Category Archives: Games

Geography Game(s) for Toddlers and Preschoolers

To celebrate July 4th, why not pull out (or purchase) a US map puzzle!

J adores maps.  I think his fascination began because of his love for puzzles.  His grandma bought him a USA board puzzle back when he was one year old that required a little more skill than all the other pegboard puzzles and I guess he liked that challenge.  We have since bought quite a few map activities and puzzles as he remains fascinated.  My thought is run with what they enjoy!  Most of what he’s learned, he’s initiated on his own.  I don’t consider knowledge of all 50 states or all 7 continents essential for a 2 year old but since he’s continually asking questions, we answer and encourage that interest.   

I do find that maps offer great practice with shape recognition, spacial recognition, directional and locational instructions (north/south, above/below), and even speech as he practices saying each name (many of which are not easy for adults to pronounce, let alone a toddler).  These are all great benefits!   

So onto our geography games

1. Bean bag drop – This came about on the fly after he completed one of his puzzles.  I pulled out some bean bags (ours are each a different color) and started calling out a color bean bag for him to use and then a state to distinguish.  He would then try to drop the bean bag on top of that state while standing straight above it.  This was my attempt to encourage some practice with motor skills and hand-eye coordination while taking advantage of his interest in maps.  We first tried tossing it to the appropriate state, but he is far from able to accomplish that.  We then reversed rolls and he called out a color beanbag and a state for me to hit.  

2. Flying across the US - We’ve also played a similar game using our map puzzles and a free helicopter we got from a fast food kid’s meal.  If you pull the tail of the helicopter the propeller flies off and lands, spinning like a top.  So we used that, again practicing motor skills (to work the toy) and he had to name the state that the spinning propellers landed on. 

3. Photos across the USA/World - J has family all across the country (and world), so this game is something he can relate very well too.  We use photos of family members for him to place in the correct state or country.  I often pull this out when we’re about to travel so that he can get a good idea of where we’re going.  He flies his toy plane from one place to the other, mimicking what we will do in the air (or car if we’re driving).  We also use favorite characters/toys to help him relate to the state (ex: Mickey Mouse lives in Florida, cars are made in Michigan… a generalization of course, but something a 2 year old can relate to).

4. Twister Geography – You would need a large map for this activity (we use the foam floor maps).  He has to touch a certain location with a designated body part.  “Right hand on Georgia!” or “Left wrist on the Pacific Ocean!”  So far J can only handle one set of instructions at a time.  With preschoolers you could give multiple instructions similar to the game Twister.

I’m actually really excited about his love for geography (since I love it too!).  As a jr. high teacher we did a ton of geography games and activities that I’m currently trying to figure out how to adapt for a toddler.

So what is your little one interested in?  Maybe it’s not geography but cars or animals. How can you use that interest to capitalize on other skill practice (perhaps even more needed skill practice)?

Age attempted: 34 months

Here are some of the map products we have that have served their purpose well:

Battat Wooden USA Puzzle: My mom got J a set of puzzles that included this.  This was his first map puzzle.  There are no pegs in the US puzzle.  He played with the others in the set much earlier since they had pegs and were far more simple.  The states are mostly grouped together by region to create larger pieces (only Texas and California stand alone).  This isn’t a great puzzle for state recognition but it was a great transition puzzle from the simple wooden peg puzzles to the traditional cardboard puzzles. 

Imaginetics Magnetic USA Map - they simply lay each piece on top of the corresponding spot in the magnetic book.  This was J’s 2nd geography “puzzle” and worked well. Since you don’t have to complete the entire map, this was a good step up from the board puzzle.  We also used the magnetic sheet that each state came in as a shadow activity for shape recognition (just play on a cookie sheet).  Many of the pieces are small and a few with tiny parts have broken (Michigan and Maryland).  It is still worth the cost for us.

