Spoon Match

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Veronika loves playing with spoons, whether little measuring spoons or big cooking spoons. I decided to sneak a little learning in while she had them out as a toy today.

I broke apart two sets of measuring spoons and lined them up as large (tablespoon), medium (teaspoon), and small (1/4 teaspoon). Then I encouraged Veronika to match big with big, little with little, etc.

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Grated this task was tricky because one set was heart-shaped and the other a standard oval, so they weren’t necessarily intuitive as a “match”. But she sort of got the idea, especially with the two small ones.

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She fairly quickly returned to just playing with the spoons, but it never hurts to sneak in some quick learning!

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Block Sorter

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Veronika loves her bus shape-sorter toy, with slots on top for squares, triangles, and circles, but with one caveat: she can’t open it back up to retrieve the shapes once they’re inside! I solved the problem for her today with this quick DIY version.

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Use any shoebox with a lid (brother Travis’s old Kiwi Crate was perfect) and cut holes for each shape you’ll be using. Veronika loved watching me work: “Mommy’s cutting a triangle!” and the triangle had to go right in. “Mommy’s making a square!” She tested each hole as it was made.

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Now all of the shapes were inside.

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I showed her that she could open the lid… all by herself! She was thrilled. “Triangle is inside!” she said, but not for long. She took them out for a second round, now having to find and fill all three holes with the shapes in a jumble, which was a great challenge.

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I loved that she could use this toy solo. She was evidently so proud of it that she wanted to pick it up and carry it around with her!

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A definite hit, for almost no effort at all on my part.

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Find the Color

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I love throwing a little learning into even vacation days with a toddler, and here is a game that you can literally play anywhere. Simply ask your child to find something of a certain color, then start counting dramatically down from 10 to 0 until they run and touch it.

I demonstrated for Veronika the first time through, naming the brown clock and then doing a big happy run over to it. Ten, nine, eight…

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She giggled and wanted to play along. Could she touch orange?

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Could she touch green?

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You can see how easy and obvious the game is, which means it can easily occupy fussy toddlers just about anywhere.

Beanbag Toss

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Beanbags are such a versatile toy for kids of all ages and I highly recommend having a pile of them on hand. Today, Veronika used them both for target practice and shape learning.

I loved that the first part of this game was a chance to make art together. I unrolled a long piece of craft paper and set out markers.

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I had just started a green square when Veronika said, “Let’s draw a blue rectangle!” So a blue rectangle it was. She drew “shapes” alongside me while I made larger ones all over the paper, including purple hearts, orange circles, and more.

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Now it was time for some toddler sports! I asked her if she could toss a beanbag onto the blue rectangle. Easy shot! It was harder for her to throw towards shapes further back on the paper, so this game was great for strengthening little muscles.

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Sometimes she preferred to run and stand on the shape I named, instead of tossing the beanbag.

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Leave out your big piece of paper and the pile of beanbags, and no doubt your toddler will find ways to play with it solo throughout the day, too.

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Pompom Counting Fun

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Veronika and I have been exploring early math concepts lately, and here was another fun way to do so using simple materials that she loves: stickers, plastic cups, and pompoms!

I marked three clear plastic cups with dot stickers, each cup with a different color. The first cup had 1 yellow sticker, the second had 2 red stickers, and the third had 3 blue ones.

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I then showed Veronika the one dot on the first cup, and told her there was one sticker. “Can you add one pompom?” I asked her. I chose to color-coordinate the pompoms to the dot stickers for clarity, but you don’t have to.

She dropped in one pompom!

Now I held up the second cup and we counted the stickers. One sticker, two stickers. “Can you add two pompoms?” Plink plink into the cup!

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We repeated for the third cup with three pompoms. Obviously I was directing the game very clearly, which helped her get each answer “right”; don’t expect a toddler to do this game solo. But the activity reinforces the notion of counting up, and that numerals are attached to a tangible amount.

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It would be been coldhearted not to let her play with the extra materials after that! There were more stickers she could happily dot onto extra cups, and lots more pompoms to play with and keep herself busy for a while.

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While we were at it, we could talk about a few opposite concepts, like over the cup and under the cup.

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So this activity is definitely a winner.

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Kitchen Math

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After a day of math out at the park, it was time for a day of math in at the kitchen.

Veronika and I played around with kitchen math in a few ways. For a simple intro to math concepts, I sat her down for snack and made it all about comparisons. We used three different foods: apple wedges, bananas (cut into circles), and olives.

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We could discuss the circular shapes of the bananas and olives. The apple wedges were more like semi-circles! Or we could compare items; the apple was longer than the banana. The banana was bigger than the olive. And so on.

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Next up was far messier math; involve your toddler in cooking! While making a cookie recipe, I set Veronika up with her own station for filling cups of flour and scooping. “Can you help me fill two cups of flour?” I asked her.

