About CourtneyI'm a mom who knows that we all want the very best for our kids. We want to give them a good start in life. We want to make the most of each moment we have with our little ones. Explore Raise Up A Learner to find ideas and activities to help prepare your child for their next steps in life.
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Alright, break out your dishcloths, paper towels, sponges and lots of soap. It’s going to get messy in here today!
I hope that you’ve got some extra baby food rolling around in the back of the pantry that your child just never got around to devouring before they fully graduated to table food. If not, you could purchase a package of baby food or use pudding, since it has a similar consistency.
It just so happens that all of our leftover baby food was passed along to younger cousins and I had a couple of boxes of pudding at the top of the cupboard just waiting for a day like today. If I were going to do this again, I wouldn’t use pudding. Read on and you’ll see why. It was just not a good idea for my little man. Pudding might work beautifully for your child, so don’t be afraid to try it!
First you’re going to want to decide where you want to do this. You could spread paper or a plastic table cloth onto your dining room table, or even on the floor. You could let your child explore on the tray of their high chair. You could venture outside if the weather cooperates with you.
We decided to take our child size table outside for this activity. Notice I said “take the table outside.” I did not use a table that lives outdoors, and I wouldn’t recommend that you do that either. This table lives inside and makes an occasional trip outside to see the scenery.
So once you have chosen your area, clean it well. Your child may choose to eat your baby food, and you don’t want them eating whatever was on your table last (play doh, paint, leaky diaper, you just never know!)
Then you’ll want to gather your things. Pull together your baby food and anything needed for clean up, like paper towels and wipes. I took a cup of water outside to aid in cleaning up my kiddo. I planned to just hose off the table when we were finished, since we were outside.
Next, bring your child into the picture and strip them down to their diaper. Clean up will be so much easier with a nearly naked child, and they will be able to experience the sensory activity with more than just their hands if they choose.
Talk to your child about what you are going to do. Explain any rules that you expect them to follow, such as sitting down at the table. Put the baby food in front of them and see how they react.
Since I had both chocolate and vanilla pudding, I decided to use both and see if he would choose to mix the colors together. I gave him pretty generous portions to play with, expecting that he would spread it all over the table. It would be smarter to just start off with a little and add more if needed. Then you’ll have less waste.
If you child is hesitant to touch the baby food, that’s okay. Encourage them by asking them if they want to touch it. Touch it yourself to show them that it’s okay. Let them take their time to get comfortable with the activity. Finger swipes are a good start. They might move on to smearing it across the table, on their belly, in their hair.
My little man started out with just his finger, which made it’s way to his mouth. Soon, he was grabbing handfuls to shove in his mouth.
Remember when my kid was upset about putting the cookies in the oven when we did Toddler-Made Oatmeal Cookies? Don’t you think I should have known better than to give him pudding? Apparently not. Here’s what happened.
I guess pudding is more fun to eat than to smear around. I mean, I’d rather eat pudding than play with it. I guess he’s already got that figured out!
Eventually, we ended it. I cleaned him up, got him dressed and washed the remaining pudding off the tabletop. He now has a love for pudding, but he didn’t get the experience I was aiming for.
As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t do pudding again. I’d go with something that doesn’t have the same appeal as pudding. Maybe green beans 🙂
Now you might be thinking that I’m crazy. You might be thinking that you would NEVER do this with your child. It’s too much mess and what are they really learning anyway?
Oh good, I’m so glad you asked! Toddlers are still developing their language skills. They don’t learn about things just by hearing the words spoken. They probably won’t sit through a 50 minute lecture on the basics of baby food. They learn by touching. By squeezing baby food through their fingers. By tasting and smelling. AND by hearing the words you use while they explore on their own. The trick is in the combination. Just words or just sensory play is not nearly as valuable for your child as both together.
