Tag: learning through play

3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

It seems that no matter where we look these days, experts are talking about the importance of play. Doctors are prescribing it. Child development experts are advocating for it. Parents everywhere are clamoring for more play in the classroom. It’s no exaggeration to say there is an educational crisis in the world today, and it stems directly from a lack of play in our children’s lives. Play makes learning fun and helps our children build executive function skills for a happy and successful life. But did you know there are THREE different types of play that have a powerful impact on our kids?

Three powerful types of play every parent needs to know!

3 Powerful Types of Play Every Parent Needs to Know

1) INDEPENDENT PLAY

Sometimes called free play or creative play, independent play is critical to the emotional and social development of our children. When children play independently, they are in charge of which materials they want to play with and what the rules of their play entail. True independent play allows young children to develop and practice new skills, which is why you’ll see toddlers and preschoolers do the same action (dump and fill, for example) over and over again.

(Read more about kids and repetition here.)

Independent play builds these executive function skills:

  • making a plan
  • solving problems
  • self-monitoring

Learn how to teach independent play to young children.


2) CONNECTED PLAY

When a child and a trusted adult do an activity together, I call it “connected play.” This type of play can be kicking a soccer ball around in the yard, going for a bike ride, or working on a puzzle. The purpose of connected play is to strengthen relationships and spend time together.

Connected play can be adult-directed or a shared process between child and parent. It’s important to take turns choosing the activity, though it’s okay to give your child a few choices to pick if you need some variety. 😉

Connected play builds these executive function skills:

  • taking turns
  • regulating emotions
  • understanding different points of view
  • having empathy and recognizing the needs of others

Learn more about executive function skills here.


Learning through play is the best way.

3) LEARNING THROUGH PLAY ACTIVITIES

If you’ve spent much time on our Facebook or Instagram pages, you know that we are a BIG fan of learning through play. It’s worth mentioning that learning through play activities are not TRUE independent play, because they are often parent- or teacher-directed. They are fun and help reinforce important academic skills, for sure–but they cannot be the only play experience for our children.

If your child attends a preschool program, be sure to ask the director what percentage of time children are given for independent (child-directed) play. These are often called “centers.” A good program will give young children the freedom to learn through exploration along with adult-directed learning activities. 

Learning activities build these executive function skills:

  • paying attention
  • staying focused
  • completing tasks

Click here to see our full directory of learning through play activities.


Until our education system remembers how children learn best, the responsibility falls on parents to make playtime a priority. The ideal is giving your children all three types of play on a regular basis.

SMARTplay mini-class

Learn more about the types of play in our SMARTplay mini-class–absolutely FREE!

How to Make an Awesome Christmas Busy Box for Kids!

How to Make an Awesome Christmas Busy Box for Kids!

Winter is coming, and you’re looking for simple play ideas to keep your toddlers and preschoolers learning at home. Between cold weather, rainy days, and lots of holidays preparations that keep parents busy, having a few educational activities set aside for your little ones is a smart idea! Read on to learn how to make a Christmas busy box for your kids. How to Make a Christmas Busy Box for Kids

Note: This busy box can be repurposed for a variety of seasons and holidays. The only thing “Christmasy” about it are the colors I chose — but you could easily make a similar quiet time activities using other colors and symbols!

In case you haven’t heard about busy bags or boxes before, they are simple learning activities that are typically self-contained and set aside for travel, waiting rooms, or quiet time. This Christmas busy box is similar, pulling together a group of open-ended materials that can be used in a variety ways. Toddlers and preschoolers can mix and match their toys for hours of creative play!

Best of all, these materials all fit in one small box, so they can easily travel to a relative’s house or holiday party all season long.

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

How to Make a Christmas Busy Box:

Making a busy bag or box doesn’t have to be complicated! Think of learning skills you want to target with your toddler or preschooler and gather related toys.   This Christmas busy box that I put together focuses on fine motor and counting skills. Put all your materials in a small shoe box!

Christmas Busy Box for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Click here to see a short video explaining how to use these materials in a variety of fun activities!

Recommended Materials for Your Christmas Busy Box:

You can use ANY learning toys you have around your house–these are just a few recommendations that are both quiet and easily transportable.

