Category Archives: Activities

Great Games for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Buddy is really into games right now. It’s really fun that he’s finally old enough for us to play games as a family. Before Christmas, we started playing memory and go fish with a tiny Thomas the Train card set, which was a favor from his Thomas the Train birthday party. We also tried a game from our library (Zingo), and he immediately fell in love with it. I asked my family to get games for us for Christmas, and we got some awesome ones! All of them are appropriate for both toddlers and preschoolers.

Disclaimer – the Amazon links below are affiliate links, and they are all products I love. If you choose to purchase an item through one of these links, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting my family. 

Most of the boxes for these games suggest them as for ages 3 and up, but they can be appropriate for younger kids. I’ve listed the needed skills for each to help you decide if it is appropriate for your child. Right now, Buddy is 33 months old, but he would have been able to play most of these at a younger age. Not only are these games a lot of fun, but they also help Buddy to work on many different skills, including learning to take turns and to be a good winner/loser.

Zingo

Skills Needed: Matching pictures

Skills Practiced: Fine motor skills, counting, comparing numbers

Zingo is Buddy’s favorite game right now. We play at least 3 rounds of it every day, and he can’t get enough of it! The idea is simple – be the first to match all of the pictures on your card. The red shooter dispenses the pictures, and they can be inserted in a slot on the shooter if they aren’t needed. We count how many pictures we have, how many more we need, and who has more pictures. There are two different levels of cards, and one side has more overlapping pictures between the cards to make the game more competitive. There are several other versions of this game including sight words, counting, and spelling.

Uno Moo

Skills Needed: Matching colors and farm animals

Skills Practiced: Colors, counting, fine motor skills

Uno Moo is a great version of the classic Uno game for young children. Each player starts with five animals, and you take turns putting them into the barn by matching either the color or the animal. There are figures that represent wild cards (the little boy) and draw two cards (skunks). Buddy loves the little figures, and it’s easy for him to know what can and can’t be matched. I got the older version of this game because I wanted the haystacks to hide the animals and the puppy figures. (Both are not included in the new version.) There is also a card version of this game.

Stack Up

Skills Needed: Stacking blocks

Skills Practiced: Colors, counting, fine motor skills

Stack Up is a cooperative game. Players work together to stack all 12 blocks before the smasher smashes the tower. Younger players use their hands to stack the blocks, but older players work together to use sticks to stack the blocks. You spin the spinner to determine what color block to stack. If it lands on the smasher, the figure moves forward one space. If any blocks fall, the smasher moves forward again. Buddy can hardly stand the excitement by the end of the game (see the second picture above)! There are challenge cards and two different types of sticks to challenge older players.

Seek A Boo

Skills Needed: Matching pictures

Skills Practiced: Memory, vocabulary, counting, shapes, colors

Seek a boo is a spin on the classic memory game. There are 36 large circle cards and 36 square find it cards. All of the cards are split into groups of six with a different color and a different topic (shapes, animals, clothing, outside objects, food, and toys). The child spreads out the six cards, and the parent shows a square card with a picture to find. We count how many times it takes for Buddy to find the matching card. After you do the first six, you can do another round with a different color. You can do two or more colors at a time to make it more challenging for older children.

Go Fish

Skills Needed: Matching farm animals

Skills Practiced: Find motor skills, counting, comparing numbers

Go Fish is a classic card game that is usually played with older kids. I really wanted to find a Go Fish deck for Buddy’s stocking since he loved playing it so much with his Thomas cards. But his Thomas set only had 8 matches, so it wasn’t really enough to play a good game. Most decks out there are made for older kids that can read numbers. But the set that I linked above just has pictures of farm animals. The deck is set up to get all four cards of each animal, but we just play with half the deck and have two card matches. We got this card holder to help Buddy hold his own cards, and it’s a great fine motor activity putting cards in and out of the holder.  When we finish the game, we count the amount of matches that each person has and compare the numbers to see who wins. We have also played memory with these cards.

Memory

Skills Needed: Matching pictures

Skills Practiced: Memory, counting, comparing numbers

Memory is a preschool game that has been around forever. It’s a great way for young children to work on remembering things, which is a great skill to practice. I made the set shown above on Shutterfly with pictures of our extended family. We have a large extended family, and none of them live close to us. This is a great way for Buddy to learn everyone’s names. He loves seeing everyone’s pictures and pictures of himself with them. When we finish each game, we count our matches and compare to see which person won.

