Sometimes it feels as it happens overnight, in the blink of an eye. Your baby has become…a toddler! This is when the game changes entirely, and you may in fact look back on late-night infant feedings with fondness, now that you are faced with the tantrums of the terrible twos (and news flash: the terrible threes and fours can be even worse). Toddlers are an absolute handful; there is no other way to say it. (Well, some say it with a few four-letter words, and we feel you, Mamas.)
But in the midst of this oh-so-exhausting phase of parenting, there is also oh so much joy. It is a remarkable thing to watch your baby develop into a little person with thoughts and feelings and quirks and all of the things that make us human. Toddlers are notorious for providing laughs whether they mean to or not, and when they aren’t in the throws of temper tantrums, they often melt our hearts. Remember the dancing toddler with the corn dog? I rest my case.
During these years there are a number of ways you can have fun and be silly with your toddler while also promoting cognitive development. Read on for ideas to use fun games to stimulate young minds, build up those cognitive abilities and skills, and prepare them for preschool (or perhaps the Ivy League, for you mamas who want to aim high!)
1. Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Toddlers absolutely delight in looking at themselves in the mirror, and this is a great opportunity to create a game. Place your little one in front of a mirror (perhaps as you are getting dressed for work, making this a great way to multitask, too) and ask them to touch various parts of their faces, or blink three times, or pat their bellies. Encourage silliness too, by ending the game asking them to make a zany face! Pretend play is a great way to encourage creativity in any children’s development.
2. Don’t Say It When You Can Sing It
Regardless of whether you can carry a tune or if you are completely tone-deaf, toddlers LOVE to sing and respond favorably when you present anything in song form! Test their memories by asking them to sing phrases back to you, or just make up silly songs for everyday tasks. For example, you and your toddler might include the “breakfast song” as your morning ritual, or end the night with “From your head to your toes in your bedtime clothes…it’s pajama time!” Singing the same songs over again will help build their long-term memory, motor skills, and reach those cognitive milestones.
3. Count it Out
There are hundreds of opportunities each week to incorporate counting into your daily routine, and this is one of the easiest ways to turn anything into a game with your child. When you set the table for dinner, ask your toddler to tell you how many forks are out. As you walk up any set of stairs, as your toddler to count the steps along with you. When you see a group of animals, whether it is birds feeding in the park, horses in a pasture near your home, or a few stray cats on a city block, ask your toddler to quickly identify how many there are. This will get your child’s brain thinking and understanding numbers and identifying groups or collections. The more they associate these differences in their environment, the sooner they’ll be able to put new and more complex concepts together.
4. Hunting in Your Own Home
Another idea that also allows a parent to multitask is a scavenger hunt in your own home. You might find yourself attempting to prep dinner with a fussy toddler demanding your attention, and an on-the-spot scavenger hunt can buy you the time needed to get food on the table without reaching your wit’s end!
Think of simple objects your toddler should be able to find. For example “bring me something blue from the living room” (where you know your toddler is likely to pick up the blue throw pillows on the sofa). Or “bring me something from your bedroom that makes a sound” or “find something in the kitchen that is round.”
You’ll also want to incorporate the putting away of said items into the game, so you don’t find yourself cleaning up yet another mess after dinner! In addition to guiding your child through their development stages with these tasks, you’re also promoting physical activity.
5. Simon is Still Your Friend
Remember playing Simon Says as a kid? This is a game that never goes out of style; it is universally loved by toddlers. And the good news is it helps your little ones develop in several ways - whether it is learning to follow instructions or learning the various parts of their bodies. Simon Says…play Simon Says with your toddler! She will love it!
6. Puzzles Galore
While there are many free ways to entertain your toddler with everyday objects and promote cognitive development, puzzles are still an incredibly cost-effective way to keep them engaged. Make puzzles a regular part of playtime in your home to encourage your little one’s cognitive development as well as enhancing fine motor skills. Puzzles are a great alternative to screen time of any kind, and there are tons of affordable options out there. Just be mindful of smaller pieces when it comes to younger toddlers: stick with the larger, wooden puzzle boards for them. And don’t stop after the toddler years: working on puzzles together can be a great activity for families of all ages to nurture your mental health!
7. Pet Sounds
It’s not just a Beach Boys’ album: it’s a favorite game for toddlers, too! You name the animal (or show a picture of one in a book or on your smartphone) and ask your toddler to respond with the appropriate sound. This is another case where hilarity (intentional or not) will ensue. Listening to a toddler attempt to snort like a pig or neigh like a horse is enough to give any parent the giggles, and there is nothing more fun than sharing a giggle with your little one! It helps erase the memories of those tantrums after all.
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