Melissa and Doug USA Puzzle - this is a cardboard puzzle we got J for Christmas; I should note that each state is cut according to its shape and does not have the traditional puzzle cutouts.  The border (oceans) fit together like a normal puzzle, but the states do not.  I love this feature.  J has had to learn how to deal with this so that the states aren’t moving around as he builds.  IMO this has helped him learn even more skills than a normal puzzle would offer, but it can be frustrating before they figure it out the best process.

Wonder Foam Giant USA Map -  J’s grandparents bought him this for Christmas (so yes, now he has two USA floor puzzles… and he loves them both!).  This is a very large puzzle.  Each state fits together like a traditional puzzle.  I like that they attempt to teach the general location of Alaska and Hawaii in relation to the continental US whereas most puzzles just place them in a corner. 

World Map Foam PuzzleWorld Map Foam Puzzle – This is a REALLY large puzzle with very thick pieces so it is very sturdy.   This map is pretty busy and a newer concept for J by introducing all the countires.   This is definitely one we work on together, though it’s amazing how fast you see improvment with practice!

Globe – When school supplies were really cheap at Target, I bought him a globe that he loves.  Since we have family both across the country and around the world, he has been encouraged to locate where they live on the globe.  I think a globe is a great resource/toy for kids since it really helps put geography into perspective.  Through playing with it and asking questions about it, he has learned the names of each continent (though he can’t locate them all).

Hidden Puzzles

This is such a great idea that one of my online friends, Karen uses with her toddler. I asked her to share her great idea for all to enjoy.  If your toddler hesitates to pull out those puzzles, this is a great way to add some interest.  Thanks Karen!   

Not your same old boring puzzle….

Age attempted: 25 months

 Materials needed:
Shoe size clear plastic tub with lid (for storage)..I bought at dollar general for $1.00
Large bag of uncooked elbow macaroni
½ bag of dry beans
Puzzle of your choice (I use Melissa and Doug’s See-Inside Numbers Peg Puzzle http://melissaanddoug.com/see-inside-numbers-learning-peg-puzzle )

 Directions:
1. Pour the bag of noodles and ½ bag of beans in the tub
2. Pour out an age appropriate puzzle into the tub with mac and beans
3. Have the child hide the puzzle pieces in the mac and beans (or you can show them the first time)
4. Have the child find the pieces of the puzzle and put them into the puzzle board in the right places

I like to put the tub on a child’s table at the child’s reach and the puzzle board on the floor so it’s an up and down work out (but it’s not necessary).

I’ve been doing this with my two year old with a number puzzle he had ZERO interest in. I figured the tactile mac and beans would get him interested in learning his numbers and it was an instant success! We’ve only been doing this for two weeks and he can already find most of numbers in order.

The first time you do this you may want to let your little one explore the mac and beans before pouring in the puzzle pieces.

Alternative: use oatmeal and/or rice in the tub to hide puzzle pieces. 

Mother May I?

Remember this game?  It’s really a great game that keeps toddlers and preschoolers entertained quite well.  My mom actually taught J how to play while I was in the hospital after his little brother was born.

It’s actually great practice for them in counting, size, gross motor skills and of course following rules since they have to return to start if they forget “Mother may I?”  It made me think, if J can follow the rules to this game well, there’s no excuse for him to forget to follow our house rules like saying “please” or “thank you”,  “May I get down now?” or “May I go upstairs now?” and the list goes on and on…

How to play:  Designate a starting spot and finishing spot.  You stand at the finish line and have your little one stand at the start. You call out different type of movements for them to make as they move towards you.  For example, “Take 3 giant steps,” “Take 2 bunny hops,” or “Take 6 skipping steps.” Get creative and have fun with the commands!  They must first respond with “Mother may I?” before following out your instructions.  If they forget to say “Mother may I?”, they have to return to the beginning to start over again (which is sometimes part of the fun for J!). 

