Taters ‘n Tots

This is the last post in my series of favorite toys. So far we’ve looked at how your toddler’s development can be strengthened through playing with puzzles, a variety of games, nesting toys, and Play-Doh (twice!). I hope you’ve been inspired to engage your little one in some fun-filled learning, and I hope this latest post will do the same.

The last toy on my list is another oldie, but goodie: Mr. Potato HeadThanks to the Toy Story franchise, this toy is as popular as ever. Whenever I introduce a child to this toy, I always introcude a classic Mr. Potato Head. Sometimes the number of pieces can be overwhelming, and the classic lends itself to an easy solution. All I have to do is limit the number of pieces I make available for play. Then, as a child’s interest increases, I add accessories, different sized heads, and even characters (Darth Tater or Captain America anyone?).

How Can Mr. Potato Head Teach Your Child?

    1. Body Parts. Mr. Potato Head’s most obvious lessons have to do with body parts.

      Depending on your child’s age, you may start with simple identification. For little ones, I’ll have the child identify his own body part first – an arm, for example – then I’ll ask him to identify the same part on the toy. Sometimes I’ll turn it around and I’ll name each piece as he picks it up. Then, I’ll ask him to point to the same part on himself. Once he’s gotten identification down, I’ll move on to functions. Which one do we see with? or Mr. Potato Head needs to smell, what does he need so he can smell? are great questions for moving from simple identification to deeper understanding of function.

    2. Fine Motor. It can be hard work for little fingers to push and pull. Practicing with a toy, like Mr. Potato Head, helps build strength and coordination. Your toddler’s strength and coordination will both grow through pushing and pulling the pieces in and out of the holes.  Also, as she uses both sides of her body to insert those pieces, and those sides are engaged in different tasks – one hand holding the potato, while the other fits the piece – Mr. Potato Head will naturally develop your little one’s bilateral coordination.

      Take care, if your little one is frustrated to the point of refusing to play with Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head, try substituting Play-Doh for the potato. By using the soft clump of Play-Doh, your child can still build a Potato Head person and work on the other skills discussed in this post without building frustration. (This is just another reason I love Play-Doh.)
    3. Imitation and Pretend Play. I’ve written about the value of pretend play a couple of times before (here and here). All you need is one Potato Head for great pretend play, but if you’ve got two (or more) Potato Heads, you can work on imitation as well. As you build, practice imitation by having your child mimic your actions. Give Mr. Potato Head an ear, then let your little one do the same. When you’ve finished building together, keep the learning going by encouraging him to have his Potato Head copy your Potato Head’s actions. I’ll have our spuds dance or jump or fly. (This also has the added benefit of targeting/reinforcing understanding of action words.)After imitating actions, you can move on to imitating fun sounds and simple words. For sounds, I’ll “beep” Mr. Potato Head’s nose, make eating and drinking noises, and say “uh-oh” when a piece falls off of my potato. You can easily target language skills with words like hat, eyes, nose, shoes, clap (I do this as I hand a child two Potato Head arms), or eat.For pretend play, we’ll add in play food and cups so our Potato Heads can eat and drink. Sometimes, in a therapy session, I’ll taking off my potato’s shoes and lay it down to go to sleep. Kids think this is pretty funny (and, when I think about it, a sleeping potato is pretty amusing). Our family took a trip to Walt Disney World a few years back and, for a fixed price at Once Upon a Toy in Disney Springs, you could fill a box with Potato Heads and accessories. We already had plenty of heads, so we focused on extras. We came back with things like popcorn, drinks, a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar, and Mickey ears. These were great for pretend play.  

      You may not be headed to Disney anytime soon, but you can still find all sorts of Potato Head accessories to enhance and encourage your child’s pretend play, like a beach themed Mrs. Potato Head or Spud Safari.
    4. Size Concepts. Size seems obvious to you and me, but kids, especially little ones, are still learning this concept.superspudThe Potato Head Super Spud is great for reinforcing size concepts. It comes in a huge Potato Head container with oversized eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. Inside it holds smaller potato bodies.

When I use the different sized pieces in this set to target size concepts I’ll start by holding out two pieces of the same type, but different sizes – big and small eyes, for example. Then, I’ll say something like, “You need little eyes. Find the little eyes?” It’s important to show only a single type of piece with different sizes to limit the target learning to size.

If you want to broaden the target learning, put out a mixture, different type pieces of various sizes. Then, ask something like, “Give me the small nose.” This will require sorting through the pile to find the correct object by both type and size. Before starting this skill, be certain your little one understands both size and body parts independently, otherwise this will be too difficult and may lead to frustration.

What to you think about Potato Heads? Are they a favorite in your home? Let me know if you’ve tried any of these Potato Head ideas (or any of the ideas in this series); I’d love to hear your feedback, share your successes, or help navigate you through any difficulties.

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