So talk with your child about the baby food that’s caked to their hands. Describe the color and texture and temperature. Compare the smell and taste of the baby food to the food that they’re used to eating. If your baby food is pureed carrots, then talk about the carrots your child ate with dinner last night. (If you’re using pudding, you can talk about milk. Milk is healthy. A bit more healthy than pudding!) Explain that babies don’t have teeth to chew up food the way that they do. Explain that babies have to have soft foods to eat. Tell them about their favorite baby foods. By listening to your words while they experience it for themselves, they will build their own vocabulary.
You can take this activity a step further by adding baby cereal or crushed regular cereal to give it more texture. Try using different foods and allowing your child to taste each one as a creative taste test. With an older child, you can give them creative materials such as chopsticks to draw in the food and make designs. Be sure to take lots of pictures!
Chase is a favorite activity for most toddlers. They love the idea of running with someone else. It’s the beginning of social play and one of the first games they can play.
So why don’t I play chase with my child? Because I want him to learn to come to me, not to run away from me. When it’s time to head home from the library, I want him to agree to leave with me. I don’t like to chase a giggling little boy through the bookshelves week after week. When it’s naptime, I prefer not to chase him though the house while I get frustrated and he thinks we are playing a game. When we are running late and we absolutely HAVE to be out the door RIGHT NOW, I don’t want to listen to his shrieks of joy as he runs away and expects me to chase him. When we are at the mall and he’s feeling particularly feisty, I don’t want him to try to run away in a crowd because he thinks its fun. (Is any of this starting to sound familiar?)
Does that mean that I choose to deprive my child of the joys and benefits of learning to play chase? Absolutely not.
I ask him to chase me instead. He learns to run towards me, and still gets to squeal with excitement. He still gets to learn the structure of a game. He still gets to experience social play. And he’s learning a safer way to do it.
When I initiate the game, I’m going to choose to do it in a safe place. I may just smile and start running, looking over my shoulder to tempt him to follow me. I may grab one of his toys with a pull string and take off, knowing that he’ll be in hot pursuit of a favorite toy. I may try hiding behind the coffee table on the floor and wait for him to come find me before I crawl away, leading to lap after lap of crawling around the coffee table on our knees.
Does mean that we never have moments of running away in the library, on a walk or in the mall? Nope. It sure doesn’t. Something in a toddler’s being just longs to run away and laugh about it. The difference is that I’m not reinforcing it. I’m not laughing while I chase him through the park today and telling him “No” as I chase him through the grocery store tomorrow. He’s not getting mixed messages. When he runs away, he learns that it’s not okay and it’s not safe. Sometimes his impulses still get the best of him, but he is learning, and I think that it is a very valuable lesson.
So the next time your toddler wants you to chase them, think about what you want to teach them!
I know you’re feeling adventurous today! Are you ready to make cookies with your child?
Honestly, this is an activity that’s going to require you to be on your A-game. If you’re not feeling very patient, or if you’re in a hurry, or if you child just isn’t listening very well today, put this activity aside for another time. Choose a time of day when your child is at their best.
My son either wakes up inconsolably grumpy or incredibly happy, so I waited until we reached the end of nap time with an incredibly happy child, when my dinner was already in the oven and I had a full hour to devote my attention to him and this activity. If your day doesn’t look like this today, that’s okay. If you want to truly enjoy the experience, however, please choose a time when you and your child can have fun together. A baking experience that ends in tears is a very sad thing indeed!
So the first thing to do is to decide what recipe you want to use. If you have a great cookie recipe, by all means use that! I chose to go with something a bit healthy, since I knew my kid would be all about eating these cookies when they were finished (actually, he cried when we put them in the oven. He didn’t understand what they were doing in there instead of in his little mouth!) I borrowed the Applesauce Oatmeal Cookies recipe from the Six Sisters Stuff.
Once you have a recipe, get acquainted with it. Really acquainted. This is going to work best if you’re not constantly checking to see what you need to do next. Get your ingredients measured out and placed near your work area, but out of your child’s reach. I chose to measure out and combine all of the ingredients with small quantities into one small bowl, so that we weren’t dumping in a teaspoon of this and a half teaspoon of that. Measured and set aside worked best for us. Did I mention that you want to have your recipe down by now?
