Freedom to see how things work is a great thing. This science-through-play activity teaches cause and effect for toddlers and preschoolers. Two positive approaches will set the stage for success.
First, enjoy cars in cornmeal where cleanup is easy. For us, from high chair through high school, and even now, that space is often the kitchen where discovery is more important than spillguarding. Expect a little cornmeal to hit the floor. It’s okay. If necessary, use a splat mat.
Second, practice your positive instructions:
“Keep the cornmeal in the pan,” rather than, “Don’t spill!”
“Keep the truck down,” rather than “Don’t throw the truck!”
Specific encouragement, “I see you’re driving the bulldozer!” instead of nonspecific praise, “Good job!”
Fill a large, shallow container about an inch full of cornmeal and provide “diggers” and cars to push through the cornmeal. I recently gave this as a gift using a 10×13” nonbreakable cake pan with a snap-on lid, and a miniature bulldozer I purchased at a local farm/home/hardware store that sells various diecast and plastic Caterpillar and John Deere toys. Select at least one pusher and one loader. Let your child put other other non-chokeable found treasures — rocks, shells, etc. — in the cornmeal to lift, stack, and move as well. (No trucks in the toy box yet? Little cars will work for your child to enjoy making patterns running the wheels through the cornmeal.)
About “diggers.” This is a great time to commit to informed language. As your child’s first teacher, help develop your child’s curiosity, observation, discrimination and language skills by calling things their real names. Children can learn words well before they can actually pronounce them; look for positive, engaging experiences expressed in language to connect those brain neurons. Fun with authenticity.
Bulldozer – an earth mover with a large front scoop that has a wide, upright blade for pushing and lifting large amounts of dirt, sand … and cornmeal!
Excavator – a large construction machine with a bucket on a rotating arm used for digging trenches and holes. Excavators move on tracks.
Backhoe – an earth mover with a digging bucket on a long jointed arm in the back; a large, square “loader” bucket on the front for scooping, and a seat that swivels to face both ways.
Wheels and “crawler tracks” – Heavy machinery may ride on wheels or tracks. Toy tracks can get lost quickly when removed and shot like rubber bands into landscape plantings. Just saying (!)
“Cherry picker” – These traveling cranes move into position and raise a work platform/basket high off the ground for access to tall trees, utility poles, and more.
Forklift – A forklift is a powerful, compact truck used to pick up and move heavy objects. (Less common in toy diggers, but occasionally seen on construction sites and in industrial settings, is the scissor lift – a motorized vehicle with a railed platform used for lifting objects and workers up to high areas.)
Bobcat – an all-around utility work machine, also called a skid-steer loader because of how the wheels work, for loading, hauling, towing.
It’s a good day when you come across these trucks in your community and can stop for a few minutes to watch. Some children will pass through this phase by about five years old, others will take this passion into successful engineering careers.
One last thing ~ This can be a pre-writing game as well. With your finger, trace a line in the cornmeal and invite your toddler to run the truck/car on that line. Draw a new line and try for left to right, and again top to bottom. When those are all easy, make the line wavy, then zigzag. This point-to-point tracing is an early developmental step for handwriting, which is an early step for reading.