All Posts by Katie Menko

About the Author

My name is Katie Menko, and I’m wife to Justin and mom to Asher and Aiden. We live in Royal Oak, MI where I (try to) balance my time between living life with my boys and being a middle school special education teacher. I am entering my tenth year in teaching and feel blessed to work with students who always inspire me and stretch my thinking. I’m also a Montessori student-turned-parent! I attended Montessori school preschool-6th and want to pass on my love for Montessori-style learning to my sons. I believe education should be hands-on, engaging, and should meet the child or student where they are at.

Nov 20

How Kids Can Help to Spread Kindness in the Holiday Season

By Katie Menko | Power Of Play

I have many hopes from my boys when I think about their futures, but certainly one of the greatest on that mental list is that they have a true spirit of kindness. Kindness is something that has always been important, but I feel like it is so needed in our world right now. The holidays are a specific time when an extra bit of thoughtfulness can really help to brighten a day. I truly believe that acts of kindness are something that even young toddlers can participate in and begin to understand. This holiday season, I’ve been reflecting on the activities we have done in the past and brainstorming new activities my boys can do to help show care for others. There are so many great possibilities for various ages; these are a few of those ways that kids can help to spread kindness this holiday season:

Tie Fleece Blankets

As we start to enter the colder months, many organizations are accepting blanket donations. No-sew fleece blankets are a great way for kids to get involved with contributing to this need. I plan to make some of these with my three year old this holiday season to donate. As we work on tying together he will of course be developing his fine motor skills, but even more importantly, he will be experiencing what an act of kindness means. We will talk together about what the blankets are for and how they might help someone else. Some organizations even have a warehouse where individuals and groups can come and volunteer to help make blankets with materials that they already have. Fleece & Thank You and Project Linus are two local organizations/chapters in Michigan that share blankets with children who are hospitalized, seriously ill, or who have experienced trauma, but there are many similar organizations nationwide. 

Make Holiday Cards for Family, Friends, Neighbors, & Those in Need of a Smile

This activity is a favorite for my boys and it’s a great one for even young toddlers to participate in. I use blank cards or cut and fold blank cards out of cardstock. I add them to a tray along with some holiday stamps, stickers, and Kwik Stix or crayons. My boys really enjoy creating with these materials and choosing who they are making cards for. When I first set it out or when they are working, I remind them of some of the people they could send a card to. I like keeping this tray out on a shelf throughout the holiday season because then they can make a card whenever they choose to. They’re perfect to mail to family, friends, or neighbors to give them an extra smile or there are many retirement communities and organizations for children who are hospitalized that are looking to receive cards. Cardz for Kids and Cards for Hospitalized Kids are two organizations that collect cards for this purpose. 

Shop/Search for Toys to Donate

Shopping or searching for toys to donate would be a wonderful tradition to start each holiday season. As the holidays approach, organizations like Toys for Tots and Salvation Army will be accepting toy donations to gift to children in need. I think this act of kindness is one that children of most ages can connect to and understand (at least at a basic level for older toddlers and preschoolers). Kids could shop with parents to pick out toys to donate or go through their toys and games to find gently used ones to pass along. 

Make Care Packages for UPS and Other Delivery Workers

I always imagine the work of delivery drivers and postal workers to be tiring, but even more so this time of year. During this holiday season, making a care package or basket to leave on the porch for delivery workers is another way that kids can help to spread some kindness and gratitude. Ours will probably include items like water bottles, power bars, snacks, and hand warmer packets. Toddlers and preschoolers can help with simple parts of this activity like moving water bottles and snacks into the basket and opening up variety pack bags of snacks. Older kids could help with choosing and purchasing items for the care basket or writing a note to say thank you. 

Bake Treats for Family, Friends, Neighbors, etc

I love this act of kindness for various ages. There are so many fun treats to be made in the holiday season and many kids love to bake and help bake! Some examples of how my youngest helps with baking at 18 months are: dumping prepared ingredients into a bowl, pressing cookie cutters into dough, and sprinkling decorations on with a small spoon. Older kids could have more independence with this and depending on age, bake the treats themselves! Treats could be shared with family, friends, neighbors, teachers, etc. Kids could also help to organize a holiday bake sale and choose an organization to donate the proceeds to. 

