It's a Saturday night, dinner won't be ready for another 20 minutes, and you just can't take another episode of Little Einsteins. What can you do? Grab your toddler, a flashlight, and some of those toy animals you keep stepping on. It's time for "Name the Animal!"
Depending on the realism of the figurines and the distinctiveness of the animals' characteristics, this should be easy. They may not be able to discern the differences between an impala and a gazelle, but they should be able to identify an elephant easily enough.
For extra fun (and to confuse the dog), imitate the noises the animals make while they walk around larger than life. This doesn't just make the game more interesting, it helps the little one learn.
From Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning:
Multiple stimulations mean better memory. The more regions of the brain that store data about a subject, the more interconnection there is. This redundancy means students will have more opportunities to pull up all those related bits of data from their multiple storage areas in response to a single cue. This cross-referencing of data strengthens the data into something we've learned rather than just memorized.
For example, when we learn about our cars, we store the information in brain association areas under multiple categories that relate to the context with which new information about cars is learned. When we see a car, it goes into the visual image cortex. When we see the word C-A-R spelled out, that information goes into a language-association region. After learning about the internal combustion engine, the association is made with “jet and rocket engines are also powered by internal combustion.” Later we build associational memories with the cars we've grown up with.
Because the information about cars is stored in multiple brain areas, and cross-referencing occurs among these areas when we think about cars, connecting networks of dendrites sprout among these memory storage areas. This circuitry permits multiple cues or stimuli to call forth all our car knowledge instantaneously. Just seeing the word “car” will put our recall systems online to provide all the stored data we have connected pertaining to cars. We may not need all that information, but because the associations activate these circuits, any of the stored information that we do need will be rapidly and efficiently accessible.
If the animal figurines at hand are less than anatomically accurate, like the Little People Animals, give it a try anyway. Your toddler probably knows them intimately and can tell them apart by taste. If it doesn't work, try letter cutouts. You know which sounds those make, but who knows how to impersonate a hippo? No letters? Grab some shapes and nix the sounds. If all else fails, fall back to Plan B.
Have fun making shadows with your little one.
Projecting an image across the room, magnified 100 times, that jumps and dances at your command is cool. You don't need any puppetry skills or special props to make this activity a hit.