The Shape-Swat Game


When I was teaching first grade I used to play  “the fly swatter game” with my students. It’s a great game that you can use to teach and reinforce basically any concept that you want your kids to learn. It’s a lot of fun, takes very little prep time or materials, and can be played for as short or as long a time as you have. You can adapt this game to work with kids as young as 2, but it’s also a lot of fun for older kids (I could even see playing a version of this game with high schoolers!).

IMG_0843To play, all you need is a fly swatter and some cards with your “learning concept” of the moment. For my 2 year old, I decided to focus on shapes and colors, but you could really use anything you want your kids to learn (see variations at the end of this post). My friend Krista told me about a website called that has lots of fun, high quality free printables. I found some neat shape templates on the website and printed them off.

Then I just cut out the shapes for my “cards”.
*Note* If you want to be able to reuse your cards, glue your shapes onto cardstock or construction paper for some added durability.

I used blue painter’s tape to tape the shapes up on the wall. Then I gave my little guy his flyswatter and showed him how to swat the shapes on the wall gently (which, in little boy speak, apparently means to strike repeatedly with all your force) .

When it was time to play, I started by saying a shape for him to find: “Find a triangle.” or “Find a square.” and he’d try to swat it. Then we played with colors: “Find a blue shape.” and “Find a yellow shape.”. Then we got really fancy. “Find a green square.”, “Find a round, red shape.” “Find something the same color as the sun.”

The fun thing about this game is that you can really make up whatever questions you want to to keep things interesting. When David would answer incorrectly or have trouble finding what I was asking for, I used it as a teachable moment to show him the correct answer and explain why it was correct. David was having so much fun playing that I doubt he even knew he was learning. Plus, he got to run around the room and hit Mommy’s wall on purpose–every little boys dream come true.

Here are a few variations of the game if you want to play at home with your little ones:

  • If you have 2 or more kids, have a race. Have both kids start at a designated spot with their fly swatters behind their backs. Then call out a card for them to find and have them race to see who can find it first.
  • Hide the cards around the room (but still make them visible without having to move anything) instead of just putting them on the wall. Make your kid run around to find the correct one.
  • Play with animal cards- say an animal’s name or sound and kids have to find the correct picture
  • Play with number cards- say a number or “what comes next: 1,2, __?” and kids have to find the numeral. For older kids, have them find the sum or solution to a math equation (3+2+? , 6-1+?, 3×2=?)
  • Play with letter cards- say a letter’s name or the sound it makes and kids have to find the correct letter. For older kids, you can use letter cards for spelling (find the last letter in the word “chair”).
  • Play with sight words (for ages 4 and up): put a different sight word on each card
  • Play with feelings (as long as you don’t hurt any–hehe!)- do a Google search for people making different faces (happy, sad, surprised, etc.) and print them off for your cards. Have your little one find the different emotions.

The possibilities are endless. Have fun playing with learning!

School Skills For Babies and Toddlers, Part 3: Math

Now that we’ve got reading and writing under control, we’ll tackle math. I have found that most adults seem dislike math or think it’s too hard, but children LOVE it! Math is fun, and somehow as we grow older it becomes “work” and we forget how much fun it really is. Plus, math skills are so important, both in and out of school, as children and as adults. Since math skills build upon each other, it’s really important for kids to have a firm grasp on the basics before they can move on. Setting a firm foundation in math skills is one way you can ensure success, and not frustration, when your child gets to school. Learning should be fun for kids and part of your daily life–no flash cards or lectures necessary! You can start doing any of these things with your baby or toddler to help prepare them for their math days ahead.

Number Concepts:


  • Count- Count everything-the numbers on a mailbox, how many apple slices your child is eating for lunch, how many buttons are on his shirt, how many stairs you walk up to the nursery. If you’re feeling fancy, count by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s as well. Don’t forget to include zero sometimes, and count backward as well!
  • Ordinals- Talk about ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) as you see them in your world (“The tree is the first plant by our fence, the rose bush is second, and the shrub is third.”).
  • Represent numbers- Show your child with concrete examples of what each number represents. For instance, get a group of five objects and count them together: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You can then show them the number 5 and say “This is a five. When we see the number five, we can think of five ____.”
  • More or less- As you’re playing with blocks or Legos, make groups of objects that are obviously more or less (and towers that are shorter or taller). Talk about which group  has more and which one has less, or point out which tower is taller and which one is shorter. You can even throw in the words “most” and “tallest” for some added challenge.
  • Sing number songs and say number rhymes like “One, Two Buckle My Shoe” and “The Ants Go Marching”


  • Point out colors- Find colors all around you, and talk about them. Talk about the colors on your child’s clothes, the colors of his favorite toys, and the colors on his dinner plate. It’s also helpful to point out color variances (a light blue ball versus a dark blue train).
  • Sing about colors- We like to sing about the colors we see. As I’m getting David dressed in the morning we’ll sing a song to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush”: “David is wearing his yellow shirt, yellow shirt, yellow shirt. David is wearing his yellow shirt, all day long.” and we’ll repeat the song with as many different articles of clothing as we can.
  • Do a color sort- Find an object that is a single color and have your child find other objects in the room that are the same color. Repeat with another object of another color. Start a collection of “green things” or “blue things” that you can add to throughout the day.


  • Look for shapes in your world- Find circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and rhombuses (the official name for diamonds) all around you. Point them out on road signs, in the grocery store, in books and when you’re playing in the park
  • Name 3-D shapes- As you’re pointing out shapes to your little one, don’t forget to show them 3-D shapes like spheres (balls), cones (ice cream cones), cubes (square boxes), and cylinders (an empty oatmeal container or soup can).


  • Talk about what you’re doing first, what you’ll do next, and what you’ll do last (“First we’ll take off your dirty diaper, then we’ll wipe your bottom, and last we’ll put on a clean, dry diaper”).
  • Point out things that you did yesterday (or this morning), and give your child a preview about what will happen tomorrow (or what will happen after lunch, after his nap, etc).
  • Show how things change over time- show your toddler a picture of him as a baby, point out his empty plate after dinner (where once there was food, now it’s gone!), let your baby watch–from a safe distance–as you boil water for tea (see how hot and bubbly the water got!).


  • Find patterns around you- The stripes on his shirt, the lines going down the middle of the road, the spots on a leopard at the zoo.
  • Create patterns together- Pick out two colors of blocks, and lay them out in an alternating “AB” pattern (red, blue, red, blue…). Have your child help you continue your pattern.
  • Find patterns in books- Many stories have language patterns that are pretty easy to pick out. Find these patterns and talk about them. Also, many books that your child may be familiar with have patterns (For instance, many books have a pattern of 3’s: 3 pigs, 3 bears, 3 wishes).

Sorting and Matching
You can really sort anything. Just choose a property(size, shape, color, feel), and start sorting! You’ll have to do the sorting for the tiny ones, but your toddler can help out or even start doing it on his own.

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  • Have your toddler help you sort socks when you’re folding the laundry. Two birds, one stone.
  • Sort objects by type: crayons in one pile, balls in another pile
  • Sort objects by size: big sticks in one pile, small sticks in another pile
  • Sort objects by color: purple toys here, green toys there, and yellow toys over there
  • Sort objects by use: toys in one pile, clothes in another pile
  • Sort objects by feel: rough materials here, smooth ones there
  • Do puzzles
  • Match two halves: Cut a picture in half. Match the two ends together to complete the picture.
  • Have your toddler help you sort the silverware as you’re putting away the dishes.


  • Talk about long, longer, longest; tall, taller, and tallest; small, smaller and smallest; big, bigger and biggest; and short, shorter, shortest. Find examples around your house.
  • Measure an object (or your child!) with “non-standard units”. How many Legos tall is the chair? How many toothpicks long is Mommy’s shoe?
  • Weigh produce at the grocery store. Which is heavier: the watermelon or the onion?
  • Record your child’s height on a growth chart and watch how he grows over time.
  • Pour the same amount of liquid into different sizes of containers to see how the surface area changes
  • Have your toddler help you measure ingredients while you’re cooking together
  • Hold different-sized objects to feel which is heavier and lighter

Math is all around us, and your baby or toddler will love learning with you!