Morning time has been a key part of our daily rhythm for many years now, and I realised very early on that if I wanted to keep my kinaesthetic learner within earshot so that I could read aloud to her, I needed to find activities that would appeal to her and keep her hands busy.
As I mentioned in last week's blog post, we started our morning time in our living room, so that I could read aloud to Bean while she played on the carpet. We've only transitioned to the dining table in recent years, to accommodate a growing interest in table based activities. In today's blog post I've tried to share a wide range of activities, all of which have been enjoyed here over the past 10 years.
So, here are my top 30 recommendations...
Unit blocks - A good quality set of natural unit blocks are one of the most versatile and valuable play materials, and have been the most popular resource here at Invitations to Play for many years. These are one of the few resources that I recommend investing heavily in. You can read a review of our favourite building blocks here. In addition to small world toys such as little people, animals and vehicles, try pairing them with a treasure chest of gemstones, a packet of round stickers or some sheets of felt and see what your child imagines and creates. Sometimes, the addition of one small new thing, can inspire or extend play further.
Kapla planks - these are available in different quantities, and different colours. I can vouch for the quality of the Kapla brand (I've heard mixed reviews of the cheaper alternatives available on the market. I think Lidl or Aldi sometimes stock one. Complaints have been that they are not of a uniform size, so frustrating to build with, or are rough and splintered). These are recommended from age 3, but unless your child is a keen builder and has a steady hand, I'd suggest that they're more suitable from age 6 or 7 years. The larger sets come with inspiration books featuring the most impressive structures. We've enjoyed these Kapla Challenge Cards in the past too.
Magnetic construction tiles or blocks - Tegu blocks are great for little ones, although are on the pricey side for building up a decent collection. The magnets are encased in the wooden block, so super safe for the under 3's, yet still satisfying to build with. Connetix tiles are our magnetic tiles of choice, and we've tried a few different brands. Larger sets are better value, and they really are a case of the more you have, the more you can build. Try pairing them with a basket of small metal items (such as paper clips, washers, nuts, nails etc) for building a robot, or a set of magnetic chips for adding colourful detail. Geomags are another fun magnetic construction toy to explore.
Duplo or Megabloks - These are readily available on second hand selling sites, so no need to buy new. You can often find big bundles, with interesting characters and features, at a significantly lower cost than buying new. Suitable from around 12-18 months, with support, and from 3-8 years for independent play. Both brands stand up to heavy use, and can be used outdoors, for sand, water and mud play too. Try searching online for Duplo or Megablok challenge cards to extend play further.
Lego - I'm sure I don't need to introduce this one. I expect you all have fond memories of playing with Lego as a child, and you may even still have your own Lego collection from childhood. There is a reason that this resource is so popular and has stood the test of time. Lego is versatile, open ended, well designed and is evolving with each generation of children. I see Lego as having two entirely unique functions - creative building, and following instruction manuals. Both have value, so I like to provide for both. For creative building, you need a decent collection of standard bricks, and something suitable to store it in so that it is accessible. We've experimented with Lego storage over the years, and have settled on a large drawstring bag which allows for easy access and clean up. The only downside is the weight (when filled with Lego, our bag is SO heavy!) For instruction manual work, there are so many kits to choose. Far too many to share here. If your child has a special interest, there is probably a Lego kit suitable for them. We use these photo storage boxes to keep some of our smaller kits separated from our main Lego collection, and these boxes for larger kits. A new Lego kit is one of the most enticing activities to keep my daughter busy at read aloud time. It is 100% guaranteed to draw her in.
Teifoc bricks - These make the perfect play invitation for any budding bricklayers out there. Teifoc are miniature bricks that come with water-soluble cement for building. Once building and play has finished, you soak the structure in water and the cement washes away, ready for play to begin again. As well as the standard bricks, there are also lots of different extension packs available now.
PlusPlus (photographed above) - This brand is relatively new to us. The pieces are a uniform shape, but available in a variety of colours (including pastel, neon, glitter and glow in the dark!) We've been having fun experimenting with them, and have been impressed so far. They're not as versatile as Lego, but are a good, open ended alternative, and quite budget friendly. You can buy base plates for building on, and they're also available in a Midi size for little hands (3-5 years ish).
