Category Archives: Fun with Toddlers series

Winter Fun with Little Ones


During cold and rainy winters, it can be easy to feel the cabin fever of being “trapped” at home with your toddler or preschool age child. I’ve written lots of posts over the past few years on “Cheap Dates with Toddlers” – easy, fun, and cheap activities. Here’s the best ideas for winter fun:

  • Go to the playground in the winter – just bundle up and bring a towel to dry everything off! (For reviews of several Kirkland area parks, click here.)
  • Try an indoor playground – lots of large motor play with new friends, out of the rain.
  • Hike in the woods and have a nature scavenger hunt to see what you can find.
  • Take a ride on a bus or train – or on a ferry – just for the fun of the journey. (Just because you don’t think riding on a bus is exciting doesn’t mean it’s not for your child!)
  • Find a construction site and watch the work.
  • Attend library story time – they’re free, happen at several locations each week, and are great for encouraging a love of reading.
  • Go to the store – a hardware store, a grocery store, whatever – focus on sharing the experience with your child instead of on what you need to buy.
  • Wander around a rock yard looking at big rocks, and collecting a few small pebbles to bring home.
  • Go to a pet store (or as we like to call them “small animal zoos with free admission).”
  • Watch the fish at the Seattle aquarium, or even just in the small aquarium at your local Chinese restaurant.
  • Go to a dog walk, watching very happy pups is a great mood lifter.
  • Check out a sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt – just watching the food go around is great entertainment!
  • If you can find your plastic Easter eggs, you can pull them out for a fun hunt any day.
  • For lots more ideas, for songs, books, games, and crafts you can do at home, check out my “Fun with Toddlers” series, which are all focused around a theme such as ducks, farm, winter, zoo, or moon and stars.
  • Also, check out Inventors of Tomorrow, which is my blog focused on hands-on STEM activities for teaching kids about science.

If you’d like someone else to do all the planning for enriching varied activities for your child (from music to art to big motor play), check out classes sponsored by the parent education programs at our local community colleges. Great play-based learning for kids from birth to age 7, and parent education and support for you!

If you still need more ideas, then we have a fabulous resource here in Seattle. Check out for a never-ending supply of ideas for things to do with kids in the Puget Sound area.

Fun with Toddlers: Duck Theme

duckEach spring in our classroom, we have a spring theme with rain, raindrops and flowers, and on week 3 of the theme, the ducks appear! There are tons of great picture books about ducks, so in this post, I include lots of book recommendations and ideas for activities to accompany those books.

Songs to Sing

Five Little Ducks Went Out One Day

Five Little Ducks went out one day, over the hills and far away.
Mother Duck said, “Quack, Quack, Quack,” but only four little ducks came back.
Four little ducks went out one day… …but only three little ducks came back.
(Repeat counting down to “but no little ducks came back.”)
Sad mother duck went out one day, over the hills and far away
Mother Duck said, “Quack, Quack, Quack.” Five little ducks came running back.

Six Little Ducks that I Once Knew

Six little ducks that I once knew, Fat ones, skinny ones, fair ones too!
But the one little duck with the feather on her back,
She led the others with a quack quack quack.
Quack quack quack. Quack quack quack. She led the others with a quack quack quack.

Down to the river they would go, A wibble wobble, wibble wobble, to and fro.
But the one little duck with the feather on her back,
She led the others with a quack quack quack.
Quack quack quack. Quack quack quack. She led the others with a quack quack quack.

Duck Picture Books and Activities they Inspire

Five Little Ducks by Raffi. The words from the song (above) in a book with illustrations. And 10 Rubber Duckies by William Winburn. These are both countdown songs/stories, and they have a really great rhyme and rhythm – easy for kids to predict what will happen next and easy to memorize!

  • Sing the song, and act it out with rubber ducks or handmade puppets. These are great for learning to subtract and learning about zero.
  • You may also use foam numbers – put 5 numbers on the table (or on the wall of the tub). As each duck disappears, take away a number to see how many are left.

One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root. (Be sure to get the full version, not the board book – it’s abridged, and you miss some of the great language.) Fabulous rhyming, rhythmic words. And a counting book. And lots of fun marshland creatures.

  • Dramatic play: make masks or finger puppets of the animals in the book. One child pretends to be the duck and says “Help, Help, who Can Help.” Other kids (or the parent if you’re playing this one-on-one at home) come to the rescue.
  • Sensory play in muddy muck: give child a bag of dirt (or collect dirt from yard). Spend time exploring the dirt, describing it, looking at it through a magnifying glass. Add a little water. Explore some more. Then add more water till you’ve got gooey mud. Get a toy duck stuck.
  • Find photos of real ducks, real marshes, and real marsh-land creatures.

10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle. Based on a real-life story of a shipping carton of rubber ducks that fell into the ocean. Ten ducks float off in separate directions and encounter a variety of sea life.

  • Art: Make 10 paper ducks. Label 1 – 10. Your child glues them to a blue paper ocean
  • Numbers: Collect 10 rubber ducks, or use paper ducks. Child rolls dice, counts the dots, puts that many ducks in the tub to show “how many fell into the ocean?”
  • Talk about ordinal numbers and directions: the first duck swam north, the second duck swam south, and so on. Play a game where your child goes in the direction you say: “the little duck swam left, the little duck swam right, the little duck went up the stairs.”

Have You Seen My Duckling? by Nancy Tafuri. A mother searches for her baby.

Little Quack by Lauren Thompson. A book about a duckling who overcomes his fear and learns to swim. It would be a great read in the weeks before starting swimming lessons!

Even more great picture books about ducks: 

More ideas (and source citations) at:

photo credit: shot_1305563005476 via photopin (license)

Fun with Toddlers: Transportation Theme

transportThis month’s theme was Transportation: Boats, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Always a favorite theme, especially with the boys! Here are some ideas for transportation activities that toddlers and preschoolers love.

Learning Activities / Crafts

Sorting Cars. Make cardboard garages (or use colored paper to make “parking spaces”) for your child’s cars. Encourage your child to sort the cars by color. Sorting into categories is a great foundational skill for later learning.

Train Car Sort. Make colored train cars, or print a picture of a colorful train, and have your child sort objects by color into the right car.

Shape collage: Make cut-outs of truck bodies and tires they assemble

Sponge Printed Trains: Use sponges to print colorful rectangles for train cars, then use a black dot marker for the wheels. See on Buggy and Buddy.

Free Play Activities – You Prep, They Play

Draw a City. Use a big box your child can climb into, or flatten out a smaller box. Draw roads and buildings on it. They can drive cars around the roads. You can also build cardboard tunnels to drive through and bridges to go over. You could also try out PlayTape which is tape you stick to the floor which has an image of a road on it.


Ramps. Take a flat piece of cardboard. Tilt it by propping on a piece of furniture. Race cars down it. Even better, put a tower of blocks at the bottom to crash the cars into. You can play with angles – the steeper the inclined plane, the faster the car goes.

Magnet Car. Draw a road on a paper plate. Make a paper car with a magnet on it. Use a magnet wand under the paper plate to drive the car around.

Bubble Popping Car: Tape bubble wrap to a table. They can drive a toy car or truck over it to pop the bubbles. This is a good strength builder as they have to press hard to pop.

Taped Road Pretend Play: Use masking tape on the floor to mark out roads (or train tracks) wide enough that your child can crawl along them, pretending to be a car (or train). Add cardboard boxes for tunnels, garages, and more. Toddler Approved has great pictures for this idea.

Shoe Box Train: String together shoe boxes and kleenex boxes to make a pull toy train. The child can load up the cars and pull it behind them.

Family Project

Build a Cardboard Car and Have a Drive-In Movie: Use a box big enough for your child to sit in comfortably, and decorate it to look like a car. This can be very simple, or as complex a project as you want. Find the tutorial for making a cardboard car.

Once the car project is complete, celebrate with a drive-in movie. Watch your favorite movie – you can sit on the couch, they sit in their car. Serve popcorn!

An Activity for Outside the Home

Counting Cars. Any time you find yourself with time to kill, count the cars going by. (Great counting practice!) Label them: blue car, red truck, gray car, delivery truck, and so on. (Great for building vocabulary and the idea of categories!)

