Twelve educational ways to play with your toddler using a scarf

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Age

Birth to 4 years

Duration of activity

You can play one of these activities anytime you have a spare moment and a scarf handy.

Materials/equipment

A silky scarf or length of fabric. The activities will work best if you have several scarves of different colours and textures.

Cost

This activity will not cost a cent. Use scarves you already have at home.

What to do

Toddlers learn and develop every time they play, and different activities help them learn different things and develop different skills. These ten games you can play with a scarf, will help your child develop a wide range of skills that provide a foundation for future learning success.

1. Following the movement of a scarf (eye tracking)

Suitable for babies
Babies are usually able to follow moving objects with their eyes and reach for things at around three months of age. Lay your baby on their back, so that they can look up at the scarf. Dangle one end of the scarf near their face. Move it the left and then to the right or up and down. Watch your baby’s eyes as you move the scarf. They should be following it. If your baby’s eyes are not moving, it may be that the scarf is moving too quickly for them to follow it. For younger babies you will need to move the scarf more slowly, so that their eyes have time to focus on it and follow its movement.

Learning outcomes

This activity will help your baby develop:

2. Scarf peek-a-boo

toddler-scarf-5 Suitable for babies and toddlers
Peek-a-boo is a classic game that kids still love to play. Take a scarf and hold it in front of your face so that your baby can’t see you. Then remove the scarf from your face and sing, ‘Peek-a-boo’. Place the scarf back over your face. You could say things like, ‘Where are you, I can’t see you?’ while your face is covered. As you reveal your face, make an expression to show your child you’re surprised. Once you have done peek-a-boo a few times, hand your baby the scarf and let them have a turn. Younger babies may just enjoy playing with the scarf. Older babies will probably try to copy you, by holding the scarf over their face and then removing it.

Learning outcomes

This activity will help your baby or toddler to develop:

Safety tips

Don’t leave your child unsupervised with the scarf in case it gets wrapped around their neck.

3. Scarf tug of war

toddler-scarf-2Suitable for older babies
Babies who are old enough to sit up on their own and hold onto a scarf will also love playing a sitting down version tug of war. Sit with them on the floor and hand them one end of a scarf. Tell them to hold on tight and sit up straight so they don’t fall over. Give the scarf a gentle tug forward, so that they have to work to keep their torso up straight. When they have regained their balance, gently tug the scarf to one side. Ask your baby to pull on the scarf and move your body to show them the effects of their tug and show them exaggerated results; they’ll probably enjoy having a laugh at you falling over on your side! 

Suitable for toddlers
Take a scarf and hand one end to your toddler. Take the other end yourself. Explain to your toddler that the aim of the game is for them to pull you towards them. Ask them to hold their end of the scarf tight and pull it you towards them. As they pull, pretend to be pulling back, but move gently towards them. Then gently tug your end of the scarf to pull your child towards you. You may even like to draw a line or place a piece of string on the ground that they have to pull you across. Play until your toddler is tired or shows an interest in playing another game instead.

Learning outcomes

This game is a great way for helping babies and toddlers develop:

Safety tips

It’s quite likely that your toddler or baby will lose their balance and tumble over during this game. Make sure you play on a soft surface like carpet or grass. Ensure there is nothing they might hurt themselves on if they fall over. If you are playing with a baby, set up some cushions around them that they can fall onto.

4. Pulling scarves from a box

toddler-scarf-1Suitable for babies who are sitting up and strong enough to grasp a scarf and toddlers.
You’ll need an old tissue box, a wipes box or something to hide the scarf in. You can hide one scarf or several. If you can’t find a suitable box, stuffing the scarf up the sleeve of a long-sleeved shirt is a good alternative. Prepare to play by pushing the scarf into the box, leaving just a corner or some tassels sticking out. Hand your child the box. You may like to tell them to try and pull the scarf out, or just give them the box and wait and see what happens. It’s fairly likely your child’s curiosity will lead them to start pulling on the scarf without any instruction.

