I love this time of year. Here in the southwest, the weather is mild and breezy, flowers are starting to bloom, and the birds are building nests. And just as the earth has decided to be fruitful and grow, I’m reminded that my toddler daughter needs some new responsibilities and activities to further foster her independence.
We follow a lazy form of Montessori and Waldorf methods in the home. Here’s the quick rundown: limited toys and stimulation (so she can focus on one activity at a time); natural materials that are inherently beautiful to use and work with; real, child sized tools and objects; and toddler-appropriate responsibilities.
With that short list in mind, here are 5 activities we’re working on right now:
- Bird-watching: Two weekends ago, we hung a bird feeder outside one of our sun room windows. The past week or so, our new morning ritual has been to sit in the sun room and look for birds and other urban wildlife. This has been a great time for me to savor my morning cup of joe while helping her learn about nature. You can easily make a bird feeder with items around your home or purchase one for under $10. Bonus activity: read books about birds so that you can identify the specific types that you see.
- Gardening: Last weekend, we started our seedlings and our daughter was enthralled with the whole process. Even the youngest toddler can help with this. We put the soil in the starter cups and made a hole, but let her carefully drop the seed in. This required her to concentrate and use her fine motor skills to complete the task. Toddlers can also help observe and watch for growth and water the plants. Give a child a small hand shovel and let them dig in the dirt next to you. If you don’t have access to a garden space, try container gardening and let your child pick out some herbs to plant. Bonus activity: allow your toddler to pick a bunch of flowers and give them a vase in which to arrange them. This includes filling it with water, carefully trimming the ends (with adult help), and placing the flowers “artistically” in the vase. Then the toddler can place it on a table or other special place at their eye-level. And yes, 2 years olds are perfectly capable of doing this.
- Prepare snacks: While this is not an activity only for the spring, I find that this is the time of year we desire to eat more fruits and veggies. The winter is over and fresh life is all around. Toddlers love to help in the kitchen, especially when it is snack time. For the youngest toddler, wash some berries (or other ready to eat fruit) and have them transfer the berries from the colander to their bowl. They could also help rinse them if you have a smaller colander in which they are able to hold it with two hands. For the 2-3 year old, take a banana and slice it, with the peel on, into small rings. Then show your toddler how to carefully remove the peel and place it into a bowl of scraps. The banana pieces are then transferred to the other bowl. Once all of the banana has been peeled, they can sit down with their snack. Bonus activity: for the 3-5 year old, teach them how to use a butter knife to cut the banana into smaller pieces. All of these variations can be completed with other fruits and veggies as well.
- Nature Walk: Go walk your neighborhood, a park, or some other area outdoors and have your toddler look for interesting objects: sticks, rocks, flowers, etc., that catch their eye. Take along a basket (a discarded Easter basket is what we use), to carry home the found treasures. Then once back home, create a nature display. Bonus activity: pick up a book at the library that corresponds to the object that most caught their attention, i.e. a book about rocks or flowers, for instance.
- Spring Cleaning: This activity is not just for adults. Help your young child to go through their toys and find ones to donate to others. Too many toys (especially ones with missing or broken parts) are distracting, and really, a child can only play with 1-2 toys at a time anyway. Explain why you’re going through the toys (i.e., to help those who have less, to make the home more orderly), but allow the child to be the one to physically put the items in the give-away box. This can be a hard lesson, but encourages reflection and inner discipline. Bonus activity: take your child along when it gets donated, especially if it is to another family in greater need than yours. Learning to serve together is a wonderful reminder of being part of a global community.
You may be thinking that some of these activities are inappropriate for young children. Before I researched and tested out the Montessori method, I thought the same thing too. But my newly two-year old daughter, while I think she is the most brilliant child in the world, is really a typical toddler, and can complete all of the activities above. Give your child the chance to take on a little more responsibility than makes you comfortable, and I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.
For further reading and ideas, check out these sources:
- Three Oaks Blog
- Sew Liberated: Montessori Activities
- “How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way” by Tim Seldin
- For Small Hands: real, child-sized objects and educational toys
- Taproot Magazine: a simple living, homesteading magazine with thought-provoking essays, recipes, and ideas
Kate is a full-time mama, part-time professor, and lover of early childhood methodologies and alternative learning ideas. When she’s not testing out new activities with her spitfire of a two year old and turning their house into a home, you can find her moonlighting as a blogger here on TOBB.
4 thoughts on “5 Toddler Springtime Activities that Foster Independence”
these are great ideas. I naturally do most of these things but have a few new tips to incorporate into my almost 2 year olds day! Thanks 🙂
Thanks Jamie, would love to hear your ideas as well!
Having lived in PNG villages in the 1970’s I would say this approach is still limiting independence of our children when it does not talk about sharing the activities of daily living such as house work with toddlers. Also the state of food production in our societies suggests that for example gardening should be an all round the year activity for children ?
Thank you for your comment. My intent with this post was to provide some introductory ways for parents to try some (potentially) new activities or at least look at them through a different lens. It is not meant to be comprehensive in any fashion, which is why I included links to a wider offering of resources on parenting philosophies.
At least for most parts of N. America, year-round gardening is not a possibility or at least not for most families. Unless someone has access to a greenhouse or an incredibly sunny bank of windows in their home, it’s not a realistic suggestion. For example, our last frost date here (in SW United States) is April 11th, and it is not advised to plant prior to then. Our planting season runs April-October with the ground becoming too cold to sustain life past November. I’m sure in other parts of the world, year-round gardening would be the answer to food production issues. But again, the intention of this post was to be encouraging and not all-encompassing. If someone puts a few plants in containers with their children helping, is that not a step in the right direction?
I think you are correct in asserting children should be involved in housework, and I hope my post did not suggest otherwise. In our household, we are firm believers that toddlers (and all children) should contribute to the household, which does add to their sense of responsibility and belonging to the family unit. But again, this is not meant to be a conclusive guide to parenting, but rather encouraging to parents to try a new activity.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts!