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- Mrs. D's Activity Ideas
- Dolly's Ziploc Bag Activities
- Birgit's Shoeboxes
- Susie's Activity Totes
- Leigh's Kiddie Pool
- Sherry's Ideas
- Some Additional Activities
- Increase Their Attention Span
- Jump to Bottom of this Page
For more preschooler ideas, see these sites:
Find more useful ideas at:
- Magical Childhood.com Don't miss this site!
- What Do Your Toddlers Do? so funny because it's so true!
- Preschool Activity Bags book
- Teaching Mom's Activity Bags
- Linda Coyle's page
- Abecedarian Academy Homepreschool
- Homeschoolchristian.Com Preschoolers
- Homeschooling 3 and 4 Year Olds
- Michelle's Preschooler Activities
- Preschoolers and Peace
- Education.com Preschool Activities
- Letter of the Week, free preschool curriculum
- 102 I-Can-Do-It-Myself Activities
- The Preschooler's Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
What can I do with my preschooler now, to make sure she's ready for kindergarten? There's a good essay on the subject, at Eclectic Homeschool. What if my 3- or 4-year-old is ready to start school? Read Homeschooling 3 and 4 Year Olds.
Activity Ideas for Preschoolers
These are things we have done at one time or another. OBVIOUSLY, some require more supervision than others. Many are intended for when the child is near you as you work with other children on their lessons. These are in no particular order. If nothing else, maybe reading this list will get your own creative juices flowing!
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- Plastic (or cardboard) coins and a piggy bank - bought or home-made (Pringles can, slit cut in top).
- Playdoh with a plastic knife, rolling pin, cookie cutters, etc.
- Painting: watercolors, paint books, or food coloring in water with a Q-tip.
- Chalk on dark construction paper.
- Scissors and paper (no other objective in mind!)
- Easy-to-use paper punch and strips of paper.
- Stencils, paper, colored pencils.
- Lacing cards: Cardboard shape with holes punched around it. Attach yarn, wrap masking tape around the end.
- Plastic canvas with yarn attached, wrap end in masking tape.
- Poke holes in thick cardboard with a tack.
- Shallow bucket on a towel on the floor. Add water, boats, plastic fish, measuring cups, etc.
- Writing tray: Put a layer of rice or cornmeal in a cookie sheet. Good for spelling practice or picture-drawing or practicing ABC's.
- Mini-sandbox: Put a layer of sand in a box the size of a banana box. Add trucks, cars, popsicle sticks. Throw a blanket over a card table or a couple of chairs. Offer clothes pins. They'll know what to do next!
- Make a tunnel of kitchen chairs.
- Give them a crochet hook and a length of yarn. Demonstrate chain stitch a few times. This is not for everyone, but if you refuse to do it for them, you'll be surprised at what they figure out.
- Stack cups or containers of different sizes.
- Nuts and bolts, same or different sizes.
- Scrap wood, hammer, nails.
- Bucket of water and a paintbrush-for outside painting. Works best on wood or concrete.
- Chalk on sidewalk or steps.
- Let them "wash" a few plastic dishes. Put an egg beater and baster in the water.
- A cup with non-toxic soapy water and a straw to blow bubbles. You may put it on a sheet of paper and add food coloring to the water.
- A cloth measuring tape to measure with (the metal ones have sharp edges).
- Make a necklace or snack chain with yarn (masking tape on end) and any cereal with holes: Froot Loops, Cheerios, etc.
- Arrange blocks by size, color, or shape.
- Dip string pieces in thinned poster paint. Fold a paper in half. Lay string on one side and fold over to create designs.
- Flash cards: ABC's or whatever you may have.
- Pictures with colored glue. If you put these on a smooth plastic sheet, it can be peeled off when dry.
- Superball or small car and a paper towel or wrapping paper tube.
- Tops - bought or made with ½ toothpick and cardboard disk.
- Draw roads, houses, etc. on large paper or cardboard. Use cars and trucks on it.
- Look through the button box.
- Watch a bug! At the table, at an anthill, wherever.
- Water color with food coloring, eye dropper or paint brush, coffee filter. Once this is dry, you can iron it. Then cut the center out of a paper plate. Glue filter to it for a sun catcher.
- Pins and pin cushion.
- Beanbags and a bucket.
- Magnet and paperclips, washers, a nail, etc.
