Every parent has those days at home when you HAVE to get stuff done. Maybe it’s work , homeschooling older children, or maybe you are fighting a bad cold and just don’t have the time to plan and play like you like to. Before you reach for the remote try simple themed play stations instead. This may look like a lot of work to set up but trust me it took 5 minutes. If construction isn’t your child’s thing don’t worry I have ideas below for 6 more themes. You may need to look through the toys in your house to see what you can use but once you write a list it will be a snap to put it together when you need it. What a set up like this does is gives your child stations to move to and from and gives you a little extra time to get things done. The day we did this I was sicker than a dog and this kept my almost 3 year old happy while I tried to get work I normally do after her bedtime done early so I could have a good sleep that night. She did end up watching some PBS Kids but much less than she would have if I had not set this all up.
- Choose the theme. Your best bet is to choose something that your child is really interested in. A new theme is best introduced when you can act as a guide.
- Choose what stations to set up. Again this isn’t a time for too much novelty . Old favorites, things they can do independently and toys that they love . Toys they love but have been put away for a while work great. My stations were :playdough , dress up , puzzles ,and books. Gather your toys and materials for the stations. Keep it simple you don’t need to make huge sensory bins or elaborate block areas. I had a puzzle, some playdough with a little people construction worker and some Duplo, a few pretend play props and some books on the theme.
- Play . Show your child the stations ( space them out to your child’s liking) and ask them which they want to start with. Most kids will go to each briefly and then go back to each for a second look to really play. When my daughter went to the book station I asked her to please read the books first by herself and then I would come and read them to her. This gave me enough time to pause what I was doing and join her.
Other Theme Ideas
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Princess : Books , pink playdough with sequins or beads, princess costume or crown for dress up, build a castle with blocks, make a princess bracelet with a pipe cleaner and pony beads.
Ocean : Books about fish , Tub of water with sea animals, swimming goggles for simple pretend play, under the sea pictures ( blue paper and fish stickers) , fish puzzles.
When I was asked to check out and create something festive with these Tulip Shimmer Sheets and Paints my first thought was a tree. Then this happened. My kids started playing cars together every day. I knew what I needed to make with all this glitterly goodness – a North Pole Play Mat ! This isn’t a kids craft but the end result is an awesome pretend play toy for your kids. Also who said that crafts need to be perfect? I am clearly no artists and my kids love this play mat. Here is how I did it.
- Gather your materials. You will need a sheet or pillow case if you want to make a smaller play mat. You will also need Tulip Shimmer Sheets, Tulip Shimmer Paints ,Stick on jewels, glue and glitter. You will also need a marker, scissors and an iron.
- Start by drawing out the layout of your North Pole. I did this on craft paper first then laid my sheet over the paper and traced with a permanent marker.
- Next start adding the shimmer! The easiest way to do this is to use the iron on shimmer sheets . Take them out of their plastic sleeves and use the sleeve as a tracing paper. Trace the outline off of the outline already on the sheet . Slip the shimmer sheet back in the sleeve and cut. It fits right on! Iron it on following the directions on the package. So easy!
- I also used the Shimmer Paint to make Santa’s house. I was amazed with how vibrant it was when it dried.
- After all the shimmer sheets were used for the toy shop, tree, elf houses and barn it was time to add some more sparkle! I used the stick on jewels for Christmas lights on Santa’s house, the toy shop and the tree as well as all over the reindeer barn. I also used the heat set jewels to make the wreath. They were so much easier than I expected them to be. I so rarely craft with adult tools, please no kids it gets HOT.
- For the final touch I used some of the glitter glue and glitter for snow on roof tops and some snow banks along the road. Let dry for 24 hours , trim the edges to make it small enough to play with and use no sew bond to hem it.
- And PLAY! I finished this last week and it’s been out in the center of the playroom floor since. The kids love it and have been playing North Pole daily.
I wrote this as part of a paid campaign with Tulip and Blueprint Social . The craft idea and opinions are all mine.
