The Very Best Books
     Reading with your child is one of the most powerful tools you can use to help ensure your child’s success in school. And nothing could be better for instilling a love of reading than reading books your child loves. With just a little time and a little imagination, you can create books that will quickly become your child’s favourites. Homemade books are so easy to make, and the possibilities of what you can create are endless.
     To make your own book, simply purchase a small dollar store photo album. Most dollar stores carry a variety of styles and colours, and they usually do not cost more than a dollar (you can occasionally find them for two or three for a dollar). Fill the album with family photos, clippings from magazines and flyers, drawings, or even real objects such as dried flowers, souvenir items, etc. Have fun, and let your creative juices flow! Here are a few ideas to get you started…
·     Learning new words (babies and toddlers) – Books are a wonderful way to promote language skills and to build your little one’s vocabulary. Fill an album with pictures of things that are familiar to your child, such as pictures of clothing, toys, household items, familiar foods, family members, animals and pets. Magazines and flyers are great sources for pictures of household items. Your child will love listening to you as you tell them the names of the pictures, and will eventually join in by pointing to pictures that you name, or naming pictures that you point to.

·    Preparing for new adventures – Create a picture story book about an upcoming adventure or change in routine to help prepare your child for the transition. You could create a book about your child beginning preschool or kindergarten; or your family moving to a new home, welcoming a new sibling, or going on a trip.

·    Telling your story – My daughter’s favourite book of all is a little photo album given to her by her birth mom (we were blessed to adopt our little girl at birth). The album contains pictures of the day our daughter was born, and we use it to teach her about her adoption story. You can use homemade books to tell your child any story that is important to you – perhaps the story of a loved one who lives far away, or the country in which you were born, or an important event in the life of your family.

Fun With Boxes

     The next time you have an empty cardboard box in your house, take a detour from your path to the recycling bin. Check the box to make sure it does not have any sharp edges or staples. Then make a beeline for the playroom. An empty box offers endless opportunities for creativity and imagination, and your child will undoubtedly discover her own ways to play. But here are a few fun ideas you may want to introduce as well…

·    Open both ends of the box and use as a tunnel to crawl through. This is a great way to promote motor planning and many other important skills in crawling babies.  But kids of all ages will love this game, particularly if you pretend to chase them through the tunnel. Helpful Hint: If your child skipped the crawling stage, they’ve missed out on more than just a temporary method of getting around. Crawling is an important building block for later development – but it is never too late to practice, and this is a great way to do it!

·    Have your child sit in the box and pull or push it around as a toy car. Older children will enjoy cutting out paper windows, headlights and wheels and pasting them to the car.

·    Large boxes make wonderful playhouses! Cut out a door and some windows, or have your child paint their own house outside in the yard on a clear day.

·    Smaller boxes make excellent dollhouses. Leave one end of the box open, and cut out some little windows and doors. Your child may enjoy helping you decorate the inside and outside of the house with felts or crayons. Or for a realistic twist, cut pictures of doors, windows, carpets, furniture, etc. out of a magazine and paste them onto the inside and outside of your dollhouse.

Shoebox Surprises

While on the topic of boxes, the fun of shoeboxes just can’t be ignored…
·    Cut a round hole in the top of a shoebox and give your baby a set of balls (ping pong or golf balls work well) to drop inside. This is a great stepping stone to playing with shape sorters and puzzles. Helpful Hint: Round shapes are the first that children learn to match, followed by squares and then triangles. Starting with just round shapes is great practice for little ones roughly 10 to 12 months of age.

·    Punch multiple holes in the top and sides of a shoebox. Place an assortment of old silk scarves, colourful pieces of fabric, or scraps of ribbon inside the shoebox, threading just the tip of each piece of fabric out through the holes. Tape the lid of the box securely shut, and watch the fun as your baby pulls the pieces of fabric out through the holes. This is a great fine motor activity, and most little ones just love the element of surprise.

·    Cut a rectangular slit in the top of the box to create a little “mail slot”. Give your toddler or preschooler a pile of old junk mail, and join in on the fun as they put mail into the mail box and take it back out again.

·    Older children will enjoy decorating their own little “mailbox” with paint, felts, crayons or stickers. Help your child write their name and address on their mailbox, then choose a place for it in your child’s room or outside of their door. Siblings will enjoy making and delivering “mail” to one another’s mailboxes. And from time to time, try surprising your child by “sending” them a little letter or package to discover.
The Joy of Playdough
Playdough is the perfect indoor activity for rainy afternoons, and great for a wide range of ages. Babies as little as 8 or 9 months will love poking and pounding, while kids up to school age can express their creative side.  And the developmental benefits of playing with playdough are almost endless!
Playing with playdough promotes:
·    Development of fine motor skills including dexterity and hand strength, needed for skills such as drawing, writing and cutting with scissors.

·    Sensory exploration – learning to process and integrate information received through the senses. Playdough can be particularly helpful for children who are reluctant to touch new things or get their hands dirty – a fun way to help ease them into sensory play.

·    Language development – playing together with playdough provides endless opportunities for parents to model language and have conversations with their children.

·    Concept development – playdough provides great opportunities to talk about concepts such as size, shape, colour and texture.

·    Creativity and imagination – if you can dream it, you can create it! Be sure to provide some playdough toys, such as plastic cookie cutters and rolling pins.

