Learning through Play with Toddlers

Learning through Play with Toddlers

By the age of one your child is developing a lot of new skills. He’s starting to say his first words and by the age of two will be forming short sentences. He’s taking his first steps and is more mobile. He can now reach for things on his own, jump and run. Naturally these changes also reflect on your child’s play and interests.

Children at this age start using their play to make sense of their world and how things work. They’re on the first step to imaginative play and enjoy playing with real life objects like pots & pans, brooms, gardening tools etc.   He’s also beginning to be good at things and with repetition your child eventually masters that skill and moves on to making it more complex.  Toddlers start developing new cognitive concepts at this stage; they start differentiating sizes and noticing if objects are the same or different.

Make sure your child has a variety of toys and experiences. You don’t have to use fancy toys or many toys either.

  • Give your child a safe environment so he can explore and practice his new skills freely. If you see your child doing something incorrectly, don’t be quick to interfere and show him the “right” way. Give him a chance to figure out how to do things or develop his own technique. The thinking process is just as important as the end result. At the same time make sure you are near in case your child asks for assistance.
  • Blocks: are a great way to build simple math and counting skills. Children also develop their fine and gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination as they make their towers taller. They are also using their imagination to make a house, a zoo or table with the blocks.
  • Buckets and boxes: children at this age love filling containers and dumping them.  Make sure there is a designated space where this is acceptable. It’s fun for kids and helps build their motor skills.
  • Colors and paints: you can make your own homemade paint with water/flour/food coloring so it’s baby-safe. Give your child different textures like cotton balls, glitter, tissue paper and pieces of cloth. Place a big paper for your young child on the floor or place it against the wall. Give him thick and thin brushes, rollers or sponges and watch him explore the textures and create their own art. It’s OK if it turns into an all-black painting in the end. Remember it’s all about the process! Your child is expressing himself which adds to his self-confidence and self-awareness. He’s exploring different textures and as a result learning about their similarities, differences and attributes. Some may be easier to stick than others for example or watching how red and yellow make orange! He’s also developing his motor and language skills as you ask him which color he wants, point to and label the different colors and materials. If you don’t want to make a mess indoors try doing it outside in your balcony or garden or place a bigger plastic tablecloth under our child indoors.
  • Pretend play: provide your child with items that are similar to real life like hats, scarves, old clothes. He might enjoy dressing the dolls in some of his own old cloths not doll cloths. More ideas are wands, cowboy boots, fisherman’s hat or doctor’s kit. These help your child learn about the world by repeating real life situations in play and imagining different scenarios and outcomes.
  • Books: are always useful in multiple ways! You can read with your child or let her read on her own. Toddlers are old enough to learn how to hold a book the right side up and put them back when they’re done. Your child can use stories (with your help) to make sense of new situations like having a new baby or going to preschool. It’s also a great way to look again and again and again at items that aren’t in our direct environment like animals, forests, or the sea.

A word about playing with others and sharing

Around 14 months children start playing side by side this is called parallel play. Although they may seem like they are playing together they are not. Their play may be influenced by each other and they may verbally or non-verbally swap items but they have not yet begun to play together. Real sharing and group play starts around the age of three. If your toddler isn’t sharing don’t be alarmed or embarrassed. You can try to give him another toy for a few minutes and tell him his turn is next.  Make sure you give him his turn within a few minutes!

What about television?

The strong recommendation of renowned pediatric association and child experts is to give no TV time before the age of two because it takes away from real life experiences and in reality may delay children in cognitive and language skills. You can read more about TV here.

How much play is enough?

Children play almost all the time and in general besides sleep probably only stay inactive for about an hour a day. The American National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends at least 30 minutes of “structured” physical play which means it’s initiated and let by an adult such as when you dance or try an obstacle course with your child. And at least 60 minutes of free play where your child gets to do whatever he chooses on his own. It’s important to try to maintain a balance of dictating your child’s play and letting your child take the lead. You might still get to be the princess or prince in his imaginative play.




Zero to Three: Power of Learning through Play

Zero to Three: Development of Play Skills

Kids Health: Toddler Play

Raising Children Australia: Toddler’s Play


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici 

Who says painting has to be with paint and a brush?

Who says painting has to be with paint and a brush?

I just discovered this really cool site – education.com – which has tons of activities for preschoolers and older kids. I love that they have the activities categorized by topic and age so you can find developmentally appropriate activities easily and you don’t end up doing something that’s too challenging for your child’s age. Kids love painting and it’s such a wonderful activity that has so much to offer in terms of helping development. It’s great for gross and fine motor skills, for developing spatial understanding, for understanding how things work (mixing colors), for experimenting, for cognitive development and it’s a great outlet and expression of thoughts and emotion.
Here are some interesting and unconventional ways of “painting” I found on their site and other favorite blogs and sites. Happy painting!

Painting with Bubbles

from mamamiasheart2heart.com

Blow Painting


Painting with Ice

check out painting with ice on Thechocolatemuffintree.com

Marble Art

from http://worldpreschoolmom.blogspot.com/


Crayon Rock Art

Pendulum Painting

Make a Window Mural

Finally and most importantly a recipe for home made fingerpaint


Related Reading

Fun Play Ideas for your Baby

Fun Play Ideas for your Baby

Here is a list of fun ideas you can do with your baby with materials that are around the house or are easily accessible

  • Material Box

This fun activity from The Imagination Tree is great for your baby’s fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and sensory skills.Check out more Baby Play ideas on their site.

  • Mirrors

Also featured on The Imagination Tree. Playing with mirrors is great for exploring the self, textures and environment. Different mirror materials can be used, like toy mirrors, story box mirrors and other safe reflective surfaces.

  • Ball Rolling

Your baby can usually start rolling a ball between 8 – 18 months. Most children are capable of this when they are around a year old. It’s a great activity for developing eye-hand coordination, which is a skill needed later for drawing, writing and eating. Ball rolling is also great for physical gross and fine motor development. You can use small or big balls to keep your baby entertained and depending on her ability and age. Remember don’t force your baby into the activity, just giving her the opportunity is enough, she’ll participate when she’s ready.

  • Music and Dance

Listening to music has been associated with increased spatial reasoning. Music and dance can have numerous positive effects on your baby; putting her in a good mood, helping her relax and just plain having fun. Dancing is an activity that can foster physical development as well as emotional and cognitive abilities. I’ve had experience with babies as young as 6 months moving their feet to the beat! Don’t be shy to give your baby some shakers or instruments to help her express herself and how she feels with the music.

  • Water Fun

Babies usually love water! Although they might find it stressful to take a bath in the first few weeks, most babies grow to love it and start crying when you take them out of the bath! Let your baby have some extra bath time and surround him with some rubber duckies and other safe play material. Some areas also offer swimming time for parents and their infants in groups. If you have access to a garden or beach, give your little one the chance to experience the wet mud and sand. It might be a hassle to clean up but you’re giving him a great experience in feeling textures and exploration which is great for his brain development. Remember never leave a baby in water unsupervised as it is extremely dangerous since babies can easily drown in a few inches of water.


  • YOU!

Of course the most irreplaceable source of joy is you! Mom and Dad! You can provide your baby with all the stimulation and interaction he needs. Talking and singing helps his language, emotion, social and cognitive development. Your face is an endless screen of expressions that teaches him how social interaction works. Your actions are a perfect model to how baby should act and behave. Most of all you know your baby more than anyone and can give him what he needs at the right time 🙂

Check out more great activities to do with your newborn and baby on the Imagination Tree’s site and The Bub Hub

Cover Photo by Mariam El Mofty

Your Child’s Many Intelligences

Your Child’s Many Intelligences

Every parent knows that their child is unique and different. Children differ in their development (early/late bloomers), abilities and strengths( some are great at ball games and others fine-motor activities like drawing) and interests (animals, vehicles, painting, etc..).  Children also have their unique way of learning.

In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner argued that children don’t all learn the same way but that there are multiple ways to learning and several intelligences at work. Gardner also argues that intelligence is best expressed through our idea and products not a scored test. Unlike other intelligence measures, he also  stated that culture is an important context of intelligence expression.

Gardner identified 8 intelligences. Each of us has all these intelligences in some form or the other. However, some are more dominant and obvious in our learning  and expression.