Ok, so your ingredients are ready and close by. You almost know the recipe by heart. Now you’ll want to prepare the area. You want your child to be able to reach the surface safely, with the possibility of you stepping away for a second if the need arises (as it did for me!).
I pulled our child sized table into the kitchen, or you could set the bowl on the seat of a kitchen chair, or place your child in their high chair at the table. Whatever surface you choose, take a moment to clean it well, and anything else nearby that your child could touch during this process. While cooking with a toddler isn’t 100% germ proof, you can do what you can to keep nasty stuff out of your cookies, in my opinion anyway.
When you’re ready to start, make sure you wash your child’s hands and your hands well. You just never know when your little angel will decide to dive into the bowl with those precious little hands. Bring your child to the area and start combining the ingredients.
The process of stirring is going to take awhile, so unless it is necessary for the recipe you choose, it’s probably best to just stir it once. Dump in all of your ingredients first. Your child can help with putting in the ingredients (unless you’re using the last egg in the house, in which case, you probably shouldn’t let your child anywhere near that poor, lonely egg!)
It is probably best not to give your child complete control over the dumping process. We used a hand-over-hand method to guide those little fingers in the right direction. That means that I held the container while my son held it as well. I directed the motion of the container as the ingredients were being dumped into the bowl, but he also got to experience the feeling of dumping out a container. Not only does this make him feel like he’s helping, it also helps him to learn to control those fine motor muscles. Describing to your child how to pour out a cupful of flour is difficult. Maybe impossible. Showing them how to do it makes it gives them an idea. Guiding their hand as they do it helps them to learn to do it themselves.
SPOILER ALERT: We had a small issue with our cookie project. My child isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect. Does that make you feel better? 🙂
Remember how I said I thought it was best to measure out all of those small ingredients and dump them into one small bowl for your child to handle? Here is what happened to our small bowl of salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. I was handing it to my kiddo, when he got anxious (probably because dumping stuff into a bowl was so much fun!) and grabbed it from my hand, knocking it onto the table. So much for being organized.
Now, I probably could have scooped that pile back into the little bowl and let him dump it into the cookies, however, I’m a perfectionist. And sometimes, in the heat of the moment, I don’t think very clearly. So I cleaned up the pile of ingredients, took the bowl away from the table and let my son stay at the table while I gathered the ingredients again. It didn’t take very long and we sang a song or two to pass the time. Before he knew it, I was back at the table, holding the bowl and helping him dump the last of our ingredients into our cookie dough.
I’m kind of thankful that there was no video recording while we conducted our cookie experiment. I’m not absolutely positive that I was a stellar parent at the moment that the baking soda hit the table instead of the bowl. But I do know that my frustration was short lived. We cleaned it up, we fixed it and we moved on. The point is that your cookie experiment will probably have a few hiccups as well. Take them in stride, cheer your child up with a smile, a hug, a sing-a-long, and keep going. Your child will take their cues from you, so let them know that it’s okay and that you’re not upset. It will teach them that it’s alright to make mistakes and not to be afraid of the occasional uh-oh moment.
Now that you have all of your ingredients in the bowl, it’s time to start stirring. My son was stoked to get to stir, though he mostly poked at the dough with the spoon. I was clear with him that the spoon had to stay in the bowl, and he did a good job with this. We took turns stirring (because if I’d just let him do it, it would have taken days to get cookie dough!) which was a great challenge for my little boy. He wanted to have all of the turns. You don’t know anyone like that, do you? I’m actually very glad that he had the chance to practice some turn taking. Normally, when we try to practice taking turns at home, he loses interest and moves onto a new toy. In this case, that wasn’t an option. He expressed his frustration, but we kept the turns short and he figured out that he would get another turn in just a few seconds.
Hopefully by now you have everything mixed together AND a happy toddler! We moved to the counter to scoop out our cookies, though we easily could have done it at the small table if I’d been thinking about it.
