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  • No Money Needed! Help Your Toddler Strengthen His Brain Muscles With These Fun Activities

    Guide your child through the exciting toddler phase with these no-cost brain activities you can do at home!
    by Kitty Espiritu-Ricafort .
No Money Needed! Help Your Toddler Strengthen His Brain Muscles With These Fun Activities
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Congratulations, mom and dad! Your once helpless little infant has passed the 1-year mark and is now a “toddling” little person ready to explore the world. Now that he’s officially a toddler, the next three years is going to be a busy time with his body and brain development working double-time to keep up with over a million new neural connections made every second in their toddler’s brains.

    This phase is going to be more action-packed, and you’ll have to stop a few sentimental tears from flowing as you see your mini-me become more communicative and mobile. Don't be surprised when you find yourself looking at your child and marveling at how big he’s grown. Baby mannerisms are becoming more controlled as they master their movements, and you’ll notice that the babbling sounds of yesterday are now turning into words you can understand.

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    Brain activities for your toddlers

    With creativity and resourcefulness, you can engage, entertain, and exercise your little one with DIY brain activities using items found around the house. After all, as Harvard University points out, “although a varied array of experiences clearly stimulate learning in the preschool years, promotional statements about the superior brain building impacts of expensive ‘educational’ toys and videos for infants and toddlers have no scientific support.”

    1. Raid the Pantry

    Skill sets developed:

    • Fine motor skills: Pincer grasp (using thumb and forefinger) is practiced, hand-eye coordination.
    • Language: More words are introduced into your child's vocabulary like sour, sweet, round, and flat.
    • Cognitive: By asking questions like “Is it smooth or rough? Wet or dry?” — the child learns to identify the differences in textures, shapes, colors

    What you'll need: Grapes, cereal, oranges, bananas, dried macaroni noodles or anything found in the fridge or pantry

    Prep time: Cut the fruit into safe, bite-size pieces and place on a food tray as a snack. As an option, you can mix in some cooked macaroni noodles or cereal for variety. 

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    Activity: Identify the fruit or food the child picks up and add to his eating experience by describing the taste, shape, color or texture. “Are you eating the grape? Yummy, sweet grape. What about the banana, it’s so slimy, right? Is it smooth or rough?”

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    2. Egg Tray Sorter

    Skill sets developed:

    • Fine motor skills: Pincer grasp (using thumb and forefinger) is practiced, hand-eye coordination.
    • Language: More words are introduced into his vocabulary.
    • Cognitive: Your baby is presented with numbers, colors, sorting and matching.

    What you'll need: Egg tray, permanent marker, a sheet of paper, beads/shells/Lego pieces/bits of paper (or anything that will fit comfortably in the egg hole). As an option, you can also prepare non-toxic paint or other colored markers.

    Prep time: Clean the egg tray thoroughly. Write numbers one to 12 (or 10 depending on the size of the egg tray) on the sheet of paper and cut out the numbers. Place numbers in the individual egg holes. You may also color each hole with a different color for an added activity, later on.

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    Activity: Count along with your child as he places the correct number of beads/pieces into the corresponding hole. You may also start without the numbers first to slowly introduce your child to sort the pieces into the individual holes.

    As a second option, you can learn colors. Each hole is colored a different hue, and your child can place the similarly colored beads/bits of colored paper to the corresponding colored hole.

    3. Shoot that Sock

    Skill sets developed:

    • Gross motor skills: throwing, catching, hand-eye coordination.
    • Language: More words are introduced into your baby's vocabulary.
    • Cognitive activities like measuring (distance and size), sorting, colors, and numbers.

    What you'll need: Socks, adult and kid sizes

    Prep time: Roll the socks into balls.

    Activity: Pull open your sock drawer and stand a few feet away. Shoot a balled up sock into the drawer and “score” as many “balls” as you can into the “basket.” Add more teaching moments by describing distance (you can ask him to go nearer or farther), size (ask him to pick a big or small ball) or color.

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    You can also practice counting as the balls go in. Also, your child also learns how to organize and pack in a fun way!

    4. Water Play

    Skill sets developed:

    • Gross and fine motor skills: pouring, grasping, hand-eye coordination
    • Language: More words are introduced into his vocabulary
    • Cognitive: Measuring, sorting, colors, temperature are introduced

    What you'll need: Plastic cups (of different sizes and colors, for variety), basin, bathtub or inflatable pool (optional)

    Prep time: Set up the bathroom with non-slip mats and place the basin on the mat. Fill the basin or bathtub with minimal water (never leave your little one alone in the bathroom). You can bring this activity outdoors if you have an inflatable pool.

    Activity: Teach your child to fill and empty the cups while using the words, “empty/full,” “more/less,” “blue cup/red cup” to describe accordingly. You can even use the hot (with caution!) and cold temperature of the water as well as bath wash bubbles (“soapy/slippery/bubbly/pop”) in the water to add more experiential words. The bonus? Your little one gets cleaned up while learning!

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    5. Time to Go Home

    Skill sets developed:

    • Gross and fine motor skills: searching, walking
    • Social-emotional: empathy, belonging
    • Cognitive: sorting, identifying, remembering

    What you'll need: Empty storage boxes

    Prep time: Place the storage boxes you are planning to store her different toys in on the floor and label each box accordingly (for example, stuffed toys, tea sets, building blocks). Place one toy of each variety in each assigned box.

    Activity: Engage your child by describing each box as his toys’ home and that all his toys need to find their way home. Describe each “home” and the toys that need to go there and start the game by holding his hand and guiding him around the room to the toy that “lives” in each box.

    Do this with him a few times until he gets the hang of it. Be enthusiastic when he finds the right home for one of his toys. Keep the activity short and sweet. The labels on the boxes will also help him with his reading skills later on. At the end of the game, you get to have a more organized play area and a child who enjoys keeping his things in place.

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    6. Name That Face

    Skill sets developed:

    • Social-emotional: empathy, sense of family, belonging
    • Cognitive: remembering faces, identifying people
    • What you'll need: Family pictures

    Prep time: Dig out family albums with relatives and friends you want your child to know and remember.

    Activity: Point out faces of loved ones you want your child to remember by naming them individually in the picture (“That’s Lolo, he’s my daddy.”). Repetition over time will ingrain them in their memories.

    Scatter framed pictures of the family as well as close and faraway relatives in your living spaces. Call out their names when he looks at them. When they start learning letters, write their names on sticky notes and post under the picture, “Lola/Lolo,” “Tita Joy” to enhance another skill set.

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    7. Storytelling Sock

    Skill sets developed:

    • Fine motor skills: drawing, gluing, using the sock puppet, hand-eye coordination
    • Social-emotional: teamwork, empathy, communication
    • Cognitive: decision-making, creative thinking

    What you'll need: Old, clean socks, permanent marker (Optional: buttons, glue, ribbons or loose yarn (for the hair))

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    Prep time: Find an old sock that will fit your hand to make a sock puppet. Find one for your child as well. You can use a permanent marker to draw the eyes and nose.

    Activity: Create sock puppets together using the materials. Encourage your child to make decisions (i.e., which sock do you want? What ribbon or button are you going to use?). Assemble it together and glue or sew when needed.

    To save on time, you can use markers to create expressions. Once done, wear them and let your storytelling time begin! Engage your child with various scenarios that will encourage him to use his puppet to participate. Be as silly, creative and funny as you want with your little one!

    Remember that the most esse ingrentialdient in your toddler’s brain development and overall well-being is you (or a caring, invested caregiver, in our stead). With continued positive parent-child interaction (and tons of fun, play, and giggles mixed in), you’ll be surprised how far your little one will go.

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