- A large box.
Preschool Ziploc Bag Activities
From: Dolly M
WARNING from Paula: Remember that a child can fit a Ziploc bag over his head. Always be sure children are properly supervised.
Here are some of my activity bag ideas. Once you get started I'm sure you'll come up with other ideas, too. Try to focus on self-directed, self-correcting activities that are keyed to specific concepts you want the child to master, such as counting to 10, beginning consonant sounds, learning to use scissors, etc.
Usually I'd present each new activity bag to the younger child in a 3-5 minute one-on-one time. That should be sufficient for that bag to turn into a self-directed activity from then on. As bags became "boring" I'd remove them, or alter them to make the activity harder. I try to use really cheap or free things to create the activity bags. If I HAD to buy something it usually came from the discount store (stickers, counters, index cards etc.) or a yard sale :-)
I think our biggest expense for our activity BOX was in the Gallon-Size Freezer Ziploc bags. You need them because: 1) child can see through and identify the activity without disturbing contents; 2) child can easily get out and put away the items himself; 3) bags "file away" nicely in a milk crate or standard cardboard box; 4) large white plastic zipper is easy for the child to manipulate (don't use the kind that must be pressed together with color change - little kids can't do that successfully).
I recently did a workshop about the PreK ZipLoc Activity Bags. On their own the moms came up with a great idea: They formed a "club" of twenty moms where each mom was assigned one kind of bag. She then went home and made 20 copies of that bag. They all swapped so every mom had a box of 20 different bags.
1. Counting. Label 10 index cards with numerals 1-10 (or 10-20 whatever level suits your child). On the back of each card stick on the appropriate number of stickers, i.e., 6 stickers on back of the card labeled "6." I bought a large set of mini-stickers for this purpose. Check the stationary aisle - look for stickers that are dime-sized or smaller. Anyway, provide a supply of counters that are small enough to barely cover the stickers. I used transparent plastic bingo markers in different colors, but you could also use beads, beans etc. Have the child 1) place a card numeral side up, 2) count out the correct number of counters, 3) turn the card over and match up counters & stickers in one-to-one correspondence. This is a self checking activity. If the stickers and counters don't match up something is wrong. He can repeat with additional cards until bored, or have a "rule" like "choose and do 4 cards then stop."
2. Pattern matching / recognition. String some plastic pony beads onto a plastic drinking straw in an easy pattern of alternating colors. Hot glue the first & last beads so they are permanent and won't come off. Provide child with another plastic drinking straw and supply of pony beads in various colors. Have the child attempt to create string(s) of beads to match your sample(s). The straws are easier to thread than string and the samples lay flat on the table. I used colored straws for my samples and provided white straws for the child's use so he knew right away which ones where the samples (and wouldn't try to pull off the glued ones.) You can make this easier/harder by making more complicated patterns, ask "what comes next in the pattern," and so on.
3. Sorting. Provide a supply of nuts & bolts OR different kinds of pasta shapes OR different colors/types of paper clips OR something else that is small and can be sorted. Glue ONE of each major "type" onto an index card (I sometimes use wide clear packing tape to affix items to the card - you can see through it & its more permanent than glue.) Have the child sort the items by matching them up to the "type cards." Make this harder by requiring the sorts to be "by size only" or "by size AND type" etc.
For variety I sometimes would glue the "item" onto a spring clothes pin. I'd clip the pin onto the edge of a small plastic oleo dish - then when he picked an item from the "supply" bucket he was to drop it into the right dish. It's still a sorting activity, but the variety of manipulating the clothes pin was interesting to him ??. We stored the oleo dishes in our Activity Box because we used them for a variety of different bag activities (counting, etc.).
1. Cutting. Provide ½ sheets of paper onto which you have drawn simple wavy lines with a wide black marker. I used to put stickers at the ends of the lines (birds, butterflies, bugs, cars, space ships - something interesting to "go for." Draw 2 or 3 lines on each ½ sheet - the lines should be roughly parallel, not intersecting. Provide scissors and say "Can you cut along the line to all the way to the bird (or whatever.) Graduate to simple closed shapes instead of lines.