Songs to Sing about Transportation

The Wheels on the Bus.
(Also, search on YouTube for lots of fun videos of this song!)
The wheels on the bus go round and round, Round and round, round and round,
The wheels on the bus go round and round, All through the town.

Down by the Station
Down by the station early in the morning. See the little puffer bellies all in a row.
See the engine driver, pull his little lever. Puff puff! Toot toot! Off we go!

Drive the Fire Truck.
Hurry, hurry! Drive the fire truck! Hurry, hurry! Drive the fire truck!
Hurry, hurry! Drive the fire truck! Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!

Motorboat, Motorboat go so slow (set your child in front of you, their feet against yours… hold their hands, and rock back and forth as you sing)
Motorboat, Motorboat go so fast (rock faster!)
Motorboat, Motorboat step on the gas! (go really fast!)
(Repeat, but this time, end it with “run out of gas” and putter to a stop.)

Games to Play / Circle Time Activities

Motorboat Activity: Do the song above, but have them walk when you say slow, jog when you say fast, run when you say step on the gas, and fall down on run out of gas.

Train rhyme: I’m a choo-choo train; (walk in circle)
Chugging down the track. (rhythmically move arms)
First I go forward,  Then I go back. (walk forward and back)
Now my bell is ringing, (pretend to pull bell)
Hear my whistle blow. (cup hand to ear)
What a lot of noise I make (cover ears)
Everywhere I go!

Red Light, Green Light. When you say green light, they can walk. When you say red light, they need to stop. (Advanced version: when you say yellow light, they can keep walking, but need to slow down.) This is a fun game, but also great safety training. When your child is headed out into the street, you say “red light” and they know to stop!

Sensory Activities

Tire Tracks. Drive toy cars on play-dough to make tire tracks. Or, squirt paint on a big piece of paper, and drive cars around. Or, drive them in a sensory bin full of dried rice, grains, or beans.


Bulldoze the Beans: Add toy bulldozers to a bin of beans.

Car Wash: A tub of soapy water and some toy cars is lots of fun.

Books to Read

Freight Train by Donald Crews. Teaches colors and names of train cars.

My CarTrucks, Planes, Boats, Machines at Work by Byron Barton.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. by Mo Willems. Very silly. Best for 3 years and up.

There are many different illustrated books featuring The Wheels on the Bus lyrics (I like the Pete the Cat: The Wheels on the Bus) and Row Your Boat (I like Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Cabrera.)

More ideas (and source citations) at: and

Check out this article on: “Obsessions with trucks, trains, or cars make kids smarter.”

Fun with Toddlers: Pet Theme

This month’s theme was Pets, especially dogs and cats. Here are some fun pet-related things to do with your toddler:

Outings to Go On: Visit a pet store. Look at the fish, or the rodents, or the birds or reptiles. The pet store is just as educational as the zoo, and it’s free! It’s a great chance to talk to your child about animals, and to practice observation skills: “Can you find a yellow fish?” “Which is the biggest bird?” “These are all reptiles. What makes them different from the rodents we just looked at?” If you don’t have a pet at home, don’t feel like you have to buy anything. Most pet stores are used to parents coming in and hanging out with their children for a while. If you want, you could buy a bag of pet food to donate to the store’s pet food drive. (Look for a donation bin at the front of the store.)

Toys to make for your child

Balloon Puppies. Take a balloon. Blow it up. Draw animal features on, add a string and you have an instant pet for your child to take on a walk! If you want to be fancy, you could use a helium balloon and fasten on “legs” made of accordion-folder paper – the home made version of the toy pictured.

petsDoggy ears (or kitty ears). Make a circle of paper that fits around your child’s head and add ears, or turn a child’s headband into the base for ears.

Imagination Games to Play

The Dog House. Take a big cardboard box. Cut an arched doorway in it. Decorate it like a dog house. Add things to represent dog food dishes, dog bones, dog toys and more. Add stuffed puppies if you have them, and then let the play begin.

Pet Store. Set up a pet store with stuffed animals, and accessories for animals (food bowls, collars, treats, toys, and so on, and go shopping.

