I would guess that many of us have been scouring our resources to find things for our kids to stay busy with during this time of quarantine. To me, it feels overwhelming how many choices there are. Art, baking, educational materials, science activities, the list seems to be endless. I kept trying to find ways to narrow it down.
Recently, I seemed to be out of ideas and really struggling to come up with an activity. Suddenly, I remembered my previous child development tactics from our high school “preschool program.” I attended Franklin High School. They had an amazing preschool program for both the students with kiddos and local parents. At the preschool, our job as students was to develop activities for specific learning areas that related to our weekly topics. There are different areas that promote different types of learning. Art, fine motor, large motor, dramatic play, and sensory were our common learning areas. First, I will explain them, and then give examples.
“Art” is a pretty huge area. Many activities could reside in the “art” group. Let’s just say if kids are creating something, the creation itself could be considered as art. To be more specific: drawing, painting, coloring, designing, sculpting, etc. could be included in the art group.
Fine motor activities include tasks that require kids to use small, precise, controlled muscle movements, while large motor activities include bigger muscle movements (Understood.org, 2020). Examples: fine motor could be practicing writing, threading beads onto a pipe-cleaner, or poking holes into something with a small, age-appropriate tool.
Large motor could be running, jumping, dancing, yoga, or maneuvering through an obstacle course.
Dramatic play is an important one. Some people may think this type of activity means kids are “just pretending,” but really, they are practicing their social skills, verbal skills, conflict resolution/problem-solving, among other benefits (Rasmussen College, 2015). Dramatic play can include using dress-up clothes, playing in a kid-sized kitchen area, performing a play and assigning roles/characters, etc.
Sensory involves kids doing activities that promote the use of their senses: smelling, tasting, seeing, hearing or feeling. Sensory can be super fun for some kids. As a preschool teacher, I saw some kids spend their entire school day at the sensory tubs. Especially sand and water tables. Sensory is also an extremely broad activity that involves using the senses, but the most common seems to be “touch” using sensory tubs. In this area of study, kids explore different textures through different items. In the preschool I studied in while in high school, we would fill a sensory tub with materials that were relevant to our weekly topic. If it was animals, we put feathers or small toy animals made from varying materials. If it was nature, we put pinecones, leaves, or rocks. If it was food, we put dry rice and beans. And so on.
These different areas are useful when creating activities because we know through research that they are important for a child’s development, and they also help us to stem ideas that relate to what our kiddo is interested in.
To begin constructing activities relating to the learning areas, I had to consider what my kids’ main interests would be. My son’s main interest is animals. My daughter’s main interest is babies, specifically baby dolls. From there, I created ideas within these five learning areas that relate to their interests. Here is what I came up with:
Art relating to animals-
Drawing animals from our imaginations. Drawing animals with a visual reference (a picture of an animal on a phone/computer/a book). Coloring/painting blank, coloring pages of animals. Painting a toy animal that can be washed off. Creating animals out of Play-doh.
Art relating to baby dolls-
Drawing or painting baby doll pictures either from our imaginations, or coloring pages with baby dolls. Creating different hair styles for baby dolls. Playing with washable make-up or paint on baby dolls that can be washed. Creating different face designs on a page with a blank face shape drawn or printed on it.
Fine motor relating to animals-
Cleaning small animal toys with a Q-tip, soap, and water. Designing a “Zoo” with small animal toys, small zoo features like cages or trees in a small box like a shoebox. Creating “clothes” to try to put on small animal toys.
Fine motor relating to baby dolls-
Dressing baby dolls with toy clothes is great for fine motor (Off topic, but dressing Barbies is also a great small motor activity). Washing baby doll clothes with a tub, washcloths, and soap and warm water. Squeeze the excess water out of the clothes, try to dry them with a washcloth.
Large motor relating to animals-
Animal “races”: group different animal toys by size, color, species, etc. Have your child “race” two of them from one side of the room to the other (or the front or backyard), to see “who wins.” By bending over and crawling/running across a certain area, the child will be using their large muscles, voila! Give toy animals a “ride” in a toy car, bike basket, box (same idea) no set destination, they can just cruise their animal around until they are too tired to continue or bored with it, ha-ha.
