No, I’m not talking about the restaurant chain, although at 26 weeks pregnant, that doesn’t sound half bad. I’m talking about young children’s obsession with putting objects in and taking them out of containers. Starting around 9 months, both of my children loved this activity and could spend hours doing it (ok, maybe not hours, but longer than 5 minutes at a time, which feels like hours in toddler time). It may seem simple and mundane to us, but in the process, your little one is learning about cause and effect, developing fine motor skills, and working on their spatial awareness. The great news is that you don’t need to go out and buy any fancy toys to satisfy this obsession! Here are a few simple ideas that you can make at home. In addition to use at home with your own toddler, these also make great gifts! I put together a couple of these for my 1.5 year old niece for Christmas and it makes a super simple, and inexpensive gift that is sure to be a huge hit!
*Disclaimer – Make sure to use discretion when trying these activities with your young toddler. You know your child best, so choose objects that will be safe for your child and always supervise when using small objects.
~ Pushing Puff Balls ~
This was one of the first in-and-out activities I discovered (from this site). It seemed simple enough, so I decided to try it and my son loved it! This continues to be a favorite with my daughter as well and even at 3.5 my son still enjoys doing it with us. Here are the basics:
1. Find a plastic container. I used a yogurt container that I cleaned out, but anything with a plastic lid will work.
2. Cut small holes in the lid of the container. You want them big enough that a puff ball will fit through, but not so big that it will just fall in.
3. Gather a bunch of puff balls (or cotton balls) and let your little one go to town! I prefer the puff balls because they do not tear apart like cotton balls and will last longer, but cotton balls work great in a pinch.
When first starting out, your child may just enjoy just filling and dumping the puff balls without the lid. Then we added the lid, but I would place the puff balls on top and let them push it through. Eventually your child will be able to do it on their own, and it’s fun to watch their fine motor skills improve along the way! As they get older, you can sort by colors, count, or add any other learning element that you want.
~ Straws Through the Holes ~
My daughter has another obsession besides just in and out, and that is straws. She just loves them. So, we decided to combine her two interests into one fun toy! Fully clean and empty an old parmesan cheese container (you know, the green shaky kind with the holes in the top). Cut down some plastic straws so they are short enough to fit inside the container and voila, an easy, and very entertaining toy for your toddler. Initially, I would open just the side with the large opening for her to put them in and take them out. As her fine motor skills improved, she began using the side with the holes. We often bring this along with us when we go to the doctor, on a plane ride, or any other time I need an activity to keep her busy for a little bit of time.
~ Pipe Cleaners in a Bottle ~
This is very similar to the straws, but can include a fun color element to the toy as well. You can find the full description here. This one would make a fun gift and is a great way to have this activity grow with your child!
~ Buttons in a Jar ~
Adding a fun sound can increase the interest of in and out games and incorporate more of their senses. Using a metal (or glass as long as you are supervising closely) container can create a wonderful clanking sound that is sure to delight your toddler each time they hear it! We used an old baking soda container that already had a small opening on the top and some large over-sized buttons to create this effect, but have also used the buttons in small glass baby food jars and puffs containers. I’ve also heard formulas cans with a slit cut in the top work great for this!
These are just a few ideas to get you started, but once you start looking you will start to find all sorts of containers and objects that will work for practicing in and out! For example, I noticed that the slit in my on-the-go coffee cup was the perfect size for putting popsicle sticks through, and the opening on a water bottle worked great for putting colorful clothespins in and out. Be creative, and then sit back and enjoy the quiet time you will get as your child does it over and over and over.