Fun With Your Little Ones
Enrichment Activities for Your Preschooler

By Jessica Fisher

Originally appeared in November 2011

Yesterday as my sticky two-year old climbed into my lap, I reflected on the brevity of time. While spending a few messy moments in my business suit may seem unpleasant, it wont matter in the long run. Judah will not always want to climb into my lap and park it.

Our preschoolers will only be small for a short while. I love the quote by Jim Elliot that I came across recently, Wherever you are, be all there. What a lesson for parents! Relish this season of life before it flees! Spend some time today just enjoying the wonder of being 2 or 3 or 4. The following is a list of tried-and-true Fun Things To Do with your little one. Your big ones will probably enjoy them, too.

Regular Library Day

Choose a day and time of the week that works into your familys schedule and go weekly if you can. If your local library has reduced hours, check around. You probably wont have to go far to find a Jefferson-Madison Regional Library location that fits your time frame. Once there, head straight to the childrens section. In my experience, the childrens librarians are always available to help you find things. Our favorite branch has a subject index binder for finding picture books according to topics. Learn how to use the computerized catalog as well so that you can find stories based on your childrens interests.

While you should choose several to read together, perhaps according to a certain theme, allow your little ones to choose books off the shelf that look interesting to them. Scan them before checking them out; you may be surprised at the wide range among childrens books. You dont want to take home a book that would frighten your children or fall outside the moral guidelines of your home.

Storytime

As you familiarize yourself with the library, determine when their weekly storytime happens. Most branches at JMRL offer these for your childs age in the morning, but can vary from location to location. Check out AlbemarleFamily.com to get the most up-to-date information on storytimes at the library and other places around town. These storytimes are a great way to meet other families, expose your child to good literature, and watch him develop in a social setting.

Playdough

I remember the first time I did playdough with my son. What memories it brought back from my own childhood. Smooshing the clay is also therapeutic for parents feeling the stress of the day. Good for kids and parents! Purchase a few tubs of premade playclay or make up your own with the following recipe. No special tools are needed other than a small rolling pin, a child-safe knife and some cookie cutters. Making your creations on plastic placemats protects tabletops and contains the mess.

Homemade Playdough:
½ cup salt
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup water
food coloring

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan, scraping the bottom to make sure all dry ingredients are incorporated into the mixture. Heat over low temperature, stirring constantly. Dough will be ready when liquid starts to evaporate and mixture starts to form a ball around your spoon. Transfer to a sheet of wax paper. Allow to cool slightly. Knead dough to a pliable consistency. Store in a Ziploc-type plastic bag. Dough should stay good for about four to six weeks when stored airtight at room temperature.

Painting

There is a variety of choices out there. The simplest is to provide your child with large paper, chubby brushes and washable poster paint. An easel is great if you have access to one. Cover all surfaces carefully with newspaper or plastic trash bags. While this activity does take a great amount of patience on the part of the parent, it provides an amazing amount of satisfaction to the kid. Allow your child to simply explore the medium of paint. You will be amazed at the modern art he creates.

Drawing

Our 4-year-old spends hours with pencils, crayons and plain computer paper. Dont feel like you need to provide instruction. Merely sit down with your own supplies and create simple drawings. If you just dont feel equipped for the task, check out Drawing With Children by Mona Brookes for some great ideas.

Crafts

You dont need to be crafty to do kid crafts. Check the library or websites like kaboose.com for a plethora of craft books geared toward children. Some of our familys favorites are part of the Little Hands series, specifically The Little Hands Art Book and The Little Hands Paper Plate Crafts. These guides feature easy-to-accomplish craft ideas that can be made with simple household materials.

Cutting and Pasting

Most kids dont need (or want) a lot of structure and direction when it comes to creating collages. Provide your little ones with old magazines, duplicate photos, construction paper, child-safe scissors, and a glue stick or washable glue. They will spend hours cutting and gluing. Offer supervision and instruction over glue and where to place it. On the paper is better than on the kitchen window or your heirloom dining table.

Park Playdays

When weather permits, get outside! Try a different park each week. Make a note of your favorites. Invite friends to meet you or make new ones based on the other people sharing the park with you that day. Take drinks and snacks so that you can establish yourselves there for a few hours. If you live close enough, walk or ride bikes. Enjoy the fresh air, the exercise and being outdoors together.