Learning outcomes

This game is a great way for helping babies and toddlers develop:

5. Chasing a scarf

toddler-scarf-3For babies during tummy time
Place your child on their tummy, as you normally would during tummy time. Dangle the scarf where your baby can reach it with their hands and move it around to encourage them to reach out and grasp for it. As they do so, pull the scarf gently. When they let go, move it to a new position so they can reach for it again. As your baby’s range of movement increases, place the scarf further away to encourage crawling. You can also put the scarf to the side of them and show them how to roll over to reach it.

Suitable for crawlers, toddlers and pre-schoolers
Hold a scarf that is long enough to dangle from your hand to the ground. Swish it around in the air in different directions. Tell your child that the aim of the game is for them to catch the scarf, as you move it. As they attempt to catch the scarf, move it out of their reach. Make it float up and down or move in a zig zag pattern to make the activity exciting. After a while let your child float the scarf while you chase it.

You can also play this game by standing still and moving the scarf up and down as if it is bouncing. Your child tries to catch the scarf as it bounces. Bounce it up and down at different speeds for an extra challenge. This is a good option if you’re short of space.

This activity will help babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers develop:

Safety tips:

Crawlers, toddlers and pre-schoolers: make sure you have plenty of space to move around and there is nothing your child might crash into and break while they’re chasing the scarf.

Babies: don’t leave your baby unattended while they are lying on their tummy. If you need to move away from them, even if only for a short period of time, position them on their back and move objects out of their reach. Make sure the scarf is washed as baby is likely to stick it in their mouth.

6. Feeling scarves

toddler-scarf-6Suitable for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers
Take a scarf and rub it gently across your child’s face. Move it to tickle them behind their ear. If your child is old enough to grasp the scarf, hand it to them and let them rub it on your skin and their own skin. It they start rubbing themselves with the scarf, it’s a good indication that they enjoy the sensation and are interested in exploring it more. Encourage your child to touch different parts of their skin with the scarf, as they hold it in different ways (e.g. wrap over a finger or their entire hand). For example they could hold it so the tassels dangle over their skin, or wrap it over a finger which they run along their cheek or leg.

This activity will help babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers:

Safety tips:

Do not leave the child unattended in case they wrap it around their neck. Ensure the scarves are clean as they are likely to end up in your child’s mouth. Do

7. Floating scarves

This game works best if you use a square-shaped scarf made of light fabric that will float easily.

Suitable for babies
If you’re playing with a baby, lay them down on their back, so that they are looking up. Hold the scarf open above your baby. Release it from your hand and watch it float downward. Encourage them to reach out for the scarf and pick it up when it falls.

Suitable for toddlers
If you’re playing with a toddler, show them how to float a scarf and then let them have a go at doing it themselves. Because they are still little, they may need to throw the scarf up a little bit, so that it has height to float down from. They’ll probably enjoy playing this game in the backyard or at the park, with a little bit of wind to help the scarf float. But be careful if there is too much wind- the scarf might float away!

Suitable for pre-schoolers
For pre-schoolers who are learning to count, ask them to guess how long the scarf will take to float to the ground. As they throw the scarf tell them to count and encourage them to keep counting until the scarf reaches the ground.

This activity will help babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers:

Safety tips

Never allow your child to stand on a high surface they could fall from to float the scarf.

8. Scarf hide and seek

Suitable for babies and toddlers.
Scarf hide and seek is a fun game to help your child develop their motor skills and sense of curiosity. You can play the game either by hiding an object under a scarf or by hiding the scarf itself.

Hiding an object under a scarf
Hide an object under a scarf. At first try to make it easy for them by ensuring the lump of the object is visible. As they get used to playing, drape the scarf over the object so it is harder to see the shape of the object, to make it more challenging.

Then try placing several scarves on the ground. Tell your child that there is something hiding under one of the scarves and they need to try and find it. Ask them to point to the scarf they think the object is hidden underneath. Then ask them to lift up the scarf and see if there is anything hiding there. Then ask your child to hide an object you can find.

Hiding the scarf
Take a scarf your child loves and hide it somewhere they can find it safely and fairly easily. For example you could place it under your leg or behind the corner of the sofa. Tell your child their favourite scarf is hiding somewhere in the room and ask them to try and find it. Give them clues if they get stuck. When they have found the scarf, ask them to hide it somewhere so that you can find it.

