Sidewalk Chalk

Sidewalk chalk is a great outdoor sensorimotor activity for all young kids.  For us in Texas, it’s a bit hot right now for me to use in my sessions, but remains in my bag for the first cooler day.

If it’s hot where you live also, you can move the sidewalk chalk inside by using a large poster board.  Any color is fine, but the chalk may show up better on a black poster board.  For adaptive skills, give the child simple instructions when beginning that they are only to draw in the boundaries of the poster board and not on the floor.  The chalk shouldn’t damage any nearby surfaces, but teaching them the boundaries will help prevent damage if they happen to later repeat the activity with a marker or crayon.

Free drawing is a great way for toddler artists to build their fine motor skills.  Also, the chalk provides sensory input for the kids.  At the Dollar Tree, I found some egg shaped chalk that is great for fine motor.  The egg shape is perfect for small hand that can’t yet form a pencil grip.  It also aligns the fingers in the proper position to help develop a good pencil grip later.

For social bonding with your child, try a tic-tac-toe game or use multiple poster boards to make an indoor hopscotch path for gross motor activity  Cheer them on with each successful try at the game and work on taking turns with them.

Of course, if you don’t live in Texas and don’t feel as though you are on the surface of the sun when you step outside, take the sidewalk chalk outside and enjoy the time in nature.

As always, end the play time with adaptive skill development by having them put the chalk back in it’s container and cleaning up all supplies.

Posted in Adaptive, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, Preschoolers, Social-Emotional, Toddlers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Red Cups

Have leftover red Solo cups from that spring barbecue?  Perfect!  There are several cognitive exercises for toddlers and preschoolers that you can do.

Categorization:  For this first activity, you will need several of two other items that are small enough to fit at least three of in the cups (and big enough not to be choking hazards!).  In my kit, I use this 3-pack of rubber duckies and a bag of plastic insects, both from the Dollar Tree.

You can do this activity either seated on the floor or in a high chair at the table while eating.  Place two cups in front of the child, separated.  Next put all of the duckies in one cup and all of the bugs in the other.  For younger children, you can repeat the names of each several times.  Next, dump them out and place one of each item in their relative cups.  Ask the child to sort the bugs and duckies in their respective cups.  For younger toddlers, you may have to repeat the demonstration a few times before they get it.  If they don’t understand after a few tries, put the activity to the side and work on it again another day.  They may not be ready for it yet.  For older preschoolers, you may be able to skip the demonstration and just ask them to sort the objects for you.  For a fine motor challenge for preschoolers, have them sort the objects using kitchen tongs.

While this seems like a very simple activity, it builds several skills.  Categorization is an important pre-verbal skill.  Understanding that items can be grouped helps organize the words kids learn.  First, they may understand that all things with wheels are different from all things with legs, but may not understand that trucks are different from cars or that cats are different from dogs.  Eventually, as their cognitive and communication skills improve, they will make this distinction.  The ability to be able to look at the items, understand their differences, is an important skill for future learning.

Hidden Object:  During a child’s second year of life they begin to understand that objects are separate from themselves and that objects exist even if they can’t see them.  The term for this is “object permanence”.  This skill develops with normal brain growth.  To test to see if your child has developed object permanence yet, clear the other items out of your work space from the previous activity, keeping one cup and one toy handy.  If needed, you can replace the ducky or bug with another small toy.

Hold the object in front of the child, name it, and make sure they are aware that it is there.  Next lay it on the ground or table in front of them.  Take the red cup and very obviously place it over the toy.  Take a few seconds, and then ask them, “where is the toy?”.  If they lift up the cup to retrieve the item, they have an understanding of object permanence.

To expand on this skill.  Use two red cups.  Repeat the activity above by turning over two red cups, one over the toy.  If they lift up the correct cup, they have a good understanding that the object remains.

Next, repeat the activity with the two cups, this time sliding the cups until they switch places after covering the toy.  Make sure the child watches the switch and see if they can locate the item after the cups have switched places.  Each of these activities come with increasing development and age, and if your child is mature enough to make it to the third version of the hidden object activity, they have also likely maxed out their attention span.  At this point, enjoy your one on one quality time with them, or if they are done playing, work on their adaptive skills and have them help you put the toys away.


Posted in Cognitive, Communication, Fine Motor, Preschoolers, Toddlers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Small ball

The main must have in my kit is always a small ball.  These come in many sizes and varieties, and the only requirement is that they are big enough to kick and for a toddler to grab and hold with both hands with minimal effort.


The simple ball covers so many skills for kids of all ages.

For gross motor, kicking the ball teaches balance and coordination.  For toddlers, accuracy is not very important.  The planning and coordination involved with standing or walking, lifting one foot, and balancing enough to make the foot strike the ball is a lot for a young child to accomplish.  This does not need to happen in the scope of an organized soccer team and these balls are light enough that they can be kicked down a long hallway or outside in the yard.  Small bins or buckets can make good targets for the ball in order to build accuracy.

For preschoolers, put small obstacles in their path and let them problems solve how to get around them for cognitive learning.

For all kids, cheering for them after each kick and taking turns kicking teaches social-emotional skills.  Finally, to encourage adaptive skills, have them put the ball away when done playing.

For younger kids, throwing with two hands is also a good way to develop strength and coordination.

For infants, letting them feel, squeeze, and mouth the ball provides good sensory input.  Make sure the ball is large enough to not be a choking hazard.  While they are holding the ball, repeating the word “ball” to them and teaching them the sign for “ball” helps build communication skills.  If they like the ball, learning the sign for it will help them ask for it before they can vocalize the word.

Who knew a $1 ball could do so much?!

Posted in Adaptive, Cognitive, Communication, Gross Motor, Infants, Preschoolers, Social-Emotional, Toddlers | Leave a comment


Welcome to Dollar Store Development.  Nope, this isn’t some dark story about something gone awry at your local Dollar Tree.  This is a site devoted to promoting your young child’s developmental growth with items you could pick up for a dollar (or slightly more).  I’m a graduate student working on my Masters in Human Development and Childhood Disorders.  Over the last several semesters, I’ve been studying how best to promote the development of our young children, and no where in my text books does it mention complex expensive toys.

As a mother of two children, age 9 and 11, I often felt overwhelmed at all of the toys marketed to me when my children were little.  What did I really need?  Would they miss out on learning if they didn’t have a toy?  What if other kids were learning something that my kids weren’t?  These questions can cause a lot of stress for new parents.

Now that I’m nose deep in reading research and am out in the field screening kids for developmental delays, I’m finding that my field kit consists of all dollar store items.   Throughout this blog, I hope to share some of my finds with you and will tell you how they can help your child grow developmentally.  Articles will focus on the following categories:

  • Fine Motor
  • Gross Motor
  • Cognitive Skills
  • Adaptive (Daily Living) Skills
  • Communication
  • Social-Emotional Skills

All articles will highlight items for children under age 5 and will aim to give info for multiple ages if it relates.  I love communication, so if you see a great item priced near a dollar that has worked for your child, please share!  I look forward to sharing my dollar store finds with you!

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