fitting It In, and In Conclusion

What About Play Time?

A midst all this, did I ever let my oldest son play? Definitely! Play time is a very valuable time for children to develop their creativity. Just as a quick note, there's been a lot of research done on toys and their effect on creativity and intelligence. In general, toys that do not require batteries tend to develop children's creativity quite a bit more than toys with batteries. Look for toys that encourage unstructured, imaginative play like blocks, dolls, Lego's, and balls. Better yet is to not have any toys at all. Hand a child some sticks, boxes, and kitchen utensils and watch their creative little minds take off. We're not there yet. I have a house full of toys, but I am quite selective in the toys that we keep.

If I Could Only Own 4 Toys Sets, They Would Be...

We have owned all of these items for over 5 years. My children continue to play with them time and time again. They are durable and they foster creativity. If I added a 5th toy set, it would be the bug-themed instrument set, B. Parum Pum Pum Drum .

If you could only have one toy set for your family, what type would it be?

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Image credit: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=kids-under-2-should-not-watch-television
Image credit: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=kids-under-2-should-not-watch-television

TV Time

While we're on the topic of stimulating play time, I do want to briefly mention one thing: TV. I know. I can hear you groaning already. There is a lot of research that has been done of the effect that TV has on children. It's actually scary how detrimental it actually is to the development of babies' brains that pediatricians across the board recommend that babies and toddlers under the age of two do not watch any television. If you'd like to read more, you can go to this brief article posted at www.huffingtonpost.com.

Children and Exercise

We also spent a lot of play time at the park. Research has show that physical exercise does not only make your child strong, but it also makes your child smart! Exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain and builds new brain cells. Exercise is good for adults' mental sharpness, but it has a more long-lasting effect on your kid's still-developing brain. Play time can also be a great time to build your child's confidence. If you go to the park with me, you'll notice I'm not the type of mom that follows my child around holding my arms up and giving my baby a boost as she climbs the steps. It's not because I'm lazy. I want my children to learn to resolve problems on their own. I want them to sometimes struggle a bit and try harder. It will boost their spirit and strengthen their confidence. In the future, they'll know how to have the courage to read a more difficult book, perform in front of people, and do physical feats.

Image credit: http://www.thecraftycrow.net/2008/07/post-8.html
Image credit: http://www.thecraftycrow.net/2008/07/post-8.html

More Structured Learning

When my oldest son was 3 1/2, I felt like he could start learning more formally, so I found a free kindergarten curriculum on-line that had a Montessori feel to it, and I decided to follow it. I did not use a curriculum that focused on writing and reading. I think those skills can be more easily taught at a later age. I wanted to develop his curiosity and his love for learning. Since I knew I would be lazy and not do all the "fun" projects for just my son, I invited over a couple neighborhood friends for bi-weekly educational play dates. We studied continents and read their folk tales and learned about their animals. We made Japanese crafts, drank sweetened green tea, and ate sticky rice with chopsticks. We read about plant parts and pulled up weeds to look at the roots. We planted a garden and then cooked dishes using the vegetables and herbs we grew. We mixed colors and discussed primary and secondary colors. We studied Georgia O'Keffe and used pastels to draw wildflowers up close. We watched carnations change color as they sucked up water with food coloring. We read about weather and filled cotton balls with water to then have them "rain." We watched as the hot air above a light bulb created wind that caused baby power to dance up into the air, and we baked snowball cookies. I've asked my oldest son about some of the activities we did, and he remembers very little of it. What he did learn, though, was that learning is fun. It created a curiosity in him and gave him the desire to learn more. That taught me that it's more important how you teach than it is what you teach! I have posted links to a number of the lessons we did at under the Preschool/Kindergarten Heading at Fun, FREE Hands-On Unit Studies Hub or Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies Blog .

Adding in a New Baby

At the point that we started our educational play dates, my second child was born. By the time he was crawling around, he wanted to participate with whatever we were doing. There are so many wise moms out there who have said over and over again, "Involve your babies in everything you do!" Don't wait for nap time to do all the school work. My second son would sit in my lap as we read stories. He loved to do anything we were doing that involved crayons, glue, or food. Yes, sometimes the crayons and glue were also viewed as food. They're non-toxic, so that was okay. He is now bright, inquisitive, and creative, and I credit some of that to the time he has spent learning with his older brother from such an early age.

Do You Have a Baby Right Now?

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Teaching Math Formally

When my oldest son was 4, I decided it was time to formally teach him math. In order to fill out the workbooks, he had to write. He's a boy. Writing requires manual dexterity, which comes with age, and it usually comes a lot later with boys. I decided it wasn't worth it to struggle with writing. Instead of agonizing over making him write in workbooks, I bought games. Flashcards are fun. Sum Swamp is even better. It has 2 die with numbers and a die with plus and minus signs. My oldest son loved the game and was able to add and subtract within a few days of us buying the game. Since then I've bought other games from the same company, Learning Resources, and we love them. Our other 2 favorites are Money Bags and Dino Math Tracks. My oldest son, who is currently 10, still enjoys playing them even today. We have lots of other board games we played when he was a toddler. High-Ho Cheerio teaches counting. Candy Land teaches colors. Memory teaches memory. Guess Who teaches deduction.

