Diamonds in the rough...
October 2, 2011 4:57 AM   Subscribe

My Daughter and her amazing 2 children live with me. Granddaughter is two, Grandson is 9 months. Both of them have amazing personalities, they certainly won't grow up unable to express their needs or desires. Long story short they are very intelligent, curious busy children who require a great deal of attention and activity. We are searching for age appropriate, safe, stimulating activities that will enrich their lives while also giving them structure. They are both bright, determined, expressive children who exceed the expected development of other children their age. (I'm not tooting my Grandma horn, they really are quite unique and motivated at a very young age) So anyone else out there with children like this, I would love suggestions, activities, movies, books, toys etc. that would keep them busy, happy and challenged!
posted by gypseefire to Education (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Cover the table with towels. A few on the floor won't hurt. Put a large tub of water on the table, add a few drops of food dye and a little detergent to make foamy, coloured water. Throw in a few plastic containers of different shapes and sizes - soda bottles, plastic cups, whatever. Let them pour the water from one container to another, push things under the water, splash a bit etc. Ask questions: Which holds more water? Is there more water in this small container than there is in this large container? How can we make the amounts of water the same? What about with three containers? What if I put this container in that container? And so on.

For the older kid, put out some clear containers with primary colours of water. Let her mix and combine them, and discuss the results. Can you make green? Purple? Orange? Brown? How would you make it lighter? Darker? Can you separate the colours? Why or why not? Is mixing colours with water the same as mixing colours with paint? Can you make a rainbow with seven empty soda bottles?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:26 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can you give a narrowing of their interests and what kind of activities that you're interested in? You'll get more useful answers by clarifying: What are the kids currently interested in? Puzzles? Playing ball? Dramatic play? Do they have themes that they enjoy particularly, like animals, dolls, food, etc. My wife's an early childhood education consultant (and the mom of a toddler) and I'd be happy to ask her about suggestions, but the question as stated will overwhelm her.

Secondly, you may want to ask about activities which promote specific skills. My two-and-a-half year old has creepy-advanced cognition and the gross motor skills of a drunk on a moving walkway. We try to steer her towards gross motor activities because it's ultimately all about balance (no pun intended). It might behoove you to look at the areas where your grandkids aren't developing as quickly and focus on activities which stimulate those areas (and if you think that they're great at everything then you're probably being myopic.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:32 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anything Eric Carle is great for a variety of ages, including those.

Aside from the stories, and the learning about nature that can spin off from them, they can lead to crafts and there's a board where others share their ideas about teaching using his books. The Crafty Crow has a whole selection of Eric Carle crafts and ideas, especially the cute food ideas and the readings. The crafts can be tailored for all ages, because the kids are young for a lot of them, but you can still do them and let them help and watch and enjoy and contribute where they can. Kids don't need to always make crafts all by themselves - working alongside grown ups gives them the time to ask lots of questions and learn, whether or not they're creating anything. And you can use things around the house - string buttons on a pipecleaner to make a caterpillar, for example. (The Crafty Crow is a good site for a gazillion crafts - they're sorted by age, but you can be inspired by any of them.)

Which leads to - don't buy much.

Let the two-year old cook with you, and talk about doughs and make milkshakes and smoothies and taste each thing before it goes in, and the whole thing after. Ask questions like more, or less? Cut this bigger or smaller?

Smell every spice in the house and give her words for them (or my daughter's favourite - go to the Bulk Barn and peek in every bin and smell the spices there).

Empty a closet, and put everything back, and talk about each thing. Let her try on shoes and dress up in clothes, hand him things with interesting textures like scarves and play peekaboo.

Build forts out of sofa cusions. Build doll houses out of cereal and cracker boxes.

Pour dry rice into a large pot and hide toys in it.

Go for walks. Long, slow, pokey walks and look at everything, even if they're just the perimeter of the back yard.

If you have a museum or zoo, get memberships and use the heck out of them. They often have kid spaces or programs or craft stations.