We used a hand-over-hand method for scooping out the cookies, and my little guy liked being a part of the action.
When you’re ready, stick those cookies into the oven, without your child’s help. Explain to your child that this is not something they can help with. Sometimes there are jobs that only adults can do. If your oven has a window, turn on the oven light and let them peek in, as long as they can’t open the oven door by themselves (OUCH!).
Though you have some clean up to do, remember that your child has just been having fun with you. If you dive right into dishes, they may not understand why they just had your undivided attention and now they do not. Help them transition into a favorite activity before you start cleaning up. Or, snuggle up together with a book while your cookies bake and leave the clean up for later.
When your cookies are ready, let them cool and then sit down to enjoy them together. The moments you share enjoying your cookies together are just as important as the moments you spent making them together. Talk about the steps you took to make the cookies, the ingredients you put in and the time you had to wait while they baked. Reminding them of their experiences will help build their memory of the event.
Take a deep breath and smile. You made it! Tuck away the smiles you saw from your child today so that you can pull them out and savor them on those really tough days 🙂
Are you tired of trying to corral your toddler onto your lap for just one short board book? Try out some of these tips below to grow your child’s love for books!
Choose the Right Book
Classic board books for toddlers are your best bet in the beginning. Look for colorful pictures, textures and few words when selecting a book to read together. Point out the features of the book to your child as you read. Books that identify objects may seem boring to you, but may be very engaging to your child at this age. Touch and feel books are also novel to young toddlers and any book that contains a character or an object that they recognize is a winner!
As your child gets better at sitting for these basic board books, look for more advanced board books. These may include a story that your child can identify with, such as a baby going to visit grandma. Lift the flap books will involve your child in the process and hold their attention.
If you feel like your child needs more than just a board book, feel free to try some short picture books as well. Beware that your child may grab onto those delicate pages, so choose books that could get damaged without much drama or have a conversation about being careful each time you read a picture book.
Length of Book=Length of Attention Span
Short board books are a good place to start with, especially if reading to your child has become an exercise in patience. Work up to reading two or three board books in a row to help stretch your child’s attention span. Continue to slowly increase the length of books you read as your child grows and becomes more able to pay attention.
If you are having success with traditional toddler books, go ahead and move onto picture books. Choose longer picture books if your child can handle them. Each child is different, and their ability to attend to a book will be different as well. Try reading a longer book, such as a book by Dr. Seuss, in two sittings if needed. Once your child becomes familiar with the story, they will be more likely to sit through the entire book at once.
Make it Interesting
Remember sitting at a desk in school, listening to a teacher drone on in monotone and trying not to nod off? Your child probably won’t nod off. They’ll probably start to wiggle and chatter when they get bored. Pick up on your child’s cues and change it up a little. Don’t just read the book, make it entertaining. Change your voice for the different characters in the book. Sing a few lines instead of reading to get your child’s attention back to the book. Ask your child a simple question to draw them back in.
Being silly will definitely capture your child’s attention. Don’t be afraid to let out your silly side or your strange voices. Even if you have an audience other than your child, you’re acting that way for your child, so don’t be embarrassed. Invite your “audience” to join you!
Laps Not Required
If sitting still seems to bother your child, let them stand up and listen to the story, or even wander away and come back. Use your tools to regain their attention when they seem to be drifting off. Slowly work up to sitting for longer amounts of time, as this is a skill that is important for your child. Allow your child to sit beside you if that feels less constraining than sitting on your lap.
For a change of pace, take a stack of books outside with a blanket and read together under a tree. Try reading books to your child while they eat a meal (or wait for their meal at a restaurant) or play in the bathtub. If you’re not the driver, you can read to your child in the car as well, or even while you commute using mass transit.
Take a Hint
If it’s not working, it’s not working. Forcing your child to sit and read with you is not going to instill a love for reading, which is the goal here. If it isn’t working, stop and try a different approach later. Be creative and come up with something that your child just can’t resist. Making your own book about your child and their favorite toys may be just the spark your budding reading enthusiast needs!
