If you spend anytime on Pinterest, I'm sure you've noticed that there are an abundance of ideas for fun, creative, educational, and cheap activities to do with toddlers and preschoolers. However, my little one isn't quite to that stage. Yet she's at the point where she needs a constant play companion and gets bored easily. I've been searching for some great activities for an older baby and haven't found much so I decided to solicit some advice from some experienced moms, search the web (ahem...Pinterest) for ideas, and compile them for other parents or caretakers running low on ideas.
What I love about this list is that most of these ideas use items you have already lying around the house (which makes them easy and free) and many of the others have cheap DIY options. In my seven months of motherhood, I've noticed that Lucia has very little need for "real" baby toys; she actually prefers to explore the everyday items around her. So save your money and space by forgoing the expensive baby toys in favor of teaching and playing with what you have on hand. (For more tips on saving with baby, see the Baby on a Budget series.) Another observation I had about these activities is that they overlap each other - the same materials can be used in various ways to create new activities. So see what you have around the house, make a quick trip to the dollar store, and start playing (and learning) with that adorable baby of yours!
|source: Plain Vanilla Mom|
2. Edible Finger Paint
For those who can handle a little more mess, have your child "paint" on large sheets of butcher paper with various foods. Laura of Diapers and Drivel suggests using "room temp yogurt or room temp pudding or room temp cool whip depending on the age of the baby and allergies." Heather, occasional contributor at Raising (& Teaching) Little Saints, says "since black and white is often still "hot" at this age try chocolate pudding and whipped cream." Sonja of Shy Babies wrote a post about edible finger paint and suggested ways to get older children (siblings) involved as well, including having them experiment with mixing together different colors and combining art and snack time by having them "paint" on pie crusts, sugar cookies, or graham crackers.
Silica of The Adventures of McBaby has seen much success from signing with her little one: "We have been signing with our son, Alisdair, consistently since he was about six months old, and now at the age of 15 months, he can sign about 75 different words! Since we didn't know much sign language, we used The Baby Signing Book which has an ASL dictionary as a reference, and the Signing Time videos to help us learn. One of our favorite things to do with signing is songs - favorites now are 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star', the alphabet, and 'Itsy Bitsy Spider.' But any song or lullaby will work - just sign the words you know when you come to them!"
4. Sensory Bottles
|source: Pink Pistachio|
I first became aware of sensory bottles when I worked for a short time in the one-year-old room of a daycare. My daughter loves to hold bottles with just plain water in them, so she's certainly ready for sensory bottles. If you are unfamiliar with sensory bottles, here's Heather's explanation: "On the go at that age, my son was fascinated when I'd take an empty 8 oz. water bottle, take off the label, put in a few tbsp of glitter and sequins, and fill it with water. I called them shaky kaleidoscopes." Almost anything can be put in a bottle with water to make sensory bottles: food coloring, oil, feathers, beads, rice, etc. I love this tutorial at Southern Thomas, which uses awesome Voss bottles, a variety of items inside, and a carrying case made out of an old cardboard beer bottle carton! (And the total cost for her sensory bottle project? $6.50!) Another example from Pink Pistachio includes ribbon strips, dice, and little pom-pom balls.
Although (most) babies of this age aren't yet able to build with blocks, don't make the mistake of thinking they are too young for blocks altogether. Build a tower and let baby knock it down. And then do it again. This helps her understand cause and effect (if you push on the blocks, they fall down every time). Don't get stuck thinking you can only stack "real" wooden or plastic blocks - fabric blocks (DIY tutorial from Just for Daisy), empty food boxes (especially those individual serving cereal boxes), egg cartons, etc. can be just as fun!
6. Dump and Pick Up
Along the same line as blocks, make a game of placing certain items in a container, dumping them out, and (if the baby is old enough to do so) putting them back in to do it all over again. Katie has a fun (easy and cheap!) suggestion of items to use: "My son especially liked clothespins in a large can (I used a utensil holder). They were clangy and interesting. Dump it out, put it back in."
7. Cook Together
When you cook, bring baby in the kitchen with you. Put him in a high chair or other seat and hand him cooking utensils to play with while you work. Savannah of Simply Me writes of her son, "He loves to makes noise and when I'm cooking I give him a wooden spoon and a pot and let him go crazy! It lets me be able to cook in peace and it entertains him." Wooden spoons, whisks, pots and pans, and measuring cups all make great baby toys. If you don't mind a mess, as you work with different ingredients, offer your little one the chance to touch them. While baking, put a little of each ingredient: flour, oil, etc. in a bowl separate from the one you are using. Let your baby put his hands in it and run the ingredient through his fingers.