Help to Rake and Shovel 

This would be a great way for older kids and teens to help spread some seasonal kindness. We have generous neighbors who have shown us this kindness over the years and it always warms my heart and in specific instances has made a day much more manageable. Helping to shovel snow or rake leaves for a neighbor is a great way to model kindness for kids. Age appropriateness for this activity really depends on your child and what they can manage. I know my three year old would love to work along beside me on a project like this with the basic understanding that we were doing something kind for a neighbor. I love this simple and free (as long as you have a shovel/rake) way for kids to learn about spreading kindness and making someone’s day just a little simpler. 

These are just a few ideas for how kids can help to spread kindness this holiday season. I love that even at a young age, kids can start to participate in these acts and experience what it means to care for someone else. I have many hopes for my boys’ future and many values and skills that I hope they will develop, but kindness is certainly one of the greatest. Hopefully modeling this for today’s children will help to add more kindness to our world for years to come! Do you plan to do any of these with your kids this holiday season? 

Sep 30

Sibling Play Ideas

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

5 Simple Sibling Play Ideas

At 18 months and 3 years, my boys love to do the same activities. As my youngest has gotten older, his interest in the toys and activities that his brother is playing with has continued to grow. I love these interactions for many reasons- it’s fun to see them bonding as siblings, observing my oldest playing is a great learning model for my youngest, and it provides both of them with situations to practice social skills. So, since my youngest was around 8 months old, I’ve been thinking about ways to encourage sibling play and set up activities that are developmentally appropriate for both of them. Usually that involves modifying or differentiating an activity a bit so that it can be safe for my youngest or more challenging and engaging for my oldest. Here are some ideas for sibling play that my boys have loved the most (and that are easy to set-up!):

Sensory Bins 

Sensory bins are one of my sibling play go-to’s because they are easy to set-up, beneficial for skill building, and usually pretty engaging! Ages for these can depend on each child’s development, interests, and the type of sensory material you use, but my boys started playing with these together when my youngest was about 10 months. Many things can work for a bin- a plastic under bed storage bin, a wooden tray, or a plastic basin from the dollar store. A sensory table would be another great option for this kind of sibling play! 

For sensory materials at younger ages we’ve used sand, snow, and clear or dyed water. Now that my youngest is no longer mouthing objects we’ve used dry beans, plain and dyed rice, dry peas, kinetic sand, and play foam. I always include a few spoons, cups, or even pots and pans in the tray and they love pouring, scooping, and transferring together. For older toddlers and preschoolers, an extra element can be added by hiding objects inside the bin for them to find and match! I’ve hidden small foam shapes, letters written on a paper towel roll that I cut up into rings, different colored objects to find and sort into colors, and more. There are so many possibilities! Sensory bins are definitely a sibling play favorite at our house.

Katie Menko

Small World Play

Small worlds are similar to sensory bins and are another great option for sibling play. There are so many amazing and creative ideas out there for small world setups on Pinterest. I like to keep these pretty simple when my boys are playing together. These are some ideas that we’ve used- kinetic sand with some small trucks, animal figures with fake dirt or bowls of water, small cars with roads and little blocks or empty boxes for buildings. There are definitely tons of options and I love that this kind of play encourages imagination and usually cooperative play.

Modifications for Babies

When my youngest was between 6 to 10 months he was not quite ready to handle different objects his brother was playing with and exploring but he still wanted to be included. At this age I would modify by placing smaller toys, nature items, and sensory materials in Ziploc bags and taping them closed or in clear jars and gluing the lids shut if needed. Even though he was a baby, this made it possible for him to be able to explore and enjoy the same things my oldest was playing with.

