I saw this great Pom Poms and Cardboard Tubes activity for babies from How We Montessori on Pinterest and set it up for Caterpillar. Wild Thing (my 2.5 yo) also enjoyed putting the pom poms down the tube, so I decided to create a pom pom-tube activity that included some key learning elements for him.
I put pipe cleaners around toilet paper rolls for color matching and put our color magnets above the rolls. Plus, I wrote the color names on each magnet. I added this early literacy element because Wild Thing's color matching is pretty solid, and he has started making the connection of letters meaning something -- when we go for walks, he loves to tell me that S-T-O-P spells stop (more often, he says P-O-T-S spells stop, but he's still getting the concept).
I didn't point out the words to him, but he immediately noticed them and starting telling me the letters. This provided a great opportunity for me to point out that R-E-D spells Red. I would then ask him what it spelled and, of course, he answered correctly because he knew the color. Was he actually reading the words? No, but he is recognizing that those letters create a specific word.
As the activity evolved, we added the circle toys and muffin liners below the toilet paper rolls. He really loved trying to drop the pom pom through the tube so that it would land in the circle or muffin liner. I like the fine motor skill aspect of this activity, and eventually we also integrated counting into the activity as he tried to see how many pom poms he could get in each circle or muffin liner.
With counting, early literacy/pre-reading, color matching and motor skill development all rolled into one very low-cost and simple activity (that kept him occupied for quite some time while I did dishes and prepared dinner), this activity ranks very high for me as a go-to, fun learning exercise -- a major thank you to How We Montessori for inspiring this learning activity.