Problem Solving: Snowball Chute

Snowball Chute

Snowball Chute Heading

Snowballs (a.k.a. cotton balls) and a used toilet paper or paper towel roll make this a fun problem solving activity to do over and over! Add spoons, tongs, tweezers, bowls for catching, and anything else you can think of to spice this up each time you repeat it! Check it out here!


Snowball Chute

Learning at this age doesn’t come in the form of ABC’s and 123’s. It comes from getting to experiment and experience things like cause and effect, “What happens when I…?” Your child is constantly experimenting and making new connections throughout the day with objects, toys, and people in their environment. Here is a fun activity to do together to add something fresh to that environment, one that uses a lot of fine motor, hand eye coordination, a little problem solving, and fun with you! You can find a brief description and materials list here.

The object of the activity is dropping the snowballs (cotton balls) through the chute (the toilet paper or paper towel roll). I thought it would be fun to mix it up and have it be a magnet on the refrigerator. So, I started by gluing two magnets to the back of the TP roll and then up onto the refrigerator it went. Super simple prep! And you wouldn’t even have to do that if you didn’t want to.

I gathered the “snowballs” and some utensils to make it interesting. This is where it gets fun. The first time you do it (or if your child is young), I’d keep it simple. Demonstrate a couple of the snowballs dropping through and then let them try and experiment away!

Here are some variations:

Use spoons, tongs, and tweezers to try to drop the snowballs through the chute. This offers different levels of small muscle movement in the hand and forearms good for fine motor development.


Offer a bowl or two to try and catch the snowballs as they drop through the chute. This brings a problem solving element to figure out where the ball is going to drop. They can try and try again until they catch it.

Or, just set out all of those items and let your child experiment with their favorite way to make the activity work.

No matter what method you choose let them experiment… even if they pull it off and start stuffing 20 cotton balls in, let them try. We aren’t going for perfect methodology, but the trial and error experience for them to learn!

Happy Playing!

Problem Solving: Flashlight Find

Despite the fact that the pictures from this activity look like snapshots from a mystery show, we really had a ton of fun doing this activity! Hopefully your child likes it too!

We went into my son’s room because I think it’s best to use a familiar room with familiar objects to find. We left the lights off, but the door open so it was dark but not so dark that it turned scary. Do what works best for your child and the room that you use. I started by showing him that I could find some of his favorite toys with the flashlight to give him the idea of the activity.


After that he took over and was so excited to move the flashlight around and find everything in his room! Young children love when things are personal and connect to them, so finding their own stuffed animals, their clothes, their toys, and other special things in their room will be a lot of fun! We even ended up exploring other rooms in our house with the flashlight, with a promise of doing it again downstairs when it got darker outside!

So, what’s going on here? Well, light is a scientific property and while we aren’t teaching or expecting a toddler or preschooler to know that, it is a fun interactive way to experiment. Young children are already little scientists constantly getting their hands on things to experience them, trying new things, and forming new concepts based on what happens.

This activity also acts as a problem solving activity as they have to experiment with how to use the light to find things in their environment. You could ask them where something is to add an element to the problem solving element. At first though, it will be a trial and error experience as they see how to use the light to find things.

I love this activity because it really is unlike anything else we have ever done, it is super fun, and it is completely hands on and open for experimenting. What happens when I shine the light on my stuffed animal? What if I get closer? What happens when I put the light on my night light? Give it a try and see  if you and your child enjoy this as much as we did!

Happy Playing!

Far away, and then close. First the light is big, and then it gets small. 

Problem Solving: Fall Puzzle

I wrote a little about the prep for this puzzle in Fall Week 1, but I will break it down a bit more here. You can also find the complete materials list there too. You will see it’s not very complicated and it only took me about 5 minutes to prep. So, don’t dread getting ready for this activity, it will go quickly!

I first free handed 4 different kids of pumpkins on 4 different colors of paper. I’m crafty, but I’m no artist, so don’t judge my pumpkins! Believe me if your pumpkins don’t look so great your little one will not care! Next, I cut out all of the pumpkins so that I could make an exact copy of it in the same color.


Cut out the second set of pumpkins. You should now have 8 total pumpkins, 4 pairs. Glue 1 of each pair onto a whole sheet of construction paper. I chose brown, I’d like to think it’s because I was going for a fall look, mostly I’m just severely running out of construction paper and no one ever wants brown… but it works out.

There you go, it’s a fall pumpkin puzzle. I mentioned in the summary in Fall Week 1 that you could do a lot of different shapes like leaves and apples if you wanted to, or you could do a little bit of each shape. If I make another one this season I’m going to make one with several different fall shapes.


It looks like a pretty easy puzzle right, and it is. I don’t want it to be too hard because that won’t be fun. The point of doing something like this is to offer something fresh, a new problem solving activity. New things that appeal to your child will be really fun to do. My son ended up doing it 3 times in a row. Then, he was ready to move on, I put it away, and since he doesn’t see it all the time, when I get it back out in a week or 2 he will be excited to try again.