Katie Menko

Gross Motor

Sibling play ideas that involve movement are perfect for rainy days! For indoor gross motor activities for siblings, ribbon pulls and indoor scavenger hunts have been a favorite at our house. For my oldest, I taped ribbons higher up on the wall so that he could jump or climb on a step stool to reach and pull them off.  This can be modified for babies by taping ribbons lower on the wall to encourage reaching, crawling, and/or walking. For indoor scavenger hunts, objects like animal figures, puzzle pieces, or flashcards can be hidden around the house for older siblings to find. For babies, the same cards or objects can be taped to the front edge of the couch or a low table. This kind of play also can encourage crawling, pulling up, cruising and walking.

Katie Menko

Play Dough

Play dough is a classic and simple option for siblings to play together that can be changed up for different ages in a few ways.  This DIY recipe has been my favorite for play dough, especially when my youngest was still putting objects in his mouth. Older toddlers and preschoolers might enjoy some wooden play dough tools, cookie cutters, and other small objects added like pipe cleaners and pom-poms to create with. For older babies and younger toddlers it can be difficult to handle the tools and cookie cutters if their fine motor skills aren’t ready for that yet. To avoid making this into a frustrating activity, I’ve given my youngest rubber stamps to use with play dough. They are usually easier to grasp and he loves to see the picture or pattern they make when he pulls them up.  

These are just some of the ways my boys have been enjoying sibling play in the past year. I love that play time together gives them a chance to learn how to work together and practice skills like sharing. I also love that it just gives them a chance to spend time together as siblings! It can be tricky to come up with play ideas for different ages, but having materials that are easy to set up definitely helps! What are some of your kids’ favorite activities for sibling play?
Sep 16

Middle School Sensory Toolkit

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

As a middle school resource room teacher for ten years, sensory challenges were things I saw my students dealing with on a daily basis.

Some of them struggled with Sensory Processing Disorder and others had sensory challenges related to other needs. They had a huge spectrum of sensory needs since some were seeking more sensory input in various forms and others needed less sensory input. 

As students enter into middle school and are participating in inclusive classroom settings, it can become more difficult to find sensory tools to meet their input needs within the classroom. However, these tools were essential to helping my students stay regulated and setting up the best possible environment and opportunity for them to be happy and successful. Over the years, I have seen numerous sensory recommendations from occupational therapists, parents, other teachers, and pediatricians. Seeing my students utilize these tools helped me to see what worked well and come up with some of my own recommendations. If you are searching for ideas to meet the sensory needs of a middle school student, consider adding some of these to your classroom sensory toolkit.

Stress and Squishy Balls

Stress and squishy balls are a great tool for many sensory needs. They can work well for sensory seekers because they work the hand muscles and have many different textures available. They can also be calming and have helped my students to relieve some of the stress they experience in school. These “Stressed by Design” balls have tons of fun colors to choose from!

Isoflex Stress Ball - Tie Dye

Stressed by Design Stress Balls

Pencil Grips

I have also seen some pencil grips and pencil toppers that helped my students to meet their sensory needs. There are different types of fidget pencil toppers that have spinners other pieces to move. ARK and Chew Stixx both make chewable pencil toppers, which worked well as a replacement for students who chewed erasers, pencils, pen caps, or other objects to meet sensory needs or as a result of anxiety. Massaging pencil grips can also be great for sensory seekers!

Dough/Play Foam/Putty

Putty, foam, and play dough can work really well for students who need more sensory input. Thankfully, there are tons of options these days for different types of dough and putty that often can be found in small containers – perfect for sticking in a pencil bag or binder! Toyology carries some great choices – Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty and “Scentsory” Putty come in tons of colors and have extra options like heat sensitivity for color changing, scents, and magnetism! Play foam and kinetic sand can also be helpful for students who need more sensory input. The only downfall to putty and foam that I’ve observed is that they can be a little messier than other tools, but they often worked really well for my students.

Thinking Putty

Thinking Putty - SCENTSory

Play Foam

Mad Mattr

Wikki Stix

These are another convenient and small toolkit option for sensory seekers or students who are more successful with fidgets. They are mess-free and also pretty open-ended in ways they can be used.

Wikki Stix

Worry Stones

Worry stones, also sometimes called sensory stones, are something I discovered about three years into my teaching. They are small, easily portable stones with a thumb indentation or different grooves or bumps. Holding and rubbing these were helpful to my students with a range of needs due to Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, and anxiety. I kept a few of these as part of my classroom sensory toolkit and they were so useful!

