Imagination and exercise games

Clean washing

This is great for amusing a child when you are busy — maybe while you are ironing and have a basket of clean washing waiting to be ironed or folded. Tip it out on a clear area of floor, take off the child’s shoes and let them play. Explain that it is a pile of leaves and they are the wind. They can rush in, tumble around in the pile, throw clothes in the air and roll about. Or maybe it’s a little hill and your child is a rabbit making a burrow, a crab digging into the sand to hide from birds and so on. Roll up a pair of socks and the child can become a kitten, pouncing on it and rolling it.

Feed the ants

If your place is like ours, there is usually no difficulty in finding ants in the yard. Your toddler can sprinkle a few grains of sugar near them, then watch them carry the sugar and walk all over each other. The child can also track them carrying their booty back to the nest. This can take up lots of time and encourages observation skills.

Painting without paints

Sometimes you can find paint substitutes in the pantry — try beetroot juice, soy sauce, tomato sauce, Vegemite. This stimulates all the senses and is best done outside, wearing an old smock (some of these ‘paints’ are very permanent).

Drawings with flour

Sprinkle flour on a tray or child’s table. Invite them to make pictures by drawing in the flour with dry fingers. Combs, leaves and so on can create special effects, too. As each picture is finished, your child can smooth the flour, ready for the next creation. A sifter can be used to cover the last drawing. The flour can also be piled up to make little hills, garden walls, paths, roads and so on.

Conflict with another child. We all learn to work and, along with it, we learn a cheery or grumpy disposition towards that work. It’s in the toddler years that the foundations are laid.

One woman in her 50s told us this story: ‘When we were kids in the ‘40s, times were tough and my parents had to really work hard with six children and not much money to go around. I was amazed as an adult to discover that you could enjoy the exhilaration of hard work. Looking at my parents now, in their retirement years, I realise that they actually thrive on hard work. Perhaps it’s a habit of a lifetime, but they love to be active. I can’t keep up with them.’