Large motor relating to baby dolls-
Designing and doing obstacle courses for baby dolls. Same idea as “animal races” above. Bending over and crawling/walking/running the baby dolls place to place certainly uses large muscles. Swinging baby dolls on a swing. Strapping baby doll to kiddo for a “walk” or “a jog.” Pushing baby dolls around in a stroller. Pulling baby dolls in a wagon.
Sensory relating to animals-
Design a sensory tub with different environments that correlate with animals. Rocks, sand, dirt, leaves, seashells, etc. If your kiddo has a large variety of small, plastic animals, decide which animals would like which type of environment. Use different items in a sensory tub that correlate to animals, like feathers or “shark teeth” toys; talk about the types of animals that have feathers or sharp teeth. Have your child close his or her eyes and try to guess what type of animal toy they are touching. I had a hard time with this one, so, right now, I just looked up potential ideas. Whoa! Just had my mind blown when I found this activity: Place a medium tub in a large tub. Fill the medium tub with cornmeal, a pair of tongs. Hide small animal toys throughout the cornmeal. On the empty side of the large tub, set an empty ice cube tray. Have your kiddo “save the animals” with the tongs, and then set them in the ice cube tray cubes! I know what we’re doing tomorrow! Thank goodness for people sharing their amazing ideas. I cannot wait to do this.
Sensory relating to baby dolls-
Baby doll baths. Set up a big box/or a baby bathtub with warm water, bubbles, and a washcloth. Have a dry towel ready and a set of baby doll clothes. We literally just got done doing this a few minutes ago! Have your kiddo smell different soaps and decide which one they would like to use for their baby doll’s bath. We have some awesome soap companies here in Oregon. I recommend Camamu Soaps and the Oregon Soap Company. Both companies use a primarily “all natural” method. Even better: both companies operate on a “pay it forward” model. Oregon Soap Company will plant a native tree every time ten bars, or five gallons, of soap are sold (Oregonsoapcompany.com, 2020). Camamu soaps will send a free soap to someone in need when a customer spends $40 (Camamusoap.com, 2020). Both are great small companies to support during this time of COVID-19 when small businesses are struggling. Another sensory activity could be to sort baby dolls by size with eyes closed. Sort big to small, and then small to big. Have your kiddo try to guess which body parts of baby dolls they are touching with their eyes closed. Hand or foot, ear or chin, etc. Feel different types of baby clothes to determine which is “softest” for their baby doll.
Dramatic play relating to animals-
You guessed it: have your child “pretend” to be different types of animals. You can make cards and call out the animal they should act like. Or, have them decide on an animal to act like without telling you what it is, and you can try to guess what animal it is. Have them come up with good names for different types of animals. Encourage them to do a “play” about being a zookeeper, a veterinarian, or a safari explorer. Design a veterinary clinic or a zoo in a certain area of the house. Have them set up pretend “meals” for their stuffed animals.
Dramatic play relating to baby dolls-
Encourage your kiddo to pretend to be a parent, caregiver, etc. to their baby dolls. Have them make a list or think of what they may need to care for a baby for a day. Help them to find items like bottles, travel accessories, wash cloths, baby clothes, etc. Depending on their age, they could pretend to be a baby or have you pretend to be a baby for a little while (ha-ha). Help them to design a nursery/hospital/daycare center with lots of babies. Let them make a list of baby names that they like.
These are a just few ideas. These five learning areas can help you develop ideas for different games. The internet has many, many ideas. But as I said earlier, sometimes it’s overwhelming! As a parent, you are likely to know what activities your child will love. Best of luck to you in pairing your child’s interests with exciting activities that also aid in their varying areas of development.
Stephanie McCoy was born and raised in Portland, Oregon-where she still lives. She recently graduated with a Master’s in Education degree from Concordia University. In her free time: she likes to read and write, get outdoors, embrace her kiddos and husband, and watch travel documentaries.