There are lots of very easy activities you can do with your toddler that can have a huge impact on their development.
From 18 months you want to be encouraging your toddler’s language as well as their fine and gross motor skills.
But if you’re reading this a little earlier than 18 months, it’s important that you know these type of skills don’t just start developing at this point. Your baby will have been developing their physical and language skills from day one, even if they’re not speaking that much in their first year.
The activities in this post are actually things you can be doing right from birth, although with some such as baking they will just be watching rather than taking part.
The point of these play activities is to expose your child to lots of new words, help them understand the world around them and encourage them to be curious.
They’re very simple educational activities for your toddler, most of which don’t require you to buy anything! Hopefully you’ve got all the toys or tools mentioned in this post in your home already.
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1. Teaching them new words
Hopefully you’re talking to your toddler all the time, even about the really boring stuff.
Telling your toddler what you’re doing, even when it’s something routine like cooking dinner, will expand their vocabulary like crazy.
Even if they’re not yet repeating the words back to you, exposing them to language all day is so good for their language skills.
When it comes to teaching them new words, encourage them to speak as much as possible. This may mean it’s time to ditch the dummy, or at least seriously limit its use to bedtime only.
Even those grunts, shrieks and cries are the early foundations for language. Let your toddler use their voice as much as they can. Of course it might be tough on your eardrums, but letting them be noisy is actually really good for the language development.
When teaching your toddler new words, say the word yourself two or three times and then leave a pause so your toddler gets a chance to say it back. Encourage them to give it a go, and praise them when they do.
Active listening, where you are making eye contact turned towards your toddler and nodding, will also make them feel more confident to speak up.
Try teaching your toddler the following types of words:
- Body parts. Sit down with them and point to your own body parts, such as nose, mouth, hands, feet, etc, and encourage them to do the same to themselves. Repeat the words again and again.
- Vegetables and fruit. Let your toddler hold and taste them as well to make it a sensory experience. When you serve them food, always go through what’s on the plate and when you’re cooking, show your toddler the ingredients in their raw form while repeating to them what they are. Having play food can also help them to learn about different vegetable and fruit names.
- Numbers. Try counting the number of toys your child is playing with, or the toes on their feet. Encourage them to learn to count to 10, and also show them numbers written down on things like blocks or puzzles. Repeat the numbers again and again, then encourage your toddler to do it back.
- Rooms in the house. When you’re moving around the house, speak to your toddler about what room you are in. Ask them, what room is this? Try to encourage a conversation about the things you are talking to your toddler about to encourage them to try speaking back.
- Household objects. Whether it’s a wooden spoon for cooking or a toothbrush, hold it up and repeat the word to your toddler, asking them to say it back.
2. Teaching your toddler colours
Now is the perfect time to start teaching your child about colours. When they are playing with their favourite toys, tell them what colours they are, and ask your toddler to say the colour back to you.
Teaching colours can also be done through painting or colour puzzles like this one.
It’s important to keep repeating the colours over and over, while asking your toddler to say them back. When they get a colour right, be really enthusiastic and praise them for trying.
3. Sing nursery rhymes
Nursery rhymes are a brilliant way to teach your toddler new words and encourage their speech.
The rhyming words and fun subject matter grabs their attention, so it’s the perfect way to make learning fun!
I suggest getting a good nursery rhyme book, with all of the classics and some beautiful illustrations, so that you can sing the nursery rhymes to your child while showing them the pictures.
In the early days, you can just sing them to them so that they learn the words, then change things up by missing the last word on a sentence and encourage your toddler to finish it. With nursery rhymes they pick up on this really fast.
Add in actions too to simple nursery rhymes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
4. Play with puzzles
Puzzles are a great way to challenge your toddler’s problem-solving skills.
They’re also great for developing fine motor skills. There are tons of amazing puzzles out there for the 18 months+ market.
I suggest picking up puzzles that are fun of course, but also that double up with some helpful teaching such as numbers or colours.
Your toddler may need a little help at first to line up the pieces into the right slots, so be really encouraging and keep playing with them until they can get it for themselves.
