In our family we have a strict no cell phone at the dinner table policy. This is usually fine when we are at home however it can be difficult to entertain a toddler while out to dinner. My husband and I will sometimes randomly decide to eat out and I typically do not have enough entertainment for our daughter. This has happened many times and has led to using what I have in my purse to keep our very active daughter busy. One thing I always have is blank paper. My daughter, D, can only draw with a pen so long before she gets bored and wants another activity to do. Out of desperation I came up with some super easy games that I can prep on the fly. I have modified these games over the years as D has grown and her skills have changed.
This was a brilliant idea given to me recently! Start by folding the paper into four sections, accordion style. Each person takes a section to draw a part of the monster. The real fun comes because the part below is hidden from the next person. The monster usually turns out to be a crazy silly creature!
This idea can be tweaked and instead of a monster try creating a house, castle, animal or person. After the subject is finishes, your little can color it in or draw a background to finish the whole picture.
Search and Find
One of the very first things I would do to teach D her letter, numbers and shapes was to create very simple search and finds. Starting with a blank sheet randomly write out the letter (number or shape you are working on). I would typically write out 10 or 15 of the single letter so I knew how many D needed to find still. in to empty space fill in a variety of other letter.
I started by having D circle each letter but as she got better I would give her instructions such as draw a triangle around the letter A and circle the letter B. If you have more then one color pen (or crayons), your little can use different colors as well.
This idea can be tweaked by using lowercase letters, sight words, pictures, colors or shapes. Honestly, anything you are working on can be made into a simple search and find.
This is probably my husbands least favorite game so we typically leave him out of it however it is one of my favorites! One person starts drawing a part of the picture then hands off the paper to the next person who continues by adding another part. It is simple to go back and forth until a fun detailed picture is created. I typically like to start with the background such as a green grassy hill. D can add a person, flower or anything else. Next I typically add in something silly like a random birthday cake just to make it fun for D. It can get silly pretty quickly with the more people you have adding to the picture. I really want to do this at Thanksgiving just to see what we end up with!
Tick-Tack-Toe is a must for most kids, especially for my five year old who is VERY competitive. Instead of using X and O’s we have colored in boxes with different color, used various other letters and shapes. Drawing shapes has been difficult for D so we use any opportunity to practice.
The Dot game, as D calls it, is a game that takes a bit of patience. Start by drawing a grid of dots, I typically draw 6 by 6 to make it a quicker game. The purpose of the game is to gather the most squares one side at a time. Each player draws a single line from two dots. The person who draws the last line to close a square gets to claim the square. The person with the most squares wins.
Hangman is a little to difficult for my five year old however I decided to make it a bit easier for D. I make a list of words that she can choose from. I have been mainly using sight words or simple words that she can read. I have he pick one letter at a time like traditional hangman but instead of drawing a man, I draw a sad face. Honestly, she gets most of the words because I am still making the word bank easy to figure out. As she gets better at spelling I plan to make the word bank larger and more difficult for her to figure out.
Another item I would typically have in my purse when D was a toddler were tons of stickers. She LOVED stickers from a very young age. Which is totally my fault since I LOVE stickers still. Stickers have some great hand eye coordination benefits for toddlers and there are so many ways to use them.
When D was two I started a sticker activity notebook which stayed in my purse at all times. I would draw shapes or lines and have D trace them with stickers. We could use any stickers we had laying around. I quickly learned that round teacher reward stickers worked perfect for this activity and came in large packs! Definitely look at the Dollar Tree or Amazon for reward stickers! While you are there pick up alphabet stickers for the next activity.
Alphabet stickers are also extremely versatile. One constant activity we use them for is an adaption of the Search and Find from earlier. Simply write out the amount of each letter and hand over the stickers. To make it more difficult, write the letters lowercase and give uppercase stickers. This creates a perfect way to practice matching upper and lowercase.
As D has gotten older, I now give her a sheet of sight words written out and she has to spell them out with stickers. It creates a more tactile way to work on spelling plus feed the sticker addiction!