I am a blog ambassador for Lakeshore and am compensated for my work. I received product free of charge, but all thoughts and opinions are 100% mine.
How do you turn toys into activities? I’ll show you.
Toys are the building blocks of play, and good toys make the world go ‘round. Of course, there is a difference between good toys and not-so-good toys, and we’ll get to that.
But first, what you need to know is simple: Good toys can be more than just toys.
What are “good toys?”
Good toys are open-ended toys. These are child-driven toys that make children create, imagine, and expand their thinking. Open-ended toys fuel independent play and have limitless possibilities.
These are the toys we want to fill our homes with.
Not-so-good toys are ones that do the work for the child: they light up, make noise, ask questions, talk at our kids. They close off play opportunities and are typically “one and done” type toys.
They have ONE use and that’s it.
What can you “do” with open-ended toys?
Open-ended toys are phenomenal in and of themselves. They put our kids in the “driver’s seat” of play.
But open-ended toys also provide unique opportunities for us parents / caregivers.
They give us the chance to craft amazing learning activities.
Remember how not-so-good toys are “one and done”?
Open-ended toys do just the opposite: not only can the child find an exponential amount of play potential from them, but they unlock a world of learning activities too.
Open-ended toys become the building blocks of play-based learning.
I took 3 toys from Lakeshore Learning – 3 toys that I love, that I believe in, and that my kids have found unbelievable ways to play with on their own to show you just how powerful good, open-ended toys can be.
I know the secret to these “kinds” of toys.
I see these toys for both their unlimited play potential AND for their ability to be the focal point of hands-on learning activities.
Good toys have that chance: to take a meaningful place in our children’s learning journey.
It didn’t take me long to come up with 15 different learning activities from these 3 Lakeshore toys. That’s a whole lot of learning from toys that are already giving us a whole lot of independent play.
3 toys – 15 learning activities.
Here are 15 ways to use these open-ended toys for fun play-based learning. Take a look at how much learning can be done with just three simple toys.
This tub of 80 animals is fantastic. The Wild Animal Counters make for wonderful play companions – imaginary play with these animals is easy to come by. There are 8 different animals, 10 of each animal.
Here are learning activities to try with this collection:
Animal Sensory Bin: Don’t forget that sensory activities are learning activities – they give our children the chance to explore and grow in a safe environment. This simple sensory bin is filled with cornmeal and an ice cube tray, and a handful of animals.
The sensory materials are inside the Economy Sand & Water Table which is also from Lakeshore Learning.
Measure the Blocks: Measuring with non-standard items is the first step on the road to understanding the abstract concepts of length and width. Lay down a few blocks (or other toys) and use these counters as measurement tools.
How many elephants long is the block? Which block is the shortest?
Tape Rescue: What a great fine motor skills activity for younger learners. I taped the animals to a cookie sheet to be rescued. This takes hand eye coordination and planning to pull the tape off – and get it off your hands. It’s a great way to grow finger strength.
This is also a great activity for plane rides – try it on the tray table!
Number Line-Up: Grab some numbers (or use Post-It Notes) and encourage your child to build a number line. This is a very visual and concrete way for children to see how numbers grow and build as they get “bigger.”
Trace the Line: Here’s a simple pre-writing activity. Draw a line (or a few lines) on a piece of paper and have your child line up the animals. This is great for hand-eye coordination, motor skills, spatial awareness, and problem solving.
Sorting by Attributes: Sorting is a crazy important skills for kids and one that is incredibly complex. Here, the animals were sorted by long fur vs little/no fur. When a child is sorting, they are making decisions, analyzing data, and comparing attributes.
Our love for these little bears is so deep. Can you just see my daughter with them at a tea party or rescuing them from the clutches of a tyrannosaurus rex? The fire department “rescues” them often from the “burning” doll house. The Size & Color Teddy Counters are such a fantastic open-ended toy.
Each set comes with 120 bears in 4 colors and 3 sizes, which means these teddy counters are perfect for play and activities.
Sensory Sorting Bin: Here’s a fun way to spice up color sorting. Make a color sorting sensory bin! I put the bears in a container and added in 4 lbs of dry rice. Next to the bin, I set construction paper. I gave my daughter (3.5) some tongs to add a little fine motor challenge.
We didn’t use all 120 bears in this bin (that would be a lot sorting!).
Comparing Number Value: Grab a deck of cards, remove the face cards, and you’ve got a quick math activity. Have your child pick two cards and set them down. For each card, have them count out that many bears. Finally, compare.
Which group has more? Which has less? Which number is more?
Making Patterns: These bears make the PERFECT little helpers for teaching pattern skills. Pattern skills are a big deal (after all, math is considered “the science of patterns”). On a piece of paper, I made 4 patterns using markers. I left 2-3 spaces blank at the end of each pattern.
Her job? Copy the pattern with bears and extend it. The all important pattern question to ask: “What comes next??”
Sorting by Size: When we sort with kids, we often default to sorting by color. But we can sort in lots of ways too. Here’s an easy way to sort by size. First, I made a “sorting space” out of tape. This defines the learning space for our kids and makes it easier to see where / how to sort.
Making Groups: Long before our kids are ready for addition facts and number sentences, we need to show them that a number can be split into groups. And this can happen many different ways. This becomes the basis for learning about number families later in life, but for now… for now, it’s about seeing a number (8) and seeing that it can be 5 and 3, 6 and 2, 7 and 1 (etc.).
This sorting kit – oh my stars. Four types of bugs (10 of each), four scoops, and four containers – this is a home run. Little bugs are a fantastic open-ended toy to have, and this kit has so many options!!
Sorting by Type: My daughter has sorted these bugs into these cups roughly 20 times now and she STILL LOVES IT. I keep the bugs on a cookie sheet so they stay in one place and she sorts away.
Graphing Insects: Graphing is a cool skill for kids to learn and a fun one to teach. Take out a few bugs (be thoughtful of how many you pick) and make a simple graph on paper. First, have your child sort the insects. Then, help them line up the groups in the graph.
The most important part – ask questions! “Which has the most? Which has the least? How many more ants are there than bees?”
Number Line Counting: This activity is rooted in addition, but again – our kids aren’t ready for memorizing facts. First they need to learn the concepts. Here’s a fun one: make a number line. Have your child roll one dice and place a bug on that number in the number line.
Next, have them roll the second dice and move the bug forward that many spaces. In this picture, first the bee flew to number 4. Then he went three spaces ahead and landed on seven. Four and three make seven.
Bug Sensory Bin: Make a fun bug bin! This activity was 100% the brain child of my kids (ages 3.5 and 5). They wanted to make a “bug habitat” so this is what we came up with. They played with this for so long and had the best imaginary game going on within this bin.
Good toys make all the difference
It’s important as parents / caregivers that we are thoughtful of the toys that come into our kids’ lives. We are the gatekeepers of the toys and good toys matter.
Having just these three toys on hand unlocks a world of play possibilities and then on top of that, a countless number of hands-on, play-based learning activities. These are the kinds of toys we need to surround our children with.
The Scoop-A-Bug Sorting Kit, Wild Animal Counters, and Size & Color Teddy Counters all came from Lakeshore Learning – my absolute favorite place to get really good toys for my kids. Toys like these that are open-ended, full of possibilities, and aimed to help kids meet their full play potential.
Looking to grab some amazing toys for your kids? Use this Buy One, Get One 50% Off coupon code from Lakeshore Learning! To learn more about Lakeshore, find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube.
How can you turn toys into activities?