5. Encourage them to build
Playing with building blocks is a brilliant way to encourage your toddler’s creative side and to help them practice their fine motor skills.
They need to master the pincer grip with the thumb and forefinger into order to handle the bricks, and then practice a steady hand in order to stack them into a tower.
Challenge your toddler to stack the blocks, or build a wall with them.
6. Read books
Of all the things you should make time to do with your child every day, reading is at the top of the list.
Children who are read to regularly from birth find it much easier to learn how to read when they start school. They also tend to have a more extensive vocabulary where they were read to daily.
Other benefits of reading to your kids include helping them to learn how to concentrate, teaching them about the world around them, helping them learn about empathy and developing their imagination.
It’s also fun, and a wonderful experience for the both of you to bond over.
With my first child I would read to her for an hour a day, plus another 20 minutes at bedtime.
With my second I found I had less time to do this, but we still had lots of books at bedtime.
These days I tend to read to them in the day when we’re stuck at home and bored, as it’s a more relaxing activity. We also have three to five books at bedtime every evening.
7. Music and making noise
You don’t have to have a ton of musical toys to get your child involved in making music.
They can bang on a saucepan with a spoon or make their own shaker using rice or pasta put inside an empty plastic water bottle.
Get creative with making noise and music at home, teacher your child how to make different sounds.
Make up songs or sing your favourite songs to them.
8. The alphabet
Speak to your child about their ABCs, using the ABC song to get their attention.
Try showing your child the alphabet and repeating the letter names to them, then ask them to repeat them back.
You can get great colouring books, or free printable colouring letters of the alphabet sheets so that your child can get familiar with what the alphabet looks like.
Whenever you talk to your child about an object or person, tell them what that word begins with.
When your child starts school it will be really useful for them to recognise their name when it’s written down, so show them it and spell it out for them regularly. Of course they won’t be able to write it yet, that’s for them to learn at school, but they will pick up what the letters of their name look like together surprisingly quickly.
There are so many great learning benefits of baking!
Of course it’s a creative activity, especially when you let them decorate cakes or biscuits.
But it’s also an opportunity for them to learn about weight, numbers and the concept of more than or less than.
Speak to them about the different ingredients too and let them touch the ingredients. It’s a wonderful activity for all the senses.
10. Encouraging independence
Your toddler is probably already desperate to do a ton of things themselves.
At this age kids love to take over doing simple daily tasks, and they love copying the stuff that you do as well.
Doing things for themselves helps them grow in confidence and also helps to develop certain physical skills they need.
Where you can, encourage your toddler, with a little help of course, to do the following:
- Clean their teeth. You should still be helping your child to clean their teeth up until the age of seven. Try letting your toddler brush either before or after you do the main part of teeth cleaning for them (whichever they prefer, my youngest likes to go first).
- Get dressed. Your toddler will need you to lay out their clothes for them so they get tops and trousers on the right way round.
- Put away their toys. This is great to teach them the importance of contributing to the chores around the house and taking care of their own things.
- Play. Sometimes it’s best to just let your toddler play on their own. Being bored can spark their imagination and get them thinking about things in a different way.
11. Colouring and drawing
Get a pen, pencil or crayon into your child’s hand as often as you can!
This is not only a great creative activity, but it also teaches them to master gripping the pen with their fingers which is an important fine motor skill.
As your child gets older drawing will become a wonderful way for them to express their emotions. It’s a great creative outlet.
It also begins to build up strength and skill in their hands for when they’re ready to start learning to read and write.
Final thoughts on educational activities for toddlers
This should give you some great ideas for things to do with your toddler.
While these are simple play activities, they help to build on the skills your toddler needs for a great start in life!
Plus they all help to forge a strong bond between you and your toddler.
You don’t have to spend all day, every day entertaining your toddler and filling their day with super educational stuff.
In fact, one of the best things you can do for them is to encourage independent play. So find a balance between playing with them, and giving them a chance to figure out what they can do by themselves.
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