One of the greatest things about young children is how much they love to play. The toddler years are truly magical, as kids in this developmental stage are often ready to take part in any game, participate in any craft, and engage in any adventure you are willing to throw their way.
This chapter can have both negatives and positives, though. Children are often ready to play or do or experience many things, but that can also mean they can easily get bored or want to move on from whatever they are currently doing.
Here’s how to set up several play stations that will keep them occupied, even when they want to jump from activity to activity.
A Few Basic Rules
You want to keep materials and mess factors in mind when designing play stations for your toddler. You won’t be happy to find craft paint splatters on your brand-new living room carpet, crayon markings all over a bedroom wall, or lose tiny pieces of games in your backyard grass, for example. Decide which items will go into each station, then select the appropriate space for that activity so it goes off without a hitch and your toddler is safe and happy.
Here are a few ideas for different stations that will be both fun and educational:
- Reading nook with a bookshelf and filled with comfy pillows and cozy blankets
- Arts and crafts station with paints, markers, crayons, and plenty of scrap paper or coloring books
- Blocks and Lego station to improve building skills and object awareness
- Dress-up station filled with favorite costumes
- Tea or snack-making station filled with play foods, allowing your toddler to pretend he or she is cooking or serving food
- Movie zone for watching favorite movies
- Outdoor water and bubbles zone with a shallow pool for splash games
- Sidewalk chalk stations for drawing and practicing writing
Leave Space for Play
It’s important to keep your play zones open so your toddler doesn’t feel confined by the space, and also to encourage him or her to do things that are challenging. Perhaps most importantly of all, though, is to make sure your play zones are safe — that small objects have been removed to avoid choking hazards, paint and other products are child-safe, water stations are well-supervised, and that you’re nearby in case your toddler should need any help.
Designate Your Stations
If you have a room designated as a playroom, choose a different corner for each project so it’s like your toddler has a shopping mall of activities from which to select.
Make each area distinctive and encourage him or her to not mix activities without permission. This will mean your reading area stays a reading area, rather than a part-reading-area, part-toy-bin, part-easel-for-painting projects.
If you don’t have a designated playroom, allocate certain corners of your home — a place in the living room, one in your toddler’s bedroom, an outdoor station, etc. — so that each craft or activity is kept separate and exciting.
Stimulate All the Senses
Toddlers are at the perfect age for learning and engaging with the world around them. Make sure you choose several types of stations to stimulate various senses, working to incorporate smell, sight, touch, and even taste (in a controlled, supervised setting).
Make Organization Fun
The last thing you want after spending your time creating fun zones is to see them all dismantled in a heartbeat. Encourage cleanup and organization by making it into a game! Have specific spaces where each element of the fun zone should go, then encourage your toddler to help you put things back in the right spaces. This teaches him or her valuable life skills in addition to helping you keep your spaces clean.