Paper Plate Numbers

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Veronika loves to bring her toy phone in the car, which has proved a great way to learn simple number recognition of the numerals 1 through 9. Here’s a great activity to build on that and emphasize that each number goes with a certain amount of things!

I labeled ten plates with the numbers 1 through 5, making two of each. I then added stickers to one set, with a corresponding number of colored dot stickers, but left the second set blank.

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For each number, I first asked Veronika what it was. Sometimes she recognized it from her phone, and sometimes she sweetly confessed, “I can’t remember.”

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Once we said the number out loud, we counted out the correct number of dot stickers to go on the plate. One, two, three!

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Continue with as many pairs as you like, based on your child’s age and understanding… or just until you run out of paper plates!

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Once all the plates have the right number of stickers, you can then play a matching game. I held up the plate with a 1 and Veronika’s task was to find the other.

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Preschoolers can use these more than once for review, but don’t be surprised if your toddler turns it into a sticker free-for-all after the first round of the lesson.

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Animal Piles

We were doing a stuffed animal reorg today, which was the perfect chance not only to toss everything into a giant pile and remember every one hiding in there, but also a chance to throw in some learning! This was a riff on a previous animal sort activity Veronika and I did, but today she was a full year older and wiser about it.

First, I sorted the animals into piles, roughly categorized as: Giant, Big, Medium, and Small. Veronika’s challenge was to find an animal from the pile I asked for.

“Where’s a big animal? I asked, and she waded right through the piles to bring me one that qualified.

“Can you find me one that’s teeny tiny and small?” I challenged next. “Ladybug is small!” she chirped up, and proudly presented it.

Then we tested out the concept of length. I lined up all of our snakes (since it turns out we have way more snakes than I remembered!), and asked her to show me the longest.

And then the shortest!

You can also have fun sorting the animals by home or habitat. It turns out we have very few animals that live in the water, but many denizens of farms and forests.

What other ways can your toddler learn with stuffed animals? Please share in the comments!

Weather Sensory Bottles

The first official day of summer was a hot one in our area, with abundant sunshine. I used the sunny day as a jumping off point to discuss all kinds of different weather with Veronika, and then to make it hands-on with these fun weather bottles.

I only put together three bottles: Sunny, Rainy, and Cloudy. But if you want, you can expand and include all 7 from this link (or heck, even more!). We plan to try a sparkly Snowy one with silver glitter or confetti, next time.

For our Sunny bottle, I placed a yellow pom pom into a clean empty water bottle, then filled with water and added only one drop of blue food coloring for the sky. The pom pom will float at the top as the perfect round sun.

For the Cloudy bottle, insert cotton balls or folded cotton pads, and then fill with water. Don’t add any blue, since the cotton gives the water a perfect grayish cast.

For the Rainy bottle, I filled with water and added about five drops of blue food coloring, then filled with blue sequins as the rain drops. This one was fun because the rain “pours” down every time you shake the bottle!

For each version you make, I recommend using hot glue to attach the cap securely. Veronika marveled out our mini weather systems. The rain was by far her favorite, but she enjoyed checking out the others and talking about what she saw.

She was easily able to point out “cloudy” when asked, or which one had a bright yellow sun.

If you like, you can make labels for each jar, but rather than tape the labels on we had fun pairing them with our weather fridge magnets!

Mixing Colors on the Window

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Take advantage of a sunny day for this no-mess color mixing lesson, a great idea spotted over on Hands on as We Grow!

We had a new set of paints that came in silly scents – think red strawberry, yellow pineapple, and blue blueberry – so Veronika couldn’t wait to test them out.

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I poured each of the three primary colors into a small zip-top plastic bag and sealed tightly, then showed Veronika the magic that could happen when we held them against a sunny window. Red alone was just red…

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…but if we held the yellow and red together, we saw orange!

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The effect is best when the paint layers aren’t too thick, so you can see both paints and the sunlight pouring through, creating the color mixing effect. Veronika especially loved when we made her favorite color, purple!

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Chances are your toddler will delight in using these as squishy bags for a while, too, which means we fit in our learning and our sensory play!

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Gross Motor Color Game

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When it rains outside, I love to have props on hand so the kids can squeeze in their gross motor play indoors, no playground equipment required. One of the easiest items are plastic cones, and we have a set that comes in all the colors of the rainbow. That means not just gross motor skills, but color review for Veronika, too!

To start, I set up the cones in rainbow order, bringing an instant smile to her face and a pop of color to a gray morning. I encouraged her to run along the line of cones, but she had her own idea. She wanted to straddle over them! This was such fantastic gross motor work, and she repeated up and down the line several times.

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Then we spaced them further apart so she could jump or hop from cone to cone. Then we lined them up in a tight line for more straddle practice.

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I encouraged her to try other moves, too, like balancing with a foot atop one cone.

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If you have older kids, consider placing the cones all over your house. Then call out directions and a color (run to red, hop to orange, tiptoe to yellow, etc.) and see who gets there fastest.

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Meanwhile, Veronika was soon involved with the cones in an imaginative game of her own creation, which means they helped fill the whole rainy morning indoors.

Chalk Fun, Indoors and Outside

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There are so many ways to play with chalk, ranging from the artistic to the educational, and from indoor activities to outdoor fun.

To start, Veronika tested out some indoor ways to play, many of which were suggestions from the Toddler’s Busy Book. Of course you can simply draw on paper, which is a novel variation over a chalkboard. Once complete, set the picture with a spritz of hair spray!

