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Fun Activities for Toddlers

6 Simple, Inexpensive Activities for Young Kids

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If you've ever bought your toddler a gift, you've already discovered that young kids are often happier to play with the box than the toy inside. Before you spend your little one's college tuition on elaborate backyard equipment, electronic toys, or piles of playthings, consider these inexpensive options for fun toddler activities. Most of the things you'll need are already around your home.

The Laundry

socks
SXC.hu
Young toddlers are not able to be of much help doing the laundry. Although they are experts at messing up the neat piles of t-shirts you just built. Just go with it. If nothing else, having a little fun with the socks and towels before you actually have to fold them will keep you laughing. One way to turn laundry day into fun times: gather your fresh-from-the-loads into one or more bags and then dump them onto a clean floor. Your toddler is sure to take it from there. One of the best pictures I have of my youngest is him giggling with a dish towel a top his head. As your child gets older, you can use laundry time to introduce colors (let's put all the red clothes in this pile) and size (look at your sock next to Daddy's!). Around her third birthday, she may even be ready to start sorting clothes herself and will be thrilled to play mommy's helper.

Cornmeal

cornmeal sand play
M. Hegarty
Nursery school teachers can tell you about the benefits of playing with sand. They could also tell you about how messy it can get. It's not usually something that moms or educators recommend as an indoor activity. But it can be. Just make a few modifications to the traditional ways of sand play. The first thing to change is the sand. Cornmeal is a great alternative for three reasons:
  1. If your toddler puts it in her mouth, you don't have to worry that she's consuming dirt since cornmeal is edible (although not palatable...your child will likely quickly spit out anything that goes into her mouth).
  2. It's easier to clean up than sand because it doesn't cling. Just brush it off clothes and clean it up with a hand vacuum.
  3. You can stock up on cheap bags of cornmeal on your weekly grocery run.

Dump it into baking pans, add some child friendly cups, spoons, and containers along with items that can be hidden in the cornmeal. In addition to building tactile awareness, filling and dumping the fine cornmeal introduces early math concepts.

Cups

toddler with cups
P. Burns
This one, I found out about accidentally. I was cleaning up after my older son's birthday party and I walked in on my toddler happily entertaining himself in the kitchen with a stack of plastic drinking cups we hadn't used. He spread them out, stacked them up, tipped them over, filled them with odds and ends from around the house and generally delighted himself for an hour while I tidied up. Little did he suspect that his little game was allowing him to learn about smaller/larger, experiment with the laws of physics, and build fine motor skills.

Pillows

pillows
sxc.hu
If you want to put get your child in giggles, throw a bunch of pillows on the floor and let him at them. Turning everyday objects like pillows into playthings offers the perfect "surprise" to delight young children. You can also give his gross motor skills a work out. Build a pyramid that he can topple over, lay them flat and let him run and flop, show him how to balance them against one another to crate a little "clubhouse," let him pick them up and toss them in the air or into your face, and then collapse for a little rest (but don't expect him to rest for long).

Food Containers

tupperware
PriceGrabber
In the midst of all your babyproofing, consider setting aside a closet that is a safe haven for your toddler. My freezone is in the kitchen and it's filled mostly with Tupperware (compare prices) and other plastic storage containers that my toddler can pull out, toss around, and pretend to cook with as I make dinner.

Junk Mail

junk mail
sxc.hu
In the spirit of reduce, reuse, recycle, your toddler will be happy to do her part. Magazines you'll never read, credit card solicitations with bright-colored cards, perforated rip-off cards, envelopes of every size, shape, and color -- it may all be garbage to you, but to your toddler it's a load of thrills. By age 2, my daughter was a collector of catalogs. She felt special when we handed her "mail" to her each day and she loved to pretend that she was reading through the "news." The downside of this simple game is that young children can become attached to particular papers and books that seem meaningless to you. Be sensitive to this attachment before you just toss out any papers that are laying about. From the start, try to emphasize that the mail you're giving her is "just for today." If she expects it to go away at the end of the day, you'll be better able to avoid a tantrum that might erupt when you throw out that oh-so-precious flyer from the local beauty salon.

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