5 Reasons to Use Simple, Homemade Activities with Toddlers

While I love toys as much (probably more!) as any SLP I know, I have also learned to value very simple homemade activities for toddlers. I’ve come to think of these activities as “games,” and that’s the word I use when I’m introducing these activities to children and to parents.

Before I list links to some of my favorites, I want to share with you WHY these games are excellent additions to your early intervention strategies.

1. These kinds of simple games play to many toddlers’ strengths.

So many of our little friends who struggle to learn language exhibit excellent visual skill strengths. This means they learn more by seeing than by hearing words. A toddler may not understand play routines that are heavily language dependent, but he may thrive when given an opportunity to complete a visual task he enjoys and understands. Don’t you like to do things you’re good at? Me too!

Because this is a learning strength for a child, these games can be used as a “break” between other language activities that may be much more difficult. When you’re sensing that a child is becoming too frustrated during a session or even at home, switching gears to this kind of task will reset the child’s mood and motivation.

Most toddlers and even preschoolers with delays understand and enjoy any activity when “put it in, take it out” is the primary focus. All of these tasks are based on this kind of container play and will be easy enough for most young children. When anything is easy for a child, it’s a strength. Use it in your therapy plan!

2. SLPs and other therapists can use these games for structured teaching tasks to help a toddler learn important prerequisites required for participation in play.

I think about these games as helping a toddler learn to initiate, participate, and maintain attention to task, and finally, to teach task completion. Many of our little clients can be described as “busy.” Completing a 9 piece puzzle, sitting quietly through an entire book, or even playing with a traditional toys like a Mr. Potato Head or a pretend kitchen may be immensely difficult due to the level of attention required. Some of our little guys can’t sit for more than a couple of minutes (or less!)

The time to complete these games can be adjusted as a child progresses. Initially one of these activities may be completed, start to finish, in under a minute or two. Over time the adult can easily increase the length of time a child participates by adding a few more pieces to a favorite activity or introducing a similar activity that’s just a little more difficult, which requires more time and concentration.

These activities can be designed with a distinct beginning, middle, and end so toddlers learn how to complete an entire task. This is a huge step in helping many young children learn to stick with a play routine rather than quickly moving on to the next “new” thing.

3. These games can teach cognitive skills to serve as foundation for language.

Some toddlers with speech-language delays also exhibit global developmental challenges. These young children need focused teaching with extended practice in order to learn important cognitive skills such as discriminating, matching, and sorting objects by features like size and color.

4. These games are perfect diversions in therapy sessions or at home.

Sometimes these activities become such favorites that I can extend a session when a child otherwise seems “done.” When these activities are firmly established, I can pull them out for the child to complete when I need to discuss something with a parent.

At home a mom can use these games when she needs to make a phone call, take a quick shower, or do anything else for a few minutes while her child is busy completing his game.

5. These are also great ideas for “no toy bag” programs since families have many of these materials available at home.

Many state early intervention programs discourage providers from taking toys to therapy visits in a child’s home. (Boo! Don’t get me started…)

If this is your situation, these kinds of activities are perfect for providing a little bit of structure and specific suggestions for moms who seem to need more ideas. Even if families don’t have an inventory on hand of these kinds of supplies, they’re cheap and easy to find.

I’d suggest that you set up several of these activities to teach parents how to make these games. I keep mine in (you guessed it!) 2.5 gallon Ziploc bags so they’re ready anytime I need one and can easily reuse the bags from child to child and from year to year. Because these games are so inexpensive to make, I routinely give these away to moms who may not have enough time, money, or follow-through to make them themselves. If your game stays intact, you can rotate the bag to another family. If it doesn’t (and it probably won’t!), you’ve not lost a lot of money.

If you’re a visual learner and need some specific ideas to get started, here are some links to examples of these kinds of activities/games:

Mess for Less

Happy Hooligans

If you want tons and tons of ideas, check out Pinterest! Here’s a link to one of my boards with fantastic examples:

teachmetotalk.com’s Pinterest Boards

I also made a Therapy Tip of the Week video in 2012 with directions for making a few of these activities and tips for using these games in therapy:

Easy First Games

If you’ve not included these games routinely for therapy, I hope this post changed your mind! Go dig around in your cabinets for materials and make something FUN!

Have you heard my podcast on this topic??? It’s show # 226 5 Reasons to Include Simple Homemade Activities for Toddlers. Listen here!

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