Fun for Little Ones

Seasonal activities just for parents of kids under 5

  • Photograph by Barbara Peacock

    For the Birds

    Invite more wildlife into your yard with this festive feeder. The project starts with a walk to collect the sticks.

    You will need:

    • Ribbon for the frame (we used two 40-inch lengths), plus extra for decoration
    • 3 sticks (ours are 7, 10, and 13 inches long)
    • Birdseed
    • Nut butter

    1. In each ribbon, tie three loops large enough that you can slide the sticks through them.
    2. Pour birdseed in a cookie tray. Have your child coat the center of each stick with nut butter, then roll the sticks in the birdseed. Hang the sticks in the loops as shown.
    3. Tie ribbon pieces on the bottom stick, if you like, then hang the feeder. When the seeds are gone, you can take out the sticks and coat them again.

    Originally published in the November 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Photograph by Allie Cottrill

    Prints Charming

    Even young kids can help make this gift of holiday tea towels that family and friends will treasure for years.

    You will need:

    • 1 to 2 cucumbers
    • Newspaper
    • Cotton towels (we used flour sack towels), washed and ironed
    • Fabric paint
    • Paper plates
    • Fabric pen

    1. Wash and dry the cucumbers, then cut them crosswise into 2-inch sections.
    2. Lay a piece of newspaper under a towel. Pour a thin layer of fabric paint on a plate.
    3. Help your child dip the dry cut end of a cucumber into the paint (use a new section for each color), blot the paint on the newspaper, then firmly press the cucumber onto the towel for about 5 seconds. Repeat. Let the paint dry.
    4. With the fabric pen, draw an ornament top as shown. Follow the manufacturer's directions to set the paint and marker.
      1. Originally published in the November 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

    Artful Gift Tags

    Even kids just learning to draw can help make these creative gift tags. Simply cut gift tag shapes out of your toddler's artwork (or copies of the originals), then punch a hole in one end and add a ribbon tie. After the packages are opened, you can hang the tags on your tree as pretty keepsake ornaments.

    Originally published in the November 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine

  • Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

    Beyond Finger Painting

    Nurture your toddler's creativity with art activities that have him use everyday items in new ways. Pour small puddles of nontoxic washable paint into shallow containers and set out a variety of easy-to-clean items to inspire him. A few of our favorites:

    Toy vehicles: Have him drive the wheels through the paint, then race the cars across the paper to make colorful tracks.
    Round scrub brush: Show him how to stamp dots on paper. It's like a tot-friendly introduction to pointillism.
    Hair comb: He can make curvy patterns and draw lines by dipping the teeth in paint and dragging them at different angles over his sheet of paper.

    Crafter's Tip: To make cleanup easier, lay a shower curtain or plastic tablecloth on the floor under your work surface.

    Originally published in the October 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine

  • Photograph by Laura Doss

    Bowling by Numbers

    Encourage number recognition and counting skills with a simple game that makes the most of the contents of your recycling bin.

    Using number stickers or a marker, label ten plastic bottles with numbers 1 through 10. Help your kids to set up the bottles as shown, then let them knock them down with a ball. Talk about the numbers on the bottles after each roll ("You knocked down 1 and 3!" "Can you knock down 2 and 4?"). To introduce basic addition skills, count up the points after each roll.

    Age: 2 years and up

    Originally published in the September 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

    Mini Meterologists

    Teach your child about the weather -- and how to pick out the right clothes to wear -- with this handy chart. To use it, ask her to think about what's happening outside (Is the sun shining? Is it cloudy? Do we need an umbrella?), then have her move the pin to the appropriate symbol.

    You will need:

    • Glue stick
    • 4 (6- by 6-inch) squares of decorative paper, plus scrap
    • Foam core (we used 3/16-inch), cut to 6 by 24 inches
    • Card stock in solid colors
    • Clothespin
    • Tape
    • Ribbon

    1. Glue the paper squares to the foam core.
    2. Cut out a sun, cloud, raindrop, and snowflake, or other weather symbols. Glue one in the center of each square.
    3. If you like, trim a scrap of paper to fit the top of the clothespin and glue it in place.
    4. Tape a ribbon loop to the back of the foam core for hanging.

