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Play to Learn: Hungry Hungry Animal Educational Toys

Up next in our educational toys series are any animal toys that your child may already have, that – of course – “eat” different shapes or items! One of our favorites on the shelf is this hungry hippo* version. This super fun toy is simple to use and offers many ways to change up how your kiddo plays. Our pediatric therapy specialists use their creativity with many toys to encourage imagination when playing. Try to avoid using batteries with this toy right away to encourage your little one to discover the toy without the sounds and lights. We have included some great words and sentences to use with your kiddo to also promote their language development when playing! Have fun “feeding” both the animals and your child’s imagination!

Educational toys encourage simple and combination play

The first thing to try with your toddler is to put the shapes into the animal’s mouth! (Look! It went in! Inside his belly!) You are also not limited to the specific shapes that came with the toy, try other items like fake food items or even household objects to make it fun and silly! (The hippo ate the banana! Yummy! Oh no, the hippo ate the tissue. Yuck!) Using different items like tissues or different sizes of toys is also a great way to incorporate fine motor skills while playing with your child.

puzzle pieces in a pile

Other options for different toys to put into the animal’s mouth to extend play are thin puzzle pieces, you can let the hippo “eat” the pieces, and then dump them out to put the puzzle together! You can feed the hippo different pieces from other toys and encourage sorting the different pieces meant for the hippo and another toy. Feed the hippo pieces from a birthday cake toy and pretend it is his birthday or have a pizza party and make your own pizza to feed the hippo!

When the hippo’s belly is full, encourage your toddler to shake, shake, shake the hippo! (Shake the hippo! He is making noise. It is loud. His belly is full.). Try opening his belly and dumping the pieces out. (The belly is open. The shapes came out.) Encourage your kiddo to shake the hippo in a variety of positions to strengthen their core and legs, like sitting, standing, in a lunge position or even on their belly!

Educational toys promote pre-symbolic play

You can also use utensils from your kitchen, or your kiddo’s plastic utensils, and pretend to feed the hippo with a fork or a spoon. (He is hungry. The tomato is on the spoon. He ate it! Yummy!) This is great to work on with your kiddo because they can practice their fine motor skills while also developing different play skills. Try feeding the hippo with different plastic foods and ask your child if they think the hippo likes the food. (He ate broccoli. Does he like it? He does! Will he like a banana?)

Try taking an empty cup and give the hippo a drink by pretending to pour into his mouth. Encourage your child to pretend to fill the cup and ask if the hippo wants water or milk. You can also fill a cup with the pieces from different toy sets (a toy smoothie maybe? Sounds yummy!) and pour them into the hippo’s mouth. (He is drinking. The pieces are going into his mouth.)

kid feeding his toy bear

Toys and pretend play to advance your child’s play skills

Pretend play is a great way to help your child develop their play skills, and their social skills! You can use the hungry hippo as an educational toy to re-create routines at home or made-up routines to encourage creativity and imagination! Try putting the hippo in a plastic bin, along with any other toy your kiddo wants and pretend to drive them all around your home. (The hippo is in the car. He’s driving.)The hippo can take the other toys on the tour, or show them his “favorite” room, or even describe what each room is for in your home. (Hippo’s favorite room is the toy room. He likes all his toys! The kitchen is where we eat.) This is a great way to integrate your home routines, the hippo can teach the other animals how to take a bath, how to clean their room, and how to brush their teeth!

child in diaper sitting on floor playing with toy

You can also pretend to play “doctor” to help make hippo feel better after being hurt. You can use masking tape as a band-aid and encourage your kiddo to decorate them beforehand. They can practice their coloring skills and use their favorite color. (The hippo tripped and fell. He hurt his knee. The band-aid is on.)

Learn more about toys and pediatric play therapy

These are some simple but fun ideas that you can use to encourage your kid to play with a toy they have in new ways. This can help you challenge their play and make it more fun! Have fun playing pretend and watching your child learn! We also have tons of awesome information on our resources page, including educational toys and activities to help your child learn and grow.

childrens toy cake

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Written by Sophia Aspin, PT, DPT

* Third-party links in this blog are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Milestone Therapy of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual.