Mix Play and Learning
Go beyond the basics.
The most educational toys are usually the simplest, like cars, dolls, and Legos. Make up your own game to play using the tiny bricks by writing “challenges” on slips of paper (animal, favorite food, clothing item) and then have your child choose one to create. Building anything with Legos enhances your child’s spatial and fine motor skills, and correcting mistakes engages scientific thinking, reasoning, and problem solving. Give him engineering challenges too: How wide can you make a bridge? Can you build a tower that will hold a golf ball?
Get creative with word games.
If your child loves cars or trains, use them to practice reading and writing. With sidewalk chalk or masking tape, make roads in the shape of letters your child is struggling with. You can also create parking lots on big sheets of paper, label each spot with a letter, a number, or a word, and then make a game of it: Call out the label and have your child zoom a car into that spot. This also helps your child recognize some sight words like stop and go.
Invite pretend friends.
Chances are, your kid already plays with dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures. To stretch her imagination further, try introducing a new element to her story by asking, “What would happen if … ?” Encourage her to be as zany as possible: What would happen if her teddy bear couldn’t fall asleep? You can also create a game by putting characters in one bin and objects (like sunglasses or a banana) in a second one. Have your child pick two characters and two objects and create an adventure that includes all of them.