If you have a toddler at home, you are probably familiar with the big highs and big lows. The secret to staying on the upswing? Lots of entertainment. It is hard work to keep a 3-year-old happy: They require a lot of feedback and engagement. And they absolutely expect you to get down on your knees and pretend to be a dog. Yup, our knees hurt, too—so here are some other ways to keep your threenager entertained during these trying times.
10 Educational Games for 3-Year-Olds (Beyond the Hokey Pokey)
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1. Color Mixing with Paint
Give your little one a lesson in primary, secondary and tertiary colors with paint. This project is all about exploration and creativity—and it’s as simple as it sounds. Pour some red, yellow and blue paints into different cups and show how these primary colors can be combined to make green, purple and orange. Once the secondary colors have been whipped up, ask your kiddo to see what happens when one primary color is mixed with one secondary color. The fun surprise? With some careful mixing, your child can create all the different hues he has in his big box of crayons. But don’t sweat it if this activity ends with a whole lot of brown-black paint—that’s learning, too.
2. Toilet-Paper Tube Color Sorting
Don’t throw away those empty toilet-paper tubes! With this two-part project, your child can have some painting fun and then move on to mastering his matching and sorting skills.
Step 1: Set your child up to paint each tube a different, solid color.
Step 2: Once the paint has dried, pull some pom-poms in corresponding colors from your craft box and ask your little one to fill each tube with pom-poms of the right color. (If you don’t have pom-poms, your child can make his own by painting cotton balls at the same time as the toilet-paper tubes.)
3. Camera scavenger hunt
This game is a crowd-pleaser, and all your kiddo needs to participate is a camera—this kid-friendly option is great, but you can also just use your smartphone for a quick scavenge. Send your little one on a fun hunt for all kinds of ordinary treasures by giving simple directives (e.g., “Find something shiny,” or “Look for something green and skinny.”) Feel free to take the scavenger hunt outdoors so your little one can learn by exploring nature. Each completed task can be captured with the camera, and when all items have been found, you and your child can paste the photos on a poster board to create a collage of her findings.
4. Name That Picture
This modification of the camera scavenger hunt lets you handle the photography (’cause that iPhone isn’t cheap) but still provides plenty of educational fun. Snap a few shots of random objects, making sure you zoom in super close so that your child can’t immediately identify the item. Have your child hunt around your home for the mystery object using only the texture and color from the photo as clues. A fun and exciting exercise for those critical thinking skills!
5. Foil Letter Crafting
The 3-year-old in your life can have some hands-on fun with plain old aluminum foil while learning all about letters. Write a big, bold capital letter on a piece of paper and then pull out several large sheets of tinfoil for your tot to scrunch and manipulate into the shape of the letter you drew. Your child might not have the hand control to write the alphabet, but this activity will give her a head start—and the sensory aspect will make it a hit, too.
6. Beanbag Socks
This activity begins with the sensory fun of creating homemade beanbags. Fill a pair of old socks with rice, lentils or whatever you have on hand, and have your child help. Once made, the beanbags are great for promoting balance and coordination. Think My Fair Lady and ask your tot to walk with one atop his head. Then suggest he sling it over an arm and try to keep it there. And when that sophisticated balancing act brings the beanbag to the floor, ask your giggly little one to stand on it with one foot. The gains? Gross motor skills...and lots of laughs.
7. Pasta Necklaces
Your child might not have perfect pencil grip at this point, but if she can thread some twine through a handful of elbow noodles, she will have made great strides and a lovely necklace, too. This activity can’t be beat when it comes to building fine motor skills, and it’s not bad for building frustration tolerance and concentration either. Note: Definitely offset the frustration aspect with creativity; your child can enjoy both an artistic and sensory experience by dipping each noodle into paint before facing the bigger challenge of stringing the pasta beads.
8. Recyclable Instruments
Your 3-year-old will likely be wowed by the opportunity to make something from household items. (Think a guitar made from a takeout container and rubber bands, or maracas made from a water bottle and rice.) After the unparalleled excitement of making something, the opportunity for emotional learning is basically boundless. Musical instruments can be used for emotional literacy in a number of ways. To start, try inviting your child to shake those maracas according to emotional cues—like he’s angry, happy or sad—so he can act out all the feelings with a little healthy distance.
9. Story Stones
There’s a good chance your kiddo will return from your next nature walk with a rock collection—but if not, recommend it! Once you’ve got a handsome pile of rocks hanging out in your home, make use of them with this storytelling activity. Help your child paint or color each stone with a simple image (dog, boy, raindrops, beach ball), and once all the stones have been decorated, ask your child to arrange them to tell an original story. The visual component will help your child grasp the concept of narrative, and storytelling in any form is a wonderful way to give the imagination a workout.
10. Found-Object Building
All those things you never really wanted to bring into your home (or find weeks later in your coat pockets) have a purpose now. We all know those found objects have a special significance, and it’s about time they lived up to their potential. If your child collected bits and pieces from the outside world on his last neighborhood walk, give him a cardboard box to serve as a structure of his choosing (rocket ship, castle, house). Then, help him place and paste his found materials to create the scenery and build the narrative. (Is that ivy growing on the castle walls? Are those asteroids hitting the rocket ship?) This is both a story-building and storytelling exercise, so it’s great for early literacy. The multimedia aspect makes for a great sensory experience, too.