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As we enter the cooler months, our littles are spending more time at home and inside. And while there are tons of educational TV shows for toddlers and preschoolers, we can’t spend all our time watching Bubble Guppies and Story Bots.
But no worries, mama. We’ve got you covered, both with ideas, and links to other resources for fun preschool activities at home.
This article will cover:
- Educational activities for toddlers and preschoolers
- Preschool activities at home
- Why it’s important to practice preschools at home
- Outdoor and indoor activities, and what they teach
- Additional resources
This article will tell you everything you need to know about outdoor and indoor activities for toddlers and preschoolers!
For great ideas for older kids, check out our article on stay at home kid activities!
Note: Many thanks to those who helped come up with unique, fun ideas for this piece, especially my retired teacher mama, and a dear mama who knows all too much about social distancing with a toddler from her child’s time in chemotherapy.
How to handle being stuck at home with kids
Before jumping into a list of activities and resources, let’s have a real conversation about how different our lives look right now.
Our new normal is temporary, and while it’s mostly better than it was a few months ago, we’re heading into a winter where there will likely be more at-home time.
This is not the time to be SuperMom. This is the time to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and to get through all the madness that is 20-freaking-20.
And if you’re struggling to cope emotionally, check out our article on living with uncertainty about the future.
You’re doing great
We all remember how stir crazy our kids were during strict lockdown (and how nuts we felt ourselves.) Lots of mamas are telling me they feel dread as cold weather approaches.
We’ll keep our warm weather suggestions here, but we’ll also provide you with plenty of ideas about educational activities you can do inside.
But first, please know this.
You’re not failing.
You’re doing great.
This is HARD.
I will be your cheerleader.
But don’t try to be perfect.
Don’t worry about putting the best meals on the table, keeping your children entertained and tantrum-free, or making life work like normal.
Parenting and mental health are a hard balance right now. Provide a semblance of normalcy by doing things like creating a schedule so your kids know what life will generally look like. That is, if you’re a schedule kind of family.
And then give yourself grace.
Because this is a weird, hard time, and I can promise you one thing, mama: NO ONE IS ROCKING IT!
Extra screen time or desserts will not hurt anyone. Do what you need to do.
Now, for specific tips to save everyone’s sanity!
Educational activities for toddlers & preschoolers (indoors)
There are so many educational activities you can do with toddlers that integrate into your daily life!
(1) Bake together
I bet you have the things you need in your pantry to make cookies or brownies. Toddlers love to stir, and you can let them pour things like flour and count out loud with them.
And as they get older, they can do even more work, help cleanup (hello, age-appropriate chores!), and have even more fun with you in the kitchen.
When Jack and I bake, I love using 1/4 cups even if a recipe calls for a full cup. It allows him to practice counting, and when I let him pour, say, flour into a bowl or cut dough with a pastry cutter, he’s also working on his fine motor skills. Double win!
(2) Cook meals together
You’re going to have to cook anyway, so why not make it a family affair?
If you’re making something complicated, let your kids play with their kitchen sets to “cook” alongside you. If you don’t have a kitchen set, no worries, give them some pots and pans and a wooden spoon!
But you can also work in some easy recipes, like pizza, so the littles can basically do everything except use the oven!
(3) Have your own storytime
This one is awesome because it’s really a way of preschooling at home, involves many parts, and can occupy your child for a while.
Here’s how we recommend getting started.
- Let your little choose a book
- Let them pull out blankets and pillows to make a cozy reading nest (or fort!)
- Read the book in the nest or fort
- Pull out the craft supplies and allow them to build the scenes or characters
- Act out the story using what the kid(s) made. (For older preschoolers, have them perform the stories for you!)
- Clean-up! Remember to involve your child in the cleaning process. I am the WORST at just picking up behind Jack, but kids learn so many valuable lessons about responsibility and how helpful they can be when we allow them to clean for themselves.
(4) Play washing dishes
The kids work on dexterity and learning to do chores.
You get housework done. Win, win.
Think of all the everyday items you need to check off your list as learning activities, and life will go much more smoothly.
Grab cups or bowls in different colors.
Don’t have any? Wrap what you have in paper and let the kid(s) color the paper!