  • Musical Intelligence (“music smart”): The ability to think in music and audibly recognize and repeat patterns. The ability to create and communicate meaning through sound. Yes, musical abilities are considered a talent but they are also a form of intelligence. Certain parts in the brain aid in the production and perception of music. Expose your baby to music early on and explore her interest in playing an instrument. Rhymes and songs may make learning easier for your child. Famous examples: Mozart, Omar Khayrat. Child example: Akim Camara
  • Bodily Kinesthetic Intelligence (“body smart”): The ability to use your body for expression or solving a problem. These children learn best with hands on experience and experimentation. Try providing hobby or science kits as well as acting or role-playing. Examples include athletics, actors, performers, dancers and surgeons. Famous example: Charlie Chaplin.
  • Logical-Mathematical Intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”): The capacity to think in a logical and systematic fashion. It’s associated with solving mathematical problems and the ability to think scientifically. It is often characterized by rapid problem solving and a nonverbal nature. Children can learn through experimentation, problem solving and logic games. Famous Example: Issac Newton.
  • Linguistic Intelligence (“word smart”): The capacity to use words and language to express yourself. As well as, the ability to understand the people around you. People with this intelligence are sensitive to language and an ability to learn languages.  They also use language as a means to remember information. Examples are poets, writers, public speakers and lawyers. Famous examples: Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Nizar Qabani
  • Spatial Intelligence  (“picture smart”):  People with this intelligence think in terms of physical space. They like to draw, read maps, do jigsaw puzzles. May be interested in photography. These people learn best through drawing, verbal and physical imagery. Provide your child with creative material for learning and self expression. Examples are architects, photographers, graphic designers, artists. Famous example: Picasso. Child example: Aelita Andre
  • Interpersonal Intelligence (“people smart”): Are good at understanding and interacting with others. They learn best through interaction, group activities and dialogue. Your child may learn best through discussion or through social interaction. Examples are teachers, therapists, politicians and leaders. Famous examples: Gandhi.  
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence (“self smart”): Have an understanding of their own interests and goals. They are able to self reflect and are in tune to their inner feelings. May prefer independent methods of learning. You can encourage your child to keep a journal, read books or learn from creative material such as hobby and experimental kits.Examples include counselors and philosophers. Famous examples: Plato.
  • Naturalist Intelligence (“nature smart”): People with this intelligence are drawn to the natural world. They understand it very well and are able to work in it. They are able to learn through nature exploration. You can provide your child with outdoor exploration time, nature walks or keeping a pet. Some different ideas include having an ant farm or butterfly house. Examples include chefs, biologists, farmers, naturalists. Famous examples: Charles Darwin.

So What Does that Mean to You as a Parent?

It means that just because your child isn’t “good” at multiplying, it doesn’t mean that he is less intelligent than a child who is. It just means your child has a different intelligence strength. Try to find out what your child’s intelligence is and introduce other concepts through this point of interest. For example, a child who shows naturalist intelligence may not be as interested in reading stories, writing or geography. However, try introducing this child to books on animals, writing about a new species or learning about the different terrains that animals live in and you will probably see rapid interest and learning. This is because you addressed his prefered intelligence.

Young children can also benefit from understanding the many ways they are smart. Expose your child to different experiences; include music (real music not just children’s songs), books, give enough outdoor time to run, climb and explore nature, play with blocks and Lego, encourage self expression in words and art. 

You can find Music for babies here! As well as great discovery kits for young children here!

For those interested in learning more about multiple intelligence and tools to implement in your home or classroom, the multiple intelligence institute offers online classes for both parents and teachers.

Picture from arthur-cha

Getting in Touch with Nature

Getting in Touch with Nature

I remember reading “Koko’s kitten” as a child and being absolutely amazed! A gorilla communicating with people! For those who don’t know Koko is a 38 year-old lowland gorilla who learned to speak American Sign Language when she was just a baby. Her teacher, Dr. Penny Patterson, began working with Koko as a Ph.D. project at Stanford. Koko now knows over 1000 signs and understand over 2000 spoken English words. Koko doesn’t just mimic, she understands. Dr. Penny Patterson gives an example in this 1980s early documentary of Koko when she says that after teaching Koko the sign for ring, Koko called it a “finger bracelet”.

Koko isn’t one of a kind, she’s just been given the oppurtunity to show us what animals are capable of. Alex the parrot is another great example. He possessed more than 100 vocal labels for different objects, actions, colors and could identify certain objects by their particular material. He could count object sets up to the total number six. Take a look at how Alex answers questions on shape, color and numbers.

