Need a few moments to get some work done, make an important phone call or unload the dishwasher? One word: foam. Whether you call it craft foam, foam stickers or smart foam, this ingenious product will engage your toddler for quite a while, letting them learn while they play and allowing you to take care of business.
A jumbo container of foam stickers with no obvious purpose may seem daunting. But to a 2-year-old, these collections of shapes, letters and animals are a wellspring of entertainment and opportunity.
Size is the thing
For the very littlest toddlers who are just learning their colors and coming to understand big and small, a batch of foam shapes offers the opportunity to teach the intricacies of both concepts in a simple way.
Create a pile of foam pieces all the same shape (we chose hearts) and begin separating the foam. Create a pile of big hearts and a pile of little hearts or separate piles by color. Your child will begin to see the patterns emerging, mimic your lead and be able to stay busy on their own.
Sort it out
Foam art is a great way to teach toddlers about shapes and colors at the same time. Gather together stars, hearts, circles, squares, rectangles and flowers of varying sizes and shades. Again, begin to organize the foam and your child will follow suit. Try sorting by shape first and then by color.
Once you’ve gone through a few sorting exercises together, give your child room to do her thing. You may just catch her sorting all on her own without you initiating the act — and she may do it “right” or she may create a unique order. Either way, it’s all good and fascinating to watch them learn so quickly.
Foam for every season
Foam has become such a popular craft for kids that you can find foam projects for every season and holiday — from Christmas trees to Easter eggs, from hearts to leaves. Pick up a package of giant foam shapes that are big enough for your child to decorate using smaller pieces of foam, stickers or a drawing instrument.
Foam kits come ready-to-make with all the pieces included, though some of these projects can be more complicated, time-consuming and require a parent’s assistance. Your toddler may quickly lose interest in a craft that needs to be completed a certain way, so stick to basic, open-ended projects that allow your burgeoning artist to use her imagination.
Hang in there
Foam door hangers and accompanying foam stickers in your child’s favorite animals or characters can keep her busy for ages. Foam stickers are also a great craft for honing dexterity as your child learns to peel the backing off their stickers of choice and place them on the door hangers.
The most important thing is to give your child the freedom to decorate the door hangers on her own — provide the supplies she needs, but avoid directing her play. It’s so much more fun to see what collages she creates on her own! Plus, you’ll treasure this unique creation all the more and give her the confidence that she can do this — and so many more things — all by herself.
ABC, easy as 123
For the toddler who’s learning to spell their name and count, foam letters and numbers are a great way to introduce the basics while still having fun with a craft.
But you don’t have to just stick to the basics — give your little one the opportunity to tell you what she thinks each letter is. What’s great at this age is that toddlers love drawing connections between things — the number one looks like a chimney, the letter C is a bracelet. When given the opportunity to sit and play with the foam on their own, they’ll come up with these theories — and you’ll be delighted to hear them.
The arts of organization and repetition
While toddlers go through phases of chaos and order, most of them love the chance to dump things out — though putting things back where they belong may be more of a challenge. One way to turn clean-up and organization into part of the fun is to have your child bag or box the shapes that they sort and separate.
Because the value packs of foam have so many repetitive shapes and creatures, this is a great way to reinforce whatever is learned, from animal names and noises to how each letter sounds.