Then, choose an item and have kiddo sort the items into the colored cups/bowls.
Preschool activities at home
There are so many home activities for preschool kids, from simple ones like number recognition to playing fun games and making crafts.
Why practice preschool at home? If your children are back in school already, I know you’re singing a silent cheer!
But parents still need to help kids hone the skills they’re learning at school, and I believe it’s important for parents to be involved in their children’s educational processes when at all possible.
Why? We’re their primary role models! So by helping them see that we enjoy learning with them, they’re more likely to develop a love of learning.
So why not use that parenting role model super power of yours to help your child get creative and learn at the same time?
Here are some of my favorite preschool activities at home.
(1) Make paper towel butterflies
I took this idea taken from the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and it’s awesome.
Take one paper towel sheet and tape the center to make butterfly. Let your little one color it with marker, then drop water on it to watch the colors spread.
(2) Play games and puzzles
Depending on your kids’ age(s), board games and puzzles can be a super fun way to pass the time. They also help children develop their attention spans, and they often work on things like hand-eye coordination, taking turns, and matching colors or shapes.
To make games extra fun (and to make it easier to get kids more excited for games than the TV), post a list of all the games you own and allow your little one to check off each game as it has been played.
If you need to stock up on games or puzzles, here are a few of our favorites for toddlers and preschoolers:
- Melissa & Doug peg puzzles
- Feed the Woozle (Levels age 2 (with help) to about 5. This is one of Jack’s favorite activities.)
- Hoot, Howl, Hoot is a big favorite among our readers
Kids a bit older? We love these for slightly older educational activities for preschoolers.
- eeBoo Life on Earth memory matching game
- Connect 4 – we loved it as kids, and today’s kids still do!
- Zingo (like age-appropriate bingo!)
Free Activities for Preschoolers at Home (Indoor)
When you’re looking for educational activities for preschool at home, or trying to occupy your preschooler, nothing is worse than cold weather or a rainy day.
And since you’re trying to entertain kids so much more these days, cost becomes a definite factor.
That’s why we’re covering you with free fun indoor activities that will keep the kiddos entertained! Some are super educational, while others are just great ways to pass the time or make everyday life a little more interesting.
Either way, you can’t go wrong.
(1) Host a “hunt”
If you want a tried-and-true activity kids love, this is one, and our printable indoor scavenger hunts grow with your kids to fit different ages.
Download our indoor scavenger hunt, which includes instructions, cards you can cut out, and hunts for children ages 2-3, 4-5, and 6-7!
Here’s how to host your own hunt:
- Find a prize (can be anything from a piece of candy to a dessert to a tiny toy to a toy that hasn’t been played with recently–options are limitless)
- Decide where the prize will be, and then work backwards to create a scavenger hunt to help the kid find it. (So, if the prize is in your closet, you might first send them to the refrigerator, where a card will send them to the staircase, where a card will send them to the bathroom, where the card will send them to your closet.)
- For little kids, draw pictures, or read each card to them. Bigger kids may be able to read themselves. For kids who read well, start making each card a riddle.
- Be mindful of attention span. The older the kid, the more cards they can handle.
(2) Picnic in the living room
You already have to eat, so pull out some blankets and paper plates and make mealtime more fun by enjoying it on the floor together!
It’s also easier to clean up (well, except the load of laundry you just created with the blankets). Isn’t it amazing how a simple activity can develop just from one small change?
(3) Have a party
Create a reason, if you really need one. Maybe it’s a stuffed animal’s birthday! Or you’re celebrating the family getting to spend time together!
Let your kid craft decorations while you get things done earlier in the day. Then work together to hang the decorations. Turn on some music, and enjoy.
You could combine this with baking together and truly have an all-day experience.
(4) Allow an extra dessert
Maybe as part of the party, or maybe just as a way to get your kid to stay at the table for a few minutes and agree to be happier about not going anywhere.
Remember, being home more is hard on them too, so let them indulge a little.
(5) Dance party
Turn on some music and just start dancing! Why not?
You’ll both get to move a little and release some happy-making endorphins as you do so. Let’s do this.
(6) Build an obstacle course
Between your kids’ toys and household items like couch cushions and ottomans, you can totally make an obstacle course.
