Our daughter has always loved animals. For her first Christmas, we began a simple Schleich animal collection and have continued to add onto it every few months. They make excellent stocking stuffers or small gift purchases since, individually, they are pretty inexpensive. We began with a few farm animals, then added some animals we see at our local zoo, and as she outgrew the mouthing stage we gradually began adding in some native wildlife we regularly see in our backyard.
We love Schleich because they are realistic, anatomically correct and, generally, accurately proportionate in size to one another. Safari Ltd. and Papo also make animal figurines than can also be purchased.
Here are some simple ways to incorporate animal figurines into a homeschooling routine:
Small World Play – Let their imagination run wild as they play farm, design an underwater oasis or create a replica of the backyard wildlife they see right outside their window. Study after study has shown young children learn best through play.
Songs and Stories – We love to match the animals to some of our favorite stories, and even more fun is incorporating them into songs and nursery rhymes! Our daughter’s favorite, of course, is Old McDonald Had a Farm. We gather the farm animals together, and then as we sing the song, she picks out the animal that Old McDonald has on his farm and then picks out the next. Usually, Old McDonald has about a dozen horses on his farm by the time we’re finished singing the song. Through this simple activity, she’s learning the names of animals and their sounds, she’s beginning to learn to classify animals, and recently she’s taken it upon herself to quantify how many of each type of animal Old McDonald has on his farm.
Matching Activity – You can either match object-to-object or object-to-picture. If you are matching object-to-object, you’ll need a pair of each animal. For an object-to-picture matching activity, make or buy picture cards that match the Schleich animals in your collection. Set these out along with the corresponding Schleich animals in a basket nearby. Demonstrate how to match the animal to the picture card. This is a wonderful quiet-time matching activity that can help build your child’s concentration and visual discrimination skills.
Sorting Games – There are dozens of ways Schleich animals can be sorted. First, your child can sort Schleich animals by family (mama-to-baby is always a favorite here). We have also sorted the animals by size (big vs. little). As your child gets older, you can begin to play Land, Air, and Water sorting games. The imagination is the limit when it comes to sorting games!
Memory Games – My husband likes to take the smaller Schleich animals and put 2-3 under a few of the IKEA nesting cups, spin and move them around, and then challenge Lilly to find the one he calls out. This simple memory game that she enjoys playing so much works on both visual tracking and focusing skills — not to mention the one-on-one special time she gets to have with her father each time they play! Note: Any cups or small bowls would work. We just used what we had on hand, and honestly the IKEA nesting cups are probably the best bang-for-your-buck toy you can buy a small child. They are so versatile!
Bath Play – Schleich sea animals also make wonderful bath time companions! Just be sure to use only those that are water-friendly or the paint will begin to wear away. Some water-friendly animals to add to your bath toy collection include dolphins, sea turtles, whales, and sharks.
Sound Games – The Montessori educational philosophy stresses the importance of a child learning the sounds of the alphabet before the symbols since sounds are concrete and can be heard whereas the symbols are abstract. In addition to providing a language-rich environment, reading books, and singing songs and nursery rhymes, playing sound games is one of the most important beginning language activities for toddlers. Typically, they are introduced at age 2.5 or age 3. You can use any objects in the environment for which your child knows the name; however, since our daughter loves animals, we simply began playing sound games with our Schleich figurines. Start by placing 3 animals with contrasting sounds on a mat or tray (e.g. cow, goat, donkey). Pick up each animal and identify it, asking your child to say the name of the animal as well and paying particular attention to the beginning sound of each word. Then ask your child to find the animal that starts with the sound /d/ and then progress through the rest of the animals. Once your child begins to show a mastery of beginning sounds, focus instead on ending sounds followed by medial sounds.
Classifying the World – As your child begins to learn about the animal kingdom, Schleich and similar brand animals can be used to reinforce Vertebrate/Invertebrate, Mammals/Birds/Fish/Reptiles/Amphibians, and Carnivore/Herbivore/Omnivore classifications.
Animals of the World (Geography) – One of the reasons we began our Schleich collection so early is we plan to incorporate them into our Geography studies in the years to come. I plan on putting together Continent boxes for our children to explore, and I hope to include several examples of native wildlife in each. Studying local fauna easily opens up discussions about biodiversity, migratory patterns, and population as well as revealing information about a region’s food and culture.
Montessori Grammar Farm – An interactive and hands-on way of introducing grammar to children. Start your Schleich farm collection early, and it will be ready to incorporate into your farm play scene when your children begin taking an interest in language and grammar studies. Read more about Montessori grammar farms here.
What fun games do your children play with their animal figurines? Please share with us in the comments section.