J and I take turns.  Sometimes he gives the commands and sometimes I do.  Either way, it makes for great and cheap fun.  This is something you can play while waiting in the doctor’s office, in a hotel room, while you’re cooking dinner, feeding the baby,…  You gotta love these good old fashioned activities that required nothing! Why do we make things so intricate today?? It’s really not all that hard to entertain kids J

My Little Helper: Grocery Label list (or fun scavenger hunt)

My cousin recommended this idea after seeing J’s grocery list on this post (My Little Helper: Grocery Shopping) and we finally tried it out at the store.

Prep: I did a quick search for some of the logos of items on my grocery list, copy and paste and I’m done.  The internet makes this so simple and quick!

I didn’t pull it out at the grocery store until I knew we were about to start hitting the items on the list so basically we’d already gone through produce and meats.  J’s list also did not include everything on my list.  It was funny how he immediately knew what certain items were when I handed him the list.  Like he knew that the Yoplait logo meant yogurt or the Lactaid logo was milk. This not only keeps them busy while shopping, it was also great practice with word recognition and letter recognition.   

J really liked this, even better than the other grocery lists honestly.  I think it helped too that I gave him a highlighter to check off his list rather than the normal crayon or pen :)

For younger ones, I would put the items in the order that you’ll reach them in the store. Another thing that works well is to fold the list in half or in thirds so they are just looking at a few items on the list at a time. 

You could use this as a scavenger hunt rather than a grocery list that kids would love (which means they’re focused while you shop!).  And this would actually make the list even easier to create since it wouldn’t matter which items you included.

Age attempted: 33 months

Struggling with Water in their Face

When I was posting on the Mini Car Wash, I came across a photo that reminded me of something other mom’s might find useful during bathtime..

J has gone through phases where he HATED water in his face.  I have always just dumped and moved on, sometimes he was ok with that sometimes he was NOT.  I did try to teach him to hold his head up, but fear always made him tilt it right back down. 

And then we happened upon this little “game” during bathtime. I got him to try to catch the water dripping from his head in a cup.  Getting him focused on this was just what he needed to forget about the water in his face.  It works so well for him.  In fact if you look closely at the photo, you can see water droplets falling from his eyelashes too, but he could care less since he’s focused elsewhere.

As he got better with catching the water, we moved to containers with smaller openings to increase the difficulty.  He likes to try and fill up a bottle, douse the toy fish inside a bowl, drip water onto those little growing sponges, or even get the stream to flow in between his fingers. 

We don’t play this game every bathtime anymore since he will now hold his head up.  But every now and then he wants to play it again. 

I imagine this game would work unless your little one has very short hair since the water needs to drip off the longer hair to form streams. 

Age attempted: 2 years

Homemade Game using Magnetic Pompoms

We recently played this game and I wanted to hurry and get it posted in case anyone out there was making Magnetic Pompoms to give as a Christmas gift.  All you have to do is add dice to the gift for an extra activity!

What you need:  Magnetic pompoms (or any type of marker really, dot markers, M&Ms, coins,…); Magnetic surface, Die (I found extra large foam dice at Target for $2), and your playing board of choice (you will need enough for each player to have their own board) 

How to play:  1st player rolls the die and gets to place that number of pompoms onto their board.  2nd player follows. Continue until someone fills all spaces on their board with pompoms to win.

Simple enough!  This is a good way to encourage counting and even basic addition and subtraction if wanted.  Obviously the greater number of empty spaces on your board, the longer the game will last (and the more counting practice).  You can use multiple dice at a time to encourage higher counting if your game board has enough empty spaces.  Add a color spinner for an extra element of fun and some color matching (they must use both the correct number of pompoms AND in the correct color). 

Scroll to the bottom of this link for lots of board options to choose from or you can make your own!

Age attempted: 31 months (if they can count to 6, they can play this game)

Homemade Game: What’s In the Stocking?

We played this fun and simple game and ever since J has been bringing me the stocking and asking to play again. 

