When your child snoops in your closet, rummages through the garbage or tries to flush the cat down the toilet, he's not trying to be naughty -- he's just being the natural investigator he was born to be. Kids love to explore the world around them. Let your toddler or preschooler play detective with activities that are as educational as they are entertaining.
Get your little gumshoe his own magnifying glass and let him loose in the park or yard to play nature detective. Tell him how common things look different up close. Point out the veins in leaves, watch a ladybug crawl on a flower or examine a fresh paw print in the dirt. Turn the activity into a scavenger hunt by making a list of things for your child to find, such as a blue feather, an ant hill or a marigold flower. A nature preserve is an ideal spot for this activity -- just remember to tell him to look, not touch.
Help your tot examine the fingerprints of everyone in the family with an ink pad and some blank paper. Compare the prints of unrelated adults, such as mom and dad, to siblings' prints. For a fun twist, try lifting your own fingerprints from a shiny surface such as a glass or stainless steel toaster. Just help your little one gently brush some cocoa powder onto fingerprints with a soft, clean make-up brush. Then lay a piece of clear packing tape over the powder, peel it up and place it on a white index card. Help your little detective match the fingerprints to someone in the house.
If your child is a fan of the popular television show "Blue's Clues," get your own similar game going at home. All you need to play are paw-print stickers (or some other fun design), a small note pad and a crayon. Create a mystery by choosing an activity, such as playing baseball, and putting stickers on clues. For example, you might put a sticker on a ball, bat and baseball glove. Let your child find the clues by locating the stickers, and direct him to record the clues by drawing them in the notebook. Stand back and let him put the clues together to crack the case.
Don't let this hard word scare you or your tot. Cryptography is simply the practice of breaking codes. For toddlers or preschoolers learning their alphabet, look for replacement-code cryptograms. In these codes, each number on the page represents a secret letter. There is a code key on the page that shows which letter of the alphabet each number represents. Children have to match up the numbers and the letters. When all the letters are in place, they spell a hidden message. Picture puzzles are also fun -- for example, help your child figure out that combining a picture of a star and a picture of a fish equals a "starfish."