Magic Letter Learning

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This game can be tailored for toddlers who are just starting to recognize letters, preschoolers who know them well, or even big kids who are reading early sight words!

To start, write out the alphabet (or the above-mentioned sight words) with white crayon on a white piece of paper.

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Now to reveal the letters magically, I gave Veronika a cup of water and we stirred in a little red food coloring. She curiously brushed this magical mixture over the paper. At first she thought we were just painting, but she gave a little squeal of delight when she realized the white crayon showed up like a secret code.

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As her “paint” revealed each letter, I told her the name of it. Once the full alphabet was uncovered, we sang through the Alphabet Song together! That made this a great lesson for a toddler just starting to realize that each letter shape has a name attached to it. As mentioned, though, you can make this more like a hunt for preschoolers who know their letter names and have them shout out each one as they paint over it.

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In sum, this was quick and simple letter learning for a rainy morning.

Learning Letters Lineup to Squirt

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I’ve noticed Veronika singing the alphabet to herself a lot lately, and she’s starting to identify a few of the letters correctly by name. This little game seemed like a fun next step to test her letter knowledge. After all, what toddler doesn’t love to squirt things with water?

Ideally, I would have done this activity on a chalkboard so it could be repeated, but I don’t own one large enough. Instead, I wrote out the alphabet in white crayon on a thick piece of black poster board. I then set out a tray with the magnet letters from our fridge and handed her the first one as a test.

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“What letter is it?” I asked her. She correctly identified V, and then I asked if she could find the corresponding V on the poster board.

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Once she matched each magnet letter to crayon letter, I told her she could spritz her target. Whoa, permission to spritz! She immediately loved this game.

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It was eye opening to see which letters she knows (m, v, and i are early ones), and which ones she wasn’t sure (s, r).

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Either way, she could always pair a magnet to its corresponding crayon shape even if she didn’t know the letter’s name, simply by matching them, and much more quickly than I would have guessed!

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And then came the fun chance to squirt.

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This was a great set-up to leave out for her all afternoon, as she happily mixed and matched the magnets or scribbled some more on the “chalkboard”.

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Primary Colors Squishy Bag and Storytime

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This activity is 50% storytime and 50% art activity, and 100% fun for your toddler.

I set up the color squishy bags first so they would be ready to go. Squirt one primary color into the bottom left corner of a small zip-top plastic bag, and then a second primary color in the top right corner. Seal tightly and tape down to the floor with duct tape. Repeat so that each primary color is paired once with the other two.

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Now I was ready to invite Veronika over for this hands-on storytime! There are so many wonderful color books you can read, but we love Press Here and Mouse Paint, both of which are particularly good for talking about primary colors.

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As we read through Mouse Paint, we copied the mice! As the red one danced in the yellow paint, we squished that bag together and got orange! The middle mouse mixed yellow and blue to make green, and we followed along with our squishy bag.

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And finally the third mouse mixed red into blue, and Veronika did the same. She loved that the storytime was so interactive, not to mention simply loved the squishy feel of the paint bags!

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There were lots of ways for her to continue the play solo, whether continuing to have fun with the sensory bags or leafing through the pages of the books.

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What’s your toddler’s favorite book about primary colors? Please share in the comments!

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Giant Connect the Colors

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Here’s a fun way for toddlers to learn colors on a BIG scale. The only limit to this game, really, is how many cans of food you have in your pantry!

I happened to have seven cans which worked well since I didn’t want to overwhelm Veronika by using more than 2 or 3 sheets of paper for each color. Older kids, though, might have a blast setting up a maze of colors that covers a whole living room if your pantry has enough supplies!

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To set up, I picked three colors (blue, red, and green) and set down two to three pieces of construction paper for each one. I topped each sheet with a can. These cans have dual purpose: to hold the paper down and to wrap yarn around in the next step.

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I then set out lengths of yarn in colors corresponding to the sheets of paper. Wrap the end of each color around one can. Your child’s job is to take that yarn and connect it to all the cans sitting on the same color (so red yarn stretching to all the red pages, green yarn to all the green pages, and so forth).

When I first brought Veronika over to the set-up, I worried I had made a mistake and she was too young for the activity. She was very excited by the cans (“It’s beans!”) and distracted by checking them out. When I asked her what color the paper was, she only wanted to tell me what color the food item was.

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But then we had a breakthrough. She correctly identified that the paper underneath the can was red. Could she hold the yarn and find another pieces of paper of the same color. “I think you see it!” I told her.

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“I see it!” she responded, and trotted to the second piece of red paper. I showed her how to wind her red yarn around this can.

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Time for a round of green yarn!

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“I see it!” She trotted over…

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…and proudly looped the green yarn around.

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Once we were finished attaching all the yarn and cans, we had a neat maze along the floor. “It’s a spider web,” she said with excitement, and wanted to play and jump over the yarn maze for quite some time.

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So we accidentally got in our gross motor skills for the day, too!

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Foam Number Sensory Bag

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Veronika is just starting to recognize the written numeral that goes along with each number, and I thought it might be fun to make the experience more hands-on today. After all, toddlers learn so well through sensory play!

I set up a classic sensory bag for this activity, just a large zip-top bag filled with cheap clear hair gel. I kept the layer of gel very light so the emphasis was on the numbers.

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Add the foam numbers and seal the bag, and it’s ready for your child to squish the numbers around. Big brother Travis wanted to see how it felt, too!

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At first I only used numbers 0 through 4, intending to keep things simple. But she spotted the extra numerals (5 through 9) on the floor and wanted a new bag for them. Since she was already tempted to open up the goopy bag, I decided to give her a clean one for this second batch of numbers

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She loved adding 5 through 9 to this second bag, then taking them out and starting over again. This turned out to be even better, because she named each number as she added it! I was surprised to realize she already seems to know 5, 7, and 8 quite well.

