Archive for ‘Play’

December 8, 2011

Holiday Crafts for Toddlers

With limited attention spans and less manual dexterity than older children, toddlers often quickly lose patience with crafts. Here are some simple and quick holiday craft ideas for small children. It’s a good idea to have craft supplies laid out and prepared before little ones sit down to work.

Cookie Cutter Stencils

Like using stencils or sponge painting, a cookie cutter can help your toddler create something he recognizes when he doesn’t know how to draw the object. It’s also a good starting point for the toddler who is reluctant to participate because he doesn’t want to get messy or doesn’t like the way tactile activities like finger painting feel.


  • For a young toddler, put the paint and cutters inside a newspaper-lined pan. This will keep him from making too big a mess as he scoots the cutters around while loading them with paint.
  • Older toddlers with a bit more practice can just use a paper plate. Both clean up easy.
  • All ages should wear a smock or old T-shirt

If you don’t have cookie cutters to go with every season (and who does?) then use what you have around the house. You can easily cut shapes into a potato leaving behind a surface that will hold paint and leave a uniquely patterned print behind. To make this activity toddler friendly, you can stick a craft stick or a fork into the potato so it’s easy to handle. After you get the leaves printed, your toddler can dip his fingertip in red paint and add the berries. If you have large enough paper you can even make a wreath

Cotton Ball Snowman

Cut 2 large circles out of white paper, making one a bit larger than the other.  Dip cotton balls into glue and glue on the circles.  Have toddlers decorate the snowman with shapes from construction paper to make eyes, nose, mouth, a hat, mittens, scarf and boots.

Frost Scenes

Toddlers will enjoy making winter scenes on paper. Using a mixture of half Epsom salts and half water, use paint brushes to cover the paper with the salt mix.  As the salt mix dries, shiny crystals will appear on the papers making frosty scenes.

Decorating Cookies and Gingerbread Houses

Making cookies and decorating gingerbread men/houses are always a holiday favorite of young children and those young at heart.  If you are baking cookies or gingerbread yourself try having all ingredients set out and  measured before you include your toddler.

Store bought cookies and gingerbread houses are a fun family activity and children can participate as long as their interest level permits.  If you choose not to purchase a gingerbread house one can always be made with graham crackers or plain tea biscuits, icing and treats (see photo above).

Holiday Placemats

Your toddler will love to set the dinner table with these festive place mats. With each family      member’s picture adorning a mat, he will be able to easily identify to whom each mat belongs. Toddlers also love to have personalized items-these placemats sporting their picture will delight them all through the holiday season.

Sheets of red, green, or white construction paper (one for each family member)
Coordinating construction paper
Small holiday stencils (optional)
Glue stick

Individual pictures of child and family members

To prepare for this craft, use stencils to trace small holiday shapes (trees, snowmen, snowflakes, stockings, etc.) on coordinating construction paper, or freehand draw the shapes. Cut out enough shapes to decorate all placemats.
Have toddler use glue stick on the holiday shapes and affix them as they like on placemats. When he finishes, attach the each picture to a different placemat and write the family member’s name below their picture.

For more durable placemats, take these to a printer to have them laminated.

The holiday season is everywhere you look starting as far back as October, so take this opportunity to teach your child about the things you see. Since this time also marks the early winter in most areas, taking a walk around the neighborhood or to a park will likely yield plenty to talk about. Walk around churches to inspect the nativity scenes. Take a walk in the snow and build a snowman (top him off with a Santa hat.) Take a drive to look at all the festive lights. Pick a different thing to talk about during each shopping trip, focusing on the things that interest your child or that are a part of your own family’s celebration. This is also a great time to reinforce colors since there is such an abundance of green, red, silver and gold.

Toddlers love to have creative outlets, and they love spending time with their parents. Start building warm holiday memories for your child by completing these simple holiday crafts with her this season.

Happy Holidays!

November 4, 2011

Two Year Old Play

Two-year-olds are wonderful, exciting, busy and demanding.  They have developed a lot in two years and there’s much more growing ahead.  One of the joys of parenting is finding that zone of moderate challenge for your child, and setting up fun opportunities for her to teach herself through exploration and play.