2. Toothpick Punched Art. Layer a folded tea towel or face cloth, blank ½ sheet of black construction paper, ½ sheet of paper with simple "pattern" (heart, star, circle, square, etc.) drawn in heavy black marker (or print from computer). Layer so that towel is on table, pattern sheet is on top. Provide tooth pick and tell child to poke holes in the white pattern paper along the edges of the heart (circle, star, etc.). When done he'll like to hold his black punched piece up to the window to see the shape he made. I put lots of pattern pieces, lots of black construction pages and one face cloth in the activity bag along with 2 wooden clothes pins to hold the "sandwich" together while the child worked. He'd pick a different shape each time. We displayed the results by taping the black punched pages on the sliding glass door (sun shines through the holes).
3. Tweezers & pony beads. I had a supply (6-8) of medicine dose cups that come off the top of cough syrup bottles. I glued a different colored bead into the bottom of each cup. Then I provided a supply of beads (in those colors) and a pair of tweezers. Say, "can you use only the tweezers to move the beads to the right (matching) colored cups?" Let the child work for 5 or so minutes then count the beads before putting them back in the "supply" - sort of a cross-over counting, sorting, fine motor activity.
4. Tracing. Provide ½ sheets with simple shapes (similar to the ones from the toothpick art activity) and ½ sheets of tracing paper. I put a small clip board in this bag to hold the two pages together while the child worked - along with a marker or crayon.
All my activity bags for this subject shared the same goal - to teach DS beginning consonant sounds. I mainly used a variety of pictures clear-taped onto index cards and a set of plastic letters (like the magnet type used on fridge.) Then I'd have him do matching activities. The reverse of the card always had the correct letter so this was self correcting. The best place to get lots of pictures (you need LOTS for this) is to buy alphabet books from yard sales at 10c to 20c each, then just cut them up! I got some from magazines but that's harder and more work! He especially liked to "work on the fridge" for this, so I had a bunch of plain magnets to attach the index cards to the fridge. I'd stick up the "B" magnet and have him go through the cards finding all the pictures that start with "buh, buh, buh."
Make it harder by making cards for consonant blends, ending consonants, etc.
Before you cut up those alphabet books take some BLACK & WHITE Xeroxes of various pages. Try to get pictures of items that are USUALLY one color (fruits, veggies & food items are good for this - i.e. bananas are always yellow, broccoli always green, etc.). Cut up the Xeroxed pictures, clear-taping one per index card. Have the child match the item with something else that shows the right color (crayons, colors on another index card, paint chips, whatever - or make a game board with different colored spaces for the item cards). The idea is to match the item with the appropriate color. Make lots of item cards (25-30). (This is probably only for 3 year olds ?)
I visited the library weekly to have a rotating supply of cassette tapes and read-along books. I'd change the book/tape bag after each use so there was always something different. He used this activity bag every day. We used a player with earphones so the older kid wasn't disturbed.
JUST FOR FUN
Once in a while I'd include a Ziploc Bag with a can of shaving cream. We'd spray a big glop onto the kitchen counter and he was allowed to draw letters or numbers into the shaving cream until he got bored with that. Sometimes it was good for a half hour! Other times I'd whip up ½ cup of Ivory Liquid in a small bowl. Set the bowl in the sink, push a kitchen chair up to the sink and let him have at it. After a few minutes turn on a trickle of water from the faucet and provide a bunch of plastic measuring cups. This could be good for 40 minutes!!!
Hopefully these ideas will get you started. I bet I spent two whole days one summer coming up with ideas and getting bags ready. Those were the best two days of preparation I ever spent. It literally saved us countless times during the years that our son was 3-4 and our daughter was in 1st & 2nd grades. We still use many of the bags this year (he's K, she's 3rd). Have fun and God bless.Return to the top of this page
My children are 4, 8, and 10. We do different activities in plastic shoeboxes, and the 4yo can only play with them during school time.
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- Lace up box: Shapes cut from old bleach bottles and cardboard, with holes cut around them with a hole punch; colored laces, big wooden beads, spools, stringing foam shapes I found at a garage sale.
- Doll box: a small doll with clothes, a bottle, pacifiers, bibs, a baby spoon, a baby dish, etc. (a lot of it recycled from her own baby stuff).
- Magnet box: several magnets, paper clips, coins, a piece of iron ore, screws, etc.
- Art box: construction paper, scissors, gluestick, dot painters, rubber stamps, washable inkpad.
- Math box: homemade fishing game with numbers on it with fishing pole, cuisinaire rods (left over from sons), pattern blocks.
- Button box: variety of old buttons to sort.
- Just use your imagination! These can be put together to fit any age's interests and abilities.
Susie's Activity Totes
From: Susie (twinsplus3)
I will have 2 toddlers so I’m making 3 - 4 Rubbermaid activity totes, 15-20 quart size, for each day. For smaller activities, I'll use shoebox-size totes. Whatever you use, make sure they are stable when they stack (instead of tipping over). The criteria for the activities: non-messy or quick clean up, totally independent, reusable, interesting, can last 15 - 30 minutes.
Coral's Tote Ideas
- no spill bubbles
- a clothesline to tie on 2 chairs and an assortment of "clothes" and clothespins
- crayons and sandpaper ( a friend told me that little ones like the texture to color on)
- white rice in the tote and different scoops. (can be vacuumed up)
- stickers and paper plates
- bingo dotter and paper
- paintbrush and water (to be "painted" on cardboard)
- wastebasket and sock balls
- sticky masking tape balls to throw at the wall, fridge, etc. Watch them stick!
- treasure hunt in the cotton balls (lots of goodies can hide in a tub of cotton balls)
- a box and assorted canned goods (my toddlers love to move things into and out of boxes)
- bean bags and pie pans
Coral added some suggestions to Susie's ideas for Activity Totes.
Some More Tote Ideas
- some different colors of yarn in different lengths are great with the sandpaper too. They will stick to it and make different designs
- all those free stickers, address labels, etc. that come in the mail - he can just stick to his heart’s content
- a magnet set and a metal cake pan with a sliding lid
- an empty shoe box with a cord tied through a hole poked in one end, he likes to use it as his wagon and pull a stuffed animal all around the house.
- an egg carton turned upside down with holes cut in the bottoms of the egg spaces, and 12 wooden clothespins. They can stick these in and out of the holes.
- an empty paper towel tube and a toy car or small rubber ball to roll through it, if they know not to put it in their mouth.
- some small containers with different types of lids to take on and off
- a piece of wood covered with velcro. Put velcro on the bottoms of several small toys and they can stick these on and off.
- send him on hunts through the house to find something that is a square, or something blue. This takes a little more help from me.
Michelle in Orlando says:
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- tongs, two bowls, and anything you can pick up with tongs
- two cheap bowls, a ladle, and rice/beans
- ice cube tray or divided party tray from the dollar store, and an assortment of dried beans or some plastic jewels to sort
- a cloth measuring tape to measure with (the metal ones have sharp edges)
- a large box (yep, that's all!)
- give them watercolor markers, put on old shorts, and let them body-paint... bubble bath follow-up required! (No lip or eye decorating!)
Leigh's Kiddie Pool
From: Leigh in TX
I got a small, inflatable kiddie pool for $2 on clearance. It's my 3yo's indoor playground.
He can play with one color of Playdoh and a Tupperware container of accessories (cookie cutters, etc.) that I put in his pool. The rule is that he must stay in the pool while playing with his activities. I let him play with rice as well, as long as he keeps it in the pool, and not with the Playdoh.
I set his little table inside the pool and he just sits there and colors, finger paints, puts stickers on paper, stamps, water paints, uses his spray bottle to clean the table and chair, cuts paper with his special scissors, or any project that I use to keep him entertained. He will usually last close to an hour playing in there. I keep it right by the kitchen table so that I'm able to keep an eye on him, he doesn't feel left out, and I can work with my older son at the kitchen table.
When he's finished, I just shake the pool outside and store it in the garage against a wall, so there is no mess for me to clean inside the house. If it's really messy, like the cornstarch and water mixture from a few weeks ago, I just spray it down outside and let it dry before storing it.
Best $2 investment ever!Return to the top of this page
From: Sherry Bowlsby
Here's some ideas for your 3-year-old tornado:
Don't do any activity more than once each week; rotate them.
- Make some fish out of construction paper. Put paperclips on them. Make a fishing pole with a stick, string & magnet. It may keep him busy for awhile.
- Let him "WASH" the windows. This one can keep a small, wild child busy for hours. Simply give him a squirt bottle with water and a dishtowel. This is not pretty for your windows, but this can buy a lot of time!
- Let him "PAINT" the house. Bucket of water & paintbrush. He may decide to paint the cars & the sidewalks, too.