Candy Land

Skills Needed: Color recognition

Skills Practiced: Fine motor skills, colors

Candy Land is another classic game for preschoolers. Small characters travel a multicolored path towards the Candy Castle. Players draw a color card to figure out where to go on the path. Specially themed candy cards send players forward or back to specific points on the board. Whoever reaches the castle first wins. Picking one card off the top of the deck and moving the figure on the path are both great ways to practice fine motor skills.

Our family loves playing all of these games, and I ‘m sure your family will too. Have I missed any great toddler or preschool games? Please leave your ideas in the comment section.

Laundry Basketball

Happy New Year! My resolution for 2017 was to blog every Monday of the year, and I’m thrilled to say I was able to keep it! I hope to maintain that goal for 2018 as well. Thanks so much to everyone who has read this blog in 2017. Your comments and pins mean so much to me.

Buddy and I made up the game of laundry basketball a few weeks ago. It is so easy, and so much fun, that I had to share.

Usually, when I fold Buddy’s laundry, he’s always in my way. Sometimes he wants to help put away things like washcloths and small blankets. But often, he wants to either dump everything out of the basket or put a bunch of stuffed animals in it. (Read here about our laundry basket stuffed animal activity.) Both make it difficult for me to get the laundry folded and put away.

Buddy has a beach ball in his room, which we throw around a lot. On this day, Buddy decided to try to throw it in the laundry basket. This game was the perfect activity for the two of us while I folded laundry! Much of the time, he missed the basket, so nothing affected my folding. When he missed, he happily ran after the beach ball to try again. Sometimes, the ball came into the basket when I was pulling out clothes. When this happened, I batted the ball away, and he didn’t get a basket. Buddy thought this was hilarious! And sometimes, he was able to get a basket when my hands were busy folding or putting things away.

When I got around to taking pictures, my laundry basket was mostly empty. But when we started our game, it was completely full!

This game was the perfect activity for the two of us. Buddy got some practice with his gross motor skills, and he had a ton of fun.  I was able to fold laundry and have fun at the same time. Best of all, there was nothing to clean up when we were done. Laundry basketball will definitely be a regular game in our house for a long time.

Do you have any ideas for other easy games? Please share in the comment section!

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Christmas Cutting Box

I’m always looking for fun and easy ideas to do with Buddy. When I first saw the idea of doing a cutting box on Paper and Glue’s blog, I knew Buddy would love it. He’s been learning to use scissors at school, and he’s very excited about it. We’ve done very little cutting at home so far. I want to help Buddy learn, so I knew this would be the perfect activity for him.

I bought these toddler scissors (affiliate link) for Buddy. They are kind of magical. They cut paper, but they don’t cut skin, hair, or clothes. These scissors are perfect for helping Buddy learn to cut in a safe way.

Last weekend, when I was wrapping some gifts, I set aside scraps for Buddy. I included several different sizes of wrapping paper, some paperboard, ribbon, and a bow. I meant to put in some tissue paper in there as well, but I forgot. 

We have a Christmas activity advent chain (read more about it here), and I set this as an activity for one day. It was great as a low prep activity. I pulled out the box and scissors, and that was everything we needed.

Buddy was very excited about cutting the different items. He did well with the wrapping paper. He’d cut a piece, scrunch it up, and hand it to me. “Here’s your present!” Buddy thought that was a lot of fun. When I left to start dinner, he ran back and forth over and over to give me more “presents”. (His table is within my eye sight in the kitchen. If he was using sharper scissors, I wouldn’t have let him finish this activity without close supervision.)

Buddy did have some difficulty cutting the bow and ribbon with his safety scissors. I was able to do it, but both needed to be held taught  to be cut. If you are using regular kids’ scissors, it shouldn’t be a problem to cut ribbons and bows.

This would make a great after Christmas activity because there is always a bunch of wrapping paper trash once packages are open. I’m planning to set some of that aside for Buddy, and try again after Christmas.

From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!

 

 

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Tips for Making a Gingerbread House with a Toddler

Gingerbread houses have always been a special holiday tradition for my family. My mother used to host a gingerbread workshop at our church every year. As a result, I learned a lot about constructing a solid gingerbread house and what types of candy are best for decorating.

