It amazes me how children learn. I know I’ve heard it a hundred times about how children are sponges just soaking up everything around them. I didn’t know how true that was until I had a child of my own. It’s seriously crazy how true that statement is. Kids ARE sponges. My son has picked up on so many words, phrases, and ideas just by listening to everyone around him.
But I think the most learning takes place during playtime. Play is so important for a child’s development, and learning activities are a great way to combine learning and play into one by introducing new concepts to your child in a fun way. They don’t have to be anything fancy or expensive. They just have to be fun! And craft supplies are always fun, right?
About a year ago, I decided to take W to the hobby store and just go a little crazy. I don’t believe we had a lot of crafty items around at that point that he could use, so I decided it was time to stock up. We picked out some construction paper, markers, crayons, and chalk. And then I let W pick out some things that he thought looked interesting. He was particularly drawn to a big bag of pom poms and a bag of colorful feathers, both of which we brought home.
I think those craft supplies have been one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. We’ve spent countless hours since then drawing and crafting. Although we’ve mostly used those supplies for making pictures to hang on the fridge, a few of those items have come in useful for learning activities. I find a lot of great ideas for learning activities on Pinterest, including the pipe cleaner and colander activity below. But many of the fun things we do together just occur to me while we’re playing. Below are three of my favorite activities that W and I have done together over the last year – all with craft supplies.
- Pipe Cleaner Sculpture – I love this activity. It’s so simple, and cleanup is easy. All that’s needed is a basic colander/strainer from the kitchen and a bag of inexpensive pipe cleaners. The activity itself is pretty straightforward, just insert both ends of a pipe cleaner into the holes of the colander to make a loop. Repeat with more pipe cleaners until you have a colorful sculpture of sorts.This activity is great for developing fine motor skills. It’s also an opportunity for your child to be creative since there really is no right or wrong way to do it. They can make the “sculpture” however they want. Concepts that can be learned with this activity include:
- Colors – State what color pipe cleaner you have as you insert it. Ask your child, “can you hand me the red one” while pointing to a red pipe cleaner, and so on.
- Texture – Encourage your child to feel the pipe cleaner in their hands and talk with them about how soft and fuzzy it is.
- Sharing – This activity is great for demonstrating to your child how to take turns. Let him/her insert a pipe cleaner, and then insert one yourself.
2. Pom Pom Sorting – For this activity, all you need is pom poms in assorted colors and a few different containers that can be matched to the colors of the pom poms. I used some of W’s plastic bowls of which we have several different colors. But I have also used food container lids and measuring cups.
I would suggest starting with just 2 or 3 colors at first if sorting is a new concept for your child. W started with just 3 colors, but he has sorted as many as 8 colors at once. This activity can also be done with other items besides pom poms. Before I purchased the bag of pom poms, I just selected a group of some of W’s smaller toys like blocks, legos, and letter magnets for him to sort. As long as the colors are similar enough to the containers you choose, that should work just as well. Other concepts you can introduce with this activity include:
- Counting – Once your child has finished sorting, count the number of pom poms in each bowl.
- Cleaning up – After your child is finished sorting, have them help you return all the pom poms to the bag or other container.
3. Dirty Dinosaurs! – This is one of those activities that we happened across one day while just having some play time outside on the porch. W and I thought it would be fun to color his dinosaurs with sidewalk chalk. Then we decided that, of course, they need a bath! And that’s pretty much all there is to it! All you need is some chalk, some small dinosaurs (or other small figurines/toys), and a container to hold some water. The only thing to really consider is to just make sure that the toys you choose are made of a material that can be drawn on with the chalk. Smooth plastic surfaces will not work well for this activity. This activity is also great for working on the following concepts:
- Colors – Name the colors of the dinosaurs/toys before coloring them, and then decide which color chalk to color them with.
- Identification – This only really works if the toys you select are something that you know how to identify, of course. Dinosaurs and animals are both something that would be good to practice identifying with this activity.
- Texture – Encourage your child to feel the difference between the surfaces of the chalk and the toys. Ask them what they think about how the water feels on their hands. Dip some of the chalk in the water and talk about how it’s changed now that it’s wet.
All of these activities are appropriate for toddler and pre-school age children. My son was between 2 and 3 years old the first time we tried all of these ideas.