This activity will help babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers:

Safety tips

Make sure you hide the scarf in a place where your child will not encounter any danger trying to find it. For example, make sure there are no sharp corners they could bump themselves on, and no objects that might fall as they pull the scarf from its hiding place.

9. Dancing with scarves

Suitable for babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers
Most kids love dancing and involving a scarf makes it even more fun. Play some music you and your child love to dance to. Pick up a scarf or two each and wave the scarves around as part of your dance routine. If you have a baby that is still sitting, let them sit and dance with their own scarf, and move the scarf you are holding over their body as you dance. Or you could carry your baby on one hip and dance together holding the scarf in your other hand.

This activity will help babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers:

Safety tips

Ensure your child does not wrap the scarf around their neck while they are dancing. It could get caught up and strangle them if they trip over.

10. Pulling a scarf through a bracelet

Suitable for toddlers
To prepare to play, pull a scarf through a plastic bracelet, so that half the length of the scarf is on one side and half on the other. Hold the bracelet or place it over a door handle so it is secured. Instruct your toddler to hold one end of the scarf in each hand and pull one end of the scarf, then the other end and then both ends. Finally get them to let go of one end and keep pulling on the other until they pull the scarf goes all the way through the bracelet.

This activity will help babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers:

11. Carrying dolly in a scarf sling

Suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers
Most kids love pretending to be adults, and carrying a dolly in a sling is a fun and easy make-believe game, for kids who love pretending to be looking after a baby. Preparation is easy- just find a scarf that’s long enough to wrap around your child’s body, and a doll that they can tie to their back with the scarf. Help your toddler or pre-schooler hold the doll on their back. Place the centre of the scarf over the doll and pull each end of the scarf under your child’s arms, to meet at their chest. Help your child tie the ends at the front of their chest, tight enough so that dolly doesn’t fall out but loose enough that the scarf will not hurt your child. Once dolly is on your child’s back, encourage them to make believe being a parent. For example, you could pretend to hear dolly crying and encourage your child to try settling their ‘baby’ by rocking back and forwards. They may want to take dolly on and off their back, for example to pretend to change a nappy, or simply talk to it as they point out things around the room. Talk to them as they play, for example complimenting them when they do something nice to dolly.

Learning outcomes

This activity will help toddlers and pre-schoolers develop:

12. Blindfold scarf games

Suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers
Children experience sensations like touch and taste differently when their sense of sight is blocked by a blindfold. There are plenty of fun and easy games you can play using a scarf as a blindfold, that help them experience and develop their senses. Preparing is easy- simply find a scarf that can be tied around your child’s eyes to block their vision. You will also need to prepare objects for your child to play with while blindfolded. For example you could have some of their favourite toys or various shaped blocks, and ask your child to feel and guess which ones they are touching while blindfolded. You could have a variety of healthy foods, cut into small pieces so that your child can taste and guess different foods. You could also play a game like pin the tail on the donkey, if you have a blindfold and a group of children.

Learning outcomes

This activity will help toddlers and pre-schoolers develop:

Tips

  • Use colour words to describe the scarves you are playing with, and associate those colours with other objects, as you play. For example say this scarf is blue like the sky or red like our car. Ask your child what colour the scarves are. Even if they are too young to know the names of colours, they’ll learn from hearing you name them and practicing saying the names themselves (even if they get them wrong).
  • You could also use words to describe the shape, size and texture of the scarf. Use simple descriptive words like big and small and encourage your child to also try using these words.
  • Encourage your child to talk about what they are doing and how they feel as they play the game.
  • Encourage your child to predict what will happen when they do something with the scarf (e.g. throw it up in the air or pull it). Being able to predict what will happen is a core problem solving skill and practice makes perfect.
  • Give toddlers simple two-step directions so that they can remember and follow them. At this age they won’t be able to remember a long list of things. Babies will need you to demonstrate, so they can mimic.

