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Best Ideas to Keep your Preschooler Engaged that Don't Involve a Screen

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Recently, so many of my friends found themselves to be overnight homeschoolers due to the Coronavirus. One of the comments I've heard over and over is, "What do I do with my toddler or preschooler while I try to teach my older child(ren)?." During my homeschooling years, I used some preschool and toddler sensory activities and some sensory and activity boxes for toddlers. I loved the idea of toddler boxes that have ideas that you can pull out for some uninterrupted time focusing on your older child(ren). These are great to prep on the weekend to prepare for the next week. If you have some shoe boxes in a closet, grab those and label the activities with a sharpie on the outside, then you can take out a different activity each day during the focused time you want with your older child. I have some ideas below that can likely be made with supplies you have around the house (super important since we can't go out to the stores right now).

Also, nap time of younger kids is a wonderful time to focus on an older child. Keep in mind that you DO NOT need to be and should not be replicating 6 hours a day of school! A kindergartner to first grader only needs about 1 hour of focused time. I suggest a thirty-minute block in the morning and another one in the afternoon. Make sure that younger school-age children get plenty of exercise so that they can focus during the time you do want them doing formal instruction. When my kids were younger, we played outside each morning and each afternoon, as weather allowed. When weather did not allow, I still made sure to encourage their activity with dance offs, actual music that led them through movements, inside races, and inside obstacle courses.

5 Engaging Activity Boxes for Toddlers

  1. Color Wheel Hunt:

On your floor, using full sheets of construction paper and painter’s tape (or masking tape), tape the paper in a wide circle, with room for your child or children to stand in the middle. Be sure to leave some space in-between each of the pieces of paper as you tape them in a circle. Ahead of time, gather up a few toys that you can match with the colors. Review the color names with your child and help them match up the few toys you have gathered and place them on top of or near the corresponding colored paper. Instruct your toddler to gather objects and toys and continue to match them. If you’d rather not use your floor, you could also do this on a large table. I recommend pulling out this activity once a week for some quiet time and your child can also work on their colors.

2. Matching Colors and Patterns

Using some old wrapping paper, wall paper, or even fabric shapes, cut out these shapes - triangle, square, circle, and rectangle. You will probably want to do several different patterns of paper. On a large sheet of paper, trace the different shapes in a vertical line. Mix up the fabric or paper shapes into a pile and have your child match the patterns in the line, using the drawn shapes as a guide. Make sure to tell your child to pick all of one pattern first and then do the next pattern. This will help your child work on their shapes and also understanding matching patterns. For further fun, you can have your child glue the matching shapes in a line, using a glue stick.

3. Art With Cars or Trucks

Make sure to dress your child in a paint smock for this activity. Using some washable paint, place some on a disposable plate and put a large piece of paper on a table or the floor. Allow your child to pick a few matchbox cars or trucks or slightly larger size trucks and put the trucks in the paint and make artwork using the truck as the paint brush. Instruct them to drive the car in the paint and then drive it onto the paper - back and forth. I remember the first time I allowed my son to do this he was kind of freaked out that I was allowing him to make a mess.

4. Crayon Color Sorting

Muffin tins are so useful for preschool educational ideas and can be used for loads of different sorting ideas.

Materials needed: Muffin tin, Pieces of colored paper, Crayons

Grab one muffin tin and tape pieces of paper in different colors to the inside of 9 of the muffin compartments (so, you won’t use 3 of the compartments). You can use construction paper or crayon color pieces of paper in the corresponding colors to tape onto the muffin compartments. Grab many different crayons - they do not have to be crayons in perfect shape since the main purpose is not artwork but sorting. Show your toddler how to sort the crayons into the different compartments based on matching the colors. Your toddler can do this again and again and then, of course, have some paper nearby in case he/she wants to do some artwork also. Suggested colors for this: Red, Orange, Purple, Blue, Yellow, Black, Brown, Pink, White.

Not only does this work on colors, and sorting, but it is also good fine motor skill practice. If the 9 colors is too much for your toddler, reduce the number and complexity of colors used.

5. Make Your Own Puzzle with Blocks

Hopefully you have some wooden blocks of some sort hanging around your house. If you don’t Duplo Lego blocks would work well, but regular Legos are probably too small. If you really don’t have any acceptable blocks, you could cut some square, triangle, rectangle, and circle shapes out of construction paper and use that.

Using painter’s tape or masking tape, tape a shape outline onto your floor. You may want to start with a simple square. Later you can try a triangle or rectangle. Ask you child to use the blocks to fill-in the shape of the square. You can start them off with a few blocks to get your child started in the right direction. They may get a little confused at first and stack the blocks. Try to get him/her to understand the purpose is to lay the blocks flat. After they have completed filling it in, you can have an older sibling work with them to count the number of blocks used or count them out for your toddler yourself. You can also put two similar sized and shapes on the floor and have siblings race to fill in the shape

I will post more ideas next week for additional activity boxes you can make to help you survive this homeschooler adventure you've been placed in due to COVID-19.

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