Sort Colors in a Play Tunnel

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Veronika has sorted colors into separate bins before, and it’s a task she’s become quite skilled at. This new twist on the activity has an added advantage because it incorporates gross motor skills and movement, too! Our play tunnel that has been open in the living room all weekend, so today I thought we could use it for a little learning before folding it up.

This required a little parental set-up on the front end. I emptied a few toy storage bins and taped down a piece of paper in the bottom of each with the name of a color, as well as a square colored in marker in that corresponding color.

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We started out just using red and blue because I wanted to be sure Veronika understood the concept before adding more colors. Stacking blocks from Mega Bloks or Duplo are perfect for this game. I showed her the labeled bins and then we ran around to the other side of the tunnel where a jumble of blue and red blocks were waiting. “Can you put the red ones in the red bin?” I asked her, offering up a red block.

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At first she wanted to run around the tunnel, but after I tossed the blocks inside it, she got the idea to crawl through with block in hand. She had her victory target in sight…

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Slam dunk!

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To be honest, she didn’t always crawl through, sometimes taking the long way around on her feet. But this was always at a run, so it sure still counted as movement play!

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We expanded to orange and yellow blocks next, giving her four choices of bin for each block as she reached the end. When we finished with the sorting activity, she kept busy with all the materials for a while, moving items from bin to tunnel to storage bag to floor and back again.

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Sorting Blocks as a Graph

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Veronika made her first graph today! Okay, so there was lots of mommy help involved, but large building blocks and a large sheet of butcher paper make this particular graph quite toddler-friendly.

First, I taped down a long piece of paper to the floor with painter’s tape, then marked off 4 columns using washi tape. At the bottom of the graph, I traced 4 of her block shapes. I chose ones that are newer to her (archways, semi-circles) now that she’s mastered early ones like triangles and squares. And of course you can include more than 4 categories if you’re doing this activity with a preschooler.

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Now it was up to Veronika to place each block in the right column. “Where does the semicircle go?” I could prompt her. “With the semicircles!” she chimed in. It wasn’t an activity that she was motivated to complete on her own, but if I asked a leading question for a block, she knew where to put it.

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Then we flipped over the paper and repeated the activity, but this time making a graph by color!

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This version was even easier for her to complete. “It goes with the yellow,” she might say, picking up a yellow block and adding it to the yellow column.

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Did she entirely understand that we were making a mathematical graph to compare the amount of blocks by shape or color? Not yet, of course, but it was a great early intro to sorting and graphing. The large visual at the end was neat to see.

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After that I challenged her to stack her blocks by shape, too. Preschoolers can get really creative with this part, perhaps attempting a tower all out of triangles, or all out of semicircles.

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One thing is for sure: this was yet another great way to get novel play out of our blocks!

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Learning with Blocks, Three Ways

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I love when I can draw Veronika’s attention to her blocks in novel ways, and here were three ways to grab her attention today. As a bonus, all of them involved different types of learning!

For the first, I typed up the alphabet in big letters and printed out the page, then cut it apart so each letter was an individual square. Tape one letter per one of your child’s building blocks, and each block becomes its own specific letter!

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As I taped them on, we said the name of each letter and its phonetic sound, and sang through the Alphabet Song several times. Then it was time for her simply to play! But as she built towers, I named the block she was holding. “Oh, you have the G block!” I could say, or, “B block is on top of A block!”

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I plan to leave these little labels on so that her familiarity with each letter symbol increases every time we dump out the bin of blocks.

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For the second novel way to play, we focused on two different skills: counting and listening to instructions. Thanks to a great tip from Hands on as We Grow, I used the cards from our Candyland board game to give her specific directions.

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Draw a card and ask your toddler to hand across whatever appears on it. “Can you find me one blue block?” I asked her, holding up the Candyland card with one red square. She was an ace at handing me one block of the appropriate color, whether the green, yellow, or red that followed.

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Things got a little trickier for her when I pulled a double color (a kid favorite when playing Candyland, of course).

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“Can you hand me two red blocks?” I asked. She seemed confused, so I pointed to the squares on the card. “One, two!” and then lined it up with two blocks. “One, two!” I repeated. It was hard for her to focus on this challenge, so we turned to game number three…

…which was actually a repeat of a block puzzle game we played a few months back, but last time I made the puzzle much too big. Tape out a small square or rectangle on the floor with painter’s tape and show your child how to arrange blocks in, puzzle-piece style!