Do you find that your child struggles to complete a puzzle? That the simple task of fitting a piece into it’s home brings on tears and tantrums? Read on for some ideas to help your child be more comfortable with the task of finishing that darn peg puzzle!
Get the Right Puzzles!
Choosing puzzles that your child can complete is essential. First of all, put the jigsaw puzzles away. If you have to put all the pieces in to see the picture, it is not the right puzzle to start with for a toddler. You’ll need to start with peg puzzles, which are a study board with holes that fit shaped puzzle pieces with a knob your child can grasp. Each piece is it’s own picture so your child can easily recognize it without assembling the puzzle.
You want to start with basic shapes that are easy to fit into the board. The more complicated the shape of the piece, the more maneuvering your child will have to do to get it to fit. Start simple and work up to the more complex shapes.
Some puzzles have the pictures of their matching piece in the bottom of the hole. This makes it easier for your child to find the correct place for each piece to go into. They only have to match the picture, instead of looking at the shape. Both types of puzzles are valuable, but puzzles without the pictures on the board are more complex.
Not Too Many Puzzles!
If you have more than one or two puzzles available to your child at once, it can be overwhelming. Your child may start to confuse which pieces go in which puzzle, making their task of completing the puzzle even more daunting. Multiple puzzles also make clean up time more frustrating for you and your child, as one of you will be putting each puzzle together every time you have to clean up.
I suggest putting out one or two puzzles at a time, and storing your other puzzles for later. Leave your puzzles out for a few weeks, and then swap them with your puzzles in storage. It will provide a new challenge for your child while everyone’s life stays a bit simpler!
Know When to Guide and When to Help!
Your child’s independence is important to them. Toddlers are at an important stage where they want to do things themselves, but struggle to actually do them. If you encourage your child to keep trying and guide them to complete those challenging tasks independently, your child will learn that challenges lead to success and help build a positive self image.
However, if you always step in and take over when your child meets a challenge, they will learn to be dependent on you. That means that they need you. For everything. Think about that in the long term. Think about what that means for them when they don’t have you, such as when they start school or visit a friend’s house. Think about how scary facing the world without a parent will be for them if they feel unsure about overcoming challenges on their own. Think about all the playground bullies they’ll face and the all the times they’ll need to step up and take charge in their life, and how you expect them to react without you there. I want my child to have the confidence to make the right decisions independently, because I won’t always be there to hold his hand.
Does that mean that when my toddler meets a challenge, I stand back and laugh? Absolutely not. I find it’s harder to guide than to help. I could pick up that puzzle piece and put it in the puzzle for him and we’d have the puzzle finished so we could start bedtime. At the end of a long day, that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But that doesn’t teach him what he can do on his own. That teaches him that he needs me to do it for him.
So, I’ll encourage with my words. I’ll praise him when he fits a piece in. When he gets frustrated after a number of failed attempts with a particular piece, I’ll put my hand over his and guide the piece into it’s home in the puzzle. This shows him how to turn the piece, so he can learn to do it himself. I’m guiding, not “helping” him finish by doing it for him.
And when it’s clear that he’s not going to be able to finish the puzzle, either because of exhaustion or a kicking-and-screaming-neighbors-calling-the-police tantrum, then I’ll pick up the pieces and put it away. But doing it for him is the exception, not the rule.
Make it Fun!
Choosing puzzles that incorporate your child’s favorite things will keep them interested for longer and invested in completing the puzzle. You can hide pieces around the room and let them hunt for each piece before putting it into the puzzle. You can make up a story about the puzzle pieces and have them “play” before giving the piece to your child to put it into the puzzle. For example, with an animal puzzle, you can have each animal dance around and make it’s sound, or talk and play with the other animals before they go to bed in the puzzle. (I’ve done this in a public library with other families watching me. If I can do it, you can do it!) Making it feel more like a game and less like an overwhelming challenge will motivate your child. Win-win!
