Slowly, Slowly

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This little finger play is a great way to teach a toddler about the concept of fast and slow. Start off with the chant, and then get more elaborate with your play. The first time through, simply walk your fingers up your child’s arm, from wrist to shoulder, and match the speed of your fingers to the words of each verse. When you get to that quick little mouse, it becomes a tickle game!

Slowly, slowly, very slowly

Creeps the garden snail.

Slowly, slowly, very slowly

Up the wooden rail.

Quickly, quickly, very quickly

Runs the little mouse!

Quickly, quickly, very quickly

To his little house!

I like to use a deep voice for the snail and a high squeaky one for the mouse. Veronika loved it so much she immediately started saying “quickly quickly”, also in a high squeak.

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To help solidify the meaning of these opposite words, we turned it into a game of chase. First my slow snails chased each other very very sloooooowly.

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Then big brother was a scampering mouse running just ahead of her.

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Veronika even tested out running a quick little mouse along her own arms and legs! In sum, a great way to get out some energy while teaching new concepts.

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Toddler Nature Walk

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This game can grow with your child. Initially, it’s a fun way to teach the name of nature objects. Later, it can become a guessing game or a sorting game, once your toddler firmly has a few of nature words under his or her belt.

For the easiest variation on a nature walk today, I asked Veronika to pick up treasures and fill a paper bag we’d brought along. Of course she didn’t entirely understand, but she certainly loved bringing me sticks and dropping them in!

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I rounded out the collection with other items we spotted, like leaves, tall grasses, pine needles, acorns, and seed pods.

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Once we were home, we took our treasures to the back patio. For older kids, have them reach into the bag and guess what they are feeling; you can even use a blindfold, if your child wants to! At seventeen months old, it was easier to dump the bag out in front of Veronika and hand her one item at a time.

“Leaf,” I could say, for example. She is a parrot these days, and loved practicing new words right back to me, as we then discussed the color or texture.

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When I gave her grass, she immediately grabbed it…

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…and ran to return it to the grass just off our patio, an amazing insight to her little brain!

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There was definitely some new vocab here, including words like “acorn” and “bark”. I sorted our items into piles so she could better understand each new word.

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In sum, we got a nice pause in the spring sunshine, and a little lesson all in one!

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Super Silly Animal Sounds Activity

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Veronika loves animal sounds and has a good 20 or so animals in her repertoire now. This was a fun way to keep the learning novel. We were able to go over old favorites and learn a few new ones, too!

I placed a bunch of animal toys into a small brown paper bag. Plastic animals worked best for the game, though we had a few stuffed animals inside, too.

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I presented her with the bag and it was up to her to reach in. As she pulled out an animal, I chanted (for example):

Pig, pig, hey hey hey.

Pig, pig, what do you say?

After which, we oinked!

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The rockin’ rhythm and tapping of the beat on our laps definitely got her attention, a nice change of pace from singing Old Macdonald.

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We went through the whole bag this way. Sometimes instead of reaching in, she would peer inside the bag and say (for example) “quack”, so I would pull out the duck for the chant:

Duck, duck, hey hey hey.

Duck, duck what do you say? 

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Then we played in reverse. Can you put frog back in the bag? Ribbit ribbit! Can you put lion back in the bag? Roar roar!

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We added a few animals that she’s less familiar with, like turkey gobbling and donkey hee-hawing, for a little variety.

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Feel free to reinforce the game by reading an animal sounds book, just after!

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Although much too advanced for a 17-month-old, I jumped at the chance to introduce the idea of letter sounds with this same method. She liked the little chant so much that I filled the bag next with our set of magnetic letters and pulled one out at time.

Ess, ess, hey hey hey,

Ess, ess, what do you say?

Ess says ssss.

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She even repeated some of these back to me! I wasn’t surprised though that she lost interest in this variation quickly.

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This is a great learning game that you could tailor in all kinds of ways beyond animals and letters.

Remember What We Did Today?

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This little game is a great way to teach even the youngest kids about a storytelling arc, specifically the notion of a beginning, middle, and end. Since Veronika is rapidly acquiring language, it seemed like the right time to work with her on storytelling, even as big brother does his ELA lessons!

I sat down with her just before bed holding some of the items we’d use throughout our play.  A toy puzzle helped further provide visual cues. “First, we woke up,” I said, pointing to the woman rising for the day in her bed.

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“Then we had a tea party!” I reminded her. She came over to inspect the cups and play with them again.

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“Then you painted with water,” I reminded her, using the paint brush as a cue. Now she could test out a few brush strokes on the tea tray.