Tangle Jr.

The Tangle and Tangle Jr. toys are another fidget favorite that were recommended by occupational therapists and parents. This fidget toy is able to pivot at each joint and can be shaped in many different ways. It exercises the finger muscles and is another great option for sensory input that can easily be added to a zipper binder or pencil case. 

Tangle Jr. Classic

Light Filters

These covers are amazing for any classroom teacher to have on-hand or up permanently! They cover harsh fluorescent lights and give them a softer glow. They can be a perfect solution for students who receive too much sensory input and become dysregulated from the bright lights. These filters can also create a more calming and conducive learning environment for all students!

Those are some of my favorite recommendations for a sensory toolkit for middle school! Some other ideas to consider for sensory needs for middle school students:

  • Earbuds/headphones to help block out noise
  • iPad, iPod, or some device that can play music for times of sensory overload
  • Wrist weights, pencil weights for students whose sensory needs require pressure
  • Pin art – another great tactile option for sensory seekers
  • Koosh balls
  • Small massagers
  • Sensory brushes

Many of these “tools” are small and easy for students to carry with them from class to class; and they would also be beneficial for classroom teachers to add into their own toolkit for their classroom! Since students have a wide range of needs and it can become more challenging to make sure items travel with them consistently between classes, I found that it was useful to have my own kit of various tools to help with sensory integration. Whatever your role is in working with students with sensory needs, or middle school students in general, I hope these ideas will be helpful to you!

Jul 22

Posting & Peg Work: Toys & DIYs That Encourage These Fine Motor Skills

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

Infant and toddler years are such HUGE years for fine motor development. My youngest is 15 months old and he has really been enjoying different types of fine motor activities lately. Specifically, he has been so focused on two different types of fine motor activities- peg work and posting work.

Peg activities and posting (placing an object in a hole, slot, or other kinds of opening) are important activities for developing visual motor planning skills. Posting activities specifically help with understanding object permanence (the idea that the object doesn’t just disappear for good when they drop it into a container). They also can help with fine motor coordination and hand strength as children often use a pincer grasp or the tripod grasp to pick up and place the objects. These skills are building blocks for writing and reading later on!

My youngest started developing an interest in peg and posting activities around 10 months, but I want to stress that this can happen at a wide range of ages! My 3-year-old still enjoys these same activities with his brother. You can follow your child’s developmental cues and activities you observe them doing naturally to see if they are at a place where they are strengthening these skills and would be interested in this work. For example, is your child…

  •     Grasping and picking up objects?
  •     Releasing objects intentionally?
  •     Using a pincer grasp to pick up objects?
  •     Putting objects into a container or basket, and then taking them back out?
  •     Following and tracking objects as they move with their eyes?

If so, then they may be ready for some peg and/or posting work activities! There are some great DIY activities for both of these options that we’ve tried at home, as well as toys and materials that encourage these fine motor skills.

DIY Peg Activities 

Pegs/Golf Tees/Craft Sticks in Play Dough or Clay

 This one can be reproduced so many ways! My oldest (3) tried it with clay, golf tees, and small dowels. My youngest (1) did it with play dough and larger wooden dowels I had from the craft store, but it could also be done with craft sticks, toothpicks, and sturdier straws. The clay adds a little more resistance to this activity for little hands with more muscle development. I’ve also seen variations of this using a block of foam instead of clay or play dough. So many great options for this peg work!

Straws onto Bottle Drying Rack

I loved that this DIY peg work was simple to put together and the perfect amount of challenge for my youngest when he was about 14 months! I unearthed my Boon Drying Rack from pump parts and repurposed it for some fine motor fun. With some old plastic straws added in, it was the perfect peg activity!

Pegs into Wooden Board

This one is not as simple to prepare, but the bit of extra effort was worth it. My oldest actually drilled the holes (with supervision) into this scrap wooden board my husband had. I sanded it a bit and then included some wooden pegs and dowels. A bit more challenging because it requires greater precision!