Songs to Sing / Rhymes to Say

Where has my little dog gone?
Oh where, oh where has my little dog gone?
Oh where, oh where can he be?
With his ears cut short and his tail cut long,
Oh where, oh where can he be?

How Much is that Doggie in the Window
How much is that doggie in the window? The one with the waggly tail?
How much is that doggie in the window? I do hope that doggie’s for sale.
[Search on YouTube for many videos of this song!]

I have a cat
I have a cat (stroke your fist); My cat is fat (arms form a stomach)
I have a cat (stroking); My cat wears a hat (hands on head)
I have a cat (stroking); My cat caught a bat (clap hands together above head)
I have a cat (stroking) Purrrrrr, Meowwww

Circle Time Ideas

Poor Kitty. There is a game that elementary school aged children love called “Poor Kitty”. One person pretends to be the kitty and goes around a circle, trying to make the other kids laugh (by purring rubbing against them, licking them…). The others are supposed to keep a straight face and just pet the “cat” and say “poor kitty” without laughing. You can adapt this for a one-on-one game with toddlers or preschoolers. (Though they probably won’t get the whole “you’re not supposed to laugh” idea.)

Puppy puppet. Bring a puppy puppet and some dog treats (or dog toys.) Give a treat to each child. Bring the puppy around the circle and have each child give the dog a treat. Have fun with pretending to be a happy puppy.

Purple cat, what do you see. Make a felt board collection of pets – brown dog, black cat, yellow bird, gold fish, etc. Give one animal to each child. Do the rhyme, similar in style to Eric Carle’s Brown Bear. Go around the circle to each child in turn, having them place their animal on the felt board. So, if you started with brown dog, and the first child has a black cat, you’d say “Brown Dog, Brown Dog, what do you see? I see a black cat looking at me.”

Books to Read

Roly-Poly Puppies by Elaine Moore. A counting book with a nice rhyming structure.

Pete the Cat by James Dean. There are lots of fun Pete books, but the best is I Love My White Shoes. (Check out our Pinterest page for lots of activities to go with Pete books!)

Aggie and Ben by Lori Ries. Ben’s dad takes him to the pet store to pick out a pet.

More ideas (and source citations) at:

For my full collection of theme-based “Fun with Toddlers”, click on “Fun with Toddlers series” in the right hand side bar. Or if you would like them in printable handout form to share with students, click here.

Fun with Toddlers: Winter Theme

Bring the snow inside!Sensory Activities to Do:

Snow in the Shower. When it snows, parents will often excitedly bundle up their toddler, and take them out to play. Then the child just sits and shivers and looks sadly up at the parent. It’s not as fun as you expected it might be.

Instead, try bringing the snow inside! Make sure your bathroom is nice and warm, then bring a big bucket of snow and dump it on the floor of your shower or bathtub and put your child next to it with shovels and toys. (He can even be fully clothed to stay warm.) As the snow melts, it disappears down the drain, so no clean-up required! When your child is done playing, run a warm bath or shower to warm him back up.

Ice Play

  • Hockey rink: freeze a cake pan of water. Make mini “hockey sticks” and use a checker as the puck. Hit the puck back and forth to score.
  • Excavation: Use a loaf pan or large bowls to make blocks of ice. Freeze items inside (e.g. plastic penguins or Legos). Set it out on a tray to catch the water as it melts. Give your child a toy hammer and other tools to excavate the toys.
  • Melting experiments: Give your child ice, water with pipettes or eye droppers, salt to sprinkle. Let them explore how to get the ice to melt. Add food coloring or liquid watercolors to make it prettier.

Dry Ice Experiments: Check out my post for lots of ideas. Note – this requires close supervision!!

Games to Play:

Indoor Snowball Fight. Make or buy big white pompoms, or soft white balls. Or just wad up a bunch of paper into balls. Or ball up pairs of socks. Fill a basket with them. Then spontaneously start snowball battles anytime you want to! Not only is this tons of fun, I like playing games where I throw (soft) things at my kids. It helps them be a little bolder about ball games later in life – a little more willing to “head” the ball in a soccer game. This also allows them to get out their throwing energy indoors without much risk of damaging anything.