Our Favorite Math Concept Board Games

Be sure to look for other games created by Learning Resources such as Money Bags and Dino Math Tracks. Don't forget games like Candy Land (which teaches colors), Memory (which encourages memory recall), and Guess Who (which teaches deduction).

Hi Ho Cherry-O Game (Amazon Exclusive)
Hi Ho Cherry-O Game (Amazon Exclusive)

This is one of my children's favorite games when they are very young. It teaches them to count, is fun to play, and is a relatively quick game.

 
Learning Resources Sum Swamp Game, 8 Pieces
Learning Resources Sum Swamp Game, 8 Pieces

This is my favorite game for my preschoolers, and they love it too! It had 2 dice with numbers and then a die with plus and minus signs. In order to move across the board, your child has to add or subtract the two numbers on the dice. It also includes even/odd spaces that introduce that concept as well. This is what I use to teach my children addition and subtraction.

 
Image credit: http://almostunschoolers.blogspot.com/2011/02/paper-plate-protractor-craft-for-sir.html
Image credit: http://almostunschoolers.blogspot.com/2011/02/paper-plate-protractor-craft-for-sir.html

Math and Living Books

In addition to games, we also read a lot of picture books that teach math concepts. There are so many great titles out there with fabulous illustrations that make them interesting enough to read to even a 2 year old. My favorites are books by Cindy Neuschwander, like the Sir Cumference series. No, I don't think my 2 year old is going to be able to find the area of a circle or determine the difference between acute and obtuse angles, but I'm being reminded of those terms as I read along and can incorporate them into our conversations. Later when we come across those terms in math, all I have to say is, "Remember those "Obtuse Mountains" and "Cute" house tops from that book?"

Our Favorite "Living" Math Book Authors

Our top favorite 4 authors for picture books that teach math concepts are Cindy Neuschwander (who is our absolute favorite with the Sir Cumference series), Loreen Leedy, Julie Ellis (with books like "What's Your Angle, Pythagoras?"), and Masaichiro Anno (with books such as "Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar").

Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (A Math Adventure)
Sir Cumference and the First Round Table (A Math Adventure)

I LOVE Cindy Neuschwander's books, particularly her Sir Cumference series, which introduces elementary-level math concepts in a fun medieval knights setting. My children love listening to these books when they are about 3 years old (because they love knights, princesses, dragons, etc.). As they get older and actually come across the math concepts that were introduced to them in these books, they do not struggle learning them because they were explained so well (and in such a memorable manner) in the books.

 
Measuring Penny (Rise and Shine)
Measuring Penny (Rise and Shine)

Loreen Leedy has a series of fun picture books that introduce preschool/early elementary-level math concepts. My children especially love them because they always have a pet involved in the story.

 

Car-Schooling

One other area I wanted to address is time in the car. We spend hours each week driving all around to the store, library, lessons, etc. That is a great time for teaching! We have numerous CD's we've been listening to since my oldest son was a toddler. Classical Kids has great CD's on the lives and music of classical composers. The World's Greatest Stories by George Sarris have the Bible word-for-word read in a fun, dramatized manner. The Teach Me [foreign language: Spanish, Japanese, Italian, etc.] series has fun songs sung in English and then in the foreign language. Mr. Henry's Wild and Wacky Bible Stories include Bible stories told in a very entertaining manner and always have an appropriate application. When your children get older (around age 4 1/2 or 5), the Jonathan Park series is awesome as it teaches a Biblical view of science, math, and art in a dramatized manner. (My 2 year old begs for us to listen to Jonathan Park, so I guess it's even appropriate for even younger children.) Focus on the Family Radio Theater also has some fun-to-listen-to dramatized stories on CD.

My Favorite Audio CD's

We love listening to the composer series from Classical Kids, the dramatized Bible series by George W. Sarris and by Frank Peretti (Wild & Wacky Totally True Bible Stories), and the Teach Me series for foreign language learning. Our family's absolute favorite audio series is the Jonathan Park series which is a fun dramatized series that teaches science, history, math, and more from a Christian worldview. It's most appropriate for ages 5+, though even my 3 year old requests that we listen to it. Don't forget to also look for the Teach Me series for foreign language learning!

What do you mainly use to entertain your children while in the car?