Crayons into Matching Spools

For this DIY peg work, I glued spools of thread (from an emergency mini sewing kit) to a small box lid. I set it out on a tray with crayons that matched the thread colors. My youngest just liked putting the crayons into the spools, but my oldest had the added challenge of matching the colors. This is a great activity to add adaptations to or for siblings to be able to play together!

Toys that Encourage Peg Work

Spike the Fine Motor Hedgehog – This toy is perfect for developing this fine motor skill, and it also builds in more learning through play! The quills can be placed into the holes on the hedgehog’s back- peg work practice! It’s also a great opportunity to expose older toddlers and preschoolers to colors and numbers since the holes have numbers by each one. Bonus- the quills can be stored inside the hedgehog’s back!

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Pounding Bench – We have a similar version of this pounding bench and it is a favorite for both of my boys! My youngest loved inserting the pegs into the holes on the bench around 12 months and they both loved pounding the pegs out again with the hammer!

DIY Posting Activities

Pom Poms in Wipes Container


I used pom-poms for this just because it’s what I had on hand, but I’ve seen many other possibilities for this! Food pouch lids work well too!

Craft Sticks or Straws in Plastic Bottle

This is the first posting activity I ever created for my oldest. He tried it around 12 months and gained confidence the more he worked with it. Dumping the sticks out at the end has been a favorite for both of my boys!

Paper Straws in Large Spice Container

I love that this DIY work offers three different levels based on fine motor development- 1. With the lid completely removed. 2- With the lid on the spice bottle and the large “pour” side of the lid opened. 3- With the lid on the spice bottle and the “sprinkle” side of the lid opened. The sprinkle holes are just large enough for the paper straws to go through. The large spice bottle is from Costco.

Marbles or Pebbles in a Box

For this one, I cut a hole in the top of a cardboard gift box and included some little glass pebbles from the craft store. Marbles, dry beans, or small rocks from outside would work well too! This is a great option for toddlers or preschoolers who are past the stage of mouthing small objects and are able to grasp tinier items.

Cardstock Cutouts into Oatmeal Container

This posting activity can be adapted to fit different themes and/or holidays! This was one of the first activities my youngest tried at around 10 months. I’ve also seen others cut a larger hole in the lid and include wooden blocks for infants to “post” or drop into the container.

Toys that Encourage Posting 

Shape Sorter This is a great option for children who are ready to move beyond more basic posting. It takes a lot of skill coordination- fine motor, visual scanning and planning, and problem-solving. This travel shape sorter would also be fun for a screen-free option to take out! My boys love our shape sorter.

Hoot the Fine Motor Owl Another awesome fine motor toy from Learning Resources! Children can work on posting skills with this one as the coins get dropped into a slot on the owl. We don’t own this one, but it is very similar to the Montessori coin box that we have and it is very well rated! 

My boys have enjoyed these peg and posting activities and toys through a range of ages. They are usually high-interest and are great for fine motor development and so much more! If you have little ones at home or at school who are showing interest in these kinds of activities, hopefully, you can try one out!

Mar 18

Creative Tots: Art Supplies and Activities for 1-3-Year-Olds

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

Introducing art materials and activities to my oldest son has been so fun! Any fear of the messes that will be left behind fades away when I see how excited he is to try out something new and the look of pride as he masters new skills. There are quite a few art materials that can be introduced to toddlers when they are ready, and a variety of ways to introduce them. We like to start simple and make a few modifications to activities so that they can be learned and experienced in small steps. We also like to keep a few materials at a time out on “art trays” for easy access and encouraging choice. Here are a few ideas for art trays and activities to encourage creativity for one to three-year-olds:

Crayons
Crayons are simple, but such an important early learning experience for toddlers. We started using crayons with my boys around the age of 12 months. These jumbo triangular crayons would be a good set of beginning crayons. The size makes them easier for tiny hands to hold, but the shape still encourages a pencil grip for future writing skills. As toddlers, we’ve liked leaving a few crayons out on a wooden tray with blank pieces of white paper. The blank paper encourages creativity and having access to the tray gives toddlers more opportunities to color and build fine motor skills. When learning colors and building language, we also started with just a blue, red, and yellow crayon to signify primary colors.