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You can hit upon other events in the day, too, like car rides or nap times. Or focus on one particular moment in the day, like a stroll in the park, and discuss any beginnings, middles, or ends. Again, visual cues help!

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“Finally, we’ll brush our teeth and go to sleep,” I told her. No matter how mundane the events of your day seem, it can be very helpful for a child to hear things in sequence like this. Consider making it a nightly practice!

Getting Dressed

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This cute activity is a hands-on way to build your toddler’s clothing vocabulary. Veronika’s earliest words were clothing items (“socks!”), and whenever we come in from outside, she runs through the litany of things to remove: “Coat, hat, mittens…” So I knew she would love this interactive version of getting dressed.

First, I laid her down on a big sheet of craft paper and traced her outline (which turned out a bit wiggly; she’s a toddler after all!).

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Then I filled in the basic outline of a person.

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I had brought down several articles of her clothing and took turns lying these near the person we’d drawn. “What are these called?” I asked. “Pants!” she responded. Then I positioned the item where they should go on the body.

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Shirt, hat, socks, and mittens soon followed.

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Of course your toddler won’t always leave things in the “right” place, but Veronika sure loved playing with all the clothing.

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A great way to keep a little sibling busy!

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Little Performer

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When my eldest was little, the instructor in his baby music class always encouraged the kids to echo syllables into a toy microphone, as in “ba ba ba” or “la la la”. Inevitably it took forever to go around the circle, and inevitably the kids clammed up when it was their turn, rendering the whole thing a big waste of time.

But the activity is not without its merits; the idea is to encourage mimicking, work on learning favorite sounds (like animal noises), and building the muscles needed for language development. I had a hunch that the privacy of the home would be a better spot for this activity, so today, Veronika was the star of the show!

I made a big deal of it to set the scene, of course. “Announcing, today’s performer, Miss Veronika!” She looked so pleased with the microphone in her hand.

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I started out with syllables. “Ba ba ba,” I said. She did it right back!

“Ma ma ma.” She echoed me again! I knew she was really in to it when she went three for three, using “la la la” on the third round.

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Then we got into animal sounds. Here’s quick clip including a “meow” for one of her favorite animals.

I stepped away for a quick chore, and returned a few minutes later to find her humming into the microphone.

Surely it will be no time at all before she’s belting out tunes into the mic. A little performer indeed!

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DIY Lift the Flap Book

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If your toddler is at all like Veronika, then a) any lift-the-flap books you have in the house are dearly loved and b) the flaps have all been torn apart! Here’s a simple hack to make your own lift the flap book. All you need are post-its and board books.

Any kind of “First Words” book works particularly well for this game since there are lots of individual pictures to cover up. Technically, though, you could play it with any book on your child’s shelf!

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For variety, I left some of the post-it notes as full squares, and cut others into smaller squares or rectangles.

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Now simply let your child turn the pages (working those fine motor skills) and talk about the pictures he or she discovers as each post-it is ripped off (working those language skills)!

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A note of caution: You might want to avoid books that make noises. Veronika was so sidetracked by a cat meowing that she lost interest in the flaps for a while!

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But once she discovered the post-it notes could be pulled off, they were a hit.

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Plus she figured out they could double as “stickers“.

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This was a simple and novel way to engage a reluctant reader at storytime, and I highly recommend it.

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Flashcards in Envelopes

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I spotted this game online and found it a delight in so many ways. It works fine motor skills for toddlers (taking flashcards in and out of envelopes), requires no fancy materials, keeps your tot busy for ages, and doubles as a lesson on word recognition. If you don’t have a set of flashcards, consider investing in some. You can play this game now, and use them with a beginning reader far down the road.

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To play, I simply put about 10 flashcards into empty business envelopes. If your toddler is closer to 2 years old, consider sealing them shut. For Veronika, I left them easy to open.

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She started out sitting on my lap, as I showed her how to lift the envelope flap and remove the card inside.

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Soon she was concentrating hard on fitting the cards back in again.

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Once she had mastered the mechanics of this, she started to pay more attention to the pictures on the cards. I had deliberately used some that are her early words, and she happily said or signed them to me.

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Hat! Duck! Cat!

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Once she got tired of that, there was simply a big heap of fun envelopes and cards to play with for a while, making this activity great for self-entertainment.

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Chat with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika’s third Panda Crate, which seems to be aimed at a baby aged 5 to 6 months, is about language development and babble. To tie this idea into a theme, the crate focused on farm animals and animal sounds, which are often easier for babies to say than actual words. Certainly Veronika fits this trend, with “meow” “woof” “quack” and “baa” in her proud repertoire.  So without further ado, here’s what she received in this crate!

