My son loves animals. He super-loves them. They are the driving force behind most all of his play, reading and learning. It wasn’t something I really tried to get him interested in, not more than anything else. I just tried to expose him to as many things as possible and he fell in love with animals early.
I had some of these Safari Ltd. in a box of things from my classroom. I originally bought them to use as props for teaching animal names in Spanish. I wasn’t teaching any more and one day when I was going through my old stuff, he got ahold of the little plastic animals. He was young– definitely under a year. My first instinct was to take them away. They weren’t ‘proper’ baby toys. But he loved them.
I think finding your child’s passion is one of the most important jobs we have as parents. Of course, passions may change or vary. Not all kids have that one thing they love so much. But giving children the opportunity to explore is vital. Once you have a subject of interest, the extensions are limitless.
When he was small, most of his play centered around standing them up and knocking them down. He played with his growing collection outside in the dirt, in water, sand, bubbles– anything. He also learned the names of animals quickly. He wasn’t very verbal, but he had an expansive animal vocabulary! As he grew older, he began using his animals for pretend play.
He’s always loved to incorporate the animals in building play. He constructs a jungle or a city or mountains and populates it with his little animals. He builds and plays like this for hours.
We’ve never done too much arty/crafty stuff, because he wasn’t really that into it. But lately we’ve started building little animal habitats and it’s really captured his imagination. It started when he saw some 4th grade dioramas on display at a school. He wanted to play with them, but of course he couldn’t. So I asked if he wanted to make his own that would be his to play with. He was totally down for it!
Most recently, he’s used the animals as a springboard to geography. I bought him this simple map of the continents and showed him how certain animals live in different continents. He ate it up! He quickly learned all the continents and is now interested in learning countries. He enjoys looking at atlases, especially those that show where animals live. Sometimes he refers to the book to see where he should place an animal. And, yeah, I think we’re gonna need a bigger map.
A couple of months ago, when we first moved to Maryland, he experienced a tragedy with his little animals. He had started taking them everywhere he went. In his backpack. And one day he left his backpack on the subway. We searched for it, but nobody turned it in to lost and found. He still talks about the animals he lost. Since then, we’ve been building his collection back up and I’m pretty sure he now has more than he had before!
We really like the Safari Ltd TOOBS. Each one comes with several animals that go together in a certain theme. Some are geographic like Down Under, North American and Arctic. Others are habitat-based like Jungle and Desert. There’s also Ocean, Coral Reef, Farm and Zoo. And we love the Penguins! The images below (affiliate links) are just a few they have available. The really do have TOOBS for a variety of interests– and not just animals!