Of course she couldn’t really, but I could point out that some measuring cups were bigger or smaller than others, or use vocabulary like “half” and “third” of  a cup even though she’s a long way from understanding that.

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We also pulled out the kitchen scale to weigh flour together. “I want to scoop!” she said, proudly reaching deep into the flour bag.

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This of course made a giant mess, but I find that flour play is worth it once in a while. Plus your toddler gets rewarded with a yummy treat if you’ve really baked during the messy play.

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Note: If you want to introduce measuring to your toddler with less mess, consider a recipe like granola or baked oatmeal.

One, Please

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Here’s a quick but fun way to get your toddler thinking about counting (just to one and two for now), as well as a first lesson on using fingers to count and represent a number.

I set Veronika up in her high chair with cereal puffs for a snack, an old favorite. First I gave her one. “You have one puff,” I told her. Whoops, which quickly was back to zero!

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Then I put out two puffs and counted them. One puff, two puff. To make it trickier, I then put a whole handful on the tray, but asked her to give me one puff. Success.

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Could she hand me two puffs? Double success! I loved that she did this two-handed, one puff per hand, which was a neat insight into her brain.

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Now we turned to the concept of holding up a finger. I asked if she wanted one cracker, holding up one of my own fingers to demonstrate. Then I helped her shape her hand so only one finger was up. Repeat the word “one” and the gesture; it’s okay if your toddler doesn’t get it on the first round!

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Repeat with two crackers (or a similar snack), and help your little one hold up two fingers.

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This was just a first foray, but a great foundation for counting down the road. Either way, my guess is your toddler will ask for more more more of whatever is on the snack menu!

Clothespin Colors

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I had two goals for this simple activity: to review Veronika’s color knowledge and to hone her pinching skills. She’s just old enough now (at 21 months) to pinch a spring-type clothespin, but I realized quickly that it’s still a struggle for her. So you may want to wait until your toddler is a little older before setting up this activity.

Still, we made it work! I put colored dot stickers at intervals around the rim of an empty coffee can.

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Then I put corresponding dot stickers on the clothespins.

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For each one, I asked her, “What color is this dot?” Once she answered, I had her hunt through her pile for the same color on a clothespin.

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Since the pinching was hard for her, I helped her secure the clothespin to the dot, then moved on to the next one. “What color is here?”

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“Green!” she said proudly.

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We worked our way once around the coffee can one time, though she did then lose interest and wanted to play with more dot stickers instead. Luckily there’s lots to do with leftover clothespins and empty cans if you leave them lying around.

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Super Simple Color Collage

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This is a great activity for a toddler who has just learned his or her colors, and it’s quite simple to set up. I laid out pieces of construction paper, and for each one I tore up scraps of paper in the same color and arranged them on a tray.

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So as not to overwhelm your toddler with too many colors at once, I recommend starting with one background color at a time. “What color?” I asked her, pointing to the paper. “Red!” she said.

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She was way more into the glue stick I gave her than in selecting which color of scraps to add from the tray, but I guided her back when I could. “Let’s add the red scraps!” I suggested simply, reinforcing her knowledge that the paper was red.

In this way, she worked through adding red scraps to red paper, yellow scraps to yellow paper, and so on.

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Towards the end, I made it sightly harder and showed held up a scrap of paper. “Which color should we glue this one on?” I asked. She’d gotten the gist, now, to glue green onto green.

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So as the title suggests, this activity was simple to set up, simple for a toddler to do, and simple to clean up. The trifecta!

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Five, Six, Pick-Up Sticks

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Nature is the perfect playground for children to learn in, which is a no-brainer because, of course, we evolved and learned to learn in… Nature! I was reminded again today that it’s all right there: sensory concepts, numbers, shapes, and so much more.

The first step of our project today, then, was simply to head out with a little bucket and collect anything that caught Veronika’s eye.

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We paused at intervals to discuss her collection or to organize it in various ways. She loved lining up sticks on this log, for example!

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Or playing with various sizes of pine cones.

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Don’t worry about curating your child’s collection. Simply add anything that he or she wants to the bucket, whether that means little pebbles (one of Veronika’s favorites), seed pods, sticks, leaves, grass, or anything else.

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Once home, we didn’t even have our shoes off before she dumped the collection on the floor.

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But that was just fine with me! I sat down with her to talk about everything we’d brought home. First we concentrated on size as I lined up the sticks. Could she find me the longest one? Yes!

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The shortest stick? Yes! I was really happy to see her mastery of this concept.

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We played around by subdividing her findings in different ways, whether by item, by color, by texture, and more.

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You can also use the opportunity to count. How many pebbles did we bring home? “One, two!” she told me.

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How many acorns? “Just one!” Then of course your toddler is simply going to want to play with all the treasures that have come home.

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