Whether you're stuck indoors together on a rainy day or looking for ways to enjoy the summer sun as a family, you can provide your toddler with hours of entertaining activities that sneak in some learning, too. Before you know it, you'll have a scrapbook full of memories, a toddler flourishing with new skills and knowledge and a happy, well-bonded family—and enough paint on the walls and floors to use up a year's supply of elbow grease.
Arts & Crafts
Let your youngster explore her creative side with a variety of arts-and-crafts projects you can enjoy together as a family. Pick up some unpainted wooden ornaments from the craft store and decorate them with paint, markers or glitter to hang on the family tree, make sponge paintings to hang on her wall, turn some old socks into puppets for a family puppet show, or adorn the family table with a paper flower bouquet.
You can even build a modeling-clay city together for some adventure. This type of activity works well because it's tactile. "It's important when doing activities with young children that adults are very concrete and very sensory," says Irene Shere, director of the Early Childhood Consultation Center in Silver Spring, Md. "Talk about it in a tactile, visual and olfactory way." When working with modeling clay, for instance, tell your toddler that the clay is cool, squishy, smooth and flexible, and talk about colors and how they mix to form new colors.
Get physical together to start teaching your toddler early about the importance of a healthy, active lifestyle. Create an obstacle course in the backyard to encourage gross motor skill development, or play some simple relay-race games to help your child expend some extra energy.
It's easy to keep toddlers entertained with a game of hide-and-seek, but one parent should hide while the other helps your toddler seek. Play tag in the backyard or kick a ball around. Or, to introduce your child to the rules of baseball, try a round of kickball. It will be easier for your toddler to kick a large ball than use a bat effectively right now.
Experiment to find which game works best for your child. "Some kids like the sensation of being squeezed, some prefer spinning—like on a playground swing—and others like sitting on bumpy pads," says Jamie Rishikof, a clinical psychologist in Norfolk, Mass.
Family activity time in the kitchen may make mealtime with a picky eater less of a struggle. "Get your child involved in the food selection and preparation as much as possible," recommends Allison Reyna, nutritionist and cofounder of Cheer Up Buttercups in Austin, Texas. "Often, children are more adventurous with foods they wouldn't normally try if they're involved, helping prepare them," she explains.
Whether you're baking a cake, cutting up veggies or preparing an elaborate meal, make it a family activity and let your toddler help out with measuring, peeling, mixing and other simple tasks. It's OK to let him sample foods along the way—a designated taste tester is a very important job—but watch out for foods that can pose a choking hazard.
"As a general rule, kids under the age of 2 should never have whole nuts or seeds, popcorn, whole grapes or raisins, olives, or large "globs" of food such as nut butters," advises Melanie Potock, pediatric speech language pathologist and feeding specialist in Longmont, Colo. "Oral motor skills vary, and some children as old as 3 are at risk for choking if they have not learned to chew and swallow effectively."
Help your toddler explore the world around her with adventures around the neighborhood and family trips to educational and entertaining venues such as children's museums, zoos and petting zoos, crop and animal farms, apple orchards and indoor play centers. Even a family walk around the neighborhood provides you with plenty of opportunities to point out wildlife, flowers and plants, different types of buildings and people performing different types of jobs.
Family field trips don't have to be elaborate. Reyna recommends turning shopping trips into family trips by bringing your child along. To transform the trip into a learning experience for your toddler, Reyna suggests a variety of different educational ideas. You can make food flash cards and have your child locate the foods at the store, look for all the fruits or vegetables of a particular color, or visit a farmers market to see where healthy foods come from.