Toys are important to the growth and development of children.  Because of their increase in size and coordination, toddlers are ready to play with many toys and materials.  Through play, children use their muscles, develop their imaginations and learn about the world around them.  Some toys and materials which toddlers enjoy include:

For active play and physical development:

  • Large hollow blocks (can be made from milk cartons with ends taped closed)
  • A wagon large enough to climb in and out of
  • Small tricycles
  • Blocks that can be joined together
  • Push and pull toys
  • A sand pile
  • Stackable toys
  • A large container of water with items that float, sink and pour
  • Pots and pans from the kitchen

For imaginative play:

  • Dolls – unbreakable and washable
  • House play materials: brooms, mops, a table and chairs
  • Unbreakable dishes
  • Stuffed Animals

For creative and constructive play:

  • play dough
  • Paints (nontoxic), brushes, sponges, large pieces of paper
  • Blunt scissors
  • Large wooden beads
  • Large crayons

It is important to remember that toddlers are happiest when they keep moving.  They have short attention spans and are always switching from one activity to another.

Experimenting with materials and toys, without input from adults, is a great way for little ones to learn about the world.  You may want to  show a child how to draw a house or where to put a puzzle piece, but try not to.  Let them figure it out on their own.

At this stage of childhood, your child will learn more by just holding a paintbrush and spreading paint onto a large piece of paper – toddler’s don’t care about the final product.  They are more interested in the process – how things look, feel, smell, taste and change.  Don’t expect your toddler to finish a painting or anything else.

What to say:

What do you say about a smeary painting?  Children see right through phony compliments.  So don’t say “How lovely, it’s just beautiful!” unless you really mean it.  The best way to praise your child’s work is to talk about what he has done.  For example:

  • “Look at the circles.  The go round and round.”
  • “Let’s try to name each colour you used.”
  • “I can see you’ve learned to  make a triangle”
  • “I like the way you twisted the clay”
  • “You must have worked hard to cover the whole piece of paper”

Getting along with other children:

A toddler is only mildly interested in other children.  Adults often wonder if their toddlers are “normal” because they don’t play well with children their own age.  At this stage of development, toddlers seldom play with other children.  They may play near them, and this is called parallel play.  At about three years of age, a child will still play well with others.  Still, even then, children hoard their toys and refuse to share.  They cooperate and play together for only short periods.

Toddlers learn more from their play when they are left to work out their own “squabbles” and “let them go” to work through situations on their own.  This is one way they learn about other people’s behavior and feelings and learn to get along in the world.


September 1, 2011

The Importance of Balance in Children’s Lives

For a lot of parents around the world, the day does not end when schools out. They still need to take their kids to gymnastics, piano lessons or other after school activities. This all helps to keep children happy, secure and away from the television. Yet, parents need to watch out they do not over-schedule their kids.

While it is important to remember fitness and physical activity are critical for your child it is also important to keep a healthy balance.  This is particularly important when children are just getting back into the school routine.

Several studies have shown that too many after school activities create too much pressure. These studies have shown that when a child’s afternoon is filled with classes, sports and other forms of after school activities, they can become “burned-out” and do not  have enough  time for free-play and to be ” kids”.

Over-scheduling children can lead to increased levels of stress on the child and the family. Children are more and more being pushed by their parents to be high achievers. These kids are carrying a burden that is much to heavy for their shoulders.

When children are in a full day program or spend a full day at school there is a short window of time between their arrival home and bedtime.  During those few hours you squeeze in dinner, a bath, stories and after that there is very little free-time.  Bottom line is over-scheduling is too hard for a child.  Let your child choose the activities they want to do, remember that the happiness of your child is what’s most important and maintain a healthy balance in their schedule.


August 1, 2011

Water Safety: Critical to Summer Play

Taken from the Livestrong Website.


Drowning is the leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 4–and responsible for the deaths of three children every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Young children can drown quickly in as little as 1 inch of water, which means that bath tubs and wading pools can still pose a danger to your toddler. Parents can play a key role in preventing their toddler from drowning by learning CPR and providing careful supervision.


While the American Academy of Pediatrics once recommended against swimming lessons for children ages 1 to 3, its new guidelines suggest that toddler swimming lessons, along with pool barriers, life jackets and constant, consistent supervision can help provide the “layers of protection” that can help keep your toddler safe from drowning.


Inflatable vests, arm “floaties” and swim rings can give parents and toddlers a false sense of security while in the water and do not offer effective protection from drowning. Always stay within an arm’s reach of your toddler while she is in the water, regardless of her swimming experience or skills. If you take your toddler on a boat or fishing, make sure he wears a U.S. Coastguard-approved life jacket or a personal flotation device even if he knows how to swim. 


When you are unable to supervise your toddler, keeping her away from areas with water is your best defense against accidents. Fence-off a pool or hot tub with a four-sided fence and keep your bathroom doors closed when the rooms are not in use. Never leave her unattended in the bath, and do not rely on older siblings to supervise her while she bathes. Always empty buckets, wading pools and other water-filled containers promptly. Never leave them sitting in the yard where children can inadvertently fall into them and drown.


