Clean out a drawer in the kitchen or assign a tote in the playroom as the craft corner. Stock it with Play-Doh, watercolors, crayons, paper, and glue sticks for rainy-day fun. Many families have a budding artist who will spend hours of free time drawing, painting, and sculpting, all the while learning about colors, shapes, spatial relationships, form, and design. Pasta, rice, and aluminum foil pieces are always on hand to experiment with, but watch the glitter; it's tough to get out of wood floor and carpets, so put down a drop cloth.
Studies have shown that children who study music do better in math and foreign languages (written music is language after all). Lots of toys make noise, but avoid the push-a-button-get-a-sound types. Instead, invest in tambourines, triangles, recorders, drums, maracas, and tiny pianos. It may sound like a lot of noise now, but symphonies aren’t written in day!
Start off with touch-and-feel books and move on to book with snaps, zippers, even some that teach kids how to tie their shoelaces. Scratch-and-sniff books are perennial favorites, and toddlers love to discover what’s inside lift-the-flap books. Older kids can exercise their minds with Where’s Waldo, I Spy, and similar search-and-find books.
Electronic learning toys/tools
Not all electronic toys are one dimensional. Leap Frog makes a terrific line of educational electronic gadgets designed to teach the alphabet, numbers, counting, colors, phonics, and musical skills. Children’s software and online games are other great options that help kids learn to use the computer while they’re practicing their spelling skills or just playing a game.
Children are gradually developing a sense of self, so they enjoy trying on different identities to see what feels right. Dress-up clothes allow little ones to escape into worlds of fantasy simply by donning a hat or pair of high-heeled shoes. You can buy sparkly princess dresses or custom-made fireman outfits, but your own closet most likely holds a treasure trove of items. Old ties, lacey slips, shoes, belts, hats, even nightgowns and colorful socks are perfect.
Get clean and get smart with basic bath toys. Toss stacking cups and a plastic spoon in the tub for your toddler—old kitchen utensils and bowls are perfect, too. Sand toys like sifters, shovels, and buckets make great bath toys. Teach your little one colors and have a blast by adding a few drops of food coloring to his bathwater each night.
Whether it’s a quacking duck, squeaking puppy, or chomping hippo, little ones love to pull a four-wheeled animal around. Some children become attached to their wooden friends and insist on taking them everywhere like a beloved stuffed bear or cherished baby doll. The pull toy has been around since colonial times and will delight your children and grandchildren when the time comes.
Candy Land anyone? How about Chutes and Ladders? Board games teach children how to take turns, play fairly, and be a good sport. You can’t go wrong with the old favorites, but new games come out all the time, so browse the toy store and ask other parents which ones their children like best. There are even games designed for the under three-years crowd because it’s never too soon to learn how to play by the rules!
Once they go mobile, there’s no stopping them, so foster your child’s need for speed with a ride-on toy. She’ll learn the joy of moving under her own power as she develops steering, stopping, and navigational skills. Some riding toys come with a removable rocker so they can double as a hobby horse. Others feature add-ons like horns and bells or washable covers.
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