Young children want toys that are colorful, fun to manipulate and challenge their minds. The toys that parents and educators choose can help to develop eye-hand coordination. Between 12 and 18 months of age hand activities center around putting objects in and out of containers. This is a great time to plop your baby on the kitchen floor with pots and Tupperware containers, spoons and measuring cups while you get dinner ready. At the same time the toddler is figuring out that a small yoghurt cup fits inside the larger one and that flat round shapes fit inside large round openings.
Simple form boards can be made by cutting shapes out of cardboard or plastic. Children will learn best when first presented with only one shape removed at a time. After this is learned, provide a form board with 3 shapes and then move onto to non-interlocking puzzles (pieces do not connect). Children typically learn how to make a square shape fit between 15 and 21 months and the triangle between ages 21 and 24 months. Teaching these concepts is more fun when using photographs of familiar objects or people. Glue the photograph to a piece of cardboard before cutting out the shape(s). Then when the shape is inserted, he is rewarded with a completed picture.
Other shape matching activities can be made out of bright, colorful and sturdy plastic laundry and dishwasher bottles. Clean and soak the bottles in hot water and scrape off the loosened labels with a butter knife. Using leather shears, cut out a large piece of plastic from the front or back of the circle. Cut around all edges a second time to smooth them out. You can cut various shapes from the center of this to make matching shape form boards or draw outlines to attach various shapes with Velcro.
The attached video demonstrates how I made a plastic face toy by drawing outlines of eyes, nose and mouth on the large plastic. Then I cut small plastic facial features to attach with Velcro. In addition, I cut large holes for lacing the hair (using yarn) and cut holes in the ears to attach earrings made out of shower curtain rods. This toy is suitable for a 3 to 4 year old child, although she or he might need help attaching the earrings.
Other preschool activities that can be made out of these vibrant and sturdy containers include: shapes for stringing and sorting, stencils and lacing boards. Your children will love the idea of making something fun out of something that is normally thrown into a recycling bin.
Barbara Smith, M.S. OTR/L, the author of The Recycling Occupational Therapist (Pro-Ed. Inc.)