My first gingerbread house, made with help from my mom and little sister.

I still love gingerbread as much as I did as a kid. I love finding the perfect candy for decorating the house. And I love building gingerbread with people I love. My friends and I have an annual tradition of making haunted gingerbread houses at Halloween. This year, Buddy helped for the first time. However, the house was a bit of a mess. I knew I wanted to try again at Christmas, so I put some thought into how to make Buddy’s house a successful one. Here are my tips for making a gingerbread house with a toddler (or for kids of any age).

1. If you are new to gingerbread, use a kit. 

I love homemade gingerbread, but it takes a lot of practice to do it well. When you make it from scratch, not all edges will be perfectly straight and not all pieces will be the same thickness. Royal icing hides mistakes well, but it’s easier if everything is shaped the way it is supposed to. It also is a lot less time consuming to just buy a kit.

2. The younger the kid, the more candy you will need. 

You will need more candy besides just the kit. The pictures on kits have a little candy and a lot of icing decorations. But young children can’t do that. I bought some extra peppermints, spice drops, m&ms, and Wilton icing decorations. Other favorites are sugar ice cream cones (for trees) and white chocolate covered pretzels (for fences) and snow caps.

3. Get your house built and candy set up before bringing the toddler to the table. 

We did a gingerbread train kit because Buddy is obsessed with trains. While Buddy took his nap, I constructed the train. I also took all of the candy out of the packages and put into small bowls. The kit icing comes with a cap so you can easily do some early and the icing will stay fresh. If you do a real royal icing, a wet dish cloth over the bowl will keep the icing fresh for a couple hours.

4. Give your toddler easy decorating tasks. 

The tiny candies are really hard for small hands to place accurately. Large candy has to be held to dry, otherwise it slides down the house . Neither of these things are particularly easy for toddlers to do. The best places for toddlers to decorate are flat surfaces. Buddy was most successful decorating the wheels (which rest on the ground), the top of the train, the top edge of the caboose, and the fence/yard.

5. Let your toddler have some input over the more difficult decorating tasks.

I asked for Buddy’s input on places that I knew were going to be tough for him to decorate himself. Some sample questions I asked were,  “What candy should go here?”, “Where else should we decorate?”, and “What color should I use next?” We also ended this way when Buddy couldn’t resist the candy any more and every piece in his hands went into his mouth. (Eating the candy is the best part of decorating, so I don’t blame him!)

6. Let your toddler be creative. 

Toddlers and adults see the world in very different ways. A toddler’s viewpoint is actually great for gingerbread houses. Buddy wanted to add some dinosaurs to our train to make it a dinosaur train. And while I never would have thought to do that, I think it adds charm to our train.

7. Accept that it won’t be perfect. 

I am a perfectionist, so I want my colors to be in patterns and my candy to be nice and neat. It just won’t happen if a toddler is an active part of the decorating process. And that’s ok. We had a lot of fun  together, and I think our gingerbread train turned out great.

Please comment if you have any questions about anything related to gingerbread! And good luck with making a gingerbread house of your own.

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Christmas Activity Advent Chain

My mom always made an advent chain with activities every Christmas. It is one of my favorite Christmas memories. My sister and I looked forward to doing something new together every day. Now that Buddy is two, I think he’s finally ready for his own Christmas activity advent chain.

To start, I brainstormed a list of possible activities. I looked at my local park district and library websites for special events to do. Then, I found a bunch of easy activities on Pinterest. I also included some activities I remembered doing from my childhood.

Once I had my list, I made a calendar for what we’re doing each day. My mom said sometimes she had to switch links between days, and I’m sure I will have to do that too. I filled in the special events we will go to, and then I filled in the rest of the activities. There are several different categories of types of activities, and I tried to spread them out evenly.

I’m including all of my ideas below, even ones that I won’t use this year.

