My experience in the toddler classroom was probably the most difficult class to provide activities to keep the students happy and busy. The children ranged in age from 17 months to three years old. Developmentally, there is a big difference in this age group. Older toddlers usually have good verbal ability, improving small and large motor skills, whereas many young toddlers still use their hands and mouths for learning and exploring, and have difficulty expressing themselves.
Because younger toddlers need extra supervision with difficult tasks, it’s best to keep their activities simple and safe. Also, they need a good variety of activities to do. Start with easy ”sand” and water play activities using large containers on a table. Instead of sand, use small pasta, corn meal or oatmeal. Provide containers and shovels. Young toddlers need freedom to mess around with materials, but still enforce basic rules, such as not throwing materials and cleaning up. Sometimes this becomes a small group activity, which is fabulous for language and social skills. Just keep the number to a maximum, I found 4 children at the sand table usually worked well.
More Toddler Practical Life & Handwork Ideas
Painting with pudding is a popular finger painting project for toddlers. It’s hands on & it’s okay if they taste the pudding paint. Tape a shape (square, circle or rectangle) outline on a washable table for your child’s painting area. Put a teaspoon of pudding on the area. Show how to paint with your finger tips within the shape. When finished, take a piece of construction paper and make a print of the finger painting masterpiece. Show your child how to wash their hands.
My babies loved doing this in their high chair tray. Let them smear around the pudding directly on the tray.
Combing & Brushing Hair Practical Life Activity
I used my niece’s hand-me-down, Barbie Styling Head, for combing and brushing hair. I used a thick regular comb & a small brush-it’s easier to use than the small doll comb and brush. Show your child how to start combing the hair, slowly and gently, from the bottom to the top of the head. If you have lots of kids that want to do this, get two styling heads, one with a comb and one with a brush. Don’t use the small parts that come with this styling head & make sure everything is safe for your children.
Dry Materials and Water Play Activities Children this age need to learn to share, talk to each other and cooperate, even though they tend to be self-centered & play side by side. Also, you can provide different areas with containers of dry materials. One with cornmeal, one with pasta, one with rice meal and one with oatmeal. This way more kids can do this activity. Later, they will move on to more controlled movements and structure with other practical life lessons. You can use flour as a more advanced “sand play”- by providing a small flour sifter, scoops, cups and bowls and plastic knives for leveling off cups.
Water play can include washing a plastic baby doll, dinosaurs, plastic dishes, etc. Provide just a small jug of water, a wash basin,
towel, small tooth brushes, sponges and a mac or rain coat to wear. Show how to wash, dry and drain the water. You’ll have to redo the set up each time with clean water, but it’s worth the effort!
One of the first controlled practical life activities I introduce is dry cereal transfer. Put puffed rice in one wooden bowl and place it on a tray with a second empty wooden bowl. Using your finger tips, transfer the cereal to the empty bowl. Children will often do this activity many times. This is a favorite because very young toddlers love to put things in their mouths and use their hands. Just have extra cereal on hand because they will eat it!
When pouring dry ingredients from one pitcher to another for young children, again, I make sure the dry ingredient is a small cereal.
Pouring water from one, half full small pitcher to an empty small pitcher works well. Use a cake pan as a overflow tray, the spills stay put in the pan. Provide a sponge and bucket for clean ups.
If you don’t mind a bit of a mess, practical life skills can give hours of early learning skills.