25 ideas for older toddlers’ environment

Looking for ideas

Around the age of 24-36 months, many parents ask if they should add something new to their daily activities and play, such as art, language, or music. Certainly, toddlers will appreciate art and music activities, yet I want to urge you to keep the projects focused on the process vs. the product. It is wise to start simple and build on it by adding details and more challenging materials.

How about craft?

As parents and teachers, we might be excited about different craft ideas we see around: decorating a vase, cutting a flower, using a stencil, or turning an egg carton into a caterpillar. Let’s start by questioning what kind of experience toddlers will have when we offer these art materials. Keeping the projects simple will allow your child to take control, and to fully explore the properties of the materials you are using. And it will allow you to intervene, correct and lead less.

What kind of experience do we want when we offer toddlers art materials?

We want our child to:

  • explore the materials
  • figure out the cause and effect: if I touch the paper with the brush, there will be a mark
  • experiment: if I touch hard, big marks appear, whereas if I touch gently, small lines appear 
  • enjoy the process
  • feel independent and confident

Let’s keep these goals in mind when we set up the environment or art activity. And start with an observation:

  • Is my child ready for the activity? (If he bites crayons often and I have to keep setting limits, maybe he is not ready yet and I have to come back to it in a few weeks.)
  • How does he engage with materials?
  • Do I need to intervene and guide a lot?
  • Does he enjoy the process?
  • What did he try already?

What can grown-ups do to support toddlers?

  • Choose simple, age-appropriate materials
  • Set up an easy-to-clean station, for example, a little bit of paint (you can add hand-washing liquid soap), one color, an easel, and a large piece of paper
  • Observe your child
  • You can draw too; start with abstract drawings
  • Don’t ask your child “What is it?”
  • Follow your child’s lead; instead of expecting your child to copy you, copy his moves
  • Use this time to build connections and enjoy the process

25 ideas for outside and inside play environment

1. Beach balls – a great and very simple activity for outdoors and indoors

  • It is inexpensive.
  • The balls are deflatable – once you are done with them, you can let the air out.
  • You can kick and throw them any way you want – no need for any guidance or directions.
  • For an indoor activity, you can hang the ball on a long string in a doorway – now hit it as many times as you want.

2. Water play – best outdoor activity

You can use any different cups, pots, kettles, jugs, colanders, watering cans, ladles, recycled containers, etc. You can rotate them when you feel the need to bring new interest to the activity.

3. Washing plastic toys – great outdoor activity and brings a new spin to water play

You will need some soap, a brush or sponge, and plastic toys, preferably without small holes (if it has small holes, once the water goes inside, you might never be able to pour it out and properly dry the toy).

4. Sand play – very important

You can use a variety of materials: traditional sand toys, buckets, shawls, recycled materials, pots and pans, cars and trucks, plastic animals and insects, rocks, and shells.

5. Shaving cream 

Just pump some shaving cream on a tray or table and explore the texture and smell.

6. Oobleck

Oobleck = 4 cups cornstarch + 2 cups water

It is a very relaxing and therapeutic activity for children and grown-ups. If you’ve never tried it before – it is your chance!

Oobleck encourages fine and large gross motor skills; enjoyment of the process; no right or wrong result; generation of new possibilities and ideas; flexibility of thought; experimentation and drawing conclusions; cause and effect; language development; and fun, fun, fun.

7. Sensory Table

If you have room for it outside, it is a great investment and will be useful for a few years.

It can be used for different setups – water, sand, natural materials, coffee grains, corn meal, natural materials, or just any set of toys.

8. Play Dough

Home-made play dough is significantly better than store-bought. It is softer and easier to manipulate. Also, it is safe and cheaper. I would suggest starting with natural color and adding color later in a few months to the next batch.

You might not need too many tools or props in the beginning, just enjoy the texture: squeeze it, smush it, roll it. Later on, you can add plastic knives, scissors, rollers, sticks, rocks, etc.

Here is a simple recipe that works for me:

2 cups of flour

1 cup of salt

2 cups of water

2 tablespoons cooking oil

4 teaspoons of cream tartar

9. Simple paint

Large paper or wallpaper, brush, and a little bit of one-color paint (you might add a few drops of hand soap).

A simple easel can be a great addition to this experience.

10. Painting with cars

Once you explore simple painting with the brush you might want to spice up this activity with painting with car weals. Simply pour color onto the tray and deep the toy car into it – roll it on paper. 

11.  Painting with kitchen utensils  

You will need a few trays, paper, paint, and kitchen utensils. Now you can experiment with which works the best .

12. Recycled materials to make sorters for natural items: rocks, sticks, etc.

Recycled materials are great on many levels: we reuse the materials, we can relax about how we use them and it can bring ease when you want to take items to the park and use them with other toddlers as well.

13. Collecting and using natural materials: pine cones, rocks, sticks, leaves, etc.

14. Dramatic play – outside

You can provide cars, trucks, animals, dolls, etc.

15. Picnic – indoors or outdoors

16. Tent – indoors or outdoors

17. Blow bubbles

18. Hammer golf tees into a pumpkin

19. Beads on pipe cleaners. Remember they can be a choking hazard.

20. Beads on a string. You can use a plastic needle.

21. Orange peel necklaces

22. Orange juice or lemonade making

23. Large ice with frozen items inside

24. Gardening and planting

25.  Rough and tumble play with rules

Let me know what you tried. What worked and what didn’t? And ENJOY the process!!

Email me or call for more information about RIE® Parent-Infant Guidance™ Classes.

Wishing you all the best in the difficult yet exciting journey of parenting!


Teacher Kira

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