Crafts

  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Construction paper snowman
  • Use Christmas stickers to make a Christmas scene
  • Christmas coloring pictures
  • Make a paper plate wreath

Doing Things for Others

  • Make ornaments to give to family
  • Buy a toy for an angel tree or Toys for Tots
  • Draw holiday cards for family
  • Donate coins to Salvation Army
  • Choose toys to give away

Food

  • Eat a candy cane and read a book
  • Drink hot cocoa
  • Coca colas in glass bottles (a favorite as a child, but Buddy’s not ready for that yet)
  • Make toast with green and red sprinkles
  • Decorate Christmas cookies
  • Make chocolate dipped pretzels

Christmas Activities

  • Learn Jingle Bells and sing for others
  • Christmas dance party
  • Go to the library to check out Christmas books
  • Drive around and look at Christmas lights
  • Play with “snowballs” (cotton balls)                        
  • Find a hidden surprise (this year it is a new ornament for our tree)
  • Make a tree with Play doh and decorate with sequins or pop beads.
  • Visit Santa
  • Set up the Nativity
  • Watch a Christmas movie
  • Read a Christmas story

I’d love more ideas to do this year, and to save for future years. If you have any great ideas, please share in the comments.

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Cooking with Kids: Apple Pie

Hubby loves to cook and bake. (I’m so lucky!) Both of us have been trying to teach those skills to Buddy whenever we can. A few weeks ago, apples were on sale, so Hubby and Buddy decided to make apple pie. Hubby has made this recipe himself, and adjusted it after several tries. (The full recipe is listed at the bottom of this blog.)
To start, Hubby peeled 9 apples. Then, he had Buddy put the flour, sugar, and salt into a bowl. He asked Buddy to give the salt a few shakes, and he pre-measured the other dry ingredients. 
While Buddy had lunch, Hubby sliced the apples. Then they added them into the dry mixture together. Hubby added a little lemon juice on top.
Hubby put a pre-made pie crust into the pie pan, and then he poured in the apple mixture. They added some cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter on top of the apples. Then Hubby put the pie crust on top. Finally, Buddy coated the top of the pie crust with an egg wash. Then it baked for 50 minutes at 425 degrees. 
This pie was amazingly delicious, and Buddy was so proud that he helped.
Apple Pie Recipe
6-7 large Granny Smith apples (or 8-9 small apples), cored/peeled
Dry Mixture:
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp flour
Pinch of salt
Mix apples/dry mixture, add one squeeze of lemon juice.
Pour apple mix over unrolled pie crust, top with cinnamon and nutmeg,
Add 1 tbsp butter cut into four small squares.
Cover with 2nd pie crust, sprinkle with light addtional cinnamon and sugar. Cut slits into crust to vent. Brush on an egg wash made from one egg and a tablespoon of water.
Cook at 425 degrees about 45-50 minutes.
Let sit for a couple hours to cool and allow liquid in filling to congeal.

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Floating Letters

Buddy loves playing in water. Several times this fall, he’s asked to play in our water table, but unfortunately, it’s just too cold. When I saw this floating letters activity on Busy Toddler’s blog, I knew it would be perfect. Buddy would get to play in water, but we could do it inside.

I pulled out Munchkin bath letters and numbers (affiliate link) for our water play. These were purchased months ago, but I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so they hadn’t been used. Buddy was very excited about playing with his new toys in the water. While the sink was filling with water, Buddy threw some letters in the sink.

Buddy pushed a chair over to stand on while playing in the water. He helped me choose some letters and numbers to put in the water. Eventually we dumped them all in the sink.

I gave Buddy a spatula to pick up the letters. He loved it! It was a different tool for him, and he enjoyed using it. It kept this activity pretty neat because it didn’t scoop up water, and Buddy wasn’t putting his arms into the water.

As we were playing, I asked Buddy to find different letters or colors. He was always so proud to find them. Buddy actually knew more letters than I thought he did. It was exciting to see what he’s learned at school.

I happened to pull out a toy boat from our swim bag earlier that day, and I left it on our kitchen counter. Buddy asked to use it with the letters. He wanted to pour water on top of the letters. “I’m washing the letters.” 

Buddy played contently for 45 minutes, and he would have been happy to play for longer. (A poopy diaper stopped our play, and then it was time to get ready for dinner.) There was almost no water mess until I let him use the boat, and then there was a little splashing. When we were done, we put the letters into a drying rack to dry. This activity was so easy and so much fun! Buddy really loved it, and I know we’ll do again sometime soon. If you have any other ideas for ways to play with our letters, please share in the comments.

Fall Tree Foil Painting

I love to do activities related to the season. When I first saw this fall tree painting idea on Munchkins and Moms’ blog, I knew it would be a perfect fall activity. It has been awhile since Buddy and I have painted together, and I knew that we would both enjoy this project.