Contruct-a-Straws - Recommended from age 4, these are another great, versatile construction material. The plastic straws can be cut to length with scissors, then joined together in a myriad of ways with the joiners supplied. Models can be disassembled and reconfigured over and over again. Bean has spent hours playing with these over the years, and they still have hours of play left in them. Such good value for money.
Would you like to give one of my Morning Play Invitations a go?! You can download one of the activities from my 31 Days of Morning Play Invitations digital guide below. This one is perfect for a bit of morning construction play.
Magic painting - As soon as your little one is able to grip a paintbrush, they can have a go at painting with water. Water calligraphy paper or a Buddha board are the most open-ended options, but the reusable Melissa and Doug Water Wow books have always been immensely popular here, and in more recent years the Usborne Magic Painting books, which are available in all sorts of lovely designs (not reusable though).
Wipe clean books - a simple whiteboard and whiteboard pen can be a fun resource to explore, especially for the very young. From 3 years, there are lots of wipe clean books to choose from, depending on what appeals to your child, for example pre-writing/pen control, letters, numbers, shapes etc. I
Reusable sticker books - Bean has always been a big fan of sticker books, so we have experimented with quite a few. Our favourites by far are the Djeco repositionable sticker sets, which come in a wide range of designs. I wasn't able to link our favourites here, so it's worth browsing online. She's also enjoyed both the Melissa and Doug reusable puffy sticker sets and the standard Melissa and Doug reusable sticker pads over the years. All can be used multiple times, if well cared for. Be sure to pack them away carefully after each session.
Single use sticker books - Bean is a big fan of the Usborne Sticker Dolly books, which are available in all sorts of lovely designs. They're on the pricey side for a single use sticker book, so I look out for them on sale in supermarkets. She's also really enjoyed some of the Melissa and Doug sticker pads in the past too.
Sticker by number books - Once your little one is confident with reading numbers up to 100, then they may enjoy trying a sticker by number book such as this one. I really enjoy these myself, so often join Bean when she is working on one. You can get all sorts of different designs, such as nature, landmarks, masterpieces etc. You can often find one that relates to your child's current interest or project. Paint by Sticker Kids are the simplest ones I've found, recommended for ages 5-9. Some of them are much trickier than others.
Colouring books - Bean really likes the colouring books from Lulu Mayo (she creates drawing tutorial books too!) but if your child has a current interest or project, then it is likely that there is a colouring book out there to fit. If not, you can try browsing for free colouring pages online that relate to your topic or child's interest. This is what I did during the Peppa Pig, Frozen and Harry Potter phases my daughter went through.
Drawing tutorial books - Apart from the Lulu Mayo tutorial book, linked above, we haven't had a huge amount of experience with drawing tutorial books. We had a go at using the book How to Draw Almost Every Day for a bit, but didn't manage to keep it up long term. It's a nice one to dip in and out of though, with a tutorial for every day of the year, often linked to the day in some way. I've been having a little browse at drawing tutorial books online, and there are lots of options out there. My daughter would like to learn how to draw anime and manga, so I might look at adding a drawing tutorial book to her birthday wish list.
Finish the drawing books - Bean has had great fun over the past few years with her Create This Book, which includes written prompts for creating. We've also enjoyed books such as Let's Make Some Great Art for creative prompts.
At some point, once our building work here is complete, I want to have a big sort out of all of our activity books. I don't think I've included nearly enough recommendations here, as there are seriously so many wonderful resources out there. We do not have a system in place that works for us, with our books easily accessible, so I'm sharing entirely from memory here. I look forward to that day!
Would you like to give one of my Morning Play Invitations a go?! You can download one of the activities from my 31 Days of Morning Play Invitations digital guide below. This one is a DIY version of the 'finish the drawing' books mentioned above.
Play dough - we love play dough here, and until very recently it was guaranteed to keep my daughter engaged for hours. If you'd like to read my top tips for putting together a play dough kit of your own, along with the recipe we use for homemade play dough, you'll find it in this blog post. I'm offering free postage and packaging on my ready made play dough kits until the end of January. Use the code freep&p at checkout.
Clay - we really like and would recommend the DAS brand of air dry modelling clay, which you can buy in terracotta and white. You don't need a kiln to fire this clay. It is air drying. With little ones, I'd keep it simple and present a ball of clay with a little bowl of water for dipping. Allow them to create freely. You could try introducing a rolling pin, mark making tools and loose parts once they've become a little more confident. Be sure to wrap up any leftover clay very thoroughly, as it will otherwise dry hard. You can paint the clay once dry, with acrylic paints, or leave it natural.
