First, you might want to visit my earlier post on this subject here. I made a list of things I use to keep little ones entertained. It is not an extensive list, but has some ideas that might help out. One thing that I've started to do is to keep Anthony with me during school time. I used to let him roam around and play, since our home is very child proof. But now that he's gotten a little bigger, so have his little "adventures." This translates into: "If I let Anthony entertain himself, he'll make a mess so big that I'll never finish cleaning it up." My best bet now is to make sure he stays in our school room where I can keep an eye on him. In my case, I rather the school room get messy since it is the easiest room to clean up.
Also, be careful, as some of the things I suggest are choking hazards. I have my little guy sit at the table with us when using these so I can keep an eye on him, but he is well past the phase where he puts things in his mouth.
I tried not to repeat from my previous list, but sorry if I missed a few items!
- Draw roads, houses, etc. on large paper or cardboard and have them use cars and trucks on it.
- Several cardboard boxes (cereal boxes, shoe boxes) to make a train or a town or just to stack and build with.
- Give them their own photo album of friends, family, pets and familiar things.
- Small cars in a cardboard tube (like Christmas wrap).
- Make a necklace or snack chain with yarn (masking tape on the ends) and any cereal with holes (like cheerios). If the toddler is old enough, they may be able to string them himself.
- A retractable measuring tape to measure with. (I use a soft retractable one that I have to avoid potential cuts).
- Nuts and bolts to sort.
- Stack cups or containers of different sizes.
- Game pieces from lost games & cards. Find old games at garage sales if you don’t have lost pieces.
- Writing tray – put a layer of rice (that just vacuums up) in a baking dish for them to write with their fingers.
- Lacing cards (I bought some Melissa & Doug ones on sale OR just use a cardboard shape with holes punched for yarn.) Attach yarn with masking tape.
- Chalk or light colored crayons on dark construction paper.
- Painting: water colors, paint books or food coloring in water with Q-tips.
- Blocks (fabric ones that may not stack well, but also don’t hurt when hurled across the room).
- Play-doh with a plastic knife, rolling pin, cookie cutters, small plastic toys.
- Pringles can with a slit cut in the top to drop cardboard or plastic coins.
- Look through a button box.
- Beanbags and a bucket.
- A large box (that’s all they need – they’ll do the rest).
- Throw a blanket over a coffee table or card table. Give them clothes pins. They’ll figure it out.
- Sticky notes and pencil.
- Refrigerated cookie dough and a cookie sheet. They can play with it and you can eat all the results.
- A stack of puzzles.
- Ice trays and buttons, beads or marbles for sorting.
- A marble maze – set it in a shallow cardboard box to cut down on the lost marbles.
- A plastic bottle (clean milk jug, well rinsed detergent bottle, etc.) and small items like clothes pins, pennies to drop in and shake out again (this can be a little noisy during school).
- Damp washcloth and wall or window to “clean”. Paper towels and a spray bottle with a little water in it.
- Colored rice to pour through a colander or funnels.
- Colored rice or colored cereal to glue on construction paper. Write the child’s name in big block letters and let them glue stuff inside the letters.
- Tape a sheet of freezer paper or newsprint the floor and trace around the child, having them lie still with their legs and arms a little outstretched – let them color a self-portrait.
- Matching shapes – cut out shapes, then draw around them on another sheet of paper. Let the kids match the shapes.
- Ziploc bag of small plastic toys such as farm animals or little people.
- Make a mural with butcher or banner paper.
- Sort Duplos by color & size.
- Soft foam balls or daddy’s matched socks in a ball to pitch into the laundry basket.
- Have a stuffed-animal tea party with real crackers.
- Paint with watercolor books – use Q-tips instead of paint brushes and a muffin tin with water to limit spills.
- Toy shopping cart to collect things around the room.
How to Get Ready for the Week.
I cannot express how important it is to have a plastic bin for each child/toddler to use during school only! Following is how I keep things simple and efficient.
- Print out the list and keep it with your planner.
- Slowly, gather materials and place into Ziplock bags. Most items on the list can fit into the large gallon size bags or you can purchase the bigger Ziplock bags available. For activities such as rice with funnels, I pour rice into a small sandwich bag and then place that bag into the larger bag with a funnel and some spoons.
- Keep a shallow pan (like a cookie sheet) with your bin. It gives your child a work area while maintaining the mess.
- Change the child's school bin out a minimum of once a week. I find that every 3 days works well for us.
- Do not allow your child to take out all the contents at once! Allow them to do one activity at a time; once they get bored, you can put it back in the bin and then take out another activity.