Even if your toddler learns to swim well, his advanced swimming skills will not “drown proof” him. Nor are they an alternative to proper supervision. Even a toddler with solid swimming skills can become tired and unable to reach the side of a pool–or bump his head against the wall and lose consciousness. Dr. Jeffrey Weiss, the lead author of the AAP’s 2010 policy statement on drowning prevention, stresses that parents need to be constantly vigilant of their toddler while in the water, since even a momentary lapse can lead to problems.


Accidents can occur, even with the most careful preparation and supervision. Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, so that you will be prepared if an emergency drowning situation occurs. The CDC asserts that CPR can help a child stay alive after a drowning incident, often with little or no brain damage.

Read more:

July 8, 2011

Summer Is Here: Time to Play!

The summer is a wonderful time with young children!  Being able to get outdoors without the hassle of snow-suits, mittens, hats and boots is such a pleasure …not to mention all of the fun summer activities.   Here are a few appropriate activities for babies and toddlers that enhance all areas of their development; including motor, language, social and cognition.  These areas are divided into active play, arts and crafts, outdoor fun and early learning.

Please always remember to supervise your children as they participate in these activities.

Active Play:

Let your baby swim and splash in the baby pool.  Give your child a variety of water toys, buckets, bowls, spoons and plastic shovels to explore with.  Babies and toddlers all love to explore in a sandbox, run and play in the sprinkler and dance to music.  Mirror play is great for self-awareness and for practicing making funny faces.  Play with balls, practice kicking, catching and rolling.  Blow bubbles and encourage your toddler to try catching them.  Have a pillow fight, play hide and seek or ring around -the -rosie.  Have a puppet show to entertain the kids.

Arts and crafts:

Try sidewalk chalk, but beware, babies will try to eat it.  Make tie dye t-shirts.  Allow your toddler to paint outside, make play dough and then let your little one use his imagination to create all kinds of new things.  Try  art, finger painting or watercolour.  Use stamps to create new pictures, glue or tape leaves and flowers on paper, make streamers with scarves or crate paper and run in the wind.  Make popsicles or apple-berry sauce together; toddlers love to help mix ingredients.

Outdoor Fun:

Plant flowers or a vegetable garden, your toddler will enjoy playing in the dirt and helping with the watering,  ask your toddler to help pull weeds and tend to the garden with you.  Go on a nature walk. Even better, make mud pies.  Have a picnic in the backyard or park; invite friends for an outdoor play-date.  Try flying a kite, lay in the grass, have a water fight.


June 1, 2011

Playing With Babies

As babies enter their second month of life they become noticeably more interested in the world around them.  They are eager to explore the objects and interact with the people they see everyday.  At this age play is more about interactions which can include singing a song to baby as you change his diaper or cooing and smiling back and forth.  Loving and playful experiences such as these will help your baby learn.

Some fun ways to interact with your baby in th early months:

  • Share books together – read and show the pictures
  • Make everyday routines playful.  For example, give your baby a massage after baths or before bedtime – this helps with bonding and body awareness
  • place your baby so that she can kick or hit a rattle – she will eventually connect the kicking with the sound of the rattle.  This is a fun activity and also helps understand cause and effect.
  • Offer interesting items for your baby to look at.  Move an item from side to side and watch baby’s eyes follow the object.  This is called tracking and is one of the first ways babies explore their world and build their visual skills.

Just remember to be sensitive to your baby’s limit for stimulation.  Babies have their own individual ways of responding to stimulation – light, sound, touch, activity.  Some can handle a lot of stimulation and others become overwhelmed quickly.

Some common signals that baby needs a break and is overstimulated:

  • turning his head away
  • arching his back
  • closing his eyes/sleeping
  • crying
  • fussing
  • hiccupping

When you see any of these signals try giving your baby a rest.  Put aside his toys and try gently cradling and singing to him. If that is still too much then holding baby against your chest may feel best to him….remember that even eye contact can be over-stimulating.

Babies are ready to engage in play when they are calm and clear-eyed, when he meets your gaze, moves his arms or legs, turns towards you or makes sounds.  Watching your baby to see how he reacts to stimulation is  important to understand how much play your baby needs, when he needs a break and how to comfort him when he is distressed.

Learning your baby’s individual needs and temperament takes time…be patient and relaxed and eventually the two of you will be in sync.


May 1, 2011

Top 10 Reasons Play makes Baby Smarter

An Enriched play environment is critical to baby’s development and teaches skills she will use later in life.  It is linked to learning, socialization, development and even intellect.