·    And of course, fun and togetherness – the most important part of all.
Bubble Fun

Bubbles are a wonderful activity to promote hand-eye coordination and visual tracking. And they are endlessly entertaining for a wide range of ages.The glycerin in this bubble recipe makes the bubbles stronger, allowing you to blow bigger bubbles that don’t pop as easily…
Super-Duper Bubble Solution
½ cup Dawn or Joy dishwashing liquid
4 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons glycerin
Combine ingredients and store in a leak-proof container with a lid. Have fun!
To make your own bubble wands…
·    Form the end of a pipe cleaner into a loop, leaving the remainder of the pipe cleaner as a handle. Or for bigger bubbles, use one pipe cleaner to make the loop and another to form the handle.
·    Straighten a wire coat hanger and form the end into a loop. Wrap ends of coat hanger several times with duct tape to prevent pokes or scratches.
·    Use a clean, never used fly swatter as a bubble wand. All those tiny holes make for oodles of little bubbles!
And a fun little twist…
·    Young babies love to watch bubbles, and this is a great way to promote visual tracking skills. To make the bubbles easier to see, add a few drops of food colouring to your bubble solution. Helpful hint: Although older children will love coloured bubbles as well, you may wish to avoid adding colour if you have a toddler who likes to “help” and ends up dripping in bubble solution (like my daughter inevitably does!).

Indoor Sandboxes

Choose a large but shallow plastic container (i.e. an “under-the-bed” type plastic storage bin) to use as your sandbox. Then clean up your child’s outdoor plastic swimming pool and bring it inside. Fill the shallow plastic bin with uncooked (ok, that should go without saying, but you never know!) rice, then place the bin in the middle of the pool. Have your child sit in the pool and play in the rice like a sandbox, using either a clean set of sandbox toys or an assortment of plastic bowls and spoons for scooping and digging in the “sand”. The pool will catch most of the rice that spills out of the “sandbox”, making cleanup a lot easier. Helpful Hint: At least some rice will likely end up spilling out of the pool, so try setting the pool up on a floor space that is easy to sweep.
Small Space Twist – If you don’t have room for a full-size “sandbox” in your home, you don’t have to miss out on the fun! Give your child a small bin of rice to dig and scoop in while sitting at a table. To save yourself a bit of clean-up, try the No Stress Mess strategy.
Other Sandbox Fillers – Instead of rice, cornmeal, dried beans, or dried lentils are other fun options. Happy digging!

Super Stackers
 There could be no more perfect toy than a simple set of building blocks. Period. No bells and whistles toys will ever come close. A simple set of building blocks will provide your child with endless opportunities for fun and learning, beginning at about six months of age (when babies begin actively grasping, banging, and combining objects in play) and continuing on through the toddler, preschool, and early school-aged years. Did you know that playing with blocks and stacking toys…
·         Helps your child develop spatial awareness.
·         Promotes development of fine motor skills
·         Helps to develop attention span, persistence, and frustration tolerance.
·         Promotes understanding of important concepts such as size and quantity.
·         Encourages creativity and imaginative play.
·         Provides opportunities to develop cooperative play and turn taking skills.
And while there are lots of lovely stacking toys out there to buy, homemade stacking  and building toys are often just as entertaining. Here are a few ideas…
Homemade Stacking and Building Toys
·    For little ones just learning to stack or little ones with gross motor or fine motor challenges, try playing with a set of clean, never used cleaning sponges. They are easy to grasp with little hands, and won’t slip and slide when stacked.
·    A set of bean bags also makes a great, easy introduction to stacking.
·    Save your paper grocery bags. Stuff them with newspaper, then fold the edge over and tape shut with masking tape. Older children love stacking giant, jumbo-sized towers or making “castles” big enough to play in.
·    Empty cardboard boxes make wonderful building blocks. Empty Kleenex boxes work particularly well.

Wrapping Tube Racers
Working for a decade in the field of early intervention, the single best toy I ever discovered was a clear plastic tube with a set of balls inside of it. To recreate this fantastic toy at home, simply use and the cardboard tube from a roll of gift wrap and collect several small balls (ping pong balls, golf balls, and small bouncy balls all work well) to put inside. Spend time with your child putting balls into the wrapping paper tube and watching them roll out of the other end. Sounds simple. But the learning benefits of this activity are literally endless. Here are just a few ideas to get you started…
Babies and Toddlers…
·         Use a shorter tube (i.e. paper towel or toilet paper roll) and show your baby how the ball goes in one side and rolls out the other. Promotes learning in the areas of cause and effect and object permanence (the understanding that the ball still exists even when your child can no longer see it).
·         Encourage your child to practice dropping the ball into the tube. Promotes fine motor development, purposeful release of objects, relational play (learning to use objects together in different ways, such as putting one object inside of another) and shape matching (matching a round ball to a round hole).
·         Sit on either end of the tube and take turns rolling the ball back and forth. Teaches turn taking and cooperative play.
·         Use simple, repetitive language to describe your play. For example, say “ready, set, GO!” each time you release the ball, then pause and wait for your child to say “go” – a great activity to promote language and communication skills.
Older Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Big Kids…
·         Swap the balls for small toy cars and use two tubes rather than one to have “races” with your child.  A fabulously fun activity that promotes togetherness. Great for promoting cooperative play (playing together rather than alongside) with friends or siblings.
·         Introduce concepts such as fast and slow, forward and backwards. Not only is this great for language learning, but your child will challenge their gross motor and fine motor skills trying to control the speed and direction of the car inside of the tube.