Monday, November 12, 2012

Toddler Trays- The What's, Why's and Where's

What are toddler trays?

I have previously shared that my son is not the best at independent play.  I have also shared that like most children he stops playing with his toys if their left in his line of sight for prolonged periods.  It's like they become wallpaper.  This, friends, annoys the heck out of me!!!  So, prior to little sister's arrival I decided to begin organizing 3-4 activities, 2-3 times per week that would encourage play, exploration, creativity, and learning.  The idea was solidified after reading all about the Tot School  Carisa shared on her blog 1+1+1=1.

Then, I began sharing them on Instagram and my friend Branson, who also enjoys organizing activities for her son, joined in.  She began tagging her posts #toddlertrays, so I joined in and that is how it all began.  


Every morning Bennett was struggling to play.  I was getting so frustrated.  This may sound crazy to some of you, but he is very mechanical, so he loves fine motor activities.     He is also very social and wants someone interacting with or around him.  At his current age of 2 1/2 years old that is typically an adult, because they don't take his toys....HA!  The trays give me a starting point.  I organize them the night before that way they're ready to go after breakfast.  The trays are as much for me and my sanity, as they are for him.

What's my goal?

Carisa says it best, "...exposing early learning skills through FUN play.  Tot School is not forced, is always fun, sometimes doesn't happen the way I plan, and is always focused on my tot."

Some days he loves every tray.  Some days he barely plays with any of them.  Most days he enjoys one more than the others and I get at least 20 minutes of play out of him.  

Some activities he will ask to do again the next day or again later that evening.  As long as the activity doesn't require a lot of time or preparation I encourage him to play it as much and as often as he desires.  

Some days I lose focus of my goal and get frustrated that he didn't enjoy an activity like I thought he would, then I re-focus and remember it's not about completing an activity a certain way, but about exposing him to different opportunities to learn while he plays.  I don't want to force learning on him.  He is only 2 1/2 years old.  It should be fun!!!

Where do I get ideas?
  • I mostly use toys we have.  As mentioned above, I stopped leaving all of B's toys out, because he wasn't playing with them.  Now, I rotate them and for the most part he will play with them again for a little while.  I also re-purpose the toys and games we have.  Here is an example using the game Rummikub
  • I pay attention to what B is interested in.  For example, if he is talking a lot about cars I try to organize activities based on cars.  This is particularly facilitated by the cartoons he most enjoys.  I have organized activities based on tools (Handy Manny), letters (Letter Factory and Super Why),  etc.
  • I have a number of blogs I follow (that I will link to as I share photos of our toddler trays) where I get ideas.  
  • Pinterest rocks and is a never ending list of ideas.  Here is my kids activity board and children's book board if you would like to follow along.
  • Books!  We love the library.  I go to our library online and reserve books based on certain topics.  When I check them out I am often thinking about how I can organize an activity based on the book.  We also use the books we own.  Sensory play while reading is one example I've shared.
  • Toy swap.  Occasionally, I am able to incorporate a new to Bennett toy which we borrowed from a friend.  We have been fortunate to do this pretty regularly and I would recommend it to all momma's.  If you have a few good friends with children around the same age, ask if they would like to borrow one of your child's toys for a few weeks and do a little swap.
Before I move on to sharing some of our toddler trays know that I am not super mom.  So many times I have followed blogs and thought, "How do they do it all?"  I, then, remind myself they are only sharing the highlights of their day.

What you see here is the activity and a quick photo of my son playing with the activity.

What you don't see are the moments he looks at an activity, walks away, and I fight yelling at him.

What you don't see are the moments when I forget my goal and try to force him to complete the activity the "right" way.

What you don't see is sometimes we only play with these for a total of 20 minutes and I question whether it's worth it.

What you don't see are the times we laugh and act silly.

What you don't see are the moments he teaches me a new way to play.

What you don't see is the activities usually only occupy an hour of our day and only occur 2-3 times per week.

*The photos are from Instagram, so I apologize for the quality.

Here is one of the first sets of toddler trays I organized:

  1. Cheerio Number Boards- We had these from the Busy Bag Swap Anna and I hosted. 
  2. Camping Felt Board (by Betty Lukens)-  We have 4 felt boards that I pull out from time to time, but mostly use for  long car rides.  These make great gifts.
  3. Jenga blocks-  I pulled out one of our adult games and he really enjoyed playing with the "new to him" blocks.  We built towers, animal pens, etc. 
Do you rotate your child's toys?  Do you swap toys with your friends?  Do you prepare activities for your child?

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