I feel you, mamas. We’re stuck at home with our kids while we practice social distancing during the Coronavirus. And we’re wondering what the hell we’re supposed to do with all this time. We’ve got you covered, both with ideas, and links to other resources for fun stay at home kid activities.
This article will cover:
- Educational activities for toddlers and preschoolers
- Preschool activities at home
- Outdoor and indoor activities for kids at home
- 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, but we don’t know how long it will last, so I really need you to hear me on this one:
This is not the time to be SuperMom. This is the time to take care of yourself and your loved ones, and to protect your community by staying home.
We’re all stay-at-home moms now, even if we’re working through it. And we’re learning just how hard being a SAHM really is!
If you’re struggling to cope emotionally, check out our article on living with uncertainty about the future.
You’re doing great
You’re probably going to feel like you’re failing as your kids go stir crazy.
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.
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 OF 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
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.
I love using 1/4 cups so Jack gets to count. So, if we need 2 ½ cups of flour, I scoop 10 quarter cups, and he gets to practice counting to 10!
By letting them mix dough, stir, or cut dough with a pastry cutter, you’re doing wonders for their fine motor skills!
(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 has many parts, so it can really occupy your child for a while:
- 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!)
(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 activities for preschool kids you can do at home, from simple activities like number recognition to playing fun games and making crafts.
I’ll keep this section simpler because your preschool teacher is likely sending you activity ideas already!
(6) 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. Color with marker, then drop water on it to watch the colors spread.
(7) Play games and puzzles
Depending on your kids’ age(s), board games and puzzles can be a super fun way to pass the time.
If you know you’re going to play board games over, say, the next two weeks, why not make 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 (Jack can play, with help, at 2 ½ & loves it. Levels age up to about 5)
- Hoot, Howl, Hoot is a big favorite among our readers
This way there’s a sense of ownership in the game and satisfaction after they’ve all been played.
Preschool & toddler activities at home (indoor)
When you’re looking for activities for toddlers at home, or trying to occupy your preschooler, nothing is worse than a rainy day. That’s why we’re covering you with fun indoor activities that will keep the kiddos entertained!
(8) Host a “hunt”
What is a “hunt”? It’s what my 6-year-old niece calls a game she’s played with my mom since she was 2. And she STILL begs for “Hunts.” If you want a tried-and-true activity kids loved, this is one.
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–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.
(9) Picnic in the living room
Pull out some blankets and paper plates and mealtime just got much more fun!
It’s also easier to clean up (well, except the load of laundry you just created with the blankets).
(10) 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.
(11) 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, this is hard on them too, so let them indulge a little.
(12) 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.
(13) 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 kid, while you really just lay there and let them climb on you.
(14) Have 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.
(15) Facetime people
We ALL miss socializing right now, even the most introverted of us. Facetime will help family, friends, and your kiddos all feel like they’re staying connected.
(16) Make Slime
We just heard you audibly groan when you read the word “slime,” so please know that there are other options!
Check out these super fun science experiments for toddlers and preschoolers.
(17) 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.
Preschool & toddler activities at home (outdoor)
When you’re stuck at home with (or without) kids, getting outside is essential. We all need some open air and Vitamin D.
So when the weather permits, these fun activities for kids will take you far!
(18) 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.
(19) 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.
(20) 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.
(21) 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.
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.
(22) 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!
(23) 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.
Look, regardless of whether or not they can actually understand that there’s a global pandemic going on, your child knows you well enough to know that something is “off.”
We all need distractions right now, and the same goes for your child. If that means extra screen time, then so be it.
If you’re the type to feel really guilty about this, check out Melanie’s recommendations of educational Netflix shows.
(24) Craft time
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, whoever!
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.
(25) 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.
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!
Other articles for dealing with life during Coronavirus
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and 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 has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is 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, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.