Educational outcomes

Gross motor skills

Playing with a scarf is a great way to develop children’s fine motor skills, that is, their ability to use and control the big muscles that move their arms, legs and torso. Whether they’re running or crawling after the scarf, pulling on it in a game of tug of war, lifting up off their tummy to reach for the scarf, waving it around as they dance or bending over to pick it up, they’ll be using and developing these big muscles. As their muscles strengthen, they’ll increase their control over their movements and improve their balance. Their coordination will also improve as they practice moving different parts of their body in different ways.V

Fine motor skills

Fine motor skills are the skills to control the small muscles and movements of the fingers. They develop every time a child uses their fingers, and playing with scarves provides opportunities for babies and children to use their fingers in different ways. Pulling on a scarf, whether in a game of tug of war or through a scarf will strengthen their fist grasp (also known as palmer grasp). Picking the scarf up will help them develop the ability to grasp in different ways, including using just their thumb and index finger (this is known as pincer grip), as will trying to knot the scarf to tie a dolly on their back. They also be experiencing different sensations on their fingers as they feel, rub and pick up scarves of different textures, with and without a blindfold.

Eye tracking and coordination

Brightly coloured scarves are great objects to move around to help develop a baby’s eye tracking skill. This is the ability to focus on an object and follow it with their eyes. It is an important foundation for hand eye coordination, and developing the ability to observe patterns and relationships. Babies usually begin to develop the ability to track objects at around 3 months of age, just before the start developing hand-eye coordination. Soon after they start following objects with their eyes, babies usually start reaching out to grab them. Encouraging them to focus and move their eyes, by placing brightly coloured objects like scarves in their visual field, is a great way to develop these abilities.

Concentration, curiosity and persistence

Playing scarf games provide plenty of opportunities for children to concentrate, be curious and persist. Even as they’re moving frantically to catch a scarf or pulling hard in a game of tug of war, your child will be focusing their mind on what they need to do. Scarf games that let a baby see what happens, like pulling a scarf out of a box are great for encouraging babies and toddlers to explore and be curious. It might seem pretty obvious to you, but your baby or toddler won’t yet be able to predict what will happen when they pull on a scarf or throw it in the air. As they get used to the scarf games, you may notice them using creativity to vary or invent their own games.

Young children will also develop persistence through playing these fun games. At first they might give up or lose interest very quickly (and perhaps before they’re achieved the aim of the game, for example to find the hidden scarf). A baby might get distracted very easily from tracking an object with their eyes or waiting for you to appear during peek-a-boo. However you’re likely to notice your child sticking at the different games for increasing periods of time, as they play and develop the ability to persist. You can encourage their persistence by increasing the level of challenges, for example making it harder for them to catch a scarf, so that they have to chase it for longer.

Self-expression, language and communication skills

Playing with scarves will also provide opportunities for babies and young children to express their thoughts and feelings, and develop the skills they need to do this effectively. They learn about facial expressions and the meanings they convey (for example one expression lets their mum know they like the feel of the scarf on their face, while another lets her know they are excited about finding an object hidden under the scarf). Gentle touching with scarves also helps develop you and your baby develop a strong relationship and your baby and understanding that they are connected to you. Dancing is a fantastic way for children to express their thoughts and emotions through dancing.

As you communicate with your child while playing the games, they also be improving their language and communication skills. They might learn new words to describe the scarves or the movements they make, or to describe themselves and their feelings. They also learn about communication patterns and how to participate effectively in a conversation. Although it seems simple and obvious to an adult, children need to learn, for example to wait for their turn to speak, to ask if they need help or to answer when they are spoken to.

Social skills

Using a scarf to tie a dolly to your child’s back provides numerous opportunities for them to increase their understanding of society and develop social skills. As they pretend to rock dolly to sleep or comfort dolly while it is crying, they are practicing positive social behaviours for example caring for another person. They also develop their understanding of society and the ways in which people depend on each other. They’ll increase their understanding that not all people are the same, for example that babies and young children have special needs.