One: Mooing Cow

This was a very silly cow stuffed animal that moos when you turn it upside-down. Veronika wasn’t quite sure what to make of this little fellow!

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I tried playing pass back and forth with her, but she was a little scared of the cow! Instead, I encouraged her to moo along, and brought the cow back for later books and games (read on).

Two: Stacking Animals

These wooden animals – a pig, a sheep, a duck, and a bunny – are fantastic. They are just the right size for little hands, lightweight but sturdy, and lend themselves to numerous games. We lined them up in a row…

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…and then I showed her how to stack them flat on their sides, easier than standing them upright.

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When I stacked them atop one another, she was eager to topple the animal tower over! I can definitely see how this toy will grow with her, once she’s able to stack them herself.

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Three: Peek-A-Boo Barn

The farm fun continued with this neat vocab-building toy. Because each of the three barn doors opens in a different way (twist, lift, or slide), you can emphasize these verbs while your little one plays. Certainly Veronika didn’t waste any time getting her hands busy with it.

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She even played peek-a-boo with the duck up top!

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We returned to the theme of animal noises as she played, and I asked prompting questions like, “Where is the horse?” to build her animal vocabulary.

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Four: Pull-Along Truck

This gross motor toy was a welcome addition to the crate. The fabric upper body Velcros around the wooden wheel base, although ours was a bit droopy. That didn’t deter Veronika from zooming it everywhere!

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There’s room for onomatopoeia here, making truck sounds like vroom vroom and beep beep as you play. It’s also just right for loading in the wooden animals and giving them a ride.

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I can’t wait until Veronika is old enough to pull it as she walks, but for right now she was more than happy to push it along at a crawl.

Five: Board Book

As with every crate, this one featured a book about our friend Panda. In this one, Panda says hello to different animals on the farm.

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The book features numbers as well as animal sounds, and we recruited our new friends (the mooing cow and the wooden animals) to act out the story!

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Now it was time to check out this crate’s Wonder magazine. There were linguistic tips for every age, including activities we did when Veronika was 0 to 3 months old (sitting close and cooing back), 4 to 6 months old (repeating single-syllable sounds) and 7 to 12 months old (narrating the day). I liked the tip about praising language use instead of correcting it, which we’re prone to do as parents.

Wonder also had a page about baby signing, featuring 6 signs that Veronika already knows: milk, eat, more, all done, play, and help.

The suggested “Beyond the Crate” activities were mainly ones Veronika and I have done before. First up: Sounds All Around i.e. playing with onomatopoeia. She loves to copy sounds, so I thought of some fun new ones. While playing with her tea set, I added a  “pssssh” pouring sound.

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She was soon eagerly pouring for our tea party and shoving the cup in my face for a “sluuurp!” We also love to “beep boop” our light switches and to “choo choo” our trains.

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And of course, animal toys are ripe for onomatopoeia play, so we circled back to the new wooden ones.

There was also a recommended game of Tot Talk (responding to your baby’s babble as if having a real back-and-forth conversation). We do this often, and Veronika loves to monologue at me!

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Lastly, we played In Full Swing, a cute way to teach hello and goodbye as you push your baby on a swing. Veronika is just starting to wave and say hi to other babies, so she loved this game. Add other words like “forward” and “backward”, too.

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For musical fun, the natural song to sing with this crate is Old Macdonald Had a Farm.

Finally, we checked out three recommended books:

  • Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig
  • Listen to the Pets by Marion Billet
  • Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie Harris

Baby’s Poem

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If your baby has older siblings, then he or she is likely eager for the day when a baby brother or sister can truly talk. Help keep things amusing in the meantime with this cute, family-friendly activity.

Make a list of the words your baby can say so far. For Veronika, this is a mix of vocalizations and baby signs, and she’s picked up some funny first ones. On our list we had:

  • diaper
  • cat
  • socks
  • tickle
  • bus
  • mama
  • dada

Big brother Travis loved brainstorming the list, adding the “ta ta” that she says for Travis.

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Now it was time to turn her words into a poem! Take turns as family members adding sentences. I started things off on a silly note with:

“The cat in socks likes to tickle the bus.”

Travis immediately latched on and added:

“The bus got to tickle the cat.”

Our poem ended with:

“Veronika put a diaper on ta ta

And mama and dada took it off.”

As you can see, there are no rules and no need to rhyme. But it had Travis laughing, had all of us marveling at the words she can say already, and now has us excited for what word comes next.

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What was your baby’s first word? Please share in the comments!