I have a 17 month old daughter and am wondering just how we'll get much done when we start back with school in another week. She likes (insists!) on being in the middle of everything! Here are some of the activities she likes to do. Some things need an adult eye so that I can remove the activity when things start going in her mouth.
PUTTING THINGS IN, activities:
clothes pins into a plastic drink bottle; I used one that was larger than a coke bottle b/c this is one of the activities she's been doing from 12-13 months (I use the non-hinged clothes pins). This is probably her FAVORITE toy and has been for months and months
square blocks into a square hole (I handmade one out of blocks and a used box; my daughter can't yet put more than one shape in at a time, so I had to make a simple one. Montessori suggests introducing only one shape at a time whereas many toddler toys have three shapes like the circle, square and triangle.)
baby food jar lids into a "mailbox" (decorated box with a slit)
putting matchsticks into a small hole (I use a toothpick holder that has a small hole and also a plastic toothbrush holder that happens to have a hole at the bottom); you could do the same thing with straws if you feel more comfortable with that.
putting dried noodles into an empty cereal box (with holes poked into the front of the box)
putting plastic animals into a decorated box with a hole cut out and "secret door" to pull open and retrieve the animals (my 3 year old helped decorate a box with sea creature stickers, then the whale, star fish, plastic things go "swimming" -- my 3 year old also plays with this)
pompoms into colored silicone muffin cups (Large 1.5 inch pompoms, silicone baking cups I have on hand)
rocks, colored sorting bugs/animals into ice cube tray, I have one for making mini-ice cubes, 60 squares (this is one my daughter will do for a LONG time before she tries putting any in her mouth. That said, I'm always around when she does this and you might not feel comfortable with something so small yet)
plastic milk container lids into colored bowls
metal mixing bowl and various sized spoons
pretend kitchen (plates, bowls, teapot, spoons)
her own box of playing cards (where I don't mind if the cards get bent; we have heaps of cards from airplane trips)
basket of board books
colorful plastic Easter eggs (she likes to pull them apart)
wooden puzzles (the big kind)
pop-up toy (push a button and the animal pops up; my daughter loves that)
cut up straws on a pipe cleaner: my daughter amazed me last month when she copied my three year old and spent a LONG time putting straws onto plastic string with help. Once I changed the string to pipe cleaners she can do it by herself. She'll spend quite a long time doing that, concentrating very hard. You made need to spend time at first sitting with your child, but they sure do improve quickly
clear contact paper taped securely sticky side up to a tray--they can just play with it (feeling the sticky side and then putting toys onto it and experimenting with pulling the toys off)
coloring -- I offer her colored pencils because she too will eat crayons and markers.
large round stickers--she can pull them off and put them on paper (15 months is probably a bit young but by 17-18 months you might give them a try. I ordered rolls of 100 from Oriental Trading and had my dad ship them over to us, but they're worth it because she can do them on her own!) I remember my son at about 18 months covering himself from head-to-to with stickers!
*****The reality for me at the moment is that I get these activities out, they hold her interest for a little while, but as soon as I'm doing something with the other kids she stops what she's doing and comes over to climb into my lap. Sigh... I just plan to do my best and not to not get worked up if things don't go as I had envisioned.
I really love the ideas for toddlers at Tot School:
she has lot of thumbnail pictures now posted at: http://www.squidoo.com/TotSchool
Oh, one more thought before I go -- when we do school-stuff outside my daughter will happily wander about doing her own thing. That's probably the most independent she'll be.