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Veronika especially liked when there were small spaces to fill, like the semi-circle that completed an archway or a small circle inside a square block.

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Not, bad, with a little mommy help! Older kids can make their taped areas progressively larger as they grow more skilled at this.

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How does your toddler learn with blocks these days? Please share in the comments!

Counting Block Towers

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I recently purchased a new rug for the playroom featuring a hopscotch board. I can envision so many ways we’ll use this in the future, including obviously as an indoor hopscotch mat. But as Veronika was playing with blocks today, I realized the mat will also be great for teaching numbers and counting practice with my toddler!

We’ve used her dump truck to clean up blocks before; now it was time to use the truck to bring them out for play. I ferried the blocks from where she’d been playing with them in the living room and she loved dumping them out atop the hopscotch rug.

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Once we had enough blocks, I sat down with her at the beginning, next to number 1.

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For each number, I named it and pointed to the symbol, and then built a block tower with the corresponding number of blocks. This was fun for her to watch because…

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…the towers kept getting taller!

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At first she helped build. Then she lost interest and wanted to play her own way with the blocks, which was fine. I kept naming the numbers and counting each tower of blocks out loud, knowing she was listening and absorbing.

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As I neared the end with the towering skyscrapers of 8, 9, and 10, she suddenly was mesmerized.

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As soon as 10 was finished, she trotted over and my baby Godzilla knocked down the whole block city!

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This was a great way to introduce the notion that numbers get successively bigger as you count up 1 through 10. We’ll be building on our hopscotch mat again soon!

DVD Case Towers

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I had an hour long Zoom this morning and needed a quick way to occupy Veronika. That meant I also needed a material that wouldn’t make a mess. Looking quickly around the room, I pulled out all our old DVD cases!

I had forgotten how much my son loved to play with these cases as a toddler, but we almost never think of them anymore (thanks, streaming TV). There are lots of ways toddlers can play with them! Opening and closing the cases is great for fine motor skills, and no doubt the shiny discs inside will capture attention.

But Veronika’s favorite way to play was to build towers. First I showed her that if she opened up the cases, they stood up on a more stable base and she could build the tower quite tall.

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This was admittedly tricky for her though, and she mostly loved knocking down the towers. The higher I made them, the bigger her delight!

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Much easier for her was stacking them lying one atop another. She delighted in seeing how tall she could make this stack grow by herself.

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Probably it would have reached her shoulders, but inevitably the temptation to push the stack over was too strong.

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Then she turned the DVD cases into slides for her toys!

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How does your toddler play with DVD cases (or other old media equipment)? Please share in the comments!

All Gone!

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In my experience, toddlers love dumping things to and from containers. This game plays right to that interest while introducing (or reinforcing) the notion of “all gone!”.

I set up a tray filled with some of Veronika’s building blocks and then placed an empty bin a little ways away (far enough that she’d have to trot over to it, but not so far away as to be a big journey!). Then I handed her a smaller bucket that she could fill with some of the blocks.

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“Go and fill the empty bin!” I encouraged with a big smile.

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She made a few trips back and forth like this, until now the first tray was empty and the bin was the full one. “All gone!” I said in mock delight as I held up the tray.

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Don’t be surprised if your toddler starts parroting this phrase and wants to go back and forth between the containers several times.

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When Veronika lost interest in this first version of play, we added in a new element: wheels. More specifically, she has a new dump truck that was perfect for loading and unloading the blocks.

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She loved to fill this one up and then zoom it to the tray to tilt back the load.

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In fact, a dump truck like this would be a great way to encourage a toddler to clean up, vrooming each load from a messy floor to a bin.

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Pool Noodle Games

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We had a few pool noodles in the closet that were left over from summer fun, so today Veronika and I found a few indoor winter ways to play with them!

First, we tried making a pool noodle “necklace”. Cut pool noodles into smaller pieces so they are like giant beads and then give your child twine (or a rope) and thread them on.

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Preschoolers can get in some great threading practice by doing this activity solo. I helped Veronika by inserting the twine into the hole of each pool noodle piece, and then she would pull it through.

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At first this made a fun pull toy! She loved dragging it along behind her or wiggling it in the air.