How to Play:  Gather a group of items from around the house with different shapes, textures, and purpose.  Older children could handle more suddle differences in the objects.  Keep them hidden from sight.  Place one item in a Christmas stocking and have your little one feel inside and make a guess at what the item is.  I encouraged J to describe the item as he felt it to help him make an educated guess. 

This is so simple, no reason not to try it!  With older kids you could even make this a game you play on Christmas morning.  Younger ones might have a hard time with guessing items they’ve haven’t seen yet. 

This is great for exploring textures, using simple deductive reasoning, and practicing descriptive words.

Last night we reversed rolls.  He hid things inside and brought me the stocking to make a guess.  It actually worked great while I was cooking.  It kept him well occupied.  Every few minutes I heard, “Mommy no peeking! Just look!”  (What he meant was, “no peeking, just feel”).  Of course it took him awhile to realize he should let me make a guess before he told me what it was.  He was just so excited!

Age attempted: 31 months (certainly can be done earlier!)

**I’m even categorizing this as a good travel activity since a similar version could easily be done in the car or on a plane.  Just use a bag or the seat-back pocket on the plane.

20 Month Old Busy Box

I put together these activities for a friend’s little girl.  While mommy is serving in Iraq, I thought this busy box might help to keep her little one busy and hopefully even allow her dad some much needed time off from entertaining.  Most of the activities are homemade, repurposing items from around the house as is my norm. I housed them in a simple decorative box.  J’s own “busy box”  is kept in a closet and the activities are only brought out at certain times throughout the week.  This helps keep it’s novelty.  Some of the activities are repeats from the 1 year old Busy Box I made my niece awhile back, though I tried to make them a bit more difficult for the older age.  You’ll also notice that these activities are mostly ones I’ve mentioned in previous posts.  When I make a busy box, I try to pick the most successful activities from J’s experience, many of these are motor skill activities.  Some of these activities are things Ella can enjoy now and some she will grow into in the next few months.

You’ll have to excuse my poor decorating abilities.  That is certainly not my forte.  Most of the original toys that I made for J aren’t decorated at all.  J never seemed to mind, so hopefully little Ella will look past the covers and still enjoy the meat of the activities!

1.  Pushing Puff Balls – this is a fine motor activity and has always kept J entertained; see this post for more info

2. Color Sorting Pipe Cleaners – again a fine motor activity and I added practice with colors; this is probably the favorite homemade toy for J; see this post and this post for more info

3.  Color Wheel – practice with colors and fine motor skills; you can use the wheel in other ways too. See this post and this post fore more.

4. Puzzles -These foam puzzles were one of the best buys for J. They were just $1 at our local grocery store and I picked them up on the fly one time.  When I saw them there months later, I bought a few more as gifts. I bring the color puzzle on plane trips sometimes since there are few pieces and it’s very light. 

5. Family Bag – this is similar to J’s family magnet pics.  I added each family member’s name to Ella’s pics, laminated them (with contact paper) and gave her a little purse to carry them in.  J has loved his family pics since before he was one.  I thought adding the names could encourage name recognition.

6. Seed Family Worship CD – I had previously sent one of their CDs to my friend while she’s in Iraq, but thought her daughter might like one too.  These cd’s are really great and not just for kids IMO.  They are an excellent way to help us write God’s Word on our hearts.  See this post for more.

7. Fish Counting and Matching file folder game – J has a similar matching game, I just made this one a bit more durable by adding it to a file folder for safe keeping.  The envelope holds the laminated fish cards to match as well as the fish to place on the counting page.  I found the counting template here from Tot school and have used it many times with J.

8. Sponge Jewelry – a fine motor activity and again a favorite of J’s, simply thread the sponges onto the pipe cleaners.  I found a greater variety of sponges for Ella’s jewelry.  A girl needs to match!  See this post for more info.

Outdoor Fun: Circle fun!