If you aren’t familiar with the idea of loose parts it’s the idea that giving kids groups of loose parts ( branches, logs, rocks etc..) they can create their outdoor play space instead of being limited by the playground designer’s imagination . I absolutely adore this and at our church playground that doubles as a Waldorf school playground they have been engaging in this for years. Just as I was reading more about this the very same day I came into my son’s preschool class and they’d done a huge class project with loose parts as well. Seeing how much my son adored it I knew we have to get some for the playroom. This is a fun variation for those of you with no yard, lots of rainy days and small spaces. For a more colorful take with different materials check out this post by The Imagination Tree .
- Gather your materials. We got these bins at the dollar store and gathered the materials over a few weeks. We have some cardboard, empty ribbon spools, corks, glass beads, card board tubes, rocks, cupcake liners, popscicle sticks and shells.
- I present the parts and that’s it. This is in NO way adult directed. It’s completely open .
- My son started with corks who he told me were guards for a secret temple.
- We’ve done this a handful of times and he always seems to have a lot of symmetry in his creations. I find it fascinating because I have a deep desire to make everything symmetrical.
- We usually leave the creation up for a few days and he adds to it , changes things around and generally it’s rather dynamic. This one we did in the playroom for the photos ( way better light) but we usually do it in the dining room with a taller table so my daughter can’t get at it and it’s small parts. What’s nice though is you can use whatever loose bits you have so if you want to do this with a younger child just use whatever is safe for them. I will often just grab the toilet rolls while i am cooking at sit my daughter on the floor and she builds with them.
There is so much learning going on in this activity I seriously get giddy watching my son think. Creativity, balance, fine motor, imaginative thinking… all with things we had around the house and a few dollar store bins . Not bad. When it’s not being played with I stack the bins and pop them under the bathroom sink.
We play with playdough daily, usually more than once. My daughter is fascinated with it and her favorite thing to do with it is to press objects into the playdough and make prints. This was not a planned post at all, and all the photos were taken with my phone since I didn’t want to interrupt her play to grab my camera that was downstairs. Simple discovery play like this is my favorite and such a fun way to connect with your toddler.
We started with our playdough and usual cookie cutters. I usually switch the cutters and color of playdough out every few weeks. Then she grabbed this light up wand of her brothers and started making prints. She was in giggly heaven, especially since it lit up every time she hit it hard enough into the play dough.
Then we grabbed some duplo and made prints . These we all agreed looked like cheezits!
We flipped the duplo over and made little “buttons” and she very carefully pressed each one.
Her giggles and my photo snapping attracted the attention of my son who brought over a gear to press into the playdough.
Activities like these that use toys you have in new and novel ways with a sense of discovery ” Hey what sort of print with that block make?” is such and easy activity but trust me it will go on for a long time, happily! We also used little people which if you press the bottom into the playdough make a shape rather reminiscent of a nipple. My nursing daughter pointed that out to me right away , the picture was rather life like so I skipped it. Other fun toys were train tracks ( skip the trains the playdough will get stuck in the wheels) and chunky puzzle pieces .
One of my biggest concerns about publishing No Time For Flash Cards is that all the content could give readers the impression that we are advocating strict, structured learning day in and day out for the very young child. Does this look strict or structured?
When readers see our children make crafts, dig in tubs of beans and participating in adult driven activities daily on the blog it can give the impression that we are all doing this all day but really what our kids do for the majority of the day is what kids should be doing, playing.
Today I am devoting this post not to a tutorial of any craft, tips for sneaking adult directed learning in to a game or activity instead it’s just pictures of my kids at play. No mom directed agenda just kid directed ( sometimes mom RE directed though) fun and learning. Learning? Yes learning! Children are always learning and you don’t need to have a strict agenda all the time, take time to just play.
I admit having taught and lead children through directed and facilitated play for so long I revert to teacher mode a lot ( especially if I have an extra kid at my house) so I have had to chill out and just follow. It’s awesome. We do mama directed activities most days , sometimes we do 3 or 4 but then sometimes we go days and days without, but we play every day. Remember that play is their job! Let them get to work .
So I ask you: What did you play today?