They probably are too young to sit in front of something like a movie, but my daughter was nuts - NUTS - about a tv show called Nanalan' back then. Here's one of my favourite segments.
posted by peagood at 5:49 AM on October 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

You should live at the library. With outings to bookstores. Seriously.

And they should have a treehouse or elevated fort where they can climb up and down for hours when they are not at the library/bookstore.
posted by cda at 6:03 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Read to them. All the time. If they're as you described, they'll really enjoy learning to read as young as possible, and the best way to get them reading is to read to them incessantly. The two-year-old is also old enough to start learning the alphabet, then about the letters that are in her name.
posted by Acheman at 6:49 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take them to the zoo, the children's museum, science museum, get them a pet they won't hurt that tolerates them, and lots of books, paper, and crayons. Simple building toys like block are good too, things they can use their imagination with.

Even if they were not little prodigies,(sorry, grandma:-) most kids enjoy stuff like that. These are still babies, 2 and 9 months, yikes! They have many years of guided activities ahead. Just let them do what little kids like to do.
posted by mermayd at 6:52 AM on October 2, 2011

Spend a lot of time outdoors. I agree with mermayd, there is tons of time for structured activities later, there is no need to push them now. The outdoors is a natural place of enrichment year round.

Buy some age-appropriate riding toys. For the small one - you want a little push and ride car so he can walk or scoot, see example 1 and example 2. For the older one - try a tricycles, 3 wheeled scooter, or kids cars.

Once the older kid has wheels (trike/scooter), she can start going for longer walks while you push baby in the stroller. Just explore at their pace. It helps if you have somewhere to walk them to (a natural area, a coffee shop with a snack), but this isn't 100% necessary. Train the kids to like going for walks.

You can also go on trips to natural areas. Forget going on hikes, throwing rocks in the creek is a fine idea. Going to the beach (even cold beaches where you can't swim) is always a winner.

Head downtown in the city where there are lots of people walking by. My daughter loves walking downtown. Hold hands tight and go out for kids coffee (steamed milk watered down with cold milk). Guaranteed to make a 2 year old feel like a big kid.

The playground is another obvious option, however I find playgrounds tedious.

Kids should be outside at least two hours a day, cut this down if it is raining or snowing but do make sure you put them out there in appropriate gear daily.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:07 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was just thinking of something else that my kid loved at your granddaughter's age in regard to Mayor Curley's very smart answer about developing find motor skills: Using a turkey baster to squirt air in order to move feathers, or leaves, or scraps of paper, or packing peanuts around on the floor or bubbles in the bath. That should provoke hysterical giggles in both, while helping her to develop the motor skills she'll need for things like scissors. As she gets older, she can then use the suction from it to do cool things like transfer dried beans and peas around (sorting dried beans into muffin tins used to keep her busy for ages too) or transfer liquids around. It's fun, but it's also SCIENCE!
posted by peagood at 9:20 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh! And, drawing in a salt box can be great. Take a shirt or shoe box, and fill it a little less than halfway with salt (it's cheap and easy to clean up!). Write letters and shapes in it, then get her to trace them, learning and saying the names. Think of words that start with those names. Play I Spy for things that start with that letter. Shake it clean, and see if she can make them. As she's learning the alphabet and masters the basics, draw an F and get her to turn it into an E. Turn the E into a B. Little animals can also play in it - have toys write things in the box. Use utensils, carrots, whatever to change it up. You can also draw faces in it: "This is a happy face!" "This is an angry face!" "I drew a sad face - can you make your face sad?"

In short, I'm going to say: Anything that keeps you and the others in their lives talking to the kids works. They need to hear the words, make the connections, watch the expressions on your faces and experiment and repeat things again and again to see if they get the same result or answer every time.

