12 Pre-Schooler Activities

When your kids are out of school, even if it’s just for the weekend, every day can feel like summer vacation. As in, you’re always trying to figure out ways to keep them engaged and away from the addictive glow of the TV or computer. So think like a teacher and let structure be your friend!

Start your day with action! When your children get up, eat breakfast, get dressed and head to the park or outside to play. When they’re pretty worn out and ready for a snack or lunch, come back inside. Now they’re ready for some quiet time, and so are you! Once everyone gets up and running again, try our 12 activities to keep your pre-schooler engaged and, hopefully, tantrum free.

1. Tape Shapes

Using Masking tape or colorful painters’ tape to make outlines of shapes on your floor. Have your child name the shapes they see displayed. Next, call out shape commands like, “Jump to the rectangle,” “Skip to the square,” “Dance to the circle.” You could have them walk the outline like a tightrope to practice their balance. If the weather is nice, take this game outside and use chalk to draw the shapes on the sidewalk or porch.

2. Shades of Color

Teach your child that there are varying shades of their favorite colors using a glass of water and food coloring. Add a drop of food coloring to the water and stir. Ask them what color it is. Then add another drop. Ask, “Is it still green? Yes, but it’s a little darker.” Continue to add one drop at a time, stir and reinforce that the color is getting darker. Repeat this activity with another color. Throughout the day point to different colors around the house, outside or while running errands. Ask if the colors they see are dark or light.

3. Contact Paper

Child plus glue equals big mess! Instead, use contact paper and pre-cut collage materials (i.e. magazine and newspaper clippings, feathers, felt, leaves, and colored paper). Have them create their own masterpiece by placing items on the sticky side of clear contact paper. Place another piece of contact paper over the collage, cut into rectangles, and send hand-made bookmarks to grandma.

4. Sock Puppets

You can stop hoping your dryer will cough up the matching sock and put that lonely white tube sock to good use! Pull out the washable markers and googly eyes for this childhood staple. All you need is some fabric glue (just because it sticks a little better) and some felt or other leftover fabric. Cut out eyes, nose, ears, mouth, mustache, and any other facial features you fancy. Use pipe cleaners for an elephant trunk or deer antlers. Try pompom balls for a bunny’s tail or mouse ears. Or help your child learn emotion by creating “happy,” “sad,” and “mad” faces on their puppets. Have them retell their favorite story using their puppets.

5. Spin the Bottle

Place puzzles, board books, or favorite toys, in a circle. Put an empty water bottle in the center. Have your child spin the bottle! Then read or play with whichever toy or book the bottle points to. The true fun of this activity is in the spinning, so don’t be surprised if your little one doesn’t let you read for too long before he wants to spin again.

6. Seek and Find Soda Bottle

Cut a slit in a 2-liter soda bottle and insert several small items. Be sure to keep a list of all of the items for your own record. Then fill with birdseed and tape the hole closed. Enjoy watching your child move and shake the bottle to find all of the items you hid. To make it a little harder for your older ones, set a timer and see if they can find them all before the buzzer goes off! Recycle this project by dumping contents into a bowl; fishing out the items amidst the bird seed, adding new items to the soda bottle and pouring the birdseed back in.

7. Bag of Tickles

Sit with your little one and scour your old magazines for images of body parts. Cut them out and glue them to a sturdier material, like cardstock paper. Place the body parts in a bag or bowl. Take turns pulling a card and tickling each other! Your child will enjoy the opportunity to make you laugh while learning their body parts.

8. Child Twister

Cut two sets of shapes—one large set (8″ or so) and one small set (2″ or so)—out of poster board. Tape the larger set of shapes just a couple inches apart on the floor. Put the smaller set of shapes in a bowl or bag. Next, have your child look through magazines for images of body parts—think chin, lips, hair, toes, etc. Cut them out and put them in a separate bowl (or use the ones from the “Bag of Tickles” activity). Randomly pull a body part card and a shape from the bowls and have your child make his move. See how many additional poses he can manage before he falls over.

9. Fishing Game

Tie a piece of yarn to the end of a small, wooden dowel. Attach a small magnet to the other end of the yarn. Cut fish out of construction paper and attach a small paper clip to each. For the added effect of water, tape blue construction paper to the floor. Have your child stand on the shoreline and catch the fish that are “floating” in the water.

10. Dinosaur Excavation

Stash dinosaurs in couch cushions, in the bottom of a dryer or hamper that’s full of clothes, in a canister of dry noodles, in a sock drawer, or peeking out of a mound of dirt in the backyard. The idea is to get them digging and hunting. Young children may need some help. Draw them a map or leave a trail from one stop to the next to keep them on task. Dinosaurs can be replaced with any other treasure your child will be eager to find—think jewelry, cars, seashells, rocks or wrapped candy. Just make sure to keep any choking hazards out of reach of little hands.

11. Obstacle Course

Make this as long as you can to expend excess energy on rainy or too-hot days this summer. Some ideas: Create a tunnel by placing couch cushions between two rows of chairs, then crab-crawl through the maze. Have your child either crawl, ride a tricycle or indoor push car as they weave in and out of table legs. Roll over the top of your exercise ball (with your help) or have them roll it down the hall and back. Do ten jumping jacks. Make a line on the floor with tape, or a jump rope and have them jump over the line in zig-zag formation from one end to the other. Jump thru hula hoops. Hold one pillow in each hand and have them run “thru” the pillows. Somersault from one doorway to the next. Throw a softball or beanbag into a basket. Run in place or twirl while singing the ABC song. Stack telephone books end to end and create a balance beam for them to walk across (Note: wrap the phonebooks with butcher paper to keep little feet from slipping). Make sure they have a finish line to cross at the end!

12. Pudding Paint

This is a great porch activity, especially if there is a hose nearby. Prepare instant vanilla pudding according to package directions. Separate into 3 or 4 dishes. Add food coloring to each and stir. Put old clothes or just underpants on your child and let him paint himself. For a more dignified approach, tape paper to a table or the floor and let him create his very own edible masterpiece!

Which idea do you like best?