8. Indoor Sledding
One of my favorite ideas comes from Laura of Diapers and Drivel: "Tie an old towel to a laundry basket and put baby in basket. Then pull them around the room." How simple, simple, simple and fun!
For an outdoor activity, Heather, occasional contributor at Raising (& Teaching) Little Saints, suggests a bubble machine: "Just point it so the bubbles will float past where she's sitting." And, of course, a good old fashioned bottle of bubbles and wand will work just as well. (Imagine how fun this could be for baby and older sibling - older sibling blows the bubbles, baby sibling pops them and giggles!) For a fun DIY option, check out this tutorial at Rhythm of the Home for homemade bubble wands and bubble recipe. Erika of Raising (& Teaching) Little Saints: "Bubbles are fantastic for hand eye coordination which eventually helps with writing, holding a pencil."
10. Read, Read, Read
I hope I don't need to remind you to read to your baby, but I couldn't leave reading off the list since it is the quintessential baby activity. Have fun with it - use stuffed animals or puppets along with the story, use different voices for each character, add your own extra narration to the story (especially useful for those baby books that only have a few words per page!). In addition to reading to your baby, let her "read" to you and to herself. Leave baby-friendly board books and cloth books in her toy bin. Create a "reading time" each day, before bed or a certain time during the day. Let her see you read for fun (perhaps sit next to her and read your book while she reads hers!). Our current favorite books are Good Night, Little One, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, cloth Thank You Prayer book, and The Corduroy Giant Shaped Board Book. Which are your little one's favorite books?
Laura of Diapers and Drivel suggests making your own book: "If you have a laminator you can make your own books with pictures of family (particularly ones you don't see often). You can also add different types of fabric for texture feeling. You can do shapes that are 3D or colors." There are many great tutorials for homemade cloth books, but if you aren't very crafty, you can purchase this Who Loves Baby? photo book and just slip in your own pictures (my mom gave this to me as a baby shower gift so that baby wouldn't forget her loved ones living out of state and Lucia loves it!).
Infant massage is such a great way to bond with your baby. There are also some great health benefits to infant massage (read more about them here). Massage can get a bit trickier as your baby gets older and more mobile, but establishing a "massage time" during the day, for example before or after nap time or as part of the bedtime routine can help. I took an infant massage class when Lucia was three months and our instructor suggested integrating massage with storytelling for older babies and toddlers. Tell a story about a garden and demonstrate the "raking" by raking your fingers down your child's back, "plant the seeds" by gently pressing on the back with your fingertips, and "cover the seeds" by gently pressing your palms back and forth across the back. For more resources on infant massage, check out the International Association of Infant Massage website.
12. Obstacle Course
Once your little one is crawling, Meri encourages that you set up an obstacle course to help increase motor skills. Use pillows and cushions that baby has to crawl over, boxes to crawl through and attach towels or sheets to a table that baby has to go under. You can also include various materials and textures that baby has to crawl on (perhaps silky sheets and fuzzy blankets) and toys that baby has to push or move out of the way (like the Fisher Price 1-2-3 Crawl-Along Snail).
13. Tactile Books/Cards
|source: make, do & friend|
Get creative with the classic game of peek-a-boo! Meri suggests convert large boxes into peek-a-boo boxes. And Laura of Diapers and Drivel has an idea to turn chore time into play time by playing peek-a-boo while putting sheets on your/their bed. I always play peek-a-boo with my little one while my husband is holding her. I peek around his shoulders or his sides, I've even knelt down and peeks through his legs. After a few times, Lucia catches on and starts looked wildly around for me when I disappear and giggles with delight when she finds me. It never gets old for her! Incorporating a mirror into peek-a-boo and having the little one look for herself is fun too!
