The excitement of the holidays is here–along with all the special activities that come with the season: baking, gift-wrapping, decorating, and visiting with friends and family. While we always try to involve our children as much as we can- letting them help in the kitchen or sweep the floors for company- there are times when you may need to just get things done by yourself.
It’s easy to turn on the TV during these moments- Elsa and Anna are great distractions for the kids when you want to mop the floors- but there are other (super easy!) ways to keep your children meaningfully busy while you get your work done!
Please enjoy these simple activities, brought to you straight from the Montessori classroom! Most of these works require minimal prep, little supervision, and an easy clean-up.
*And just a note: I am not Primary-trained, so these activities are geared toward toddlers. However, you can always use smaller materials or add more steps to create something more challenging.
This work is as simple as 2 cups and some water. I have pictured the work on a tray to help contain spills, but you may want to keep this work in the kitchen or in a space that can dry quickly (tile floors, a table). You don’t have to use two identical cups, though toddlers do appreciate the consistency of uniformity! Children, as I’m sure you have found out by now, love water. When I have had this work in my room, my friends will sometimes spend as long as 10-15 minutes just pouring water back and forth! That’s an eternity for toddlers and enough time to get those cookies in the oven! Plus, it is building their coordination as they try to successfully transfer the water without spilling! Tip: always keep a cloth close by so your child can wipe up any spillage (cleaning up our messes is part of grace and courtesy!). You can also substitute the water for rice, coffee beans, or dry pasta for a change!
2. Paper Tearing/ Crunching
Does anyone else finish their gift-wrapping and have about million useless scraps left over? (Maybe it’s just me…I’m terrible at wrapping presents!) Well, before you throw away the extra bits, put them to good use! Fill a bowl with scrap tissue paper and wrapping paper and let your child go at it! Make sure you put in large pieces and small bits of paper so they get a chance to exercise both their fine and gross motor skills. Children love the sound of tearing paper, and the feeling of crunching it up in their hands is also satisfying. You can also use newspaper, junk mail, or any paper you want to recycle!
Take the scraps that they have torn up and let your child glue them to paper! Glue sticks are great because they give the child a chance to practice opening and closing the lid, but you could also put a small amount of liquid glue in a dish and let them use a paintbrush to spread it on the paper. After the child has glued the pieces down, you have an original piece of artwork and you got your vacuuming done! Oh– write a message on it and you have a personal, handmade card for Grandma and Grandpa!
3. Cotton Ball Stirring
Put a bunch of cotton balls in a large mixing bowl, add a big spoon, and let your child stir away! This work takes more concentration and fine motor skill than you might think: holding the bowl steady, grasping the spoon comfortably and correctly, and using pincer grasp to pick up any that fall out. Who knew you could develop your child’s motor skills while doing laundry!
Add some kitchen tongs and another bowl and let your child tong the cotton balls from one bowl to another! This involves even more concentration and builds up those fine motor muscles! (Remember: fine motor muscles are what will eventually help your child to hold a pencil and begin to write letters!)
During the holiday season, we always seem to acquire a large amount of boxes- gift boxes, shoe boxes, a million boxes from Amazon… So put them to good use! Cut a small hole in the top, provide some chunky objects (I used corks, but you could use almost anything: pom-poms, juice/plastic water bottle lids, crayons, or bouncy balls). It is very exciting for children to put an object into a box and watch it disappear, then open the box and find it again (or lift the box up, depending on what kind of box you use)! I try to make the hole a teeny bit smaller than whatever objects they will be putting in, just so they can use more effort to push. The work creates a great sensorial experience: feeling the resistance when pushing the object in, listening to the sound the object makes when it drops, and then seeing it “reappear” when they open the lid.
Same idea, just use a salt or pepper shaker and some toothpicks (remind your child to be very careful, as toothpicks do have sharp ends). Again, because the objects and holes are smaller, the challenge is greater and requires more focus.
So, before you put on Moana so you can perfect your holiday decor, think about preparing one of these activities instead! You won’t regret the extra couple of minutes it takes to get out the materials, and engaging your children in meaningful work is worth it, I promise!
Happy Holidays, everyone!