Long before your children are packing their backpacks for the first day of school, essential learning takes place at home. Babies and toddlers are naturally curious and start to learn about the world around them immediately. The adults in their home will be their first and most influential teachers as they learn by observation, interaction, and getting involved with everyday activities with you.
Here are six activities that you can easily do with your toddler aged 3 to 4. Many of these activities use objects you might already have at home or incorporate regular daily activities but turn them into learning opportunities.
#1. Shape Scavenger Hunt
Colors and shapes are often taught at home by mom and dad using pictures and blocks, but you can take this learning one step further by looking for shapes out in the world. Making connections like these strengthens understanding and provides mental exercise for the developing brain.
Here is an example of how it works:
- Choose one shape to focus on for the week.
- Learn about the shape at home using traditional methods like books, pictures, blocks, or toys.
- Now, look around the house for things that resemble that shape. See who can find the most in a few minutes or search together.
- Continue your scavenger hunt throughout the week at various locations like while you are on walks, at the park, grocery shopping, at grandma’s, etc.
#2. DIY Instruments
Making music isn’t just noisy fun; it can be an endless source of creativity and learning for your little ones. Playing instruments can help children with fine and gross motor skills and teaches them to use many of their senses. While they experiment with different sounds that objects make, they are making new connections.
You don’t have to run out and buy any expensive instruments for your little Mozart. There are lots of ways to make DIY instruments using things you already have at home. Childhood simply isn’t complete without spending time banging pots and pans together. You can make shakers with empty water bottles and drums with empty containers with plastic lids, using spoons as drumsticks.
#3. Counting Everyday Items
Math is something we literally use every day, most of the time, without even realizing it. Having a young learner with you will certainly open your eyes to all the ways math lessons can be incorporated into your day together. Young children especially enjoy counting and can easily be encouraged to count objects you run into at home or while you’re out running errands.
Simply make it a point to count aloud and invite your toddler to participate. Ask them questions like “how many” and “are there more than 3” to reinforce necessary counting skills. Counting can also be used when cleaning up toys, counting each object you put in the toybox, making tidying up seem like more fun.
#4. Grocery Store Games
The second best place for bountiful learning opportunities besides your own home is the grocery store. While some parents like to leave the little ones at home so they can take a mini-break, taking your toddler with you to the store can provide them with a lot of fun learning activities. Here are just a few things, even very young children can participate in while food shopping.
- Helping plan the shopping list by asking to add their favorite items and helping dad check to see “how many” eggs are left in the fridge, for example.
- Calling out colors and shapes in the produce aisle.
- Counting product items such as “6 apples, 5 carrots” as you bag them.
- Searching for numbers on price tags. Have a contest, such as “how many number 6’s can we find today?”
#5. Learning With Felt Boards
Here is a fun at-home learning tool that you might have to visit your local craft store for. A felt board can be used for so many things, such as storytelling, learning shapes, counting, and sorting. You can purchase a felt board already made or make your own by covering a board with felt. You can make felt pieces to use on your board with a pattern and a pair of scissors. Felt is a textured fabric that tends to cling to felt, allowing you to place and remove felt pieces from your board without adhesive. It’s also great fine motor practice for little hands.
#6. Sensory Projects
Sensory play exposes children to new experiences they can see, touch, hear, smell, and sometimes taste. Sensory activities can actually benefit people of all ages, from infancy to old age, as it helps stimulate various areas of the brain. Here are some sensory projects you can do with children in the 3-4-year-old age range.
Water Bead Sensory bags: These can be made with ziplock bags. You can include beads of different sizes and consistencies and fill the rest of the bag with some water. You can add food coloring or glitter for more color. The bags can then be squished and rolled without getting water everywhere.
Toddler-Safe Finger Paint: If your child still likes to put things in their mouth and you’re worried about some sensory activities like playing with shaving cream, here is a safe two-ingredient recipe for toddler paint. Simply mix plain yogurt with food coloring. The colors come out vibrant, and you can use it for outside painting and then wash it away with a hose.
Playdough: You can buy it from the store or make your own version at home. Either way, playdough is a great sensory toy that also strengthens the hands and fingers. It’s also a classic that most kids enjoy.
You can also focus on buying educational toys but be careful to research what toys are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental stage. Not only are age-appropriate toys important for safety, but it is also important not to frustrate young learners with concepts they aren’t ready for yet. After all, educational toys and activities should be fun above all else.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at Ladybug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.