Information & Advice
Find great activities and crafts for children with our fun list of 16 things to do before you're two.
Our pick of the best activities will ensure your tot has bucketloads of brain-stimulating fun.
Every day, your child is learning new words and working out more about how the world works. Here, we've compiled some simple but smile-inducing ideas that'll help her along the way.
"Each of these "things to do" is great for your child developmentally," says psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, spokesperson for the MakeTimeToPlay campaign, "but don't feel you have to tick them all off. At this age, children can have a vastly different range of abilities." So go at your child's pace – and, remember, your main aim is to have fun!
Give your child a little bucket, take her to the park or beach and let her forage for stuff – shells, leaves, pebbles. As their collection builds, you can look together at colours, sizes, textures and shapes. "It'll develop your child's emerging ability to categorise, sort and compare," says Sue Palmer, literacy and child-development specialist, and author of Toxic Childhood
2 - Make a boat in a box
"A large box is the best thing in the universe when you're little," says Sue Palmer. It can be anything you want it to be: a rocket, a boat, a 3-D canvas for arty experiments – and so much more. "Once your child realises this isn't just a box it truly helps her fire her imagination and launch her off into open-ended, creative thinking," says Sue.
Dipping your hand in gloopy paint and slapping it squelchily down on paper is a wonderful sensory experience. "And," says Dr Gummer, "it's much better than struggling to paint with a brush – your child won't yet have enough fine-finger control to do that easily. What you can do, though, is show her how to use her paint-laden index finger to make patterns on the paper, encouraging the transition she's starting to make from whole-hand movements to separate-finger ones."
...or a princess. "During your second year you start to realise you're a separate person with your own thoughts and actions," says clinical psychologist Dr Lucy Russell. "Being let loose with a small heap of dressing-up clothes is glorious permission to try on newly independent thinking for size."
5 - Host a teddy bears' carpet picnic
OK, so the idea of having banana smeared into your furniture may not be high on your to-do list but moving lunch from kitchen to carpet can be a social-skills-enhancing feast. "Use carpet picnics – with real or toy guests – to introduce your child to sharing," says Dr Russell. "It's a skill he'll need to master for later in life – and it doesn't come easy!"
Head outside as minibeast-hunters: unearth a worm, find a spider's web, hunt for woodlice – then just watch. "Little children don't get much chance to stop and stare," says Sue Palmer. "Getting down with the bugs helps them learn how to pay attention, and feel connected to the world."
7 - Play Pooh sticks
Pooh sticks are a lovely, long, slow, relaxed lesson in cause and effect. It can take ages for the stick you dropped in the water over one side of the bridge to drift under and out to the other side. "But this is learning from nature – the way we're born to learn," says Sue Palmer. "It's investigating science by getting out there and really getting involved with it."
Baking cookies with a grown-up is a tasty (and gratifyingly messy) way to practise following a simple instruction with your child. She may not always choose to follow instructions, but it's a skill she'll definitely need as she grows up! "And don't underestimate the importance of sharing them round at the end," says Dr Russell.
9 - Sing loudly in public
Kids are contrary little folk: one moment he won't even look granny in the eye; the next he's treating the supermarket to a rousing rendition of "Wheels on the Bus". "Obviously, bursting into song in public is not always appropriate," says Dr Russell, "but most of the time, it's a joyous thing that people respond to. And getting praise from people other than your parents is a wonderful self-esteem booster."
10 - Get properly, filthily muddy
Mud, mud, glorious mud: nothing quite like it for a full-on play-fest. "Oh, rolling around in lots of mud is essential stuff!" says Sue Palmer. "Being absolutely free to enjoy dirt and get messy is a thrill in itself. Plus, discovering things with your whole body – rather than just your eyes and ears – is a hugely valuable early-learning experience." Don't wear your Sunday best for this one!
Wellies and waterproofs at the ready: it's time to make a mighty splash. Jumping in puddles is a guaranteed small-person thrill – especially if it involves serious amounts of big-person-soaking, too! "It's also a great way to encourage jumping with two feet together, a gross-motor skill most children get the hang of by about two," says Dr Gummer. "Hold your child's hand and jump together, and laugh at how little jumps make a little splash but big jumps make a big splash – a great practical lesson about actions and reactions."
12 - Build a tower of blocks – and knock it down
"Block-stacking is often used by development experts to measure a child's finger control and hand-eye co-ordination," says Dr Gummer, "but there's so much more going on. As she plays with the blocks, seeing how they stack or wobble, your child is absorbing all sorts of stuff about balancing and construction (a solid tower needs a good wide base, for example). And then, when she knocks it all down, it's a real whoop-whoop lesson in cause and effect."
Open a pot of bubbles and you'll entrance any toddler. But you'll also be doing wonders for their burgeoning language development. "To blow bubbles, you need to be able to control your tongue, your mouth and your lips in just the same kind of way you need to form many of the word sounds children find hardest to form," says Dr Russell. "It's a lovely, gentle way to help them fine-tune their "speaking muscles".
Make eating fruit proper, juicy, squeezy fun by visiting a fruit farm (or a friendly neighbour's allotment) and picking/gobbling it straight from the bush. "We know that the kind of food preferences children develop between one and two tend to stay with them into later childhood," says Dr Gummer, "so associating fruit with fun has to be a winner." If you don't have any fruit-picking places near you, encourage your child to "choose" fruits in the supermarket for you to take home and try together.
15 - "Paint" a fence
Arm your child with a big paintbrush and a pot of water and send him out to "paint" the garden fence. Or hand him some chalk and let him draw a big picture on the patio. "Both these things involve big hand and arm movements," says Dr Gummer, "but they're actually great preparation for future fine-finger control. By strengthening the bigger muscles needed to hold the arm in the right position for writing and drawing, he'll find it easier to hold a pencil later on."
It doesn't matter if it's a bit of pirouetting at a toddler singing group or just some twirling round the living room at home; what matters is that your toddler feels free to express himself through dance. "Some children are shy, so there's no need to push them to 'perform'," says Amanda Gummer. "It should be a lovely spontaneous thing – where your child is just brimful of the need to respond to music with movement. Put some music on and if he really looks nonplussed, throw some moves of your own for him to copy. It's a brilliant way to encourage confidence, and excellent for encouraging an early awareness of the range of different rhythms and melodies."
Mother and Baby
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