Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Stress-Free Spaces: Taming the Toddlers (and Preschoolers!)

     Teaching or working with the older kids can be a little challenging when you have busy little ones underfoot. I have three kiddos, my first two being 19 months apart and the middle and youngest being 2 years apart. So when I am trying to do independent lessons with my older two, sometimes my youngest gets antsy. Ants in his pants. Too creative, if you know what I mean.
     So, this means I have a few options. My first one is to tear my hair out and lock myself in my room quit. My other option (and the one that's better for all of us) is to problem solve. So, my solution to taming the toddler is organizing. 
     I found that it is really challenging to make up new activities on top of the activities we already do from the book. Or sometimes, you as the mom need to fold laundry without a cute little person unfolding it right after you. You may work from home and need some time to get a little work done. Whatever the need, a little time and effort on the front end with make a big difference.

So, here's what you need to start: 14 L/15 Qt. containers with lids (I used Sterilite) and a permanent marker. I usually store them underneath the art table (aka folding table) for easy access.  

Here's the idea. Take each bucket and choose one for each day of the week (Mon-Fri). You can label it with the day if that floats your boat. The each bucket can be filled with a plethora of different activities. The point is to have each bucket filled with activities that they will only see during this time. 

As you can see, there are a bunch of different activities for learning. It's also a great opportunity to teach a little self-sufficiency. My son has gotten to the point where he can pull out his box and start the activities independently. It's AWESOME.

Sooooo.... the next question is probably, "What in the world am I going to put in these boxes???"

Here's my stash:

*Felt mittens with numbers. This can be to practice recognition, put in ascending or descending order, etc. I made mittens (it was cold that day), but you can make anything! Even just cut out an orange circle and glue a tiny green leaf at the top and call it an orange. Or white circles and draw some red lines on it to make a baseball. And the numbers? Stickers. I just used stickers. This took almost no time and I just used $.39 sheets of felt and a glue gun.

*Puzzles! I found small puzzles that would fit in the boxes (Dollar Store, baby!). 

*Clothes Pin fine motor practice. Have some clothes pins (Dollar Store, if not!)? Have an empty yogurt or sour cream container? Ta-da! I cut an age appropriate sized hole and he has to open the lid, dump the pins, and stick them in the small hole. Another practice for fine motor strength would be to practice opening in the pins and rimming the outside of the container (without the lid, of course) with them.

*Stackable dolls. Just found these guys around the house. Perfect for lining up small to large (or vice versa) and figuring out which one goes inside the other in the correct order.

*Make-Your-Own Puzzle- My husband drew quick sketch of the two-headed dragon from How To Train Your Dragon. Then he cut it into pieces and my guy has to put it back together. Simple! I store it in a gallon zip lock. Can't draw? Color a page from a favorite coloring book and do the same thing!

*Practice Cutting-  Paint sample cards from the local Home Depot/Lowe's. Practice cutting on the white lines. These are starter scissors. You can get them on Amazon, or I have seen them at Target, too.  

*Melissa and Doug Lacing Beads (large)- This was a gift and it has been awesome! My girls and my son have all loved it. 

*Sort the colored disks- If you don't have the disks, cut up a bunch of pieces of paper into squares. Then they sort the correct colors into the muffin pan holes.

*Number cards- Again, Dollar store! Sometimes you can find them in the clearance or $1 section at Target. Put them in order, practice counting, etc. (In a DIFFERENT box than the mitten numbers).

*Pompom Pick-up- Dump out the pompoms and practice using the giant tweezers to pick them up. Too hard? Try cooking tongs. Too easy? Try small cosmetic tweezers. No pompoms? Try cotton balls.

*Straws in a Can- Both Dollar Store items. Parmesan cheese shaker and coffee stirring straws. Try to put them back through the tiny holes.

*For The Brave-- Shaving Cream! Now, I keep this in the box, but this is in NO WAY an activity that my son sets up. I use a tray, a table, and shaving cream. Spread the shaving cream around and let them draw, practice shapes and numbers, write letters, etc. It only takes one finger to draw. Recommendation: Teach them to use one finger/hand to write and the other for erasing. It saves on mess!

*Color Shades Matching-  This one is fun! Grab a couple of paint sample cards and some clothes pins!

*Play-Doh and Cookie Cutters- You'll also probably want to use a tray or cookie sheet to contain the mess. 

*Reusable Sticker Scenes- We got this at a toy store for a few bucks and it has been a lot of fun. There are lots of reusable sticker books out there!

*Practice Buttoning- Please understand me---I am NOT good at sewing. My talents are mediocre at best. I grabbed a few colored buttons, some matching felt and drew my own pattern. Snip little holes on the felt feathers and now he can practice buttoning. Great skill! (Definitely sew the buttons on, not hot glue).

*Animal cards- I got these at a clearance house...or maybe a yard sale....whatever. Anyways, he lays out the cards and learns different animals. Or you can sort them by mammal, bird, four legs, two legs, etc. 

*Tiny plastic bears- Great for sorting, making patterns (and even just playing with!)

*Coloring books! Each bucket has a coloring book and a different type of coloring tool (markers, crayons, colored pencils). We mostly use crayons, but it's really fun to change it up and offer markers and colored pencils. You may find that the reluctant color-er gets excited about these! 

*Lacing Cards- These are Melissa and Doug, but if you don't have lacing cards, try making some! Take a piece of card stock and print a picture on it. Cut it out, punch holes, and then ta-da! Lacing card! (Shoelaces work great for lacing cards).

Hammering- I found these golf tees at a store that was closing down. Grab an old shoe box and a PLAY hammer. If you make the starter holes too loose, they are way too easy to hammer. Make them tight enough for just the tip of the tee. Store tees and hammer in the box! Voila! (If you don't have a play hammer, try a spatula!)

*DIY felt snowman- A craft idea from our ebook. Lots of fun!

*Roylco Straws and Connectors- I got these at a yard sale, but they are available online.

*Another Button Activity- Ya'll. This was so easy. Seriously. 

*Preschool Workbooks!  Writing, coloring, and stickers! Here's 2 examples of some I have.

*Dry Erase books- I found some dry erase practice books. Lots of fun. AND REUSABLE! Yay!

*Magnets- There are a ton of magnet sets out there. Here's one that we use. They have princesses and fairies (and others) for girls, cars and trucks, and more for boys. Comes in it's own carrying case.

Find some things around the house to use. Make up some games, Go to the dollar general store. 
Be mindful to teach the routine of the buckets and it will become second nature after a while. If you are working with other kids, make sure you teach some sort of signal to your kiddo so he can let you know calmly and quietly that he needs help or is finished. 

Lastly, don't forget the obvious--- a few toys that they rarely play with now in the buckets for renewed interest, plain paper to color, BOOKS!!!! We almost always start with 15-20 minutes of quiet book reading--- an invaluable skill! 

Have fun! Feel free to ask questions!


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