Lite Brite

Yes, there are 5 million little choke-able parts to this toy. But the kids absolutely love it! So, provide careful supervision, not just for the choking hazard, but also for fire safety. There is a small light bulb inside the Lite Brite. This activity is a great way for little ones to learn their colors and practice small motor control. Doing it together also provides an opportunity for conversation.

Field Trips

Lastly, there is an abundance of fun and interesting sites to see in your own neighborhood or city. Review a local city guide or inquire from friends where they like to explore. Some ideas to consider are zoos, animal parks, historical sites, science museums, and childrens museums.

Wherever you go or whichever activity you choose to do with your little one, it is sure to be a hit, as long as you do it together.

And, now that youve made a mess of the house, its time to clean up!

Imagine toy soldiers marching all by themselves into the toy box. Or how about clothes that fold themselves at the snap of your fingers? Any parent whos seen the Disney classic, Mary Poppins, might desire this magical ability to clean up the room. The Banks children certainly knew how to make a mess of the nursery. And if truth be told, so do my kids  and yours. Duplos, Little People, play dishes, dollies, books, dirty socks  you name it  if a kid owns it, its bound to hit the floor in chaos sooner or later.

Family life, while full of joy, is also full of messes. However, there is hope. Mary Poppins says, In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun, and  snap  the jobs a game. If we can make cleaning easier for our kids, and even a little bit fun, they will balk less at the work that needs to be done. In addition, while learning valuable life skills and a sense of responsibility, they will become active participants in the everyday workings of the household. I cant teach you that finger-snapping thing, but here are some pick-up tricks to make cleaning easier and a little more fun at your house.

Divide and Conquer

A room full of toys can look daunting to a little person, especially when the toys are strewn haphazardly about the floor. Help your child divide the task into doable parts, focusing on one type of toy, like blocks, that needs to be put away. After your child has collected the blocks and put them away, help him to narrow in on the next thing, such as books. This method helps the child make sense of a big project at the same time as providing practice for sorting and identification skills.

Reorganize

Consider ways to organize your home so that it allows your children to easily help with daily chores. They are more likely to be tidy when its easy for them. Our son, Judah, 2, can help empty the dishwasher because all our plastic cups, bowls and plates are in the lower cabinets, easily within his reach. My husband recently built and installed a low peg rack for the kids to hang their coats on. Before hed even completed the project, someone had already hung up a coat. Store each kind of toy in separate, clear plastic boxes with lids. The boxes stack nicely and are easily identifiable. Limiting your children to playing with one box at a time is also helpful in heading off messes. Set your kids up for success.

Tool Time

Since my husband is a contractor, we are big on tools at our house. Tools are defined as anything to help you do your job better. Provide your little helpers with tools that enable them to truly help you. A dishpan is great for collecting messy dishes after dinner. Teach your child to wipe the table and to use a dustpan to collect the crumbs as they fall off the edge. If the budget allows, purchase a rechargeable, cordless sweeper. You push it like a vacuum, but its round brush actually sweeps dirt, dust and crumbs into an inner compartment. Our kids often fight over who gets to use it because its so fun to do. This is one of Judahs favorite tools and he can even empty it himself.

Make it a Game

As my favorite nanny says, A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. While there are many instances in life when chores are chores and you just have to do them, theres no reason that we cant endeavor to show our kids that work can be fun. One cleaning game our boys like is freeze cleaning. I set the stereo with fun, loud music and the kids begin to clean. I stop the music at random intervals and they have to freeze in the place. The positions they end up in are sometimes hilarious (as well as often choreographed). They enjoy the process of setting the room to rights.

Calvary, our 4-year old, loves to play I Spy, which weve turned into another cleaning game. Mama says, I spy three books and he searches the room for the books that are out of place and puts them away. After a recent game when I had spied everything there was to pick up in the living room, he requested to go clean another room  proof that making it fun makes kids want to clean.

Consider your own household, family and lifestyle. With a little imagination, you can discover fun ways to teach your kids to put a little order in their chaos. No, they wont do it as nicely as you would. Instead, they will learn a good work ethic and you will receive valuable help. Dont worry  you wont always be tripping on Little People and stuffed animals. Make-up, car keys and greasy auto parts are just around the corner.

Jessica is a freelance writer living in San Diego. She and her husband have the privilege of parenting six young children. Read about all her antics (and theirs) at lifeasmom.com.

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