Let Them Grow: Fresh Ways to Engage Toddler’s in Creative Free Play
Bringing the Outside In: Activities for Toddlers
With the cold weather upon us, it is tough for a toddler to spend long bouts of time outside at the park or walking in the woods. Even with good gear, a toddler’s span outside in the cold weather is limited, so be creative and bring the outside in with the help of a “busy bin.”
The concept of a busy bin is not something I created, but one that I use regularly to keep toddlers engaged, inspired and imagining. Create several bins with your toddler and rotate their use to keep your child engaged. By helping your toddler assemble child friendly busy bins, you are encouraging imagination and innovation. Collecting the busy bin contents and putting them together with your toddler will give them a sense of ownership, as well as teach them the benefits of following through. When a bin begins to lose its appeal, simply store it away, switching it out with a different one!
Busy bins for younger toddlers (around 15 to 18 months) are mainly about sensory play. To create an outdoor themed busy bin for a younger toddler look for objects that they can explore with their hands and mouth (always watch out for choking hazards though!). Try things like pine cones, smooth and bumpy rocks, clean sticks and non-poisonous plants, or even fake plants. You can incorporate elements such as homemade play dough to allow for more sensory play. Let your child push the rocks into the dough, stand the sticks up and pull on the dough. You can also add water and sand to the bin, creating a pond like setting. Give your child small scoops to transfer water and add food grade dye just for fun. Some of your bin’s contents may be perishable and should be removed after use (water, dough, sand, plants).
It is important to recognize that at around the age of 18 months, toddlers begin to use their imagination in play. An outdoor themed bin for an older toddler should support this imaginative play and can consist of a variety of outdoor elements. However, by adding characters they can easily animate such as trucks, people, and woodland creatures. Use a drop or two of essential oils to create pine scented dough or add fake snow and small trees. Encourage your child to identify the animals, plants and familiar landscapes: “this is a wetland,” “these are mountains,” and “this is a black bear and bears love berries.” Explore and find food for that bear and then a place for it to hibernate.
Another simple bin to create is a snow themed bin. When it’s snowing outside use your bins to bring it in. Have your toddler explore the snow with small shovels (spoons), mini buckets (recycled containers) and non-toxic food grade dyes. Create a mini sled out of cardboard, build a pretend fire out of sticks and assemble a little snowman or igloo. Use a piece of ice to create a pond to skate on or to fish in. For the younger age group, just sit them on a big mat with a shovel, a bucket, and a giant bowl of snow. Talk about snow, about cold and about winter. Allow them to explore with mittens and without. Let them taste it, dump it, and watch it melt.
Once you have created the bin, store it so it can be used again and again. Continuously be on the lookout for found objects to help create new bins or build on existing ones. Most importantly, use your imagination and have fun with your children!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Candice Chouinard has worked with youth of all ages and backgrounds, creating and implementing programing for children. She revels in hand-on, long-term, messy projects that are both fun and educational. Candice comes from a background in creative writing, as well as, child development and psychology. She owns and operates a day care in Northampton, MA.