Play Makes Children Smarter: Playtime and interacting with toys are the primary methods children acquire basic skills.  Try to keep TV and educational DVDs to a minimum and allow children to explore with toys.  For example, when playing with trains a child learns about how trains operate, wheels, how to use tracks.  At the same time while sorting the trains, she learns colors, numbers, shapes and sizes.

Play Helps Social Development:Turn-taking, following rules, empathy, collaboration and self-regulation are some of the social skills play helps to develop.  Play dates provide opportunities for your child to interact with their peers and build the foundation for future relationships.

Play Helps Develop Impulse Control:  Play is the work of children.  Children must learn self-control and learn to follow social rules which requires great impulse control.  More impulsive children tend to show the biggest improvements when given the opportunity to play more.  It is important to create a “free” play environment with materials such as balls, blocks etc. and allow children to play on their own terms.

Play Reduces Stress:  Small children experience stress by  learning to play by social rules, controlling impulses, doing what adults say, and coping with separations.  If you are facing a situation that can cause stress for your child try to arrive early with toys and  have playtime with your child beforehand.  Redirect focus away from anxiety and settle them into new environment through familiar objects.

Play improves concentration, attention span and memory:  Attention and concentration are learned skills and play is a natural way for your child to develop these skills.  If you feel your playing child is ignoring you when you call, be patient she is developing important skills.

Play aids in physical development:  Improved co-ordination, fine motor skills, gross motor skills and muscle strength are all benefits of play. Active children grow up to be active teenagers and adults.  Encourage your child to kick a ball – large muscle activity and playing a game of patty cake – small muscle activity.  Physical skills promote self-confidence and a feeling of accomplishment as well as critical health benefits.

Play helps children understand how things work: Children love to repeat their play activities.  Through repetition, children learn to master new skills and allows them to move to the next level. If your child is happy with a toy don’t lure her to the next – allow her to experiment with repetitive play.

Play helps develop mathematical thinking: When children play with objects they are learning math without knowing it.  Play teaches children about the relationship between things and helps them develop reasoning that aids in mathematical performance.  For example, playing with lego and stacking one on top of the other shows that 2 is more than 1 and by adding 5 more you have a bigger quantity.

Play promotes language and literacy: Playing with other children requires your tot to use and be exposed to language.  Toys such as blocks that require creativity and interaction encourage children to practise their language skills as opposed to sitting and watching a DVD.

Play allows children to voice difficult feelings: Strong feelings such as anger, jealousy, anxiety and fear can be overwhelming for children.  Play provides a voice and a healthy outlet for the expression of these emotions and it is important for parents allow children to express themselves.  By allowing your child the space to act out feelings through play you are less likely to see such emotions come out in real life.

…..Remember simple toys do the trick!  Expensive toys often do the “work” for children while passive, simple toys encourage children to be more creative, engaged, active and promote development.  Please also refer to our “Play” archives for articles on creative play suggestions.


**Click on the headings along the right side of the page for past issues!

April 5, 2011

Playtime is Learning

An enriched play environment is critical to a baby’s development and teaches skills they will use throughout their lives.

Play time should be simple, inexpensive without high-tech toys or structured organization.  Simple, inexpensive, “open-ended” playthings allow baby to interact any way they like and utilize their imaginations.

Psychologists Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff urge parents to ease off the structured activities and formalized learning tools and allow their children free-time to play.  Their book “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards” explains that how children need the unstructured time to discover their own creativity and strengths.  While society tells us that we need to expose children to a wide range of structured activities they say it is okay to “just play”!  In the end children learn best by having some good ol’ free time.

What Should Parents Focus On?

Authors Hirsch-Pasek and Golinkoff send these 3 key messages:

1. Kids who are pushed into regimented academics too early display less creativity and enthusiasm for reading

2. Kids who learn through unstructured play develop needed social and emotional skills

3. Kids who memorize facts and figure at a very early stage show no stronger long-term retention…instead play can teach the children in a more child-centered way.

The authors’ explain that for every area of a child’s development there are ways through play to help a child learn, grow and be a sensitive, smart, caring individual.

Here are some simple toys that help baby’s development:

  • blocks promote fine and gross motor skills
  • Bubbles promote eye development and visual tracking
  • Dolls promote sociodramatic and pretend play
  • Boxes prompt imagination and creativity
  • Containers with wooden spoons promote auditory stimulation and cause and effect – water play is great for cause and effect learning as well.

Source: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff

In next month’s issue look for:  The Top 10 Reasons Play Makes Babies Smarter

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