Sorting laundry? Unpacking groceries? Dad's #1 fan wants to help. You can make any chore lots of fun while teaching your toddler new skills.


Tug-of-War & Soccer

Tug-of-War (18 months to 3 years)

This game will help your child develop a strong grasp -- good for that firm handshake she'll need when she's older. She'll also gain strength in her arms and shoulders, and better balance from pulling on the rope. She'll learn endurance, follow-through, and the importance of not giving up.

  • Let your child hold a length of rope or ribbon that's at least 3 feet long. (Note: Always make sure you put it away between games so that it's not accessible.)
  • Show your child how to stand with her feet apart for balance.
  • Pull gently on one end.
  • Let your child pull and lead you around at first, to build her confidence.
  • You can tug using one hand, but your child will feel better if you appear to work as hard at this as she does, so use both hands.
  • When you tug harder, be careful not to topple her off her feet.
  • Make sure you've moved any sharp furniture out of the way and that there aren't any toys in the tug-of-war area that could hurt your child if she suddenly lets go.
  • With older kids, use stronger and stronger tugs so they can build strength.

Kickball (1 to 3 years)

Whether your toddler wants to be a soccer star or just loves to chase balls, this is a great way to practice gross motor skills, balance, timing, and concentration.

  • Go down to the basement or clear an area in your playroom.
  • If your child's younger than 2, provide support by either standing behind him or standing him against the wall.
  • Place a soft ball against his foot and encourage him to kick it.
  • Gradually place the ball farther away from his foot.
  • If your toddler is 2 or older, set up a mini obstacle course with soft toys or empty shoe boxes, and help him move the ball around the objects.

Music & Laundry

Daddy Rocks (1 to 3 years)

Take your little one for a spin around the dance floor. You're introducing her to rhythm and helping her coordination -- something she'll need if she plays sports.

  • Put on a favorite CD or radio station. Mix it up -- play salsa, reggae, rock, even classical.
  • Pick up your toddler and dance around the room. Add a flying twirl or two for a thrill.
  • Get creative -- serenade each other, play a little air guitar, or make up a funky dance step.
  • Play follow the leader. Copy your daughter's moves as she dances around the room, then switch so she has to do what you do.
  • If you have a tambourine or some maracas, break them out.

Laundry-Basket Rebound (1 to 4 years)

Sorting laundry teaches your child how to match stuff and put things in order (your white running socks, his blue anklets). This activity is also a great way to learn fun new words and practice grasping and releasing objects.

Shout out an item of laundry -- T-shirt! Sock! Towel! -- and practice tossing them into a basket.

Ask your child to help you sort laundry by color -- white socks and blue ones -- or size-big tees, little tees.

Kids love playing peekaboo. Throw a shirt or towel over your toddler's head and say, "Where's Will?" Act surprised when the towel or shirt is pulled away to reveal his face.

Groceries & Bowling

Toddler Free Throw (1 to 3 years)

Kids love helping you unload the family's groceries. Just make sure you put away anything breakable like eggs and glass jars.

  • Hand your toddler items he can safely carry to a table or the counter.
  • Give kids older than 2 some early T-ball practice by playing catch with soft stuff like a roll of paper towels, a package of napkins, or a loaf of bread.
  • Play "I spy" while unpacking groceries. For example, "I spy something red (soft, round, crackly, square). Can you find it too?"

Bowling for Brainpower (2 to 3 years)

Who knew that bowling could build fine motor skills and teach kids how to follow directions?

  • Place large plastic water bottles -- sturdy stuffed animals work well, too -- on the floor or a low table.
  • Hand your child a soft ball to roll at the pins.
  • Count how many pins she knocked over. As she hears you count out loud, she'll begin to learn the names of numbers.
  • She can help you set the pins back up.

Parents Magazine