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She also discovered that the bags were fun to toss on the floor, especially the one filled with hair gel since it made a satisfying plop when it landed.

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So we had some good sensory play with some good early learning built right in.

Exploring Marshmallows with the Five Senses

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I wanted to do an early five senses activity with Veronika, and thought about the most toddler-friendly material in the house we could use. What could be better than yummy, squishy marshmallows?

We used the large marshmallows from Dandies for this activity, which were better for exploration than the small ones in this case.

To start, I drew a cartoon face showing eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, and then labeled each one, along with the word ‘Skin’ on the cheek for the sense of touch. This wasn’t necessary, but provided a nice visual as we moved through each sense.

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It was time to go through the senses one by one as we explored our marshmallows! First, I invited Veronika to use her eyes. She loved peering through a magnifying glass, and named the color (white). I had to laugh when my question “What does it look like?” received a very toddler-appropriate answer: “A marshmallow!”

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Next we used our nose to smell it. Sweet and sugary!

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Now, could we use our ears to discover what it sounded like? The marshmallow itself made no noise, but she liked the soft rubbing noise it produced if I ran my fingers over it.

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Time to use our hands! How did it feel? She discovered that it was squishy and plump to the touch on the outside.

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But once we broke one open, it was super sticky! “I got sticky on me!” Veronika declared.

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Now for the best part: it was time to use the sense of taste. (Ok, she might have been nibbling on another marshmallow during this whole exploration…).

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And it sure tasted sweet and yummy!

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Crayon Color Sorting

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Veronika is obsessed with colors right now, not just in English but Spanish, too (thanks to big brother’s Zoom class!). So when I came home with a big new box of Crayola crayons, she immediately wanted all los colores. I seized the perfect opportunity for a color-sorting game.

To set up, simply tape paint chips (available for free at hardware stores) to the individual cups of a muffin tin, and then encourage your toddler to add each crayon to the correct cup.

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I pointed out the first few, using both English and Spanish words. “Where should you put verde green?” I asked her. “What about blue azul?”

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She was great about sorting at first…

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…though of course she soon also wanted to mix and match, or transfer the crayons back into and out of the box.

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In sum, an easy and fun color game for toddlers.

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Homemade cards in a variety of prints are a fun riff on the classic children’s game of Memory, and a nice way to introduce even a toddler to the game. My original plan had been to use leftover gift wrap from the holidays for the game but… we used it all up! In a pinch, I had sheets of patterned paper that worked just as well.

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Whichever material you use, glue an index card onto each pattern for sturdiness, then cut in half so you have two of each print. For extra security, you can also cover them with contact paper.

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At first I simply showed Veronika the cards and she loved all the patterns. Go through them with your toddler and name any familiar objects like clouds or stars.

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Next it was time to teach her how to play Memory! With a toddler, you’ll want to start with only 3 or 4 pairs. Flip them over and then take turns trying to find a match.

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She didn’t always understand the concept of taking turns, but certainly she could identify when she had two of a kind!

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For a seasonal spin, I then cut some of the patterns into mittens and we played Winter Mitten Memory.

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I had so many patterns that I set some aside as hearts (which we can use at Valentine’s Day) and a few as Easter Eggs for the spring.

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Christmas Tree & Presents Matching

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Here’s a fantastic way to get a little learning out of those scraps of leftover holiday wrapping paper you surely have at this time of year: turn them into a matching activity for toddlers!

I started by cutting a Christmas tree shape from each of three different wrapping paper patterns and taped these to a larger piece of craft paper on our floor.

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I then cut additional squares and rectangles from each pattern to be little “presents”. Now it was Veronika’s job to match each gift to the corresponding tree!

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I showed her how the game worked for the first few examples. “The peppermint-print present goes under the peppermint-print tree!” I told her with excitement. She quickly understood that she was looking for a match.

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Still, she simultaneously understood the game and had her own agenda. She loved using a glue stick to attach the wrapping paper squares down anywhere she pleased, which of course was just fine.

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But if I prompted her directly, she could place a square under the “correct” tree.

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This activity was a nice mix of learning and just letting her play her own way.

Christmas Tree Transfer Activity

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This Christmas-themed activity is great for toddlers to work on number and color recognition and it’s also excellent for fine motor skills. It can easily be adapted as more of a challenge if you have preschoolers, too!

I started by drawing the outline of a Christmas tree on a large piece of green poster board.

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With Veronika at my side, we counted up from 1 to 6 as I wrote the numbers in the bottom of Christmas cupcake liners. She has learned to count by rote up to 11, but this was a great pause to show her the numeral attached to each number as we counted up. We then taped these down at the tips of the tree’s “branches”.

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Next, I filled the cupcake liners with jingle bells! I started with the corresponding number of bells in each cupcake liner (one bell in the liner marked 1, two in the liner marked 2, and so forth), even knowing they wouldn’t stay like that for long. This is a part where you can challenge a preschooler to add the right number of bells to each liner!

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For Veronika, it was more a game of fine motor skills and sensory play. I gave her a plastic spoon (green, naturally) to scoop the jingle bells from one liner to another. She also loved picking up extra liners that weren’t taped down and dumping the bells.

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And of course each movement she made was accompanied by the delightful auditory jingle of a Christmas bell.

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For a quick color variation, I colored the bottom of one liner with red marker and another green, and challenged her to put corresponding bells over the correct color.

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She aced the test but lost interest in that quickly. This is another great extension for preschoolers, especially if you include less familiar colors like silver and gold. After that she wanted a turn with the markers, coloring on the poster board and inside some of the liners. So all told, this activity filled quite a lot of time on a Sunday morning!

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