Bundles of Balls
Put out a large variety of balls and let infants explore them. Include sponge balls, homemade nylon balls stuffed with foam or quilt batting, tennis balls, rubber balls, squeak balls, and dear plastic balls with objects inside them. Add baskets or boxes so infants can put the balls in and dump them out. Encourage babies to roll the balls on the floor to you and to each other.
Fill a resealable sandwich bag halfway with petroleum jelly. Securely close the bag and cover the zipper with duct tape. Encourage the baby to pat, poke, and squeeze the bag. Make other sensory bags with interesting materials such as soft play dough, sand, or a mixture of cornstarch, water, and food coloring.
Cover a shoebox with contact paper and attach a string to one end of the box. Fill the box with 10-15, 2" blocks. Beginning walkers will enjoy pulling their wagon around, dumping the blocks out, and filling up the wagon again. Help the older infant practice stacking one block on top of another and lining them up next to each other. Stacking up and knocking down is the beginning of block play.
Cut a square hole in the lid of a box to match the size of a block. Show the baby how the block disappears into the box through the hole. Encourage her to remove the lid, find the block, and put it in the hole herself. Give help only as needed. You can make this game more challenging by cutting a round hole next to the square hole and adding a round thread spool to the play.
Place 1/2 cup of cornstarch on a tray. Add 1/2 cup of water in a small container, a spoon, and a cup to the tray. Let the toddler mix the cornstarch and water together and explore it as it changes from a solid to a liquid. He can scoop it into the cup with the spoon, squeeze it with his hands, and slide his hands around the slippery surface of the tray. A few drops of food coloring will make the mixing even more exciting.
Put out several small dishpans with water on a table, creating a separate work area for each with soap, sponge, towel, and baby doll. (Dolls 12-15 inches long are particularly appealing to toddlers as they can be easily handled and cradled. Try to include dolls of different ethnic backgrounds.) Toddlers can work side by side washing and drying their dolls many times. Keep a supply of dry towels handy and a mop to clean up spills.
Bubble Wrap Painting
Spoon a small amount of finger paint onto a piece of bubble wrap and let the toddler explore the paint on this new surface. Describe the toddler's experience using words like bumpy, smooth, slippery, and squishy. An older toddler may want to make a print of her finger painting by pressing a piece of paper on the bubble wrap. Never leave toddlers unattended when they are playing with bubble wrap.
Beach Ball Bop
Attach a large inflatable beach ball to the ceiling by tying a string to the air valve. Hang it so the ball is at shoulder height to the children. Give the toddler a "bat" (a cardboard tube from paper towels or wrapping paper). Bopping the ball with the bat will give toddlers practice in eye-hand coordination.
This article originally appeared in the November, 2000 issue of Early Childhood Today.