Pro tip: If you lie down on the floor to become PART of the obstacle course, you basically get to feel like you actively played with your child, while you really just rested while letting them climb on you.
(7) Themed bath times
Let your kid pick the theme, knowing they can use any solid toy that isn’t going to absorb water.
Then they can help plan, setup, and cleanup. Leggos work well, as do toy cars, plastic characters, and more.
Also, give baths at different times throughout the day. Yes, we love the schedule of bath time at bedtime, but if you’re desperate, a fun themed bath may be just the mid-day treat you both need.
(8) Facetime people
No matter what the situation is where you live, even the most introverted of us miss socializing like we used to. Facetime will help family, friends, and your kiddos stay connected.
(9) Have a music class
Make music class happen at home! Make a playlist of some of your kids’ favorite songs.
Use the instruments you have (or bowls and spoons if you don’t have have any), ribbon for streamers, pom poms, whatever else you can find.
You can also make easy instruments out of plastic containers filled with dry beans and rice. Just make sure you tape the top down so that your little dude doesn’t put anything he shouldn’t in his mouth.
Sit on the floor together while the music plays. Sing, tap to the music, play with the different instruments, and have your child repeat small sequences after you.
Music is amazing for child development, so this is one of my favorite activities to do at home!
Indoor Educational Activities for Preschoolers
Okay, so we came up with lots of fun ideas that don’t require spending any extra money that you weren’t spending before. But let’s be honest. Some of the most fun things require a few ingredients.
Here are some crafty ways you can let your preschooler enjoy indoor time while only spending a little extra money.
(1) Make Slime
We just heard you audibly groan when you read the word “slime,” so please know that there are other options!
But seriously. Slime is super fun and seeing how it mixes and is made is such a great little science lesson for kids.
Want to do something a little different? Check out these super fun science experiments for toddlers and preschoolers.
(2) Make DIY Sidewalk Chalk Paint
Grab a muffin tin and whip up our super simple sidewalk chalk paint recipe. The kids will have so much fun helping you mix ingredients and stir.
And they’ll have something to look forward to knowing they can play outside with it later in the day!
Got slightly older children who enjoy coloring, not just squiggling lines?
I’m totally obsessed with Crafty Mask, a company that was built on the power of imagination.
Avi and Elizabeth formed Crafty Mask after their daughters began to doodle on their masks and only wear their own creations from then on.
Each pack comes with 7 colorable masks, 7 non-toxic markers to color in the printed doodles, and is designed with top-notch quality, protection, comfort, and style. They come in various sizes for different kids’ ages, and have a place for a filter for added protection.
Preschool & toddler activities at home (outdoor)
When you’re stuck at home with (or without) kids, getting outside is essential. The weather may not allow it as much as we’d like during winter time, but when we can get it, we all need some open air and Vitamin D.
So when the weather permits, these fun activities for kids will take you far!
(1) Picnic in the yard, driveway, or porch
If you have any outdoor space at all, you can have all the fun of an indoor picnic, but actually leave the house! Even if only by a few feet.
(2) Catch bugs
Go out with jars at night to catch fireflies. Or if it isn’t warm enough for fireflies where you are, search for any bugs.
You wouldn’t believe how much time you could pass by telling a tiny human to try to find an aunt. You can just sit and watch to make sure they’re safe. It’s awesome.
(3) Start a garden
Got a black thumb? Me too. But the whole idea is to entertain your kid NOW. Plus, this will be educational for both of you.
Don’t have space in your yard, or even have a yard? Try a planter box, window boxes in your kid’s playhouse, or anywhere where you can create a tiny bit of space.
Plus, you can go “check on” your garden everyday, and water it if needed, so you’ve created a daily activity of something your child has to care for.
(4) Go for a walk
Unless you live in such a congested area that going for a walk means you’re inherently in close contact with others, there’s no reason your kid can’t get outside in a stroller, in a favorite car, or on a scooter or bike (if they’re old enough).
Just make sure they know to keep a 6-foot distance should they see anyone.
(5) Pain the driveway or sidewalk
Use the sidewalk chalk paint recipe you made earlier and have some fun with it. Pull out the paintbrushes and let your kids go wild making fun art right in your own front yard!
