When I am collecting toys for the toddlers to play with during school time, they can’t be any old toy. Noisy toys are obviously out. I don’t want my little ones to just be entertained, but I want them to have quality play during this time.
This is the big difference between leisure and amusement. I recently learned that the root word of “leisure” is the same as for the word “school.” It means to pause to study, ponder, wonder, consider. Leisure time is a time for development and reflection. “Amusement” on the other hand, comes from the root word “muse” which means “to think/to be inspired” and has the prefix “-a” which means “no, or not.” So basically amusement is the act of not thinking, and leisure is the act of deep thinking. Pick toys that bring leisure to your toddlers, not amusement. Amusement only keeps them occupied for so long. They were designed to soak in information like a sponge, and will be much happier for longer if they can study their toys.
Pick toys that make them think.
So here’s my school toy list. There are more temporary things like a huge cardboard box we had delivered and a bunch of crayons to design a house or rocket on the box. The kids like those too. But they’re in the “1 week toy” category, so it doesn’t clutter up our space long term.
These are often birthday or Christmas gifts. This is a collection built over many years, with various kids, not just a fun shopping spree I went on.
- Crayons and color books. Keep the best crayons and the cleanest, newest color books for this time. Make it special. Our youngest has a history with markers and coloring everything in sight, so those are basically banned from the house for this stage of our family. Crayons are good.
- Wood or block puzzles. I love block puzzles so much!! I like ones like this best. It just can be played with so many ways. Plus they don’t end up lost between couch cushions as easily.
- Magna Tiles. Hours of fun. Even for grown-ups. This was a big birthday gift for one of my kids, and none of the kids get sick of it. We need to add to our collection.
- Paper Dolls (OK, this is more for my 5 year old. My 3 year old will destroy it.)
- Homemade play dough.
- Alphabeticals. I made these for the kids last year, and the little ones like to play with them the best.
- Tea Party Table (They have kitchen toys, but this is a little tablecloth for their school table, and a special tea set for just school time.)
- Pattern Play Blocks. It comes with cards with patterns they try to do. My 5 year old plays with it differently than my 3 year old, but the both love it.
- Ball Maze
- Memory Games.
- Box of buttons and muffin tins (I got this idea from my husband’s grandma. Each of the little girls has a little muffin tin, and they get to go through my button box and sort them for awhile.)
- Small plastic animal bucket. (I’m just shocked how much they play with these!)
- Scale and colored bears (This came with Saxon Math Manipulatives for kindergarteners. The little ones like to play with them and weight the bears against each other.)
- Watercolors on paper (Messy. Rare. They love it.)
- Paper and scissors. They could just sit and cut colored construction paper into confetti for hours.
- Hole punching shapes (hearts, circles, etc.)
- Transferring/sorting items into containers with tongs. 2 mason jars per child, 1 pair of tongs, puff balls or something else to move from one container to the other. Tongs made for tea bags or lemons in kitchen stores are good for this.
- Scoop and transfer beans into ice cube tray. Same concept as above. Beans work good for this with a little spoon and ice cube tray. They love sorting.
- Letter/number cards. I love this set.
- Magnifying glass and shells/pieces of nature.
- Fort with stuffed animals and blankets set up. Again, this isn’t a toy I keep from them, but if I set it up a few key items, they will stay busy “making house” while I teach the morning hour.
- Wooden fishing game
- Stacking blocks. I love these ones.
I think the more fanfare, the more special you make it, the more they grab onto the projects. I have these little wooden trays that came with the packaging of some Melissa and Doug food sets the kids got for a Christmas gift. They love when I try to set up their morning hour activity on this tray for each of them. (It doesn’t always happen, but they are delighted when it does.)
For those who want to read Part 1 to Homeschooling with Toddlers, it’s right HERE.