25 Simple Ways to Occupy a Preschooler

I am not a big fan of “keeping kids busy” for the sole purpose of “keeping kids busy.”  But let’s face it, sometimes we need them to be doing something that really ENGAGES them so that we ourselves can get SOMETHING done, whether it be an important phone call, meal prep, or just needing a few minutes of peace and quiet, so…

Here are 25 Simple Ways 
to Occupy a Preschooler:

(…and most of them are actually educational in one way or another…fine motor skills practice, encouraging imaginative play, sensory experience, etc….so you don’t have to feel guilty for using these!  Plus, they’re fun!)

**Note: While these activities are meant to engage your child for an extended period of time, please remember that preschoolers need constant supervision, especially with activities involving scissors, water, paint, small objects, playing outside, etc. so do not leave your child unattended, and use your best judgement as to which activities are appropriate for your child.

1.  Let them open your junk mail.  Not only is it good fine motor practice to open the envelopes, they’re likely to find stickers, faux credit cards, address labels, or return envelopes which can be lots of fun, too!

2. Give them a sheet or pack of stickers and something on which to stick them.

3. Give them a toothpick holder, cheese shaker, or any other container that has small holes in it and a bunch of toothpicks to push through the holes.


4. Give them a basket filled with various bottles and jars with lids to practice opening and closing.


5. Add some real pantry items (emptied and cleaned out, of course) to their play kitchen.  My kids love to have old spice shakers (they still smell!), empty soap bottles for pretend dish washing, empty boxes from cereal or rice, milk jugs, and so on…  Even one new item added to their kitchen encourages a renewed cooking frenzy!

6. Give them a pack of post-it notes and a pencil or crayon.

7. Give them a large, empty box.  It can be a cave, a hideout, a playhouse, a boat, or so many other things!  If you’re brave, you could also let them color or paint it.

8. Drape a large sheet or blanket over an end or dining table.  Instant playhouse or fort.

9. Get out a basket filled with books and make them a comfy seat (pillows, blankets, beanbags, etc.).  If your child is older, you could also put on the audio for a chapter book and give your child the actual book to follow along.  L&L also enjoy doing audio CDs with picture books and can work the CD player by themselves.


10. Create a sensory basket for your young child.  Put things in that are safe for them to explore on their own by touching, tasting, smelling, etc.  I made Lilah one when she was younger — it had a large, smooth river rock, an empty spice jar, an empty vanilla extract jar, a wooden honey dipper, a rainbow wooden spoon, a brightly colored piece of silk, a really soft lovey blanket, an egg shaker, a vintage metal rattle, a Waldorf-style cloth doll, a pine cone….

11. Dry-erase books.  I usually make my own by cutting pages from one-time-use workbooks (like Kumon) or by pulling pages from magazines and putting them into sheet protectors in a binder.

12. Sidewalk chalk and your driveway.

13. Bubbles!

14. Buy or make your own play dough or cloud dough.  Give your child some cookie cutters, a butter knife or spreader, or a rolling pin to use with it.  

15. Felt Board story sets

16. Fridge Magnets


17. Buy, build, or create a marble run.

18. Build a ramp for balls or cars.

  


19. Give them a new toy.  For my kids, it doesn’t have to be anything tremendously exciting.  A $1 sticker pack, a kids’ meal toy, a mini Lego building kit, a new car/truck/doll…

20. Put on an educational video (once in a while): LeapFrog, VeggieTales, What’s in the Bible?
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21. Put on some kids’ dance/movement music or a musical.

22. Give your child an old magazine and some scissors.  Or scraps of paper and a glue stick.


23. Crayons and a coloring book or plain paper and pencils.


24. Let them take a shower or bath — add in something new if you want it to last longer — a washcloth and a baby doll, some plastic cars or boats, things for a sink/float experiment, a bar of soap, bathing suits, bubbles, homemade bath paint, anything made from foam sheets (it’ll stick to the shower walls when wet)

25. Give them a sensory box or water table to play with.  For a sensory box, put some sort of filler in it — rice, dry beans, birdseed, shredded paper, sand, beads, etc.  Then add in some items for play.  Right now we have a rice box and it has plastic (Toob) pirates and some shells from the beach.  You can add in plastic toys, sight words, measuring cups/spoons, funnels, things cut from foam, etc.  For a water table, it can be as simple as a bowl or tote filled with water…warm water is nice!  Add measuring cups/spoons, funnels, plastic ocean creatures, boats, etc.


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5 comments to 25 Simple Ways to Occupy a Preschooler

  • This is a great list!! Pinning :) We do a lot of these! The box of jars to practice opening and closing lids–great Montessori idea! And adding real pantry items to their kitchen dramatic play is genius!!! I keep all of it as miscellaneous craft supplies anyway but that is such an exciting idea that I’m going to go add some ‘real’ food to their kitchen set right now for them to enjoy when they get up from naps! Thanks!!

  • Useful list-I’ve been going through it, while I plan home education for next week, looking for activities for my three year old to do in the room with us.
    Duplo has also provided hours of pleasure as has a wooden railway set.

  • LOVE! so many great ideas! I am inspired :)

  • Love how you used ideas that use simple things around the house.

  • I tweeted this post for you! I love having all these reminders in one place. Thanks!

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