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Activities for Bonding and Learning from 24 to 36 Months

Toddler girl putting dress-up glasses on stuffed bear

Try these fun games and activities with your children and watch how eager they are to learn!

River Walk

Cut large circles, squares and triangles from colored paper and lay them randomly on the floor (you might want to tape them so they don’t slide). Tell the children that you need to get from one point to another without stepping on the floor. You can only step on the shapes. See how they respond to this challenge. They may step on the floor in the beginning, but will figure it out eventually. Later, you can make it more challenging by stepping only on red pieces or only on circles. Games like this help children develop problem-solving skills and also build their understanding of shapes and colors.

Lighty Light

Find a flashlight with an easy on/off button for “light play” with your toddlers. Dim the room lights and shine a beam on the walls and ceiling, on the children’s arms and legs, on your face. Then let the children make the light “dance.” After a while, they will be delighted to figure out that they are controlling where the light goes!

Tunnel Vision

Make a box tunnel by opening both ends of 3 to 5 moving boxes and lining them up in a row. You can vary the game by adding turns to the tunnel with more boxes, substituting boxes of smaller and smaller sizes (until the last one is just small enough to wiggle through), or by adding a “door” by hanging a blanket over one end. This helps children develop motor planning (sequencing one’s movements to reach a goal), coordination, and spatial awareness skills.

Frogs on a Lily Pad

Cut out big green circles from paper and scatter them across the floor. Suggest the children hop from lily pad to lily pad. Talk about what they are doing as they hop along. Games like this build motor skills while encouraging imagination, creative thinking, and language skills.

Tea Parties for Teddies

Collect stuffed animals and set them on a blanket on the floor. Have a “tea party” with empty paper plates and bowls, an empty plastic pitcher, spoons, etc. What are the teddy bears eating? What games do they like to play? Activities like this encourage using imagination to expand on a pretend play scenario.

Mail Mayhem!

Cut squares from colorful paper; write a short note on each one (“Hi sweetpea!”). Place them throughout the room and have the children collect the letters and bring them to the mailbox. You can be the “mail carrier” and hold a shoebox (with a slit cut in the top) where the children can drop the letters. Switch roles and let the children hide the letters. Games like this encourage imagination and creative thinking, as well as early literacy skills.

Fix-It-Up Fun

Use a large cardboard box as a workbench. On top, place your “tools”—wooden spoons, whisks, a fork and spoon, a measuring tape, etc. Then ask the children to choose a toy to “fix,” using the “tools” to “fix” the toy. Role-playing games like this develop symbolic thinking and pretend play skills.

Open Up!

Draw a large face on a cardboard box. Cut out a circle where the mouth is. Pop a ball through the hole/mouth and tell the children, “My friend is hungry. I fed him an apple. But he is still hungry…What should we feed him next?” Keep “feeding” until the children want to tip the box out and start over. Activities like this give children a chance to use their symbolic thinking skills as they pretend the different objects you feed the box are food items.

A House for a Mouse

Cut half-circle (i.e., mousehole) doors from a large appliance box and make this the children’s “mouse house.” What does a mouse need? Ask the children what to put inside. Think about blankets, “food” (use blocks), plates, etc. Now pretend to be little mice, make mouse squeaks, walk quickly and quietly like mice, and help them ”settle” into their “house.” Watch how the children expand this pretend play idea. For example, your “mice” may ask for a teddy bear before they go to “sleep.”

Make and Munch.

Cut 10-15 squares (about the size of a piece of bread) from different colors and textures of fabric. Say, “I’m going to make a sandwich” and pile up a few squares. Pretend to gobble it down. See how the children respond: Do they want to make a sandwich now? Do they want to “eat” it or feed it to you? The children may even build on this game by, for example, saying they’re thirsty and asking for a cup to “drink” from. Activities like this encourage symbolic thinking and pretend play skills.


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