As a mother of toddlers and preschoolers I know that what keeps my children’s attention one day might not work the next. I try to be intentional in creating fun, age-appropriate learning experiences for my kids every day, and have come up with some frugal ways to make that happen. Here are some everyday items that can be easily found around your home that can be transformed into toddler teaching tools.
1. Plastic lids.
Instead of throwing these plastic tops away, save them to use with your toddlers and preschoolers. Lids can be used in various ways such as sorting, patterning, and pretend play.
2. Muffin pans or ice-cube trays.
Young children need practice categorizing objects and seeing patterns. The easiest way to help them with this skill is to pull out an ice-cube tray, muffin pan or paint palette. Use these containers for various sorting and patterning activities. Get a bowl of pom poms and have your child sort by color. Use large jingle bells and make a pattern. Gather up shaped erasers and sort. The options are endless.
Pour salt on a tray and have your child practice making shapes, letters or numbers. For easy clean-up and reuse, pour salt into a wooden box or a shallow shoe box. This is an easy sensory activity that young children love.
I clean and reuse old medicine droppers for fine motor skill practice activities. These are skills that strengthen the muscles in the fingers, which is necessary for writing and independent tasks such as buttoning clothing. One of my tot’s favorite activities is to use the eye dropper to transfer water into another container. To step the activity up a notch, have your child create water patterns in an ice cube tray or muffin tin. There are many options for this activity and I am always surprised at how long my child will stay working on this task.
5. Plastic Bottles.
There are many different ways to reuse empty water bottles, spice bottles or cheese containers. Make sure they are clean and dry before using. Turn old water bottles into various I Spy bottles. Using different fillers, you can customize these for seasons, themes, or letters.
Use old Parmesan cheese containers for another fine-motor skill activity. Have young children try to put coffee stirrers into holes in the top of the container. Then dump them out and start all over again. For slightly older children, use pipe cleaners and have them string buttons or beads onto the pipe cleaner. If they are ready for color-matching or counting, you can have them sort the buttons by color or number onto the pipe cleaners.
Another way to reuse old spice bottles is to create mystery scent bottles. Place a cotton ball with vanilla extract in one, cinnamon, vinegar etc. The child must use their sense of smell to determine what’s in the bottle.
It is amazing to find all the different ways everyday items can be used as educational tools.