Updated – Originally posted December, 201o
Note: I now have a printable list of preschool activities for you!
Sometimes we just need an activity QUICK. When energies are spiraling downwards into chaos the best option around here is to refocus with a little sensory play. Here is a list of indoor kid activity ideas I keep in mind that I can get going in a moments notice.
Water and kids just seem to go together. I usually use warm water in these activities.
- Bath time– an obvious option, but we can’t do ten baths a day.
- Finger paint the tub– A natural extension of bath time, or a way to extend bath time: give blops of finger paint on the tub side and have the kids paint the sides. It cleans up right down the drain.
- Car or dolly wash– I have the kids grab a few of their toy cars and we put soap in the bathroom sink. They use rags or sponges to give the cars a bath. Sometimes I’ll let them wash a stuffed animal or doll instead, but only if I know it won’t cause a melt down if that doll is wet still at bed time!
- Wash dishes– Set up a stool at the kitchen counter and let them wash, just the tupperware if need be.
- Legos in water
- Blowing bowl bubbles– Get out the largest mixing bowl you have and fill it part way with water. Add a splurt of dish soap and get out the straws and show how to blow out to make bubbles. Once you have a mountain of bubbles you can do fun things like blowing into a bubble and making it bigger or hiding a toy under the bubbles. Blowing can be a very calming activity for kids
- Water play on the kitchen floor– Put a towel on the floor with bowls of water and scoopers. Sometimes I add food coloring to the water to make it extra exciting.
- Sponges– We get out two bowls and a sponge to transfer water from one bowl to the other- lots of good SQUEEZing to do.
- Mop the floor– I always forget that my five and three year old think mopping is SO cool. I ought to do this more often. Not just because they think it’s cool either.
Any of these items put out to swish fingers through, drive toy cars through or hide small treasure in can be fun. On my post last week about cornmeal, a preschool educator mentioned the idea of putting a smaller tub inside a larger tub on the floor to keep the mess contained, so you might try that. With items like beans or rice we spread a blanket out under the play area and any over-spill can be swooped up at the end by lifting the blanket corners.
- Plain Cornmeal or Cornmeal “Sandcastle dough”
- Make a treasure hunt with rice or Moon Dough
- Shaving cream– Some kids are hesitant to get fingers messy- you may want to try just a little bit of shaving cream at first, or get play going by bringing out a plastic animal or other toy they can dip in. We keep a napkin nearby for the first tentative touches, but soon the kids don’t care about the shaving cream on their fingers.
- Water and cornstarch ( I can’t stand the sensation this makes, uck, but it IS interesting…)
Yes, the purchasing or printing does have to be done ahead of time, but once you have them, they are an instant source of activity.
- Alerting Activity Cards– These are really worth printing out! I printed a set and laminated them with clear contact paper. When the crazies hit we can grab this deck of cards and go play. We put them upside down and each take a turn grabbing a card and doing the activity. All the activities are something you can do right away and if you pull one you don’t want, just pitch it back in and pull another.
- Animal flash cards- Useful to have a stack to grab and say, “OK, can you…hop like a frog?, Swing your “trunk” like an elephant? Gallop like a horse?” etc. etc.
- Tearing paper (either to glue onto something, or just to tear up)
- Crumpling newspaper – throw it at a target or into a basket
- Cutting with scissors- either on a line you’ve drawn, randomly, or the ever popular cutting up drinking straws
- Destroy a cardboard box – jumping, ripping and smooshing
Other quick ideas:
- Board games – here are our favorite games for toddlers and for preschoolers
- Play-dough (of course) – we’ve gotten years of use out of this play dough set.
- Bubble wrap popping
- Aluminum foil sculpting (not a favorite here, but your kids might like it.)
- Blowing with straws- blow a cotton ball or kleenex off the table, across the floor, etc.
Have fun! More ideas for Simple Play for Preschoolers can be found in my collaborative ebook: Three to Five: Playful Preschool
About the Author
Alissa is a resilience coach, cartoonist, and advocate for ‘connection, not perfection’. She’s dedicated to helping others find a sense of safety and belonging inside themselves so they can heal, connect, and build authentic, joyful lives.