Preschool Activities for When You’re at Home with a Toddler

Claire Russell is an Early Years Specialist and founder of playHOORAY! Praised by Joe Wicks as his ‘go-to’ for play ideas, Claire shares her top tips for keeping little ones busy and entertained at home.

Being stuck indoors with an active toddler can be pretty daunting for parents. The days are long, 10 minutes of play can sometimes feel like hours, and you may sometimes find yourself clock-watching.

But it is possible, even with the most limited of resources, to keep little ones busy and yourself ‘sane’, providing a space for you to give attention to babies and older children who perhaps might need home schooling, or dare I say it, even allowing you to sit down with a cuppa!

Keeping Everyone Safe

Candy Floss, the Bright Horizons health and safety mascot says, “Remember to stay safe!” Curiosity can lead to children putting things into their mouths, take extra care when playing with small items and please ensure all activities are supervised by an adult.

Here are my top tips and some easy-peasy activity ideas for keeping your little ones entertained and playing:

Play Potential in Everyday Items

First and foremost, have a think about what you’ve got around the house that might provide inspiration. Some of the very best activities are those dreamt up using everyday household items. A cardboard box is a classic and what better excuse for online shopping!

Just grab a box, throw in a handful of crayons, stickers, arts & crafts resources, blankets or soft toys and let your little one loose! It’s like a giant play pen and best of all, it can be easily moved to any room you’re working in.

Get Out of the ‘Playroom’!

If there’s one thing children love, it’s novelty - something new can be super exciting! So, give their old toys a new lease of life by letting them play with them in a new setting. Under the dining table (even better if you’ve thrown a blanket over the top to make a den), behind the sofa, in the hallway, the sink (try adding a bit of water too for double the fun), an empty bath, or your bed (sorry!). Anywhere different to their usual play area will do. All of a sudden, their usual toys will be AMAZING! 

Keeping Everyone Safe

Candy Floss says, “Take care around water!” Always watch children closely when they're playing in or near any water, never leave them unattended.

Create a Sensory Box

If you’ve got a tuff spot tray then great, if not then any old tray or container will do. Fill it with rice, pasta, or cereal (anything lurking at the back of the pantry) add a selection of utensils, cups and spoons and invite them to get pouring and scooping. Minimum effort for maximum play! 

Treasure Baskets

Another favourite activity of mine to inspire play is treasure baskets featuring a collection of themed items sourced from around the house. It could be a basket of shiny things, things of a specific colour or natural resources. Try picking up some sticks, pebbles, shells, pine cones, bark etc next time you’re on your daily walk. 

Role Play

It can take a little longer to set up, but a role play scenario provides hours of entertainment and if you can leave it out for a few days (I know it might be hard to look at the mess) then it’s likely they will keep coming back to it. Role play is great for boosting your children’s real-world learning and sparking their little imaginations. Set up a shoe shop, a supermarket, a café, a post office. It doesn’t need to be complicated. A few items like a pot of coins for a till, and a notepad can go a long way! 

It also pays to take inspiration from the things your child loves. For example, if they’re into vehicles then can you set up an obstacle course for their cars. If they love all things space, create a space control centre. Or if they want to be a policeman when they grow up, turn your living room in to a S.W.A.T school for the day. Again, it might take a bit more time to set up but I can guarantee it will keep them occupied for hours! 

Cuddle up and Read Together

If all else fails, you’re stuck, tired or just don’t have the inspiration to think of something to do, grab a book and cuddle up to read together. You never know, it may even inspire an idea of something to do, make or play tomorrow.

Stock Up on Play Cupboard Essentials

This is my final tip, stocking up on your play cupboard essentials will mean that you always have something to reach for. Some of my favourites are washi tape, play dough, a plastic tea set, small world people, trees and animals, and of course, good old art supplies!

It can be daunting trying to think of ways to fill your days with a toddler but remember that they do not need to be chock-a-block with all-singing, all-dancing, Pinterest worthy activities. That’s not realistic. If you choose to have a day in your PJs or use TV to earn yourself a rest, then that really is ok. Don’t put pressure on yourself, your children think you are amazing regardless. 

Claire’s book, The playHOORAY! Handbook, has further ideas for baby and toddler play, including how to spot play potential in everyday items and advice on encouraging your child to play independently. 

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