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Once we had enough of pieces looped on, I tied the two ends of twine together to form a giant dress-up necklace.

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Next, I cut out slightly larger pool noodle pieces, and these were great to stack like blocks!

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These towers were particularly fun to push over, because the soft foam won’t hurt a thing.

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I loved that we found a way to reuse a summer material on a winter’s day!

Simple Block Learning: Shapes and Colors

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This idea was an extension on recent block puzzle play with Veronika. But this time, she had to puzzle out two variables at once: color and shape.

To start, I laid down a sheet of butcher paper and began to trace some of her soft foam blocks, making sure to use a corresponding crayon color for every block color.

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She immediately was naming shapes and colors as I worked and wanted to trace (i.e. scribble) alongside me! In retrospect, I would set this up while she was napping for a cleaner piece of paper.

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But eventually, I had enough shapes traced for the real puzzling to begin. It was neat to see her mind work through this activity. She immediately put a red triangle in place when I pointed out the red outline.

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Rectangles threw her off since we had both short ones and long ones, and she tended to either mix up the two or orient her rectangles in the wrong direction.

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Often, she proudly laid down a shape in the right outline (e.g. square in square), without any regard for the color.

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And all of that was perfectly fine! I loved that this was a challenge for her, and how gamely she rose to it.

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The activity also lends itself perfectly to extended play. Once all those shapes were in place, we could start connecting them like bridges into ever-bigger structures and towers.

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Without any prompting, she trotted away and then brought back a toy car. Now we had tunnels for cars to go through or garages to park them in!

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We eventually re-positioned the blocks into one long road for her to drive cars down, which she loved.

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She played solo so happily and I caught her driving cars up one side of a triangle block and down the other, almost like it was a mini mountain.

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And through all of this, she kept up the narrative of shapes and colors to herself. This activity was a true joy.

Chock-Full of Blocks

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Here’s a fun spin on block play if your toddler is growing tired of simply building towers up and knocking them down.

I gave Veronika a small box and challenged her to fill the bottom of it completely with blocks so that none of the bottom showed. She didn’t understand at first, but I modeled the behavior and she soon joined in the fun.

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She did also try to build up a little once our bottom was covered!

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The box was quite small so we decided that we needed a bigger space to work with. Mark out a square or rectangle on your floor with painter’s tape and show your toddler how to fill that space with the blocks.

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This was a great way for Veronika to see how some shapes fit together to form others, too! Two triangles made squares in some of our corners, and two squares could make a rectangle. Obviously she needed a lot of my help for this activity, but it was a fun project to tackle together.

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As a bonus, she also loved the clean-up, throwing all the blocks back into the bin one-by-one until the tape square was empty once more.

Paper Bag Blocks

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My original intent with this project was to make BIG blocks for Veronika from large grocery store paper bags. I decided the idea was rather impractical, since I would need lots of newspaper to stuff them all, and almost never buy a hard copy of the paper anymore.

Instead, armed with lots of paper lunch bags, I opted for this smaller-scale version.

To make each block, fold over the top third or so of the bag to create a mark; this is the line that you will fill up to. Crumple up pieces of an old magazine and stuff into the bags. Fold that top third edge over and tape shut.

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Okay, so these blocks don’t come out perfectly square and are almost more like little pillows or balls, perhaps, than blocks. But in short order we had a whole pile.

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Veronika first loved picking up big handfuls and tossing them.

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You can also enlist your toddler to be the decorator, using marker or crayon to color on the blocks.

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Because she knew I had stuffed them full of magazine pages, she occasionally decided it was more fun to rip one open and pull the pages out.

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Next we tried to build her a little “brick house”. You can expand on this idea and make garages for toy cars or little houses for dolls. If you have enough, line them up like the sides of a maze or tunnel and encourage your toddler to crawl through!

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But as mentioned, Veronika’s favorite thing to do with them was to scoop up huge armfuls and toss them. She nicknamed them “bikers” (she’s into bicycles lately!) and ran over to show them to me with pride.

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Over the weekend, I did put together one giant version for her. For this one, fold the top third of a grocery store bag over, then fill with crumpled newspaper to the line. Fold over that top third and secure with heavy tape like masking tape or packing tape.

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Your toddler will feel so strong carrying around his or her huge me-sized block! 

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