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It’s also fun to wet paper with a damp sponge and see the difference in color in the wet and dry spaces. Note: The Toddler’s Busy Book also suggests wetting paper with laundry starch and buttermilk… but we skipped both of those.

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You can also soak chalk in a sugar-water mixture (about 1 cup water to 1/2 cup sugar) for 10 minutes, then draw with it for a wonderfully saturated look.

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Prefer your chalk on the dry side? Veronika enjoyed simply drawing on the paper and then smearing over it with a cotton ball.

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Now it was time to head outside! First, we placed a piece of paper down on the ground for a “sidewalk rubbing”, similar to those we’ve done against the bark of a tree with crayon.

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Next up was a little learning! I tried some early letter matching for Veronika, having her pick out two Vs from a cluster of letters, for example. Or, if she found the upper case T, could she point out the lowercase t? I used only letters she’s very familiar with, but preschoolers can tackle a whole chalk alphabet!

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Chalk also works well for teaching number correspondence; simply write the numerals next to chalk dots in the corresponding number.

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Don’t forget shapes! To start, I simply drew a few shapes and had her find me two of each, such as the two triangles, or the two circles.

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Then we upped the ante with a chalk maze! I drew paths with squares, circles, and triangles, each in a different color.

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Veronika was a master at this game, zigging and zagging with aplomb and never missing a turn to stay on the same shape.

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She then spent some time pouring water over the chalk, because it’s always great fun to see chalk lines disappear.

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That led us out to the back patio where we ended the fun with more water:

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Dip the chalk sticks into cups of water and then paint right on the glass of a window or patio door.

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What’s your child’s favorite way to play with chalk? Please share in the comments!

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Candy Color Sort

With lots of leftover Easter candy still in the pantry, I decided to sneak in a little learning (colors and mathematical sorting) while Veronika nibbled on a sweet snack!

I poured candy out onto a paper plate, making sure we had every color of the rainbow thanks to a mix of Giggles chewy candies and chocolate candies from Unreal.

I then set out a muffin tray, and put a few of each color in the muffin cups to get her started. “Where should this blue one go?” I asked, and she dropped it in with the blue.

Of course there was much snacking amidst the sorting, but she enjoyed the process! Every once in a while, I would trick her by deliberately putting a candy in the wrong cup. She very quickly spotted a yellow lurking among the green, and moved it to the correct place. Talk about a sweet way to taste the rainbow!

Picture Sort

Veronika and I are working on the concept of making a “match”, so here was a new way to turn the idea into a game!

To start, I cut images from magazines that could be sorted into pairs. These weren’t exact copies of each other, although you could make them so if you have a double copy of one magazine. Our pictures included: 2 shoes, 2 houses, 2 chairs, 2 images of flowers, and so forth.

Glue all these images onto index cards. For a more durable version of this game, you can try a few suggestions from The Toddler’s Busy Book. One option is to cover the cards with contact paper. To take it a step further, glue each image to a round metal lid, as from a frozen juice can, before covering with contact paper.

I kept things simple with the index cards, though, and set them out in a scrambled pile in front of Veronika. Her job was to make each match! When she picked up one shoe picture, I asked, “Can you find it’s match?” She quickly did so, showing that she’s grasped the concept.

Once the cards were all sorted, she had fun simply playing with them and looking at the images for a while. Next time, I might add magnetic strips to the back of the index cards so she can move them around like magnets on the fridge.

Color Cube

This giant color “dice” is a fun way to play with toddlers or preschoolers for a variety of color games. Even better, all you need to make it is two upcycled cartons (I used soy milk).

Clean and dry the cartons completely, then cut each one in half. You can now nest them together so they form a perfect cube.

Cut squares of construction paper in a different color for each side, and glue onto the cube. Let dry overnight. The next morning, Veronika couldn’t wait to give the dice a few rolls the moment she spotted it.

Then we started adding in some color challenges. Depending what color landed face up on the cube, I had her run to fetch an object of that color.

Her favorite was a version where we matched the cube to crayons. After each roll, she selected a crayon from our set, and then of course wanted to color on the corresponding side of the cube. Pretty soon we had a decorated dice!

You can play lots of variations on these games, whether having your child hunt for a color object, race to see who can bring back the correct color fasted, have your child hand you a corresponding color of construction paper, and more! Next time we might try a shape cube for a shape hunt instead.

Sorting and Comparing, Two Ways

With Veronika a little under the weather, we were looking for low-key activities that would keep her engaged without much physical effort. Here are two fun ways to play with early toddler math concepts: comparing two or more things; and sorting things according to some characteristic.

First, we played a classic game of Large and Small. I gave her a set of objects from around the house, with one item big and one smaller, including: spoons, crayons, socks, and toy bunnies.

For each, she was always able to select which was bigger…

and which was smaller, with no problem.

Sometimes I mixed it up and used words like “longer” or “shorter”, to throw her a curve ball! This made her pause and think a bit longer before picking which item fit the bill.

You can then encourage your child to sort the objects into two piles, with all the big items to one side and the small items to the other. This led us right into the next game: Sticker Sorting!

This time, I taped up sheets of colored construction paper to the wall that matched a set of dot label stickers. She simply had to decide where each sticker should go.

Sometimes she wanted to cover a piece of paper with every dot in that color, as for favorites like red and purple.

Other colors she was content to put only one or two stickers.

But whether a few stickers or lots, she sorted them correctly by color each time.