Open-ended toys: These are toys that can be played without an end goal in mind, encouraging creative problem solving and fostering imagination.
- Blocks: Foster thinking such as measurement, equality, balance, shape, spatial relationships, cause-and-effect, physical properties, gravity, etc. Think of many different kinds: wooden, bristle, Duplo®, etc. Magnetic and foam blocks are particularly good for younger infants, whose coordination is less developed.
- Dress Up Props: As toddlers develop, dress up and symbolic play fosters creativity! A dress up bin that leaves lots to your child’s imagination is a perfect way to enhance thinking.
- Pretend Play: As toddlers develop, their imaginary play skyrockets. Support your child’s creative thinking with people or animal figures, vehicles, puppets, etc., allowing them to weave their own storylines.
- Books: Remember that books can be toys as well! Get baby-safe sturdy board books, or cloth or bath ones. From simple stories, to pop out pieces, to touch and feel, to wordless tales, books can take your child to magical places…be sure you are along for the ride!
- Puzzles: While there is usually one set solution for a puzzle, there are many ways to get there. You can also use puzzle pieces as puppets or for storytelling. And many make sounds, foster thinking skills, or otherwise engage very young learners.
- Storytelling Pieces: Think magnets of family photos, felt shapes or objects that move around felt attached to a cork board, etc. Talk with your child about what he is doing, or create an ad hoc silly story on the spot.
Art Materials: Make sure these are always non-toxic and baby-safe. Getting chunky ones makes them easier for younger children to hold. Washable items make clean up easier!
- Think crayons, markers, paints, chalk, stampers, Dot Stampers (low mess!), etc.
- Don’t forget playdough, clay, and other soft malleable substances (e.g., cornstarch and water is a magical experience!)
- Collage materials, if safe and supervised, are great ways to extend thinking and make art more three-dimensional. Think yarn, lace, fabric scraps, floral foam, chenille stems, even cardboard paint chip samples will add color and design!
- With supervision, introduce scissors, tape, glue, and other materials by letting your child explore with no end goal in mind.
- Do finger paints, shaving cream play, or other messy art in the tub for easy clean up.
- Worried your baby puts everything in her mouth? Don’t let this stifle creativity! Why not add a dab of food coloring to your baby’s yogurt and let him “paint” his tray? Love what she did? “Capture” it by placing paper atop it and gently pressing to get a reverse print to dry and hang. Instant art!
- Need some mess free options? Try these:
Explore-Safe Environment: To try out new ideas, babies and toddlers need the space to be unencumbered. Set up a safe environment and then let your baby explore—be it with his toys or with art experiences. Encourage your baby to explore his ideas and ways of playing, with you, and independently.
Multi-Sensory Tools: Let creativity and learning lead the way: turn pots and spoons into drums and mallets. Empty the kitchen cabinet and create your own beat with your baby. Then, dance the day away as you listen to music, sing songs, or create your own tunes.
Engage Your Baby: Inspire exploration by setting up enticing materials in interesting arrangements or diverse environments. Remember, at this age, it’s all process!
Honor Their Art: As children grow, they notice their abilities pale in comparison to adults’ or older siblings’. Often, they will ask us to draw something for them, so it looks like the thing they want it to look like. Rather than take over your child’s artistic experience, get tools that allow them success with their own hands. For example, get interesting stamps so they can create a “real’ dragon, or stencils to allow them to outline an airplane themselves. The more your child controls of his own art experience and artistic expression, the more he will think of himself as a doer, achiever, and problem solver!
Break Convention: Encourage divergent (out-of-the box) thinking from early on by coming up with unique ways for your baby to explore!
- Attach a Duplo® board vertically on a wall.
- Paint with water on the sidewalk.
- Turn an oil drip pan into a large magnet board. Cut up characters from children’s books or puzzle pieces make great magnet pieces!
- Paint the side of a cabinet with chalkboard paint.
- Sit your child in an oat box with hidden animals to discover. Get a box big enough for your child to sit in. Pour enough oats to cover the bottom. Add some scoops, funnels, etc. and allow your child to literally surround herself with oat exploration. Hide some interesting objects in the oats and see if your child can find them. You can do this with cornmeal as well.
- Upload an image of your child, or his favorite story character, to Fotobabble. Let him narrate a story. Or use Blabberize to have your child’s image “tell” a story and watch him delight in the animation.
- Paint with a Q-tip, a flyswatter, or a toothbrush.