You don’t need big-ticket toys to amuse your little one. Age-appropriate activities that take place in the kitchen can deliver big gains for babies and toddlers.
For the 6- to 12-month set:
1. Name of game: “Go Fish” for Babies
What you need: One colorful, unused sponge; one 1-quart close-and-seal plastic bag* filled with one cup of warm water.
What to do first: Place a fish-shaped DIY sponge in the bag and seal it.
What to do next: Place your fish-in-water bag on the tray of your baby’s high chair. Show her how to squeeze, tap, and press the bag to make waves and get the fishy swimming. Talk about the fish (color and size) and point out the moving water.
Big gains and benefits: Baby can observe cause and effect, learns new words, and have fun while developing hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
Tip: Watch for leaks.
*Safety precaution: never leave a child alone with a plastic bag.
2. Name of game: Sock-and-Ball Toss ’n’ Roll
What you need: Bouncy balls and colorful socks rolled up in balls (as many as you need to keep him busy) and a large cardboard box that’s open at the top, a laundry basket, or a large bucket.
What to do first: With your child safely strapped in his high chair, demonstrate how to tip, push, roll, or drop the socks and balls from the tray into a receptacle of your choice, situated below, one item at a time.
What to do next: Name each item, including the socks, balls, baskets, pails, or boxes, and label motions you and he use, such as tossing, dropping, pushing, and so forth. You demonstrate the moves, and he copies.
Big gains and benefits: Baby experiments with cause and effect, learns new words, and exercises motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Tip: He will eventually try pitching food on to the floor anyway, so start with this. It’s practically a rite of passage.
3. Name of game: Drum Line
What you need: Colorful plastic measuring cups in several sizes that are safe for mouthing; for older babies, kid-safe pots, pans, and lids.
What to do first: Place a comfy mat or baby’s favorite blanket on the kitchen floor, and baby-proof the space and cabinets around it. Let your sweetie whack the cups together or toss them across the blanket to her heart’s content. Applaud each new sound she creates—a boom, a whoosh, every clunk. Cheer her on, and of course, tell her how great her drumming is.
What to do next: Chat about sound. Point out loud soft noises, and label big and small pots, pans, lids, and any other utensils she might be using. Show her how to clash two lids (cymbals) together—or bang out a beat with a wooden spoon.
Big gains and benefits: Language acquisition,motor development, and experimentation; heightens curiosity.
Tip: Add metal bowls and a set of metal measuring cups for more variety.
For kids 12 to 24 months:
4. Name of game: Pompom Sort and Stash
What you need: Lots of pompoms,* the larger the better; a plastic bowl to keep them in; one cupcake pan.
What to do first: Set up for sort and stash.Settle your baby into a comfy position on the floor or in his high chair.Place the cupcake pan in front of him, and the bowl of pompoms next to that.Let him investigate the pompoms and the tin.
What to do next: Point to the pompoms and name the colors. Show your child how to dump them out of the bowl, and let him try it without help. Demonstrate how to sort the pompoms by color and how to place like-colored pompoms in the tin cups.
Big gains and benefits: Great exercise for large and small muscle groups; good time to learn about color and work on hand-eye coordination, reasoning, and sorting skills.
Tip: Sort and stack blocks next.
*Small pompoms could be a choking hazard so close supervision a must.
5. Name of game: Tube Time
What you need: Two cardboard tubes from empty rolls of paper towels—one for you, and one for her.
What to do first: Turn them into almost anything—periscopes to peer through, tunnels for toy cars to enter, a slide for plastic figures, orchestra batons, and more.
What to do next: Wrap several woven, stretchy hairbands around the cardboard tubes and have a contest. Who can remove them first? Or add more cardboard tubes to your collection and see who can line up the most tubes in a row.
Big gains and benefits: Sparks creativity and imagination, builds motor skills, and inspires sense of self-esteem as baby achieves goals and accomplishes tasks.
Tip: Empty toilet-paper rolls work too!
6. Name of game: Prep and Serve
What you need: Kid-safe plastic fruits, veggies, meats, dishes, pots and pans, favorite dolls and stuffed animals.
What to do first: Clear a space in your kitchen and let your toddler make and serve meals, just like you do.
What to do next: Encourage her to put her paper cups and napkins in the trash and do other simple chores to build self-esteem and inspire a sense of personal responsibility as she puts some skin in the game.
Big gains and benefits: You have a capable and helpful toddler.
Tip: Tell her, “Keep up the good work.”
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