I got this idea from Little Hands, Big Work (an awesome blog by the way!) and tried it the very next day.  We all know how much I LOVE sidewalk chalk. :) 

 (See this post or this post for more on sidewalk chalk)

You basically draw circle paths along the driveway in various colors.  You’ll notice in my picture that our paths were quite easy with only a couple intersecting colors.  The idea is to call out a color and have your toddler jump, run or skip along that particular color route. 

The activity was definitely a win!  J took to it immediately (though he didn’t always want to follow the rules of the game!)  I should also mention that the neighborhood kids loved this activity too.  I had kids coming to play on my driveway all week! 

Age Attempted: 24 months (he could’ve done this earlier I think); You could make this harder by adding more colors, more intersections, drawing different shape paths (in repeated colors, so they would have to follow the red triangles NOT the red hearts).

Letter of the Day Activities (H day!)

Today was H for Hat day.  These are the Letter H activities we did today.  You’ll notice that some of them are focused on the letter and some on the sound of the letter.  The activities were not done back to back, but spaced out throughout the day!  You could also space them throughout the week.

1.  H for Hat craft – This is the way I introduced the letter H to him.  I presented a blank color sheet with both the upper and lower case letter.  We discussed the name and sound of the letter.  Then I showed him his Leap Frog fridge toy and had it tell him the name and sound of the letter too (it has a cute sing-song version that J loves).  We colored the color page and I talked about words that start with the letter H.  We focused on hat.  While he was coloring, I gave him a hat to wear.  Then I brought out some cutouts of hats (from clipart) and he glued the pictures on his coloring page.  He really liked this and wanted more hats when he ran out!  A lesson is small disappointments turned out well too!  

For an older child, you could have lots of different possible H pics or even a mixture of some that start with H and some that don’t so they have to separate them. 

2.  Hat Hunt in the Dark  – I mentioned a similar version of this game in this post. I just revamped it for “H is for Hat” day.  I prepped this activity by setting up hats all over his room, turned the the lights off and had an empty box and a flashlight by his door.  Before we walked into his room, I explained the game.  “Mommy has hidden hats all over your room.  I want you to use the flashlight to find all the hats and place them in this box!”  He did a great job.  He loves using a flashlight so that made the game extra fun for him.  After he filled the box with all the hats, we both tried them on together.  Then he lined them all up and walked back and forth straddling them (his own addition to” H is for Hat” day activities!). 

3.  Playdoh – I bought this great set of cookie cutters from Target that have letters, numbers, shapes, animals, vehicles,… (101 pieces).  So I brought out the letter H to let J stamp with.  As a good review we made letters A-H and sang the alphabet song.

4.  Hats or No Hats game – I found a lot of great smiley face figures in clipart and printed them out.  Half of the smiley faces were wearing hats and the other half were not.  I cut them out and laminated them (with contact paper) to create little cards.  I made a simple table using painters tape on our kitchen floor and labeled one column “Hats” and the second column “No Hats”  (using his stuffed animals as an example).  He had to categorize the picture cards in the correct column.  I will say he lost interest in this midway.  I think the problem was he felt sorry for Doggie because he didn’t have as many smiley faces as Teddy did.  J hit a point where he wanted to give more smileys to Doggie.  When I asked him to look again to see if that smiley was supposed to go to Doggie (because it technically wasn’t), his response was to remove the hat from Teddy’s head and place it on Doggie…. so Doggie could now have the smiley and mom could be satisfied too!  The game ended at this point.  I was too busy laughing :) 

5.  Sidewalk Chalk – if it had not been raining, I would’ve reviewed with this as well.  Instead I reviewed with his magnetic letters… and then we spent some extra time playing with J’s train set instead.  See this post to discover why sidewalk chalk helps so much that Mondays are designated sidewalk chalk day in our house. 

Throughout all the activities I refreshed his memory on the look and sound of letter H.  I keep up the reminders throughout the remaining week.