Jumbo Triangular Crayons
(10 Pc.)

Pasting
Pasting is an important early skill for toddlers. It encourages fine motor skills and cause and effect reasoning. Glue sticks are an excellent option, but another option for even more fine motor control is pasting jars and brushes. Liquid glue can be squeezed into a small jar with a lid and combined with a brush. Another option (that we used when my son was younger) is to use an empty nail polish bottle with liquid glue in it. These pasting bottles/jars also incorporate the skills necessary to unscrew the lid in order to use the glue. For early pasting trays, we set out simple cut-out colored shapes and blank white paper. This encourages open-ended creativity.

Painting

Paint Sticks
Paint Sticks are a great introduction to painting for young toddlers, and give older toddlers many creative options! The stick is easier to grasp and control movement for younger toddlers. They are also quick drying and can be used on so many different surfaces! We do a lot of cardboard box projects (houses, barns, zoos, grocery stores, etc.) so my two-year-old often uses these to decorate those projects. These are also perfect for setting out on an art tray for older toddlers to access.

Kwik Stix
(Classic 12 Pk.)

Washable Finger Paints
Both of our boys’ first painting experiences were with these washable paints. Around the age of 6 months, I placed a piece of white paper with a few dabs of paint on it inside a Ziploc bag. The bag can be taped to the floor for infants to explore and “paint”! This has been such a fun sensory experience for them and a cute keepsake. As young toddlers, we’ve used these paints with these jumbo paintbrushes and large easel paper and blank canvases. These painting sessions offer more opportunities for learning color names through natural exposure.

Watercolors
Watercolors are another open-ended option for older toddler art trays. With watercolors, new fine motor skills are needed to use the thin brushes. Also, this kind of painting continues to improve hand-eye coordination and encourages more creativity. I usually set watercolors, the thin brush, white construction paper, and a small bowl (that will get filled with water) out together for this art tray. Another fun variation is to draw pictures on white paper with chalk. When painted over with watercolors, the “secret” drawings will be revealed!

Buddha Board
The Buddha Board offers a mess-free version of “painting” for toddlers. It comes with the board, a bamboo brush, and a water tray/stand. Kids can paint on the board with water, and the image will darken at first and then fade away. It’s an easy art activity to leave out and accessible since it doesn’t use any actual paint, and it has the benefit of being a calming activity for toddlers too!

The Original Buddha Board

Stickers
Stickers are such a simple and beneficial art activity! We introduced stickers for my older son around the age of 18 months and have watched his skills develop with them over time. For the first year or so, I would cut the stickers into strips if they were part of a larger page to minimize options and make the task less overwhelming. The sticker “background” paper can also be peeled from the backing, leaving just the sticker shapes and the backing. This makes it so much easier for small fingers to peel the stickers off!

Stamps
Stamps are another fun art activity for toddlers, and they have the added benefit of more language exposure. We use this washable stamp pad, and the ink has easily washed right off anything that’s been accidentally stamped. Really any stamps can be used, and for a wide variety of purposes! They are fun for birthday and holiday cards for family and friends, sorting activities, “habitat” scenes, and so much more! My son loves to use things in a purposeful way, so during the holidays, he decorates all of our Christmas presents for others with stamps. Depending on what children are ready for, they can also be given access to wipes or water to clean the stamps themselves. This set or this set would be a great beginning set of stamps for toddlers beginning to build more fine motor control!

My First Wooden Stamp Set (Animals)

These are just a few ideas for open-ended art activities and supplies for one to three-year-olds! Providing toddlers with some of these experiences can help to encourage creativity and fine motor skills, and they can help to build confidence! Well worth any mess left behind in my book!
Mar 03

Play and Learn On-The-Go

By Katie Menko | Toy Guides

As the season for spring break and summer travel planning begins, I’ve been thinking about toys and activities to take on the road. Traveling with kids isn’t easy, but with family out-of-town, it’s something that we’ve done with our boys since they were infants. Having car and plane-ready toys and activities for them has had a significant impact on keeping our adventures smooth for everyone. Here are some products and tips that make play and learning on-the-go easier:
Newborns & Infants:

Baby Paper
This has been a favorite for my boys as babies!  As newborns, it works well hanging on the car seat for babies to gaze at the eye-catching patterns (we use links to attach it). As babies get older and begin grasping, the sound these make is so engaging. Best of all, they’re machine washable!

Baby Paper

Chewbeads Stroller Toy
Chewbeads makes a range of amazing products, but this is one that we love for travel specifically. It easily attaches to car seats and strollers and has a ring for babies to grasp. The silicone material is safe and perfect for teething phases!

Chewbeads

Dimpl
We recently got this for our youngest and its small size has made it perfect for throwing in the diaper bag and taking it on trips! The colored discs that pop in and out are great for early color recognition and building concentration.

Dimpl

PipSquigz Loops
A suction cup keeps this toy from constantly being dropped by little hands and makes it another favorite option for baby play on the go! For littles who love sounds, the colored loops on this rattle when touched which makes it a fun sensory experience too!

PipSquigz Loops

Toddlers & Pre-K:

Melissa & Doug Water Wow Books
These books are so engaging and perfect for travel! They also provide important fine-motor practice for pre-writers. The built-in pen gets filled with water and is used to “paint” and reveal the pictures. When they dry, it can be used again and again! I love that these sets specifically are taste-safe and mess-free for younger toddlers. We have so many of these- a few in the car and one in the diaper bag!

Water Wow Books

Car Track
My boys both love cars and trucks, and having an easy way to continue to having fun with them on the road has been a favorite of theirs. We transformed made a car track scene using construction paper, laminated it (to outlast any travel spills), and added magnet tape to the back. Then, we added magnets to the back of a car set. The car track scene attaches to a cookie sheet, and then the boys can “drive” their magnetized cars around on the track. The magnets really help to eliminate the number of times things are dropped. The imaginative play opportunities this offers are endless- it would also be fun with a construction scene and these construction vehicles!

Cute Cars

Animal Figures
Animal and dinosaur figures are another excellent option for creative play and language building! We’ve also adapted these for fun on the road by adding magnets to them and using a metal cookie sheet. For some added learning opportunities, we’ve printed images of the figures, laminated them, and added magnetic tape to the back for object-to-picture matching. Storing these in pencil bags works well for organization on the go too!

Safari Sidekicks

Tangle Jr.
Traveling for long hours can be so hard for young children (and adults too!) When gross motor release isn’t an option, this Tangle Jr. toy is the perfect way to relax. It provides a relaxing sensory experience because of the way the links move, and it also helps to increase fine motor skills as kids work on finger dexterity. It’s small size and the fact that it can be wiped down easily makes this another great travel toy!

Tangle Jr.

Early Elementary:

Mad Libs
Mad Libs are a timeless travel activity for kids. They’re a fun and entertaining way to mix some reading and writing into travel time. I’ve done Mad Libs with my students for years and they always create so much laughter! These books are great for older children who know some basics about parts of speech.

Mad Libs

Flip to Win Game
These Melissa & Doug games provide a fun and easy way for kids to play together on the road! They don’t have loose parts and they have interchangeable game cards that are stored right in the game board. The travel bingo, hangman, and memory options help to build cooperative play.

Flip to Win:

Memory Game

Melissa & Doug On-The-Go
Along with the Water Wow books, Melissa & Doug have also created all-in-one travel kits for older ages. The Color-N-Carry books have crayons stored in the back of the book and offer tons of coloring and activity pages! The SurprizeINK kits have a built-in invisible ink marker that kids can use to reveal pictures and complete mazes and crosswords. The Magic Velvet sets would be a great option too!

As the season for spring break and summer travel planning begins, I’ve been thinking about toys and activities to take on the road. Traveling with kids isn’t easy, but with family out-of-town, it’s something that we’ve done with our boys since they were infants. Having car and plane-ready toys and activities for them has had a significant impact on keeping our adventures smooth for everyone. Here are some products and tips that make play and learning on-the-go easier: