Danielle Waite is back with more fun and engaging activities for young ones that can be done indoors and outdoors, using items and materials many homes already have. Enjoy!
(Updated July 16, 2020)
The activities are still coming and I believe I haven’t repeated any. But remember, children love repetition. Set up older activities to do again and again. If your child seems uninterested, change an aspect to make it more interesting:
Water Play – Add dish soap, a little coloring or glitter, a scent to the water, or even some ice
Color Sorting – Add a collection of buttons, a collection of ties or scarves, or give them a tool to manipulate the objects (tongs, tweezers, spoons or other utensils); drop containers (the old box, coffee tin, Pringles can, oatmeal container, yogurt container) that you cut into the lid – add a variety of materials to drop in the cut holes, make holes only fit a certain type of object (round for corks, a slot for playing cards, etc.).
Tape Trails – For lining up objects (large like toys, small like buttons or cotton balls) or have them “walk the line” walking in a heel-toe manner; or add a string of lights or a small lamp inside a fort.
I hope this inspires you and continues to provide long lengths of uninterrupted time for you to work while your child is engaged. These activities will benefit your child through their play for their further academic experiences. You are laying a foundation of concentration, creativity, focus, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, classification, sorting, problem solving and more.
Some great outdoor or indoor activities:
Toy Pool Party – Provide a dish pan, large Tupperware container or large pot and let your child have a toy pool party! If you have new sponges, they can serve as pool floats. Make sure you provide your child with a towel or two to dry off their pool party participants.
Clothes Line Fun – String a child-height clothes line outside. Allow your child to hang their own laundry out to dry. This saves energy and teaches your child a life skill. It’s warm enough that their wash will be dry in no time! You can join them and hang out your clothes as well.
Water Color Droplets – Provide small containers of very diluted food coloring with water or watercolors. Using either paper towels or coffee filters, let your child squeeze colored water droplets onto the surface using an eye dropper, small syringe, Q-tip or paintbrush. Your child can witness how the colors disperse on the dry paper and blend together. They will also discover what happens when you add too many colors or you re-wet areas.
Dry Erase Letter Hunt: Write the alphabet – scrambled – on glass or mirror. You can do capitals or lower-case letters. Have your child then erase the corresponding letter in sequence while singing the song, pulling letters out of a box (use an alphabet puzzle or write them on paper scraps) or as they look at an alphabet book. For young children, allow them to erase the found letter with a washcloth or rag. Older children can use another dry erase color marker to trace your letter. For children who are writing letters, you can have them write their own letters on the mirror/glass. Remember to try to use non-block letters, but D’Nealian is shown to be the easiest for young children to learn. The letters have the minimal strokes and are close to cursive (children scribble before they draw straight lines).
Draw and Shake: Add salt, dry coffee grounds, soil, sand or corn meal to a tray or round cake pan. There should be enough to cover the bottom in a thin layer. Your child can then run their finger through the smooth surface to practice drawing letters. This is easier to accomplish versus writing with a pencil. Just give a light shake to the tray to erase the letter and try again. Besides letters, your child can work on zig-zags and wavy lines. They can do drawings, too!
Paper Clip Fun: This activity is great for fine motor control and refinement. Provide your child a variety of paper clips and some heavy-duty paper (card stock works best) to practice on. Have your child add paper clips to the edge of the paper. You can make it more difficult by cutting the paper stock into shapes like ©, ã, or ª that will provide your child a little extra challenge. Use a variety of sizes, shapes and types of paperclips, from plastic to metal, traditional to fun-shaped. For children interested in numbers, put a numerical symbol and the corresponding number of dots on the card (on the back) and have the child put the correct number of paperclips along the edge to match the symbol and quantity.
Shaving Activity: This is a fun sensory activity for young children. All you need is shaving cream (make sure they don’t digest it) or lotion. Apply to a limb and use a tongue depressor, popsicle stick or chopstick to “shave off” the cream/lotion. They will learn a sweeping pressure technique; challenge them not to use their tool like a pencil. For those who wish to do a facial “shave,” set them up in front of a mirror. They will then need to reorient themselves to their reflection.
Tea Bag Sensory Play: Provide your child with a variety of tea bags, some water (lukewarm), child scissors, spoons, and a variety of cups/jars/containers. Your child can cut open tea bags, make tea and smell and taste the different flavors. They can experience how the water gets darker and the taste/smell more fragrant as they experiment and play. If you have tea ball strainers and a tea pot (that you don’t prize), the play can get more involved with additional materials to explore.