This is a great activity to lift the spirits of the little ones in your home, perhaps after a particularly rough morning or in the midst of rainy day boredom.
Grab anything in your house that could make noise. You could use toy percussion instruments, baby rattles, a pot and a wooden spoon, two wooden blocks, pretty much anything you want.
Here are some examples you might try.
Egg shakers: These are great because they fit perfectly into the palm of the hand and feel very natural as you create music. These are a common musical instrument for toddlers and preschool children. If you purchase egg shakers made as toys instead of legit musical instruments, you’re going to end up with a product that is more durable and less likely to break open in your living room. You can also create your own egg shaker by sealing some rice into a plastic Easter egg using tape. Since it is possible that your child could open this egg, I wouldn’t recommend a homemade egg shaker for a toddler.
Bells: Personally, I think the types of bells that come with straps to connect to your child’s wrist are really fun, as they can make music as they dance. Hand held bells are also good and produce the same sounds so the choice is up to you.
Tambourines: These can be very versatile, as your child can shake the tambourine or hit it to produce different sounds or rhythms. Child size versions are easier for your child to handle than the adult version, as well as more likely to stand up to your child’s rough handling.
Rattles: It’s likely that you have some type of baby rattle lurking in your home, long forgotten since your child has moved on to bigger and better things. Dig some out and you’ll have some easy, free musical instruments that are a perfect fit for your child’s hand. If you’re having trouble finding your old rattles, you can put some dry beans into a yogurt container or another small container with a lid. Be aware that if your child can remove the lid, they may try and eat the contents (uncooked beans should never be eaten!), so monitor carefully, or reserve homemade rattles for older children.
Drums: These are popular as children tend to like it when they are allowed to hit things and make loud noises simultaneously. Give your child a chance to let loose with their aggression on a toy drum or make your own using a large, empty container and a wooden spoon. Make sure to lay out your expectation for hitting with the “drumstick” so that your child knows what they should and should not be hitting.
Cymbals: Finger cymbals have become popular toys for children, as they are smaller and quieter than your traditional cymbals. You can substitute a pair of small lids to pans, but the noise will be loud, so be prepared!
Rhythm sticks: Sometimes these are textured to produce a different sound by rubbing the sticks together than by striking them onto one another. Untextured sticks are almost as fun, and wooden blocks work well also. Clapping them together will produce a moderate sound, and, most probably, smiles.
So arm yourself and your child (or children if you’ve invited others to join you) with musical instruments and set off on a parade through your home. Take turns leading the parade, and be creative with the path you take. Practice playing your instruments softly, loudly, fast, slow, up above your head, down by the floor, and maybe even behind your back!
From time to time, stop playing and freeze. Say “Stop” as you do, to help your child understand this concept. If they do not stop playing on their own, guide them to stop using your hands for just a moment. Explain that you are going to stop for a few seconds and then you will play again.
“Stop” is an important concept for your child to grasp. If you find your child running toward a busy road or in another unsafe situation, you’ll be glad that you practiced stopping.
If you live in a noise friendly area, try taking your parade outside instead. You could also try taking your parade to a large park where the noise might not be so bothersome. It might be easier on your ears to be outdoors if you are using louder instruments, or easier on your neighbors if you are sharing walls!
Try playing your parade with music on in the background and help your child learn to keep time with the music.
Be sure that you let loose and enjoy this experience with your child. Don’t be afraid to get silly and animated. It will only enhance the joy that they feel from spending time with you and making their own music. Sharing laughter filled moments like these builds a strong bond between you and your child, so don’t miss out on a exceptional opportunity to show your child some love!
If your child is curious about cats, here’s a lesson plan to teach your child all about cats. Check out the Cats Toddler Lesson Plan!
Does your child need some practice with puzzles? Here’s the Puzzles Toddler Lesson Plan to give you lots of opportunities to work on puzzles with your child.