- Make him a mailbox (tissue box works well). Put all that unwanted junk mail into his mailbox, for him to go through in the morning.
- Paint a plate with whipped cream or pudding, or both!
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Some Additional Activities
From: various sources
A warning about bean activities from Vicki C: "Dry beans are a choking hazard for very small children. Years ago our neighbor's lost their 18 month old son after he found and ingested a dried bean."
From Mom9x: This is my 2 year old's favorite: We have a Tupperware filled with different colors and shapes of dry beans. I put a tablecloth on the floor and put the beans and an empty bowl on a cookie sheet. I give her a couple of measuring cups and a tablespoon and she will spend more than an hour transferring beans from the big bowl to the little one, then dumps them back in the big and starts over. She also has a bowl of rice and she does the same thing with the rice. She loves to use a funnel with this.Mary Beth's I Spy Bottle: Into a 2-liter soda bottle, insert several small I-Spy type items (Barbie shoe, key, dime, marble, Cootie leg, Lego brick, paper clip, etc.) Make an I spy list, and tape it (folded shut) to the side of the bottle. Fill the bottle half to three-fourths full with bird seed. The kids have to turn the bottle to find the items. My kids loved this!!!
From Paula H: Keep a baby blanket handy for when they play with small toys (Legos, etc.). The rule is, you have to keep the pieces on the blanket. When you finish playing, I will pick up everything that's on the blanket (it's easy; I just pick it up by the corners and pour the contents back into the toy tub). You pick up everything that's not! Great motivation for keeping all those pieces in a limited area. Some people have a blanket rule for puzzles, toy cars, blocks, etc. You can play with them whenever you like, as long as they stay on the blanket. When you want to switch to a different blanket activity, put the first blanket-ful away before you take out the second one.
Cindy had an important reminder: Start your tote activities about a month before you start school. This will give you time to train the little ones and get them used to it before you start school and expect them to work independently with the materials. You can supervise them without the stress of needing to work with the other children.
This one is from Donna in NC. To keep my 3yods occupied this morning I drew a shape (triangle) and let him fill it in with stickers. Not big stickers, little ones, it takes MUCH longer to fill it up this way! I bought a pack of 3,350 stickers on a roll at the discount store for about $3. I thought this was a good way to reinforce shapes too. Now, if I could only find a good way to occupy my 1yods!
Brenda in MA suggested the following. This is working with my 18 month old. I created a "bean box" for her. I purchased a plastic box with a lid that is just big enough for her to sit in and several pounds of pinto beans. Set her in it with some nesting/stacking cups and she has a BLAST! Also, my 7yo ds made Heidi a "tent" from a blanket draped over a couple chairs and put some toys in it for her. She LOVED it and played happily in there while we got some school work done.
Merry suggests math manipulatives - counting bears, cuisenaire rods, pattern blocks, balance scale... anything you have. Dried beans & dump trucks & bulldozers or cars are fun. Let them stand at the sink with either their toy boats or with various Tupperware bowls & a couple of spoons. They would play at that for a long time.
From Paula F: I put the 1yo in a walker in a narrow hallway. It keeps him occupied for a while as he zips back and forth from end to end, but I can still keep an eye on him. Kim H. sent me a warning that I posted at this link.Return to the top of this page
Increase Their Attention Span
From: Lisa in CA
Let's work on his attention span a bit and help him grow in this area. Give your little guy a planned activity and require him to stay with it for a fixed period of time. Set the timer. Start with 10 or 15 minutes. Do 2 of these times per day to begin with, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and not when they're hungry or tired. Build up the time gradually. Stick to your guns about waiting for the timer when they say they're all done in 5 minutes. Focusing is a skill and like any skill, some people find it easier than others, but everyone can learn.Return to the top of this page
A Few More Ideas
See more at Barbara Rowley's article.
- Scrap-paper books, quickly stapled together, are a more exciting place for collages, scribbles, and stickers than single pages.
- Write letters or numbers on sticky notes, and put them, out of order, on a wall. Challenge your child to put them in order.
- Cut pictures from magazines, catalogs, spare photos, etc. Give your child several envelopes, to sort the pictures into different categories.
- Wrap six rubber bands around a stiff piece of cardboard. Your child can cut strips of paper and weave these into the bands.
Email Paula H