15. Hanging Toys
|source: Paint on the Ceiling|
16. Bead Tracks
Heather: "I made my own bead tracks (like the Brio ones you see in doctors offices). Super popular and he could spend HOURS with them. All you need is a block of wood, coated wire that will hold it's shape well, and large beads." What a great DIY project (and much cheaper than buying one)! I tried finding some tutorials and examples online, but only came up with ones made out of styrofoam instead of wood; if you find one (or if you do it yourself and make your own tutorial), let me know! Or non-crafty types can always purchase one like this Melissa And Doug Bead Maze.
your little one into a musician by filling a container with
noise-making objects. This is similar to a sensory bottle, but without
the water. Laura of Diapers and Drivel recommends using "an old medicine bottle (child safe of course) and fill it with beans". For another fun (and beautiful) option, check out these shakers
made out of clear plastic Easter eggs that I found at Mama Smiles. I
think that old spice bottles would make great shakers as well. If you
make several shakers, vary the object inside so each shaker makes a
different noise. If your container is clear, different bright colors
aid in exploration. Some ideas to fill your bottles: buttons, rice,
sugar (or sprinkles!), coins, beads.
|Source: Mama Smiles|
18. Have a Ball
Again, this one should be obvious, but sometimes we need reminders from time to time that we don't need to constantly plan structured activities; sometimes, all you need is a ball. There is so much your little one can do with a ball, roll it, bounce it (or watch you bounce it in those early months), and of course, take a little taste. If you do want to make ball playtime even more "educational", you can provide a variety of balls with different shapes, sizes, materials, and textures for your baby to explore.
19. Fun with Sponges
Sponges are really fun playthings for little ones (with and without the water). I previous mentioned them as a fun addition to tactile cards or books because of their interesting texture. Play with them at bath time or simply give (a clean) one to your little one to explore. To "fancy up" sponge play, try making sponge balls with the tutorial from One Charming Party. Or turn sponges into blocks and build a tower with your little one (I love this idea from Toddler Approved to use sponge strips to build and play with before you turn them into sponge balls).
20. Sensory Bins
A sensory bin is a container of some sort that contains several different materials and toys to let you baby or young child explore various shapes, sizes, textures, colors, even smells. Several of the activities already mentioned are "sensory bins" of some sort - a container with water and ice cubes, a bowl of cooking ingredients, etc. Sensory bins can be made of various items you have around the house. Often, especially for older children, the sensory bins have a theme (for example a "nature" themed sensory bin might include dirt, rocks, leaves, and plastic insects) but since the purpose, especially with littler ones is just to let them explore new items, a theme isn't necessary. I really like the sensory bin made up of rice, large noodles, and plastic shapes in a glass casserole dish from Play, Create, Explore. I made a similar one last week for Lucia with wooden shapes and lentils. Another fun one I found is a sensory bin filled with various balls. Some other ideas: cotton balls, coffee beans, ribbons, sand. What are your favorite sensory bin materials?
I can't express how excited I was the first time I realized my baby was ticklish. I tickled her under her arms and she laughed and laughed. (My first thought: I can make my baby giggle on demand? Yes, please!) If you are a parent, I'm sure you don't need me to tell you how fun tickling is for you and baby. But perhaps I can suggest a neat twist on traditional tickling: check out these homemade tickle sticks from make, do & friend.
|source: make, do & friend|
22. Open/Close Games
Jamie of For Love of Cupcakes: "You can get a tin in the Target dollar bins and put crayons or little toys inside. Little One will have hours of fun!" You probably don't even have to buy a container, you probably have several extra containers at home (old oatmeal or yogurt containers would work). If you want to keep the lid with the container, cut a little hole in each and tie them together with a ribbon!
23. Velcro & Magnets
|source: Chasing Cheerios|
According to Heather, "Egg cartons make great places for "sorting" things - my son used to LOVE using them for that. Have them sort cereal (Froot Loops were always popular) and other edibles once they can chew them." I think plastic Easter eggs (or perhaps the Easter egg shakers pictured above) would be fun for little ones to play with in the egg cartons as well. Meri suggests using large vegetable trays to sort large objects. Other household containers for sorting include muffin tins and ice cube trays. At the early stages, perhaps sort items by color or type before giving them to baby and then just let him play with them however he wants. Later on, you can help him sort by giving him different colored items (food, toys, balls, etc) and putting a piece of colored paper/painting on the bottom of each section of the container for him to match the colors.
25. Nursery Rhymes, Songs, Finger Plays
None of these activities are meant for baby to do alone! All of these should be supervised, especially the ones with small items and water.
If you have any ideas that aren't included in this post, be sure to leave them in the comments or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will incorporate them into a future roundup of ideas. Please include any blog posts you have written on activities with your baby and I'll be happy to link to it.