Plasticine/polymer clay - These materials are much harder work for little hands, so I recommend them both from age 7+. Plasticine is very affordable, and lasts forever. It can be used over and over, until the colours become mucky and it is no longer appealing. Pair it with a pasta machine for hours of moulding and blending. Polymer clay is more pricey, but can be baked in the oven so your designs become hard. You can make keychains, jewellery, little characters, all sorts.
Pantry play - out of date dry lentils, beans, rice and pasta can be fun to play with. Pop some in a tray with some little bowls and scoops. Toddlers and pre-schoolers love this type of play, but actually so do many school age children if they would only get the opportunity.
Kinetic sand - less messy than traditional sand, you may find that kinetic sand is more suitable for morning time. We like to pair them with this set of hollow geometric shapes, or with a collection of construction vehicles for play.
Ice - activities with ice take a bit of forward planning, but the payoff is often worth the effort. Try freezing some little people or animals in the ice for rescuing, or add a drop of food colouring to explore colour mixing as the ice melts. A large slab of ice can be fun to paint with liquid watercolours, or provide some goggles and a hammer and smash the ice up!
Would you like to give one of my Morning Play Invitations a go?! You can download one of the activities from my 31 Days of Morning Play Invitations digital guide below. You'll need a food processor for this one, but it's a quick and simple one to set up.
Art & Craft
Painting - A simple, open ended invitation to paint never fails to entice my daughter at morning time. A fresh empty page, a tin of watercolours or palette of acrylics, and she's off. Sometimes, we really don't need to make it more complicated than it needs to be.
Drawing - similarly, a blank piece of paper and a pot of freshly sharpened pencils is equally as enticing.
Collage - textured papers, felt, fabric samples, lollipop sticks, sequins, googly eyes, stickers, foam, nature finds, any small loose parts, and a jar of gloopy glue. Let your child loose with all these things and they are sure to create.
Cutting and sticking - One of Bean's favourite activities is to be let loose with a pair of scissors, a glue stick and the Argos catalogue. I have fond memories of doing the exact same thing when I was a child. Alternatively, your child may enjoy cutting pictures of our magazines, or letters or words out of the newspaper. If you're looking for something a bit special, I can highly recommend this book for paper based collage (pictured above).
Junk modelling - Provide your child with a small selection of clean, safe items from your recycling box, along with some scissors and strong tape (or a box cutter and hot glue gun, if age appropriate).
You can read more about the specific art materials I recommend from birth to 7 years, along with lots of suggested provocations and activity ideas in my The Fundamentals of Play: Art Materials digital guide. You'll also find a great variety of process art invitations in my 31 Days of Process Art digital guide. Both are currently on sale.
Would you like to give one of my Morning Play Invitations a go?! You can download one of the activities from my 31 Days of Morning Play Invitations digital guide below. This one is so simple to set up, and invites children to create without no end goal in mind. Process over product.
At Bed Time
Soft toys - I don't know about your little one, but my daughter is obsessed with soft toys. We call them 'cuddlies' in our family and she loves them as much as our pets. At bedtime, with the lights down low, I do not worry about her hurting herself while playing with her soft toys in bed. She likes to give them names, and tell me how they are all related to one another, and tuck them in to bed. She processes the experiences of her day with them, through play.
Fidget toys - My daughter has had a collection of fidget toys for many years specifically to support her with read aloud time at bedtime. Prior to investing in a few fidget toys, I would become quite triggered by her bedtime acrobatics when I was trying to read aloud. I have come to accept that she needs to move her body before bed now, but the fidget toys help when she feels ready to wind down. You can read about some of the ones we use in this blog post.
Glow in the dark resources - Bean has this set of reusable glow in the dark stickers which she has arranged within reach on her bedroom wall. They can be peeled off the wall and rearranged as desired. She also has some glow in the dark stars that are fixed to the wall with blutak, so also movable. She's had fun with some of the glow in the dark sticker books from this series too.
I hope you find some ideas here that might work for your little one during read aloud time. Tell me, what do your children like to do at read aloud time?
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.