  • UNO cards (specifically the red and green number cards 0-9)
  • ice cube tray
  • red, green, and white pom poms
  • tweezers
  • red and green foam blocks (1 inch cubes)
  • “velcro sticks” (red and green craft sticks with velco dots on the ends)
  • red and green pegs
  • tree cookie cutter
  • green LEGOs
  • empty (clean) Parmesan cheese container
  • red and green straw pieces
  • shoelace

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Christmas Busy Box and Activity Ideas

100 Hands-On Activities for Tactile Learners

100 Hands-On Activities for Tactile Learners

Do you have a child who struggles to sit still? A child who always seems to be fidgeting with some toy or random object? You’re not alone! Many young children fall under the kinesthetic or tactile modes of learning. While these students might struggle in a “traditional” classroom environment (sitting quietly in a desk while the teacher lectures to the class), there are many simple adaptations available to help our hands-on learners flourish. Read on for our favorite tactile activities.

100 Must-Have Tactile Activities for Hands-On Learning

My younger daughter has been a tactile learner from the very beginning. We started with a water table in the backyard, which led to a variety of sensory bins through her toddler years. As many of her peers outgrew the constant need for hands-on learning, Katie continued to seek new sensory experiences and stockpile small toys in her pockets. Even as I write this post, she is spinning around and around and around in my desk chair while reading a book. (My head is spinning just watching her!)

At least one-fourth of children have either a tactile or kinesthetic learning style. Instead of isolating these children or constantly correcting them for being disruptive, we can empower them to take charge of their own learning with these materials! {Click here to learn more about learning styles.}


Tactile learners tend to focus on fine-motor work, always having some small object in their hands. Kinesthetic children are whole body learners, constantly moving, jumping, shaking, dancing, rolling, etc.


100 Tactile Activities for Hands-On Learning

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

Animal Figures: We have the Busy Farm set from Discovery Toys, but this set comes with twice as many animals. Sort by color, animal, make an array, practice multiplication facts, act out stories, and more!

Bristle Blocks: Our daughter got these as a gift for her first birthday, and we are STILL playing with these years later.

Busy Letters: Any material that works on more than one skill, like literacy and fine motor, is a clean winner at our house! 

clothespins

Clothespins are terrific for building hand strength! Keep an eye out for a fun design like these flowers (although the plain brown ones work just as well!).

green tray with light blue dough

Cloud Dough: I’ll be honest with you–cloud dough is not my favorite. Maybe we just haven’t found the right recipe, or maybe we’ll just stick to regular playdough. 🙂 But if your kids love getting their hands dirty and making a mess, cloud dough might be for you! 

colored gems

Colored Gems are a favorite at our house! Sort them, count them, make patterns with them, add them to playdough…the possibilities are endless!

Cookie Cutters are fun for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers! Little ones can chew on them, and bigger kids can use them for playdough and tracing. We have had this set for years and love it!

Do-a-Dot Markers have lots of uses in a homeschool preschool, especially for tactile and visual learners.  My girls also like to use them for crafts. 

Dominoes are an excellent hands-on math material. Children can count dots and add sums or stack the dominoes and watch them fall.

child's hand with yarn knitting

Finger Knitting is a fun hobby for older tactile learners. Use yarn or fabric loops to make gifts and keep hands busy.

Floam brings back lots of childhood memories for me! Because the texture is so unique, this could be a novelty…though I remember it being a pain to clean up. Flip Flop Faces bean bag game

Flip Flop Faces (from Discovery Toys) is a bean bag game that my kiddos love! The sturdy bowls are also great for sorting other materials (like the animal counters or linking rings) by color.

Foam Letters are perfect for our little sensory seekers who are looking for fun in the tub!

foam hearts on carpet

Foam Shapes can be found at craft stores and seasonal displays. We wrote letters on these hearts, which were then used for spelling games. They are quiet and portable, making them a perfect “busy bag” activity.

Giant Pegboard: This set is well worth the investment, growing from toddler years all the way to elementary school with the geoboard on the back.

Hole Punches can build hand strength and help some kids self-soothe with the repetitive process. Set up a “punching station” with a tray to catch the stray paper. 

Interlocking “Discs”:  These discs are next up on our wish list for the long winter! I can see both kids loving this.

Jenga Blocks are fun, especially when you add a little color. (See our rainbow blocks here.)

jingle bells

Jingle Bells are great for building fine motor skills and learning more about magnets, all with a fun auditory component.

Kinetic Sand: fun sensory play!

Lacing Buttons: These buttons are great for sorting by attribute AND lacing! (This is the exact set we’ve had for years.)

Lacing Cards are a fun way to practice specific hand movements that build strength needed for pencil control. Like the foam shapes mentioned above, these are also quiet and easy for travel!   Letter Stamps: great for inkpads and playough/modeling clay! Hands-on learners can even trace the letters with their fingers for spelling practice.

Learning Wrap-Ups are the perfect way for hands-on learners to practice math facts.

Letter Tiles are great for tactile learners and visual learners to build sight words and word families with ease. 

LEGOs are a classic toy found in nearly every house (I would imagine!). LEGO Sunday is a favorite tradition at our house as we watch football and build together.

Lincoln Logs were one of my favorite toys growing up. My kids love adding other materials to them (clear plastic drinking cups are their go-to) to make big structures.

Linking Rings are a favorite baby toy (great teethers!), but did you know they are also good for preschoolers’ little hands, too? Discovery Toys makes a set with patterning cards that can be used for learning at home or quiet “on the go” busy bags.

Loom Bracelets: While this fad may be over, I still think they are a worthwhile purchase for tactile children. Turn on an audio book while they create and enjoy a quiet afternoon together. 

Loom Potholders: I think every child goes through the potholder phase. 🙂 Kids can learn about weaving and making crafts for others. 

tray of children's toys with label "loose parts"

Loose Parts: We are big fans of open-ended play around here. {Watch our free SMARTplay video training here for more about the power of play.} Loose parts allow children to use their imagination and create their own games!

Magnetic Letters are a fun learning material for kids of all ages! Add in a large metal oil pan from the automotive department so your preschoolers can build words on a large scale. 

Magnetic Match Rings: I bought this toy for my classroom several years ago, and it’s been an instant favorite! Kids can explore why magnets attract and repel while matching color patterns on the included cards.

Magnet Tiles: There are so many brands available, but you can’t go wrong with some magnet tiles in your home!

Marble Run: We have the classic Marbleworks set from Discovery Toys. This is a favorite toy for long winter days!

Mental Blox is one of those perfect toys that truly grows with a child from toddlerhood to early elementary school. These light, 3-D shapes are perfectly sized for little hands to roll and stack, and the enclosed cards give older children a challenge to create a variety of structures. 

Modeling Clay gives children a slightly different experience than softer playdough. If your child is avoiding pencil work, add in modeling clay time to build hand strength.

MotorWorks: Assemble and take apart these little vehicles with a handheld screwdriver or use the battery-powered drill!

Musical Instruments: We have slowly added to our musical instrument collection over the years. A set like this allows a child to mix and match and experiment with sounds.

nature play

Nature is the best sensory experience! Take your child out to the yard and watch them explore for hours.

  • Dirt/Mud
  • Leaves
  • Pinecones
  • Rocks
  • Seeds
  • Shells
  • Sticks

Nesting Blocks: Stack them and knock them down! Toddlers and preschoolers can get hours of fun from simple nesting blocks.

Nuts and Bolts: Match colors and shapes while working on fine motor skills! 

Origami was a big fad when I was in middle school. I made thousands of creations while watching TV and listening to the radio!

Paint in a Bag: Squirt a few colors of paint into a bag and let your child mix to his/her heart’s content! Children can draw shapes, letters, or numbers for an added learning component.


Looking for a fun, hands-on family activity? Bake a loaf of bread with your kids! Learn how with this guest post from Cynthia at Mom’s Bread Bites.


Tactile Activities for Hands-On Learning

More Tactile Activities! (51-100)

Paper Airplanes are a great way to pass the time!

Paper Clips: I was a big Sesame Street fan as a child, and I greatly admired Bert’s paper clip collection. My grandpa gave me my own box of paper clips, and I played with them for days!

Pattern Blocks are one of our favorite math materials. Sort them, pattern with them, make pretty art designs–the possibilities are endless.

Pegboard & Pegs: We bought this set on a whim one day at a toy store, and we have gotten hours of play out of them. 

Pipe Cleaners are so much fun! We have a big stash down in our craft cabinet, and they are always building something! 

plastic eggs

Plastic Eggs: You can make countless learning games with these eggs! Get lots of ideas here.

  • Letter Matching
  • States and Capitals
  • Numbers
  • Sight Words

child's hand with playdough

Playdough: Can we have a post about tactile activities without mentioning playdough? I didn’t think so! 🙂

Play Money: Teaching our children about money can really only happen through hands-on learning. Of course, we could use the real thing (CASH) to practice, but having a plastic set ensures we always have money for sorting and playing store!  

Pom Poms are a must-have for every family! Every Family Activity Guide I create uses pom poms for some hands-on learning activity. 

Pony Beads are a great item to have on hand for crafts and learning activities. Add a shoelace or string for lacing or transfer the beads with tweezers!

cut pool noodles with letters written on them

Pool Noodles: This tends to be a seasonal activity in our family! We bought a few pool noodles and made a hands-on spelling activity with consonants, vowels, and “chunks” for word-building.

