It’s been a long time since I’ve written about keeping toddlers and preschoolers occupied because that’s not my season of life anymore. However, it’s still a question I hear frequently in homeschooling circles, though the quandary isn’t unique to homeschooling parents.
In fact, the question came up recently on the Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers Facebook page. There were several suggestions offered, including what used to be my go-to page for preschool and toddler activities, Paula’s Archives’ Preschool Activities page.
I offered some learning activity suggestions back when my niece was joining us for school, but sometimes you just want something fun and productive that your little one can do fairly independently. Here are some suggested activities for toddlers and preschoolers to keep them pleasantly entertained and occupied while older siblings are doing school…or just for fun:
Pipe cleaners and a strainer. (Follow the link for four other toddler-friendly activities)
Poking pom-poms into a milk jug. This used to be a favorite activity among the kids in the home daycare Brianna attended as a toddler. The daycare mom would cut flaps into the sides of the milk jug so that pom-poms were easy to remove.
Create an I Spy bottle. (Maureen, from Spell Outloud has tons of other great ideas on her blog.)
Host a busy bag swap. I so love this idea! I wish I’d heard about it when my kids were younger. It would make a great moms group activity and it’s a great way to save money putting the bags together since things tend to be cheaper when you buy in bulk.
Lacing Cards. Remember the little heavy cardboard, shaped cards you used to play with as a kid? They had the shoestring that you laced in and out of the holes? It’s easy to make your own lacing cards with some heavy cardboard and a hole punch or an awl.
Play-doh is always popular with toddlers. It’s relatively inexpensive, but it can still be fun to make your own.
Cutting straws is a fun activity for preschoolers and good fine-motor skills practice. It probably doesn’t make a good independent activity, though, if you like the length of your child’s hair.
Fishing with homemade magnet fishing poles was always a huge hit with my kids. Just get some dowel rods and attach round magnets to them with twine. Then, provide metal items for which to fish – this can be as elaborate as fish shapes with paper clips attached or just a plastic bucket with some metal items and some plastic ones. The latter is a fun opportunity for preschoolers to explore what sticks to magnets and what doesn’t.
Finger painting. Some fun mediums include pudding, baking soda, and shaving cream. It can also be fun to make a colored gel, double-bagged in a gallon size zip-lock bag – just use a little hair gel and food coloring.
Clothes pins can be used for dropping into a wide-mouth jar (such as a milk jug with part of the top cut away), clipping onto a cardboard box or even as an alphabet matching game for older preschoolers.
String beads or cereal. Another great fine-motor skill activity, kids always seems to enjoy stringing beads or cereal and, of course, if you use cereal, this provides a convenient snack, as well.
Stacking boxes. Old cereal boxes or oatmeal containers work well for this. They don’t even have to be old or empty, if you don’t mind re-shelving them when your child is through playing.
Some other great places for ideas for keeping toddlers and preschoolers productively busy include:
What are some of your favorite resources for keeping little one happily occupied?
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top photo credit parker knight on flickr
Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.