How often do you engage your child in meaningful play? Studies suggest that parents spend on average about half an hour each day playing with children under the age of six, but only five minutes per day on their child’s education. This may suggest that while we know early childhood learning occurs during play, we are not sure what or how children are learning. So we’ve put together a list of some easy parallel activities to get the most value from your child’s favorite toys.
Rolling and Pulling Toys
Any rolling or pulling toy (Image: the Push and Go Toys), like vehicles or boats (Image: Green Toys Vehicles) or pull string toys (Image: Rolling Wooden Ducks) can be used for early awareness of shapes, sounds, letters, numbers or directions.
Drape a long piece of yarn on the floor in the shape of whatever you fancy–a circle, square, number, or a letter. Make it large, several feet in diameter. Clear the area for energetic activity. Model how to push or pull the toy along the trace of the string, repeating or chanting the sound of the letter (or the number or shape’s name). The child may follow along behind you. Repeat, increasing in speed each round. Next time have the child lead and you follow, making it an imitating game, or similar in nature to a “Duck, Duck, Goose” game if playing with more children. The fun occurs in starting slow, and each round picking up faster and faster.
Once this game’s novelty wears off, you can pull the string taught and hold it on an incline from the floor up to the top of the sofa or the child’s desk. Hold the toy and move it along the string moving “up” or “down” the string (or a variation can be “near” vs. “far”) to teach the child direction vocabulary. Children like to pretend the toy moves up and over objects, too. You can take turns making paths with the string for the other to follow, repeating “up” and “down” or “over” as the child moves the toy along the string of yarn’s route. Enjoy stacking up obstacles!
Bowling playsets (Image: Plan Toys Monkey Bowling Set) are great for the variety of activities that can grow in complexity with the child’s development. If a child is learning the ABCs, the number of pins knocked down each turn can be the number of letters recited in alphabetical order until getting to Z and the end of game.
When the child enters school and begins learning phonics, pick two bowling pins to be special and use a sticky label to label each of them with an area of phonics that is tricky for your child. For example, one pin can be labeled ‘P’ and another bowling pin labeled as ‘B.’ If the ‘P’ pin alone is knocked down, the child must think of a word that has only ‘P’ but not ‘B’, like ‘paper.’ Likewise, if the ‘B’ pin is knocked down, the child thinks of a word with only ‘B’, but not ‘P.’ However, if both pins are knocked down, the child races to think of as many words with ‘P’ and ‘B’ for extra pinpoints, such as bumper, blooper, blimp, plumber, etc.
Another variation of the same type of game can focus on place value. Using labels again, label each bowling pin with a place value (1, 10, 100, or 1000). When the pins are knocked down, the child adds the number of points on a whiteboard to get practice in aligning numbers by place value and adding digits.
Shape sorting sets, (Hape Shake and Match Shape Sorter, or the Disney Mickey Mouse Shape Sorter), are great toys for young children because they naturally love to see which shape fits into which slot. There are also a few activities using these shapes to allow children to discover 3-D properties. Placing many small items in a small basket and hiding the shapes amongst all the other toys allows the young child to experiment with different types of toys and shapes that might also fit into the slots while scavenger hunting for the right one.
Another activity for children at least four-years-old involves preparing disposable aluminum foil baking pans with different materials in each, like playdough, wet sand, fake snow, and slime. Let the child stick the shapes in each to see which leaves an imprint. Allow the child to further discover the faces of the 3-D object by experimenting with covering the object in the dough like a mold. Preschool-age children might also enjoy tracing the different faces of the shapes to learn about sides vs. faces and 2-D vs. 3-D. Finally, leave some of the shapes out on sun print paper and then compare it with the earlier imprints and tracings.
Next up, puzzles, stuffed animals and matching games.