Category Archives: Homemade Games

Homemade Sunbleached Puzzles

I came across this brilliant idea for sunbleached puzzles.  They were so easy to create and great entertainment (and practice) for a puzzle-lover. It was also a great little lesson in the sun’s effects.

I set out foam bath letters and numbers on dark construction paper and left them to sunbathe awhile on the deck.  J enjoyed watching the process, impressed by the magical results! We then brought it all inside to start putting it all together.  You can make this activity more difficult by adding extra foam letters to the choices.

This is great practice at letter recognition.  It’s also great way to help them learn how to spell their name, memorize their phone number or address. 

The link above used magnetic letters and shape blocks to create their puzzles.  You could also cut your own shapes out of colorful foam.

Activities for Melissa and Doug Lacing Beads

Here’s a quick index of activities using these Melissa and Doug Lacing Beads.  Just click on the pictures to see more about each activity.

 

Matching Board

Counting Beads

Bead Patterns

Beads and Pompoms

Beads and Dot Markers

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).

Toddler Made Puzzles

Every now and then I’ll print out a scissor worksheet for J (just do searches on google and you’ll find lots of options).  It’s really good practice.  Using scissors requires lots of fine motor skills!  Honestly most of the worksheets are too hard for him at this point, but he enjoys them.  We really should practice this more often!

So J came up with this activity on his own.  One day he was having tons of fun cutting up one of the worksheets and went way beyond just cutting along the dotted lines.  He then announced that he had made a puzzle and I looked up to see him refitted all the pieces together! 

This has become one more activity he wants to do after scissor practice.  We mix up the pieces and he fits them back together like a puzzle. 

Age attempted: 34 months

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

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.

Homemade Gifts for Christmas

We’ve all probably seen little ones busy at play on Christmas morning, usually with an empty box or crumpled tissue paper, while the $30 gift sits alone in the corner.  Especially when they’re young. there’s no need to break a budget for Christmas.  Here’s some of J’s best homemade toys and games from birth to his current 2.5 years.  None of these are difficult to make and they have all provided him with a TON of playtime and learning time.  If you’re looking for a little something extra to include under the tree for your little ones, these just might work!  Include just one homemade gift or put together an entire busy box like these.

Baby & Pre-Toddler (6-18 months)

Family Board Books

Family Photo Cards

Texture Cards

Pipe Cleaner in a Bottle

Color Cards

Egg Cartons

Early Toddler (18-24 months)

Pipe Cleaners in a Bottle

Egg Cartons

Pushing Puff Balls

Sponge Jewelry (aka Stringing Sponges)

Mailman

Matching Boards or this

Toddler (2-3 years)

Magnetic Pompoms

Geoboards

Thomas Puzzle

Color (and Number) Wheel

You can also check out the category link Homemade Toys or Homemade Games for other suggestions. 

And remember, they don’t need fancy.  In fact at this age, they will most likely not notice at all if you spent tons of time making the homemade toys “cute”.  At these ages, they’re all about function and entertainment!

My First Recipe Cards

I thought I’d share something that I’m giving my 4 year old nephew for his birthday busy box.  He loves to cook, so I thought we’d start helping him work through simple (VERY simple) recipes on his own.  Many of the recipes involve no actual cooking, focusing on just the basic skills of working in a kitchen (ingredients, measurements, and following steps). They are recipes that preschoolers would enjoy eating as much as they enjoy “cooking”.  I included pictures to go along with most steps to help a non-reader out.

I’m going to try to do one of the easier ones with J pretty soon. I already have some modifications in mind to make it even easier for younger ones, but I do think these will work well in their current state.

Here’s the entire set of cards. My First Recipe Cards

To prepare them, I printed them on cardstock.  I then cut along the horizontal line and folded along the vertical one to create a front and back for each card.  I then hole punched along the left side of the cards (the open side) and used two small binder rings to combine the cards together. 

Add some measuring spoons, cups, mixing spoons, a hat and apron and laminate these great toddler/preschool food charts  as a placemat and you have an easy gift for birthday or Christmas.  If their interest continues, you could easily add a few recipes to their collection each year. 

If you try it out, I’d love to hear how it goes!

Apple Picking Practice

I think everyone should go apple picking in the autumn.  It’s a perfect activity for little ones.  Our trip kept getting pushed back for one reason or another throughout the whole month of October.  In that interim, I made this pretend apple picking sheet for J to work on. He uses his magnetic pompom balls (on a cookie sheet) to complete his apple picking.  I just set out a basket of “apples” for him to choose from, but I think it would be fun to add a hunt around the house for them too.  I originally saw the idea here and just adapted it a little.  After he was finished we counted the number or red, green and yellow “apples” and discussed which color had the most/least apples. 

I'm blaming the blur on my iphone!

I know apple season is over but if you want to try this activity yourself, you can print this pdf form for yourself.  It also has some apple counting and apple pattern worksheets along with it.  Apple picking and patterns

**I’m just noticing that I never posted about the magnetic pompoms, I’ll get back to you on that soon**

Age attempted: 29 months

We did finally make it to the real apple orchard.  Lots of fun!

I wish I could blame the blur on my iphone!