Category Archives: Hands on Play

Crafting a Toddler Story Time

If you have a toddler, you know that they are amazing. They are great at so many things- making people smile, finding trouble, mastering new words, making friends, giving hugs… if YOUR to-do list was this full, you’d never sit still either. So how do you inspire a love of literature in your toddler? Personally, I like the Waldorf tradition of telling a story interactively. Doing this is like anything else- you can spend hours upon hours handcrafting the perfect set for a table play, or you can pull it off by the seat of your pants using whatever you already own. If you have older children who like to make things, by all means, go hog wild. Google some patterns and ideas, break out the craft supplies, and settle in.

I recently introduced my one year old and his friends to Goldilocks and The Three Bears. I did this in what I referred to as “seat of my pants” fashion. For that, you’ll need:

  • A copy of the story to review before you tell it
  • A flat bedsheet
  • clothespins
  • some furniture
  • three stuffed bears, preferably of varying sizes
  • a doll or puppet with blond hair
  • any other props you have room for/desire- if you want to use three bowls and three spoons, or three sleeping bags, etc.

I built the three bears “house” using the bedsheet, clothespins, and four chairs, and I put the three bears inside to introduce the story. Then the idea is to engage the children in the story. If you have a mixed age group, the older children will love to say “this one is just right” at the appropriate points. Ask them questions. Let them get inside the house. Let them hold the bears. Use lots of eye contact and facial expressions. And take all the hugs you can get.

Want more activities to go along with your story for a mixed age group? No problem!

Hey, Mr. Post Man

Hey, Mr. Postman! There is nothing like pretend play to fill up a LOOOONG afternoon of being indoors, and the mechanics of mail delivery are the perfect foil.

To create a play post office, you’ll need a largish cardboard box (a jumbo size diaper box will work, or if you have an old mailbox, that’s even better! You can also keep an eye out for a breadbox at the thrift store- the hinged lid will remind the kids of the chute you open to mail letters at the post office.), and some envelopes. (I pay my bills online, so I save the payment return envelopes for the kids to use.) Add paper and crayons or markers, and you are ready to go! I used painters’ tape to assemble my boxes and to create details on the outside, but you could use any strong adhesive tape, and you can, if you prefer, decorate your mailbox with craft paint or even spray paint.

Print and assemble a Mail Carrier’s Hat for each kid.

Add an old purse or satchel for a mailbag, and your favorite mail carrier will be in business!

My kid actually insisted that we make a second mailbox to receive the home delivery. Also, we had to put our house number on the house mailbox. And then we had to build a truck to carry the mail from place to place. He appropriated all the junk mail and catalogs in the house to use as mail.  (For the truck, we looped a bungee cord between two of the top corners on a large box and let him stand inside the harness to “drive” the truck.)

In other words, once we got the game started, his imagination just kept building on it. I’d love to see pictures of your play post office. (Just put a link down there, in the comments!)

(PS: I found a “US Mail Carrier Play Set” online for $130.)

(PPS: Measure your mail slot against the short side of a catalog to ensure maximum deliverability.)


Let’s Get Messy: Shaving Cream Play

…in which we learn that not every activity is a winner for every child.
Shaving Cream play is not for me.

And that was the end of that. Notice, however, that he has shaving cream not only on the play kitchen, but also in his hair and on his clothes. By the time I clicked “stop” on this video, it was also on the carpet, all over me, and on the walls. It all wiped up in less than two minutes with a clean cloth. I didn’t even have to change my outfit.

The other upside? The play kitchen is super, super clean now. Test drive this with your kids. If they like it, lather up the kitchen table and let them go nuts- it’ll buy you some time to prep a meal, and you’ll finish up with a nice, clean table to serve it on!

Build engines of (minimal) destruction

All you need to keep your kids occupied non-digitally on a super hot or rainy day is a glue gun, craft sticks, wooden clothes pins, masking tape, bottle tops, plastic spoons, rubber bands, and small size Lincoln logs or other small, glueable pieces from the thrift store or junk drawer. (If you want to take it to the next level, we were inspired by Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare. The kids didn’t have the attention span for the more complicated designs, so we mainly improvised.)

Obviously the clothes pin provides your firing mechanism and everything else is there for leverage and torsion. To fire the catapult, hold the front end of the bottom craft stick down onto a flat surface, load the bucket, and pull it back. Then, release it quickly. You can pull it down farther if you hang it off the edge of a table or other piece of furniture.

The kids think they are just shooting each other (or, in the case of our outdoor distance trials, shooting mini marshmallows into their mouths) but, since we all understand the underpinnings of math, science, music, and other abstract disciplines based on our experiences, they are absorbing plenty of physics along the way.

We found that we had two designs that achieved superior distance, but that only one achieved both distance and accuracy. For older kids who have started learning math, you could introduce the basics of chart making by measuring each shot and plotting the distances on a graph. For preschoolers, distance trials and “aim for the bucket” are good games. (Sorry, did I say bucket? I meant MOUTH. I did mention we used mini marshmallows as ammo, right?)

TIP: The kids enjoyed making up their own design refinements, and we discovered after a little experimentation that wiffle golf balls make excellent indoor ammunition. They are light, aero-dynamic, and they bounce entertainingly. You can also shoot each other with them without hurting anyone. And, they are the right size to fire from a bottle cap or spoon.


Start a Mini-Greenhouse

As you can see, we used carryout containers, but you can use whatever you have on hand- butter tubs, cat food cans (run them through the dishwasher first, trust me) or even one of those little seed starter flats with a lid from the garden store.


A bag of potting soil and a couple packets of easy-to-grow seeds are all you need to bring this activity home. It’s too early to start garden seeds indoors in many locations, so consider planting something that will do well as a potted plant, such as mint or geraniums. If you don’t have a big sunny window to keep them by, a fluorescent light is all they need. You can get a small one meant to mount under a cabinet or in a closet at the hardware store, usually for under $10.
Ian’s favorite gardening teacher, Miss Claire, suggests saving the medicine droppers from infant and children’s medications so the kids can water their plants without flooding them. For more on starting seeds indoors, check out


Stage A Table Play


If you’re thinking that you don’t have any wooden peg people or that you aren’t that crafty, think again. You can make some characters from clothes pins, play dough, or cardboard. Or sub in some Fisher Price or Lego people. We did Little Red Riding Hood (sort of) but any story line (or open ended story play) is just right.


We made the trees and bushes from construction paper based on the paper doll principle.

Fold your paper over to give 2-4 thicknesses the right size. To guide your assembly cuts, fold each piece in half in both directions and then unfold so you have two fold lines at 90 degrees.

Then, cut your shapes. Slit one halfway from the bottom and one halfway from the top and slide them together.

They’ll store flat for future play. The longest running segment of our story was the woodsman chopping down trees. After that, disassembly was as fun as setting up the play at the start.