Puzzles

  • ABC
  • Numbers
  • Colors
  • Shapes
  • US States
  • Human Body, showing the layers of anatomy

dyed noodles

Rainbow Noodles: This is a simple, inexpensive learning material with lots of uses! {You can see our easy tutorial here.}

green tray with "K" written in salt

Salt Tray: simple and fun activity for practicing letters, numbers, and shapes!

Sand and Water Wheel: This toy lives in our trunk for whenever we go to a park with a sandbox (or the beach at our town lake). It’s perfect for tactile kids who have outgrown their water table!

Sandpaper Letters are great for our tactile learners. (I made a similar set using index cards and “fuzzy” letter stickers from the craft store.)

Scarves are a great hands-on material. Young kiddos can learn about colors and use their imaginations, and when they are a bit older, they can explore the idea of  mixing colors (without the mess!)

Scrabble Letters: My math-loving tactile learner LOVES to add up the value of her spelling words!

sensory bins

Sensory Bins

tray with shaving cream

Shaving Cream: Just a squirt will do! This is fun on a REALLY large scale, but a tray should contain the mess. 

Sidewalk Chalk: Draw an obstacle course on the driveway or have kids hop from letter to letter on the sidewalk. You can also practice counting with a number line or connecting math facts to their answers.

yellow tray with pink slime

Slime: Our girls missed the first slime fad, but then Grandma sent us home with glue and contact solution. So, get ready to see lots of slime around here! 

snow in a bucket

Snow is the ultimate tactile activity! My girls love to make snow castles and snow bricks all winter long. 

Stacking Cups: We bought this set when our oldest child was a toddler. Nearly a decade later, we still love them! Great for scooping and pouring, they can also be used for stacking, measuring (these are volumetrically correct, so three 3 cups full will fill the 9 cup), stamping playdough, and making a demonstration clock for learning to tell time. 

Stacking Owls: Our family does quite a few activities each week where one or more of the children are expected to wait quietly (gymnastics, choir) while another family member is practicing. These owls are easily one of the most favorite toys wherever we go–easy enough for three-year-olds to stack, but challenging for older kids and adults, too!  

Sticker Books are great for tactile learning on the go! Usborne makes great academic sticker books for all ages and interests — keeping little hands busy and minds learning!

green and orange straw pieces in an orange bowl

Straw Pieces: Cut straw pieces might be one of our most-used (and cheapest!) learning materials. We use them for patterning, lacing, measuring, and building fine motor skills as we drop them into containers. I store a big bag with six different colors among our play school supplies. So much love for something so simple!

Train Sets are another open-ended learning toy that our entire family loves! Children work on STEM skills and imaginative play without even realizing it…You can also count pieces, talk about colors, and more.

Unifix Cubes are one of the most versatile learning materials available. We use them for sorting, stringing, snapping together, adding and subtracting with regrouping, and more!

UNO Cards are so much fun for all ages! Little ones can sort by number and color, sequence the cards, and play “What’s Missing.” 

three toys: school bus, fire truck, race car

Vehicles are a fun way to incorporate learning with every day toys–sort the vehicles by color, number of wheels (or vehicles that float/fly). Transfer alphabet rocks via dump truck in the back yard, label cars with numbers and “park” them in matching spaces on a piece of cardboard.

craft sticks with velcro

Velcro Sticks: We got these in a toddler busy bag swap several years ago, and we are STILL playing with them!

Water Beads: Keeping a toddler busy while homeschooling older children requires some creativity! Lay out a towel and a big bowl of water beads with a jar and a teaspoon–but only if your little one is past the “put everything in the mouth” phase.   

water droppers

Water Droppers are great way to add fine motor work into color mixing and water play! The dropper pictured comes from this set.

Wikki Sticks are a fun, versatile toy that can be used again and again. 

Wooden Beads: Big or small, lace some beads on a shoelace during read-aloud time!

Wooden Blocks: We were lucky enough to find our set at a consignment sale. Our girls love using their wooden blocks with their animal counters, wooden people, Lincoln Logs, and/or nature items.

wooden play people

Wooden People: Our set comes from Melissa and Doug. We have a family set and the children that came with the school bus toy. These characters are an everyday part of my daughter’s play–she uses them to act out stories she reads and plays she writes!

If you have a hands-on learner at home, I hope these tactile activities bring hours of fun and learning to your family!

Did I miss any? Leave a comment below!

100 Things from IHN
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