You’re probably thinking to yourself what does this have to do with parenting. Well, teaching our children about nature is an important part of how they grow up and view the world. It’s really sad when young children only know that zebras, lions and monkeys live in the Zoo!  Get your child to learn that there’s more to insects than crushing them 🙂 This can sometimes be especially hard for city dwellers but there’s still a lot you can do to get your child in touch with nature, and not just the one in your backyard.

  • Take nature walks or explore your backyard 

    Talk about everything you see, leaves, plants, insects and birds. Take along an insect box or jar and bring back some snails or bugs to get a closer look at. Watch your 3 year old be fascinated as the snail comes out of it’s shell and be prepared to answer a whole lot of questions!

  • Go to the Zoo or petting farm

    Check out pictures of animals before you go. Talk about where they originally came from, their environment or what they eat.
  • Bring an animal home

    Having a pet teaches your child how to care for another creature as well as foster a sense of responsibility. It’s also a great learning experience! If you’re not ready for a cat or a dog, try a chameleon, parrot or hamster.
  • Read

    Books are always a great way to introduce your child to new things. Point to the pictures while you read, ask your child what she thinks is happening and why or let her draw her own paintings of the animals. The Hungry Caterpillar, From Head to Toe, Tarra & Bella and Koko’s Kitten are just a few ideas to start out with.
  • Watch documentaries    

    Yes, I’m saying watch some T.V. it can be educational. Most of us will never get a chance to go to Africa, the Amazon or Australia to see all these different environments and the animals that live there.  This can sometimes be the only way for children to see the animals in their natural habitat. 

Koko has a new kitten now that she just got this month. 🙂


More Resources


Picture from Funny Pictures

Recycling Fun

Recycling Fun

Recycling isn’t just about separating your garbage or exchanging your plastic bottles for a few cents. Recycling can be fun and creative for both adults and children! Artists and designers  have created some incredible pieces of work using recycled material.
You can also introduce your child to the fun aspects of recycling by turning an everyday item into something imaginative and creative.

Try turning a plastic bottle into a bird feeder or a boat! Here is a great idea to turn your milk bottles into planters.

Make puppets out of paper bags or use them to make these wonderful trees

Egg cartons make great bugs! You can also use this great transportation theme from “Getting Messy with Miss Jessy

Also, check out these fun toilet roll ideas here and here!

Recycling isn’t just about making crafts, you can also make music. Try this creative outdoor music idea with your old pots and pans. Check out more recycled outdoor music ideas here!

You can use almost anything in your home to make one of these great Water Wall ideas. Check out ideas here and here.

You can find more great recycling craft ideas to do with your little on here.

For more inspiration check out what great Christmas trees cans and bottles can make and how some artists make sculptures out of old toys!

Reading to your Child about Recycling

Here are a few books about recycling for children ages birth-5. Get your child into recycling early on! 🙂

Don’t Throw That Away! A Lift-the-Flap Book about Recycling and Reusing 

“Follow an eco-conscious super hero as he teaches kids how to recycle and reuse common household items! The six large flaps throughout show that oridinary trash is really a treasure. From turning old clothes into fun costumes or an old box into a brand new car, kids will learn that saving the environment is super cool!”

Choose to Recycle! A Green Touch and Feel Book 

“A soup can becomes part of a new bicycle. A tire becomes a new ball. A bottle becomes a new goldfish bowl. In this die-cut, touch & feel book, recycling helps to create neat new things! This is a fun and simple introduction to one of the three R’s of conservation: reduce reuse RECYCLE. Reading to make a difference in the world. Hardcover book with touch-and-feel areas and die-cuts that reveal new images.”

Why Should I Recycle? 

“What if everybody threw away old bottles and newspapers, littering the world with glass and plastic and tin cans that should be recycled and made into new products? Mr. Jones is a teacher who sets a good example for kids by separating his trash for recycling. When he takes them on a class trip to a recycling plant they learn the value of recycling. Part of every child’s development involves asking questions. Today, some of the most important questions kids ask are related to the natural environment. The enlightening and entertaining four-book Why Should I? series demonstrates the importance of protecting nature. Books present brief, entertaining stories that answer children’s questions and feature amusing color illustrations on every page. A note at the back of each book is for parents and teachers, suggesting ways to use these books most effectively.”