Ice Skating: Here’s a simple activity that will be fun for your child indoors. Clear out a space large enough and make sure there are no corners or furniture that may injure your child if they fall. Provide your child with a couple of dryer sheets to step on and then slide on your hard floor surface. This will simulate ice skating. Add a little music and let them have some fun!
Homemade Moon Sand: This is simple to make, but you want to contain it to a dishpan or tray. It will be slippery on the floor, so a towel placed under the tray or on the floor is recommended for any spills. The recipe is simple: 2 cups of flour mixed with ¼ cup of baby oil. Mix well. The mixture will cluster, providing a great sensory activity for your child. Add some small toys and spoons/bowls and let your child have fun with this fun feeling Moon Sand. It will also soften their hands!
Junk Mail Reuse: Give your child a stack of junk mail, advertisements and catalogues that have come in the mail. For young children, allow them to open mail and rip up everything. For older children, give them a pair of child scissors and let them have fun! You can extend this activity with envelopes, cardboard, tape and glue (glue sticks are a favorite and less messy). Add crayons or markers for even more creativity. Children also enjoy putting their ripped and cut pieces of paper into envelopes, sealing them up and giving them as gifts.
Cut Sponges: This is an activity that can be done wet and dry. Take new simple sponges and cut them into pieces (rectangular – think Jenga blocks). Cut them length-wise and width-wise. They can then be used for a variety of building activities when dried and then when you add water – they behave so differently! These can be used over and over, just allow them to dry out. Extensions – use colored water (a very little food coloring goes a long way!) or dish soap.
For older preschoolers and beyond –
Take Aparts: If you have old appliances or toys, remove the power cord (cut it off) and the batteries, then provide your child with an assortment of real tools. Screwdrivers (various types and sizes), wire cutters, pliers and even a hammer can all be useful. Your child can then take apart the items. It’s amazing how much they can discover about how things work when they get to see the inside. Provide a small Tupperware or jar for them to keep all the screws they remove. You can also provide a magnet as well for your child to experiment with.
Bread Painting: This activity requires some parental involvement or, at least, you want to be close at hand. Food coloring stains, even when diluted with water. Make sure you are doing this in an easily cleaned area. Aprons, towels and trays to work on are recommended. Let your child paint on slices of bread with water-diluted food coloring and a clean brush or Q-tip. Remind your child that painting in the same spot makes the bread soggy, as when you paint on the same spot on paper you get a hole. Have your child paint the bread for your lunch sandwiches (allow for drying time) or for tomorrow’s breakfast toast. Who doesn’t like to eat their art?
Bull’s-Eye Box: Have your child decorate the interior and exterior of a box or box lid. Once they have completed that, cut a hole in the bottom of the box and put a ball inside (make sure the hole is larger than the ball). Have your child move the box to guide the ball to the hole. The larger the surface, the harder the challenge for your child.
Clothes Pin/Chip Bag Clip Pick Ups: Provide your child with a few clothes pins and/or bag clips for this activity. Using containers, have your child pick up items such as cotton balls, buttons, small toys, or even balled paper scraps to pick up using the paper clip or bag clip. This three-finger pincer grasp will help with holding writing utensils and the overall activity is great for hand-eye coordination.
Spray Bottle Target Practice: This is a great outdoor activity. Set up paper towel rolls on end and place either a light plastic ball or crumpled paper ball on top. Provide a simple hand spray bottle filled with water for target practice. Encourage them to spray the ball off the paper towel roll and then reset the activity. If they get bored with that, have them spray plants outside, the fence, the ground, the grass and even give their toys a good spray washing.
Stacking Cheerios: Using Play-Doh as a base, put a piece of dry spaghetti sticking into it, sticking straight up. If you don’t have Play-Doh, use a piece of foam, a small box (put a hole in the lid) or even your colander to hold up the pasta. Then provide Cheerios for your child to stack on the pasta. You can extend this for older children by writing a number on a Post-It note in front of each pasta strand and have your child stack the appropriate number of Cheerios.
Golf Tee Balances: This require items that not all households may have on hand – golf tees and marbles. Using a packaging foam base or a box, have your child hammer golf tees into the box or foam, but not all the way in. With the tees sticking up, have your child place marbles on each and every golf tee. They will have to be very careful and strategize how to put the marbles on the tees without knocking over other marbles.
Danielle Waite is Executive Director of the Early Childhood Education Center at UC Merced.