They do need some time alone just to putter and be a little bored and make their own fun, of course. I'm a big fan of benign neglect in that respect, But, you can do all of that with fancy plastic alphabet fridge magnets as much as with a salt box or crayons (instead of writing with crayons, use them to make letters and shapes too) and cardboard boxes and pots and pans or making letter shapes with fancy play dough versus leftover pizza crust dough - and the main difference is the time spent with a person who makes it interesting for them and then the encouragement to explore it on their own terms too. The toys and movies and learning tools don't do it of themselves.
posted by peagood at 9:34 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

*sorry - fine motor skils. ack.
posted by peagood at 9:35 AM on October 2, 2011

You seem completely in love with your grandchildren! They're lucky to have someone so devoted to their growth.

However, don't get too invested in structured play. There's a lot to be said for giving them some toys and letting them work out what they want to do with them. Keep an eye on them, obviously, but you'll be helping them a lot by letting them assess their environment on their own terms.

There's some really great tips for navigating unstructured play here. It's written for use by the carers of kids with disabilities, but the ideas are solid.
posted by Jilder at 8:46 PM on October 2, 2011

There are some great answers here, gypseefire: Time outside, play that combines physicality with mental challeges, variety and fun. Peagood nails it: "the time spent with a person who makes it interesting for them and then the encouragement to explore it on their own terms too," is the heart of the matter.

I'd encourage you (and your daughter) to make a ritual of reading to the kids at bedtime. Some rocking-chair time with a book touches on several vital themes for children - ritual/structure, a time to calm down before sleep, modeling the importance of reading, face time with loved ones. My kid is nearly into double-digits, and too old for rocking chairs, but one thing that brings the whole family together for a few minutes of peace in the same place, at the same time, is evening bedtime reading.
posted by slab_lizard at 11:02 PM on October 2, 2011

I have 3 kids (nearly 6, 3.5 & 2) and love the Toddler Busy Book (and Preschooler's Busy Book, and her craft book) by Trish Kuffner. Many of the above activities are included, and can be easily adapted to common items you have at home. Once I realized that my kids played more with the boxes toys came in rather than the toys themselves, I did this:

- tied diaper boxes together in a row of 3, with a loop in front, to make a "zoo train" -- they could tuck stuffed animals in or squeeze in themselves.
- made another "train" or "bus" with a row of small chairs -- they loved taking their stuffed animals to various locations, and we bought a roll of tickets at Christmas so they could play conductor/driver.
- stopped buying those super heavy Melissa and Doug toys. We have some, but they tend to be light puzzles. My 2YO boy loves to throw, so the heavy wooden milk carton was nixed.
- loaded up on paper, crayons, stickers, and glue.
- bought cute character toys like My Little Ponies at consignment sales for a buck for a handful. If they didn't play with them enough, we passed toys like this along.
- Read books as much as possible. Vapid pony books, adorable old books, it all works at that age! They do get a taste for good books fast.
- Made a rice box or bean box -- get a large plastic box with a lid and fill it with beans or rice. Put a few little toys, cars and scoopers in and let them fiddle and scoop to their heart's delight!
posted by mdiskin at 1:54 PM on October 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There are some fantastic suggestions. Thank you all very much. The two year old already knows her alphabet and how to count to forcing just baby Einstein. A lot of these ideas will be great for winter. And outside is their favorite place, ours too. I like the specifics any other suggestions on DVDs books or c'ds would be appreciated.

And regarding all those specifics...I'm a big picture person sorry my questions are broad...thanks for trying anyway :)!
posted by gypseefire at 12:22 PM on October 6, 2011

Well, if you're looking for quality programming, then:

Scholastic has a few great collections of DVDs comprised of classic stories. They don't take the place of reading, of course - but they're a great way to introduce cultural icons, and you can watch them with the words on or off and they're easy to shut off after just one story - or to play one while you make a phone call. The music is great. The kids at school love the Chicka Chicka Boom Booms best.

The Schoolhouse Rock DVDs are classic and great too. My daughter still loves them.

Vintage Sesame Street
is my preference too.
posted by peagood at 12:49 PM on October 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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