Bugs, buttons, miniature dolls, rocks, Q-tips, stickers, pom poms… toddlers love tiny things 🙂
In the Montessori philosophy, a “sensitive period” is a span of time during which a child shows a natural inclination towards learning, doing, or trying something. The sensitive period for small objects occurs between 1 and 3 years. Keeping a close eye on your toddler to make sure they don’t put small items in their mouth can be a challenge, but it’s worth it.
Occupational therapists recommend providing toddlers with manipulatives—small objects that can be handled and studied—to hone their fine-motor ability and build the hand strength needed to hold a pencil and write.
HERE ARE SOME INEXPENSIVE DIY WAYS FOR YOUR TODDLER TO PLAY SAFELY WITH SMALL OBJECTS, AT HOME OR ON THE GO:
Matchsticks in a container
This activity builds on your toddler’s interest in putting coins in the wooden coin bank. Toddlers are naturally driven to practice their emerging fine motor skills. Poking small objects through small holes will capture all of their concentration and effort.
Popsicle velcro sticks
Toddlers love sticking velcro together and pulling it apart. They will also enjoy feeding the sticks through a slot in a container.
To create the slot activity, you will need a container with a soft flexible plastic lid. Oatmeal containers work well because they are tall enough to hold the sticks. Cut a slot in the plastic lid with a box cutter or utility knife. A larger slot is easier for your toddler to feed the stick through; a smaller one presents more of a challenge. The container is also a great place to store the sticks.
Hang onto these for older toddlers too, who will enjoy using them to build roads for their cars and for color matching.
You can also create some colored felt pockets for your toddler to practice their fine motor skills. At first, they can experiment with containment, putting the colored popsicle sticks in the pockets and pulling them out. Eventually they will learn to match the color of the stick with the color of the pocket.
To make the pockets, cut out felt squares and use some fabric glue along the edges to join them together. You can find colored popsicle sticks at a craft store or online.
Q-tips and an egg carton
To create a fine motor challenge similar to the matchstick activity above, poke holes in the bottom of a paper egg carton and offer your toddler q-tips to poke through.
*Note, be careful your toddler does not poke the Q-tips or matchsticks into their ears, nose, or eyes ❤️
Plastic water bottle repurpose
Put a clear plastic water bottle to new use by giving your toddler lots of objects to push inside: pipe cleaners, pom poms, q-tips, puffs, etc. After they have filled the bottle, work with your toddler hand over hand to put the lid on and shake it all up. To recycle the bottle later, it might be easier to cut a larger hole at the top and shake out the contents.
Little treasure box
You can buy craft-style metal tins like these here or you can invest in a metal bento-style lunchbox like this. Your toddler loves to store (and will later sort) little objects, work to open and close the hinged lids, and hide little treasures. You can also use these tins to carry the q-tips, puffs, toothpicks, and pom poms for the activities listed above.
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