Buddy was so excited when I told him we’d be doing a fall tree painting. I showed him a picture of what the final painting would look like so he could understand what to do. Then, I put brown paint on one paper plate, and red, yellow, and orange paint on another paper plate. We always use Crayola washable paint (affiliate link) because it is so easy to clean up. My favorite paper for painting is this paint pad (affiliate link), which never gets soggy.

I gave Buddy a brush to paint the tree trunk, and I helped him make the lines for the trunk and branches. 

Next, I rolled up a ball of foil, and Buddy dipped it into the red, yellow, and orange paint. Then he tapped it all over the page to make the leaves. He really wanted to make smeary lines, but I was able to convince him that tapping looked better. When the paint started mixing enough to look brown and gross, I got a new ball of foil to use.

While Buddy’s painting wasn’t perfect, I thought it was pretty good for a two-year old. He had a lot of fun, and he was  very proud of the final product. 

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Five Fun Things To Do With a Play Tunnel

Buddy got his play tunnel (affiliate link) as a first birthday gift. I had put it on his wish list, because I had read how great they are for young children. A year and a half later, Buddy still plays with his tunnel often. We’ve made up a few fun ways to play with the tunnel, and I want to share them for anyone who needs new play tunnel ideas.

1. Play inside tunnel

Buddy enjoys using his tunnel as a tent. We have brought books inside the tunnel to read. Currently, Buddy’s favorite tunnel activity is to throw all of his stuffed animal “friends” in the tunnel and roll around with them.

2. Chase ball through tunnel

Buddy loves balls, and we’ve used several different sizes in the tunnel. The most fun by far is the beach ball. I throw it halfway in the tunnel, and he goes in and hits it out. We’ve also just thrown the ball back and forth to each other through the tunnel.

3. Obstacle course in tunnel

Buddy’s physical therapist encouraged us to play in the tunnel to help him build different types of muscles. One activity she suggested was putting pillows inside the tunnel, and have him crawl over them. While it’s not Buddy’s favorite way to play with the tunnel, he is willing to try it every once in awhile.

4. Up and Downs with tunnel

Buddy loves to hold one of the tunnel and have me hold the other end. Then we pull it up and down, almost like a play parachute. Sometimes we shake the play tunnel around. Other times he walks closer to me and then farther away from me. Buddy thinks all of these things are hilarious!

5. Peek-a-boo with tunnel

Buddy still loves peek-a-boo. He likes to hide in the tunnel, and then have me peek in and out to play peek-a-boo. It’s so simple, but Buddy thinks it’s a lot of fun.

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Shape Sorting Sensory Activity

Buddy still loves sensory bins, especially the construction site sensory bin that I blogged about here. He pulls out the bin of black beans and construction vehicles at least twice a week. When I saw the shape sorting sensory bin on Stir The Wonder’s blog, I knew it would be an easy adaption of our construction bin. I already had the shape buttons from my quiet book (read more here) and I had the bin of beans, I just needed to put the two together.

To start, I took the trucks out of our sensory bin, and I dumped in a bag of shape buttons. Stir The Wonder used a muffin pan to sort the shapes. I decided to use an ice cube tray instead. I wanted to give Buddy lots of places to sort for all the different shapes. The extra spots on the ice cube tray also provided the opportunity to sort by shape, color, or size.

At first, Buddy was very interested about the shapes in his bin. He quickly started telling me all of the shapes and colors he saw. Buddy was happy to start pulling them out and putting them into different parts of the ice cube tray.

After awhile, Buddy decided he missed his CAT mini trucks (affiliate link). So he put them in the bin, and used them to help scoop and move the shapes into the ice cube tray. It took a lot of effort to try to scoop just the buttons and not the beans. 

Trucks make everything more fun!

I tried to encourage Buddy to find matches to put in the tray based on shape or color. Eventually, though, he just wanted to get all the shapes out of his “concrete”, so he could play trucks the way he normally does.

Overall, I was pleased to have a new way to practice shapes and colors. I think Buddy liked the variety with the sensory bin as well. The next time I try it, I may choose to use fine motor tools to grab the buttons instead of the trucks. But either way, it is a great way to practice both early math skills and fine motor skills.

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