Mathematical concepts

Spatial awareness
Spatial awareness refers to a person’s sense of the objects around them and includes being able to judge distance, size and the speed of movement. It’s a critical mathematical skill that children will use later in life to measure, design, and recognise patterns. Activities like tracking and floating scarves, and making them an extension of their body during a dance, are great ways to develop children’s spatial awareness. For example, they develop a sense of the relative position of the scarf in relation to their own body (and for example whether it is close enough to touch). Pulling a scarf out of a box (or trying to stuff it back in, which your curious toddler is likely to try) or through a bracelet will also help them develop a sense of space and size.

Colours and shapes
As you talk about the colours and shapes of the scarves, your baby all toddler will be learning to recognise shapes and their names (even if they can’t say them yet, or tell you a blue object is red). Help them learn by asking them to name shapes and colours as you play, or saying the names and associating them with familiar objects (for example their clothes) so they hear the names and learn to associate them with the colours.

Mathematical vocabulary
Mathematical vocabulary is all the words used to describe mathematical concepts and operations. It includes the names of numbers, shapes and colours and words to describe operations like addition, position and size. Even babies have a basic understanding of mathematical concepts and a very basic mathematical vocabulary. For example they might be able to say, ‘All gone” when they have pulled the scarf out of a box. But they won’t know words like empty or finished. Toddlers will probably use words like big and little and be able to point and tell you there are two things, after 18 months of age.

Scientific concepts

Science is all about understanding and predicting, cause and effect, that is, what happens when you do something like float a scarf. Experimenting and observing the results, is the basis of scientific enquiry, and observing what happens to scarves will introduce them to key scientific concepts and processes that will apply to all sorts of situations not involving scarves.

Force and motion
Force and motion is a complex scientific concept that deals with what makes objects move and how (e.g. their speed and direction). Babies and children begin to understand very early, from their experiences, the concept of force and motion, and playing these scarf games will help them. For example they will begin to understand that different forces (pulling, throwing or grabbing) cause the scarf to adopt different motions (moving in a particular direction, floating or crumpling). As they take a tumble while chasing a scarf or playing tug-of war, they begin to understand that they always fall down (even if they won’t understand for some time that it happens because gravity is pulling them down).

Scientific inquiry and problem solving
Playing with scarves is a type of experiment. As children play they try new things, and observe the results. Often they keep trying until they get the result they want (i.e. solve the problem). For example, they might observe that the scarf always floats down when it is thrown (and if they have a problem with it falling to the ground too quickly, might try to throw the scarf higher to solve the problem). They learn to recognise the beginning and end of an event and how this changes as time passes, for example that the game is finished when the scarf is pulled out of the box. They also learn to reason, for example to work out what the toy they can’t see because they are blindfolded is, they might reason that it is soft and fluffy so it must be a teddy (or cold and hard it must be a car). Help them develop their skills of enquiring and predicting, by asking questions and encouraging them to describe what they do and what effect it has on the scarf (or other objects around them). Ask them to predict what will happen before they do something (e.g. pull hard on the scarf during tug of war). Allow them plenty of time to explore their sensations, for example by touching and feeling the scarves. Most babies love exploring the sensation of putting things in their mouths, so be prepared and make sure the scarf is clean.

Object permanence
Object permanence is the understanding that something still exists, even if it cannot be seen. And what better way to develop this understanding than by playing peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek with a scarf? Help them learn to predict that an object they can’t see will still be there, by asking questions like, “Where is dad? Where is baby?” as you play.

References

  1. Virginia Early Childhood Development Alignment Program. Milestones of child development- A guide to young children’s learning and development from birth to kindergarten. 2013. (cited 8 February 2017). Available from: (URL Link)
  2. American Optometrists Association. Infant Vision: Birth to 3 months.2016. (cited 8 February 2017). Available from: (URL Link)
  3. Copley Geometry and Spatial Sense in the Early Childhood Classroom. The Young Child and Mathematic. Chapter 6. 2000. Available from: (URL Link)
  4. Worth Science in Early Childhood Classrooms: Content and Process. Seed Papers. University of Illinois. 2010. Available from: (URL Link)
  5. Columbia Developmental Progression of the Grasp. UNDATED. (cited 8 February 2017). Available from: (URL Link)
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Date Created: February 8, 2017 Date Modified: February 21, 2017