Under-threes play ideas - animals

Make the most of children's interest in all kinds of animals

In black and white

  • Create a small collection of black and white animals using puppets, soft toys, cloth cutouts and so on.
  • While holding each animal, sing an appropriate song or rhyme. For example, sheep - 'Baa, baa, black sheep'; cat - 'Ding-dong bell, pussy's in the well'; dog -'How much is that doggy in the window?'
  • Offer the baby the animals to hold as you sing the song or say the poem.
  • With an older child, sing the song or say the poem and challenge him to pick the animal to illustrate the words you use.

Crazy pairs

  • Draw five or six animals on A4 card, making all the necks the same width and a little longer than they should be, then colour them in. Choose animals that the children in your setting will recognise.
  • Cut each of the animals at the neck to create sets of heads and bodies.
  • Play a matching game with a difference by piecing together two halves that don't match to create a 'crazy animal'. Enjoy the children's laughs and giggles.
  • Encourage turn-taking and sharing.

Go fishing

  • Cut out a set of fish shapes made from sponge.
  • Place the shapes into a bowl of water.
  • Offer the children small pet shop 'fish' nets, a spatula, a ladle or a scoop to 'catch' the fish.
  • Offer challenges, suggesting they catch the 'blue' fish or the 'big' fish and so on.

Animal world

  • Create a three-sided area in the room using a big cardboard box.
  • Attach a range of synthetic animal furs to two sides of the box with Velcro.
  • Place the box beside a wall mirror or cover the third wall of the box with reflective paper.
  • Lay a large piece of synthetic animal fur on the floor.
  • Place a range of soft toy animals in the area for the children to explore. Include 'squeaky' animals or animals that rattle.
  • Place a range of animal print boxes or trays in the area so they can hide the toys or carry them around.
  • Encourage the toddlers to make the animal sounds.
  • Use the animal names when they select the animals.

Feed the animals

  • Make animal faces and cut out mouths big enough for a tennis ball, or similar, to drop through.
  • Display them at different heights so that the children can roll, drop or place 'food' into their mouths.
  • Give the children a range of sizes and textures of balls that they can use to 'feed' the animals.

Sound it out

  • Gather some soft toy animals or plastic animals that make familiar sounds. Place them into a box covered with animal print, if possible.
  • Sit on the floor with one or two young children and explain that you have a selection of animals inside. Open the box and let them explore, encouraging them to name the animals and make their sound.
  • Invite them to place the animals back in the box and put the lid on. Then challenge them to guess what animal you will take out. Make that animal's sound as a clue.
  • Invite them to choose an animal and make its sound.

Two little dicky birds

  • Draw two simple bird 'faces' on your index fingers.
  • Say the rhyme using your fingers to illustrate.
Two little dicky birds sitting on a wall. (Wiggle the two fingers with the faces)
One named Peter, one named Paul. (Wiggle one finger, then the other)
Fly away Peter, Fly away Paul. (Hide your hands behind your back)
Come back Peter, Come back Paul! (Bring your hands back but keep your index fingers hidden in your fist, whilst showing your middle fingers instead)

  • Encourage the children to look under your arms, behind your back, under the chair and so on for Peter and Paul.
  • Complete the rhyme again inviting the children to say 'Come back Peter, come back Paul.'
  • This time, allow the birds to return.

Sea world

  • Encourage the children to play with a range of small-world sea creatures in a bowl filled with water or strips of crepe paper .
  • Sing little rhymes as the children play. For example, make up rhymes to the tune of 'The wheels on the bus': ‘Here’s a little fish going splish, splash, splosh’.

When using these suggestions, make sure that your resources are clean and safe for young children and that the activity is age appropriate - the ideas outlined cover the birth to three age range 

Based on ideas by Alice Sharp, managing director of training and resources company, Experiential Play, http://www.experientialplay.com

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