Like anything for your toddler or preschooler the learning is not in the accomplishment, but rather in the process and in your interactions with them. Look at this puzzle as more of a conversation starter for you. Colors & shapes, size, which one is tall? Which is small? Which is wide? Why a pumpkin puzzle? Are you going to get a pumpkin? Where do pumpkins come from? Just be creative and have fun talking and getting to work together on this little puzzle!

Happy Playing!



Problem Solving: Build A Tent

IMG_0037I remember as a kid I always loved building a tent and hiding out under it. Just like me, building a tent is always a hit with my kids! We even have a designated tent sheet! It was while we were building a tent one day that I realized what a good problem solving activity it is. While it might not be an activity that a toddler or even a preschooler could go totally solo, it will be a fun activity to do together and still get their little wheels turning.

I’ll talk about how we did it, and you can make changes based on your child and preferences.

I started by offering 3 places that we could start building the tent. I told them we could drape it over the living room chairs, we could move the kitchen chairs together, or we could use our stools. They chose the counter stools and ottomans.

IMG_0028From there I let them work together to try to straighten out the sheet, get rid of twists and tangles, and figure out how to make it fit. They did realize part way through that it was a short tent. And decided maybe it was just a tent for children!

If I had been doing this with just one child I would have helped a tiny bit more with the fluffing and stretching out of the tent. But either way I wanted the decisions to be their own.

If I had done this with a 1 or 2 year old I would have been way more hands on, but still asked a lot of questions, offered them opportunities to help build, and demonstrated and described what I was doing.

Ultimately, this activity gets children thinking. Even better if they get started and run into some snags. For instance, when my kids realized that the way they had chosen for their tent was really low. As adults, we already would know that. But for children they are learning those things as they play, and next time they might change their methods to make it a little taller.


As parents and caregivers we have to remember a perfect product is not what we are going for when we are learning with our children. We are looking for opportunities for our kids to try, mess up, try again, succeed, learn from that experience and do it better next time. That’s all these problem solving activities are, a chance to try, try, and try again!

Happy Playing!



Problem Solving: Go Fishing

IMG_0099So, I’m definitely not an outdoorsy, real fisherman type (kudos to those of you who are, that is a sweet learning experience for your kids!) This fishing, however, I can handle! This is a super cute, super fun activity that can be tailored to match your toddler’s abilities and interests. (You can find more instructions and a materials list in Summer week 3).

This activity probably involves the most adult prep of any of the activities. One of my main goals is to keep preparation simple, because things that are quick and simple are also things that we can keep doing! So despite the extra prep, to keep this one simple, I put magnets on the back of the fish we used for the Who’s My Mommy: Fish Match, this way you only have to prepare 1 set of fish! All that leaves is prepping the fishing pole.

Then, to make the fishing pole, grab an empty paper towel roll (or even an empty toilet paper roll would work for your child’s little hand). Poke a hole in one end just big enough to stick a pipe cleaner in about an inch, and then bend it over so that you can tape it down to the inside of the roll. And you’re done with that.

The nice thing about this is that even though this activity will be repeated throughout the summer plan, your preparation is all done after the first time!

Now you can lay out the fish or put them into a plastic container and ask your child if they want to go fishing with the new pole. If your child is young or doesn’t seem that interested in it just yet, demonstrate how to hold the pole over the fish and try and grab one. Seeing the process might make it more appealing. Once they see how it works and get to “catch” some I’m certain they will want to keep doing it! At least my kids did.


So, besides having fun, what’s happening in this activity?

IMG_0115Problem Solving: This is an activity with a pretend play aspect which is hugely important for your child’s thinking skills. With your younger toddler this should be a fun activity to try something new and test out their new materials, as well as what works and what doesn’t work. Describe what you are seeing and what each of you are doing;  let them have fun with it! Your older child will still have fun, but ask more questions, make them think a little more about what they are doing and don’t automatically fix or solve things for them. They are in a stage that they are putting more and more together and starting to use their logic.


IMG_0114Fine motor: It really takes a lot of control to be able to hold the fishing pole still over the fish, so this is a great way to work on the fine motor muscles. It’s okay if you or your child need to hold the magnet steady over a fish with the other hand to catch it.


Who’s My Mommy: Fish Match

Ok I’ll be the first to admit, my fish look pretty funny! In fact they make me chuckle when I look at them, but you know what, when I pulled them out my 3-year old didn’t care at all. He exclaimed “Fishies!” And immediately jumped into the activity. It was just another reminder that kids don’t care that they are doing activities with beautiful, lifelike materials… they just want to have fun with us!


I laid out the fish and explained that the big fish were the mommy fish and the little fish were the baby fish. Then, I asked him if he could match the mommy fish with the baby fish. He didn’t hesitate and once he had matched all of the fish he was beaming with pride and exclaimed “I did it!” If that doesn’t make your day, I’m not sure what will!


What if my child is young and not interested in matching or sorting? Your 1 and 2 year old might not be interested in sorting or matching fish yet. You can still make it fun. Lay out the fish and describe what they are, just like I did in the beginning. Make the fish “swim,” talk about the mommy fish and how they are bigger and the baby fish are smaller. Talk about their colors, and then maybe demonstrate how to match the mommy fish with the baby fish. All along your young toddler will be building those brain connections to be able to do this and similar activities in the future.


Lets break down what is happening in this activity:

Early Math: Recognizing characteristics and sorting or matching based on those characteristics is an early math concept. You might remember in elementary school learning about labeling and categorizing as a means to graphing and figuring more difficult concepts. In the case of this early math activity, the fish match, your child is considering both size and color to determine how to match or sort the fish. In the mommy match, they must first separate out the large fish to be the mommies and the small fish to be the babies. Then match based on color. Similarly, they can be sorted based on size, big fish in this pile, and little fish in the other pile.


Problem Solving: These are the types of activities that really build the “I think I can, I think I can… I KNOW I can!” mentality. A few years ago the push was to tell our kids how wonderful and smart they were thinking we were building “self-confidence…” the belief was that if kids felt good about themselves they would be successful. Well the reality was that it didn’t work, and we discovered that children need to build self-esteem by trying things, making some mistakes along the way, solving problems, and finally achieving success. That results in pride… not the pride cometh before fall type of pride, rather the kind of pride that comes from satisfaction in achieving something. We can foster this even more by doing these little fun activities with our kids. We can be their cheerleader along the way, and maybe even give some hints here and there, but ultimately when they can problem solve with these simple tasks they will build the beginnings of confidence that will continue to benefit them as the grow and develop.


Communication: I could literally talk about communication into every activity! Your child is literally a communication sponge! Any activity that we do, well literally anything we do, is a chance to label and expand our child’s vocabulary. This is why it is so important to talk, read, sing, and talk some more with even our infants! In this activity talk about the colors and the size of the fish. Describe what you see your child doing, “You are matching the red mommy fish with the red baby fish. The mommy fish is bigger than the baby fish.” Give simple hints to help your child, “I see the green baby fish is all alone. Where is the green mommy fish.” Pretend play with the fish. Make them “swim” and talk to each other, and even find ways to connect the activity to your child’s life, “This red baby fish has a mommy just like you do.” When in doubt, just talk about what you see!


Find the Star

When I was little one of my most fun baby sitters would play a game with us called “Hide the paperclip.” I can’t say that I remember a ton of the other things that we did, but I have always remembered playing hide the paperclip… I can even vividly remember finding that little paperclip on the top of the chair rail in our kitchen! Playing hide the paper clip was so fun for me, and when I was developing these activities I thought using the concept of hiding an object would be a great problem solving activity.


Ok, let me just say I was frustrated with the ugliness of my star at first, but I want to show you that these activities are for real life! They don’t need to be perfect, they just need to happen. So, don’t waste your time making perfect materials, use your extra time spending it with your child!

The most important part of making this fun is hiding the star in an appropriate location for your child. If it’s too hard they will lose interest and not give it a second thought. It also may take you demonstrating to them what you want them to do, because keep in mind hide and seek is a new concept to them.

When I do this activity I start super easy. I have my kids cover their eyes and put it somewhere that they find it right away. This way they get that excited “I did it!” feeling, and want to try again. Then, I make it a tiny bit harder each time. For a young child, it might be as simple as barely hiding the star under a nearby toy, or under the edge of the blanket with part of it sticking out. As kids get older, you might set it on a table next to the sofa, or on the toy shelf. Make sure you are really encouraging as they look for the star, and excited when they find it. This will help them stay engaged in the activity, but once they catch on they will want to keep going. My kids didn’t want to stop!


See, he still found it even though it was ugly!


Let’s talk about what things are going on here:

This activity is all about problem solving. The star is missing where could it be? How many times in the day do we do this without even realizing it. Somewhere along the way, we developed the ability to find something by considering all the places the missing object might be and sticking with it even though it gets a little frustrating. In a simpler sense this is what your child is doing. Where among all of the things in my house could this star be hiding? Then, just like us they gradually test their ideas by looking in certain places that it could be hidden. They will certainly fail at times when they check a spot and it’s not there, but with our encouragement and simple hints, they will learn skills to stick with a difficult task and accomplish what they are trying to do.

My son took some turns hiding the star too, and he kept wanting to put the star back where I had originally hidden it. It’s ok if your child wants to hide the object right back where you had it, because it is a new concept to them. Over time, with repetition of this activity, they will start to understand why it needs to be hidden somewhere else. Big sister had fun playing along with us too! She’s trying to convince him to find a new hiding spot.

Happy Playing!