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Image credit: http://sushiandpizza.blogspot.com/2010/06/funny-thing-1-stories-and-thing-2-story.html
Image credit: http://sushiandpizza.blogspot.com/2010/06/funny-thing-1-stories-and-thing-2-story.html

Name 3 Game

Another activity we do when we're driving in the "Name 3" game. When my oldest son was younger, I'd ask him to name 3 farm animals, colors, plants, etc. As he got older, he'd name 3 things that fly, 3 animals found in Africa, or 3 things he enjoyed doing that day. We would take turns. I would ask him to name 3 of something and then he would ask me to name 3 of something. Basically, driving time can still be teaching time.

Image credit: http://fun.families.com/blog/hi-ho-cherry-o-a-classic-counting-game
Image credit: http://fun.families.com/blog/hi-ho-cherry-o-a-classic-counting-game

Limited Time: Do It Once a Week

I know some of you are working part-time or have other items on your plate that make you think there's just not time in the day to do any of this. Now that I have 5 children, I don't feel like there are enough hours in the day. Instead of doing some things every day, we do them once a week. I've tried numerous family traditions, and the one that I think we'll keep until my kids are all grown and gone is assigning each child a night of the week. That's when they get an extra 10-30 minutes with just my husband and myself after everyone else has been put to bed. We can do whatever they want. Unusually we play board games. That's the one night I put on a puppet show for my baby and toddler. My preschooler's night is the only night High-Ho Cheerio and Candy Land get pulled out. My second oldest son loves building things, whether they're balsa wood kits or erector sets. My oldest son loves strategy board games and chess. You can do that too with educational activities. Pick one night a week or even a day that you'll spend 20-30 minutes doing something educational with your child. You can even set the timer. Your child will love it. You'll be stimulating his or her brain, and you'll be creating wonderful memories.

What's Your Child/Grandchild's Favorite Activity to Do with You?

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Image credit: http://footage.shutterstock.com/clip-2405138-stock-footage-happy-family-father-mother-and-baby-playing-at-sunset-silhouettes.html
Image credit: http://footage.shutterstock.com/clip-2405138-stock-footage-happy-family-father-mother-and-baby-playing-at-sunset-silhouettes.html

In Conclusion

I want you to be encouraged to stimulate your children in learning from as early an age as you can. Read with them, sing with them, involve them in your everyday activities, spend time with them, and take every opportunity you can to make their daily activities educational even from the simplest tasks you may be involved in. Who knows? Maybe in the process you'll even start enjoying classical music too!

Looking for more of my posts on what to do with your babies, toddlers, and preschoolers?

Taming Toddler Tornadoes
Taming Toddler Tornadoes
  • Creative Activities to Do with Your Baby - Are you looking for educational activities you can do with your baby? We all want the smartest and the happiest children and grandchildren possible. I have included some practical suggestions that I have used with my children from their earliest ages to attain this goal. This is Part 1 in a 3 part series.
  • Creative Activities to Do with Your Baby or Toddler - Are you looking for educational activities you can do with your baby or toddler? We all want the smartest and the happiest children and grandchildren possible. I have included some practical suggestions that I have used with my children from their earliest ages to attain this goal. This is Part 2 in a 3 part series.
  • Homeschooling Preschool and Kindergarten - Are you considering homeschooling but don't know where to start? Do you have a preschooler who is eager to learn but you have no idea what to teach or how? Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the options? I have laid out what I do to homeschool my children when they are ages 3-5 and have also included my favorite resources for preschool and kindergarten learning.
  • Taming Toddler Tornadoes: What to Do with Toddlers and Babies While You Need to Focus on Other Activities or Children - Are you homeschooling older children and you have a baby and/or toddler at home as well? I currently have three school age children along with a preschooler, toddler, and baby. A question I get a lot from homeschooling families is, "What in the world do you do with your toddler and/or baby?" Read below to find out what I do to keep my babies and toddlers busy and happy while still covering algebra, sentence diagramming, dissections, and more with the older set.
  • Training Your Child to Sit in Church - My children sit in church with us each Sunday. They sing and pray with us and listen to the sermon. Many families have asked, "How in the world do you do that?" That's why I'm writing this. Let me clarify that I am not writing this to explain why we keep our children in church with us. I am writing this to explain how we keep our children in church with us.
  • Getting My Children to Ask for Violin Lessons - The violin is my favorite instrument. Even Albert Einstein agreed: "A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy." Convincing my children of that, however, isn't the easiest task...especially when drum sets sound their siren call from their earliest age. Find out below what I have done and continue to do to lull my children into sharing my love of this stringed instrument.
  • Bible Verses Set to Music - Are you looking for fun and easy ways for you and/or your children or students to memorize Bible verses? I want my children to hide the word of God in their hearts. What better way to do this than to have them listen to fun songs with words that are. On this page you will find some of the best CD's out there to do this.

Any More Tips to Add? - Or just leave a note to let me know you dropped by! I love getting feedback from you!

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