Independent Activities for Kids
Look, you’ve got work to do, and free play is important! And if you don’t have work to do? So what? You deserve a break, too.
So let’s encourage independent play, and offer you some easy “outs” in the process.
(1) Encourage free play
It’s important that children spend time choosing their own activities and doing them by themselves. For Jack, this usually involves cars, trains, or trucks.
He always asks for TV first, but once I redirect him and make it clear he needs to pick a toy to play with, I can usually get him to play on his own.
Let your child get bored enough to get creative!
(2) Watch extra TV
I saw a great meme floating around that said something like, “There’s one piece of medical advice I definitely won’t be following anytime soon: the American Pediatric Society’s recommendations for screen time.”
I wish I’d had a glass of wine to toast whomever created that.
Let your kids watch some extra TV so you can have some extra work time or downtime.
You could also combine this with family picnic at dinnertime, watching a favorite movie during dinner, and then enjoying popcorn while snuggling for dessert.
If you’re the type to feel really guilty about this, check out Melanie’s recommendations for educational Netflix shows.
(3) Craft cards for friends and family
Okay, so this may require setup from you, but if you do it with crayons, it doesn’t require much in the way of supervision.
Sit down with your little one and make a list of people they want to send cards to. Hang it on the wall, and check people off as they go.
When you need a break or to get some work done, send your kid to the crayon-and-paper station (maybe just leave this setup for a few weeks if you have room) and have them pick a name to make a card for.
You can do your thing, then “ooh and aah” when they’re done.
If you run out of people, start all over, or get creative. Make cards for neighbors, the mail person, folks in the nursing home, stuffed animals, whomever!
This is another great way to thank people who are working hard during this time (like your favorite cashier at the grocery store or your Amazon delivery person).
Use this as a time to help your child understand that there are many people who are looking out for him/her, and it’s important to thank them.
(4) Independent Music Class
Take the music class idea from above, but let the child do it alone while watching something fun and musical on TV.
They can play with their own props and move around while watching TV, and you’ll have some “you” time.
Need music class props and don’t want to craft your own? I love this simple little bundle!
Resources for other ideas
This list is SO far from exhaustive. Seriously. There’s so much out there. Here are some resources I suggest:
- Melanie at Mostly Under Control has created an incredible resource library for parents, where you’ll find:
- + Lots of other fun resources!
- Susie at Busy Toddler has you covered with daily schedules, free printable activities, and ideas for kids from babies through preschool!
- Kindergarten teacher (and my friend) Jay has lots of digital learning resources for educational ideas for kindergartners
- #cmaathome (The Children’s Museum of Atlanta) will be using this hashtag to post activity ideas and other fun content!
- ABC Mouse (educational resources for kids 2-8) is offering a 30-day free trial to get you through social distancing!
What are your favorite stay at home kid activities? Tell us all about how you’re coping in the comments!
FAQ About Preschool Activities at Home
There are tons of fun activities to do with preschoolers at home, from sorting, playing matching games, cooking together, having scavenger hunts, and so much more.
Preschoolers need to work their creative imaginations, motor skills, language abilities, senses of their bodies in space, and so much more. Let them climb and play safely, do craft activities, make up games, cook with you, sit down for story time, sing and dance, and so much more.
It’s great to foster independent play so your child doesn’t need entertaining, but it’s not always that easy. Consider fun games like scavenger hunts, arts and crafts time, music time, story time, and cooking time as different ways to keep your preschooler occupied and learning.
The primary caregivers at home are also children’s main role models. By helping them see that we enjoy learning with them, they’re more likely to develop a love of learning and creativity.
Other articles for dealing with life during Coronavirus
- Host an amazing drive by baby shower
- Managing with mom overwhelm
- The best educational shows for preschoolers
- Giving birth during Coronavirus
- Halloween safety tips 2020
Other parenting articles
- Stay at home kid activities
- Educational shows for preschoolers and toddlers
- What is free play + why is it important?
- Transition to toddler bed
- Rules for grandparents
Other articles for mom
- Self care for moms
- Overcoming pareting anxiety
- Rediscovering yourself after motherhood
- Opting out of mom guilt
- Dealing with anxiety as a mom
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.