Crafts to Do:

Mittens: Cut out 10 paper mittens. Have your child decorate them. (Or for younger kids, have them scribble / finger paint all over a piece of paper, THEN cut out mitten shapes.) Then do the 10 little mittens rhyme together.

Tracks in the Snow. Take some colored construction paper. (Green, brown, or whatever you have.) Squirt white paint onto it. Use a paintbrush to spread it around, smoothing it. Then walk some toy animals or dolls across it. Point out their tracks. Drag a stick across it. Drag across a fork or a comb. Notice the paths they make in the paint. Then spread the paint back out again smoothing it over, and make some more tracks.

Tracks in the Snow, take 2. Make white play-dough. Play with toy animals and dolls in it, and point out the tracks they make. (Source, with pictures.)

Shape snowmen. Check out original idea here.

Snowy Day. Make a drawing (or find a picture) of an outdoor scene with trees and more. Put out white paint and show your child how to put one finger in, then dot it on the paper to make a snowflake. They make more and more snowflake dots till the landscape is covered in snow.

Rhymes to Say

Up the Mountain rhyme
Sit child on your lap
Up the mountain (run your fingers up one of their arms)
Down the other side (then run fingers down their other arm)
Brr it’s cold out… (hug them tight)
Let’s climb inside! (tickle their neck as you reach your fingers under their collar)

Five little snowmen
Five little snowmen standing in a row (hold up 5 fingers)
Each with a hat (pat head) and a big red bow (pull at neck like a bow tie)
Along came the sun (arms form big circle over head)
and it shone all day (lean sideways)
And one of those snowmen melted away! (put down one finger)
Continue until there are no snowmen left.

Disappearing Snowman
(make a paper snowman; cut as you tell story, making snowman smaller)
On Monday, I made a snowman. Just like that.
On Tuesday, the wind blew some snow away. Just like that.
On Wednesday, it rained on my snowman. Just like that.
On Thursday, the hot sun started to melt it. Just like that.
On Friday, it melted into a puddle. Just like that.
On Saturday, it snowed again. Just like that.
On Sunday, I made another snowman. Just like that.

Three little snowmen.   (mime 3 fingers perched on sled made by other hand)
3 little snowmen riding on a sled.  One fell off and bumped his head. Mama called…

Songs to Sing

For the first two songs, make your child a paper snowflake and have them put it on their head, their knee, etc.

Little Snowflake Swirling Round (tune: London Bridges)
Little snowflake twirling round
Twirling round, twirling round
Little snowflake twirling round
Lands on my head!
Repeat with different body parts.

It is Snowing (Tune: Frere Jacques)
It is snowing, it is snowing,
All around, all around.
See the pretty snowflakes, See the pretty snowflakes,
Touch the ground. Touch the ground.

Snow is Falling (tune: Skip to My Lou)
Snow is falling, what do I do? Snow is falling, what do I do?
Snow is falling, what do I do? What do I do, my darling
I’ll build a snowman bigger than you! …That’s what I’ll do, my darling!
I’ll ride my sled fast, how about you?… That’s what I’ll do, my darling!

Sing the My Mittens song in those inevitable moments when you’re searching for your child’s missing mittens.

Books to Read:
Amy Loves the Snow by Hoban. Sweet simple story for little ones.

The Snowman Storybook or The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. These are the same story, but the Snowman is wordless – you tell the story in your own words. Beautiful illustrations. Story of a snowman who comes to life. Note: This book has a sad ending. (I think that’s OK – helps to build emotional literacy. But some parents prefer to avoid.)

Red Sled or Red Hat by Judge or The Mitten by Jan Brett. All three are stories of woodland creatures getting into mischief with children’s belongings.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Keats. A little boy in the city enjoys a snowy day. This book, published in 1963, was noteworthy for being one of the first picture books to feature an African-American child. Note: this combines really nicely with the “tracks in the snow” activity above, where you can show how the doll tracks or the track from the stick is like what was shown in the book.

More ideas (and source citations) at:

For my full collection of theme-based “Fun with Toddlers”, click on “Fun with Toddlers series” in the right hand side bar. These are great for parents or for teachers and librarians doing story-time for toddlers or preschoolers. If you would like theme information in printable handout form to share with students, click here.