    Age: 2 years and up

    Originally published in the September 2014 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

  • Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

    Thanksgiving Crayon Caddy

    This adorable turkey makes a festive addition to the holiday kids' table. Each holds enough drawing supplies to keep young guests entertained right through dessert.

    For each, cut six feathers from card stock (ours are 2 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches) and crease the centers. Arrange the feathers in a fan shape on a piece of double-sided foam tape, then attach them to a 9-ounce paper cup. For the face, cut two circles (ours are 2 inches and 2 1/2 inches) and facial features from card stock. Tape the circles together, then glue on the features. Tape the face to the cup. Fill each turkey with crayons. Set the holders on the table with place mats cut from kraft paper.

    Age: 18 months and up

    Originally published in the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

  • Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

    Familiar Faces Finger Puppets

    Turn pictures into props for a one-parent show that will help your tot stay close to those dear to her.

    Select photos of family and friends that are less than 2 inches across. Cut them out. (For perfectly round edges, we used a 1 1/2-inch hole punch.) With hot glue, attach one photo to each fingertip of a knit glove. Let the glue dry, then entertain your child with first-person stories from the ones she loves.

    Age: 12 months and up

    Originally published in the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

  • Photograph by Alexandra Grablewski

    Colorful Vellum Votives

    Great holiday gifts for family and friends, these delightful decorations let your kids' art shine.

    You will need:

    • Vellum (available at craft stores for about 65 cents a sheet)
    • Glass container with straight sides
    • Colored pencils or crayons
    • Double-sided tape
    • Battery-operated tea light

    1. Wrap the vellum around the glass container, then trim the paper to fit with a 1/2-inch overlap.
    2. Lay the vellum on a flat surface and invite your child to draw on it.
    3. Wrap the vellum around the container drawing side out, then tape it in place. Set a tea light inside.

    Age: 18 months and up

    Originally published in the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

  • Photograph by John Dolan/Trunk Archive

    Sense-Sational Outings

    Encourage your family to get outside and explore your surroundings with a variety of themed scavenger hunts that put your sense of hearing, touch, and smell to the test.

    Here's how to get started: first write up a list of things that you're likely to experience in your area. On a "sound" walk, for example, you might listen for water splashing, leaves crunching underfoot, kids playing, a dog barking, and so on. On a "texture" walk, you might search for bumpy tree bark, smooth stones, and soft plants, such as moss. And on a scent walk, you can challenge your kids to sniff an acorn, a chrysanthemum, or just the tang of crisp fall air. Take your list and a crayon or washable marker with you and check off the items as you and your kids identify them. When you complete the list, your family can brainstorm more items to discover using a different sense, then set off on another adventure.

    Age: 2 years and up

    Originally published in the November 2013 issue of FamilyFun magazine

  • Photograph by Peter LaMastro

    Play Dough Print Shop

    You can help your preschooler learn her letters with this spellbinding idea. Simply set out some dough, a rolling pin, and alphabet cookie cutters and encourage her to play around with the ABCs. When she's ready to form words, write them on a piece of paper for her to copy.

    Age: 3 years and up

  • Photograph by Peter LaMastro

    Hungry Hamper

    Here's a simple way to turn cleanup into a game: have your tot feed dirty duds to a ravenous frog!

    You Will Need:

    • black and red duct tape
    • parchment paper
    • 2 baseball-size practice balls
    • plastic tub with handles (we got our 6.9-gallon Tubtrug at a hardware store for $12)
    • 2 (11-inch) zip ties

    Step 1: Adhere several inches of black duct tape to parchment paper, then cut out 2-inch circles for pupils. Peel off the paper and stick a pupil on each ball, pressing firmly around the edges.

    Step 2: Attach the eyeballs to one of the tub handles by threading the zip ties through the holes in the balls. Trim the excess plastic.

    Step 3:To make the tongue, adhere several strips of red duct tape side by side to parchment paper and cut out a tongue shape. Peel off the paper and stick the tongue to the tub as shown.

    Age: 28 months and up

  • Photograph by Peter LaMastro

    Sweet Sock Art

    This memento from your tot's early days will help you remember her tee'y tiny tootsies long after she's graduated to shoes.

    You Will Need:

    • foam core
    • shadow box (ours is 20 inches square)
    • colorful fabric or paper
    • duct tape
    • 6 to 10 baby socks
    • glue dots
    • card stock and marker

    Step 1: Cut the foam core to fit inside your shadow box.

    Step 2: Fold the fabric or paper around the foam core and secure it with duct tape.

    Step 3: Arrange the socks as shown, then attach them with glue dots.

    Step 4: Write your child's name and birth date on a piece of card stock (ours is 3 inches across) and attach it with glue dots.

    Step 5: Place the foam core in the shadow box and hang it on the wall.

    Age: Newborn and up

  • Photographs by Peter LaMastro


    Three family-friendly bathroom solutions:

    Step 1: Decorate a wooden stool with nonskid tub decals, to help keep your child steady on his feet. Turtle Tub Tattoos, SlipX Solutions, $4.99 12 months and up

    Step 2: Put small toys, such as plastic snakes or flowers, in a liquid soap dispenser for a fun twist on a discovery bottle. It may even inspire your child to wash his hands more often. 12 months and up

    Step 3: Protect your funny bone with the padded Moby Bathtub Elbow Saver. Bonus feature: a waterproof pocket for storing watches and jewelry. Skip Hop, $15 Newborn and up

  • Photograph by Ronnie Andren

    Play Sand

    Bring the thrill of the beach inside with this soft, moldable dough that feels like sand.

    In a large bowl, combine 4 cups flour with 1/2 cup vegetable oil, mixing with your hands until the oil is incorporated. Put the mixture into a plastic bin, preferably one with a lid, and add some playthings, such as measuring cups, cupcake molds, and toy cars and trucks. Store the dough in the bin or in a sealed ziplock bag.

    Age: 15 months and up

  • Photograph by Mark Mantegna

    Watch Me Grow

    We love this growth chart project that reader Katie Chesnut came up with. She made a chart for each of her sons, Cole, age 4, and Knox, 23 months. "My kids enjoyed stamping the boards," says the Polo, Illinois, mom, "and I got to preserve their small footprints in a creative way. I wrote the date on the back so that I'd always remember how old they were when they made them." To personalize the chart even more, we added an acrylic picture frame. You can slip in a new photo whenever you mark your child's height.


    • 1- by 6-inch board, cut to 4 or 6 feet
    • Acrylic paint and paintbrushes
    • Cloth measuring tape
    • Strong double-sided tape (we used Terrifically Tacky Tape)
    • Double-sided foam tape
    • Magnetic acrylic picture frame
    • Hanging hardware, such as a small sawtooth hanger

    See the next slide for instructions.

  • Photograph by Mark Mantegna

    How to Make a Growth Chart

    Step 1: Sand the board, if needed, then paint it. Let the paint dry.
    Step 2: Coat the soles of your child's feet with paint, then help him make footprints on the board, reapplying paint as needed. (Crafter's tip: Put a rag and a pan of warm water at the end of the board so that your tot can easily wash the paint off his feet — and not make tracks around the house.) With a baby or an unsteady walker, do one foot at a time.
    Step 3: Using your child's birth length (21 inches, say) as the starting point, cut the measuring tape to fit the board, then attach it with the double-sided tape. Use the foam tape to secure the picture frame.
    Step 4: Hang the board on the wall at the correct height.

    Age: Newborn and up

  • Photograph by Carl Tremblay

    Get a Grip

    Give your child's fine motor skills a boost with these activities that use everyday supplies (all require adult supervision).

    Indoor Gardening
    Hand your tot a clean plastic squeeze bottle, such as a recycled dish-soap container or baby shampoo bottle, to water plants. She'll love having her very own job and the squeezing action will help strengthen her finger and hand muscles. Ages 2 years and up

    Toddler Tote
    Tuck used gift cards and outdated IDs into an old wallet, then have your little one satisfy her curiosity— and hone her pincer grasp —by pulling them out. Ages 2 years and up

    Mini Mechanic
    Gather a collection of large nuts and bolts, then show your tot how to find the pairs and twist them together. This practical puzzler promotes eye-hand coordination as well as bilateral integration (using two hands at once), which is an important prewriting skill. Ages 2 1/2 years and up

  • Photograph by Carl Tremblay

    Indoor Energy-Burners

    Help channel your child's limitless energy (and maybe even tire him out before naptime) with these boredom- busting activities.

    Stuck in the Mud
    Tape a 2- to 3-foot strip of Con-Tact paper tacky side up on the floor and peel off the backing. Younger ones can experience the simple thrill of touching the sticky paper or setting down toys and peeling them off, while toddlers can try walking, jumping, and dancing across it (lifting their feet makes a wonderful sound). Ages 6 months and up

    Firefly Tag
    Get your tot moving with this catchy flashlight game. Using a pushpin, poke holes in the bottom of a paper cup to create a simple insect shape, then set the cup over the lens of a flashlight. Shine the light on the wall or floor of a dim room, moving the beam so that the insect looks like it's flying. Now encourage your toddler to "catch it." Once she gets the hang of it and you're comfortable giving her the flashlight, switch roles. Ages 12 months and up

  • Photograph by Ronnie Andren

    Mess-Free Sponge Painting

    Inspire your toddler's creativity — and curiosity — with a printing project that keeps her hands, clothes, and everything else clean.

    You will need:

    • Card stock
    • Gallon-size ziplock storage bag
    • Kitchen sponge
    • Tempera paints
    • Masking Tape

    Step 1: Trim a piece of card stock to fit in the bag, and slip it inside.

    Step 2: Dampen the sponge and cut it into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Press each piece into a different color paint, then put the sponges in the bag and zip it closed. Add a piece of tape to secure it.

    Step 3: Set the bag on a table and encourage your toddler to press down on the sponges to make prints or shake the bag to move them around. When she's done, take out the card stock and let it dry.

    Take It Further: For different patterns, dip marbles in paint and let your little artist roll them around inside the bag.

    Age: 18 months and up

  • Photograph by Ronnie Andren

    Balloon Badminton

    For a fun twist on a classic game (and a great hand- eye coordination booster), use homemade rackets to keep a balloon off the ground. Once your child gets the hang of it, place a pool noodle or rope between you for a net and try volleying the balloon back and forth.

    To make rackets, cover paint stirrers or rulers with electrical tape. Cut craft foam into circle or flower shapes (ours are about 8 inches across), then attach the shapes to the handles with more tape as shown. Blow up a balloon and let the games begin!

    Editor's Tip: Don't have a balloon? Make a lightweight ball by crumpling up a piece of newspaper and securing it with a strip of tape.

    Age: 2 years and up

  • Photograph by Ronnie Andren

    My First Family Tree

    Give your child a sense of his place in the world with a photo display that does double- duty as a (supervised) plaything. The pictures are attached with Velcro, so your budding genealogist can reposition the pictures as often as he likes while learning who goes where.

    You will need:

    • Kraft paper
    • Glue stick
    • Presentation board (with the flaps cut off) or cardboard (ours is 23 by 30 1/2 inches)
    • Paper copies of family photographs
    • 3-inch wood disk for each family member (available at craft stores for about 30 cents apiece)
    • Mod Podge and brush
    • Velcro dots

    See next slide for instructions

  • Photograph by Ronnie Andren

    How to Make a Family Tree

    Step 1: Draw a tree shape on the kraft paper, cut it out, and use the glue stick to attach it to the presentation board. We added a wrapping paper frame as well as leaves, grass, and a bird cut from decorative paper.

    Step 2: Trim the photographs to fit the wood disks. Attach each picture to a disk with Mod Podge, then add a coat of Mod Podge over the image to seal the surface. Let the disks dry. Trim any excess paper around the edges and brush on a final coat of Mod Podge.

    Step 3: When the Mod Podge is dry, adhere each disk to the tree by attaching one side of a Velcro dot to the back of the disk and the corresponding side to the tree.

    Crafter's Tip: For a simple storage solution, add extra Velcro dots across the bottom of the board, as shown.

    Age: 12 months and up