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Once I allowed my kids screen time, it didn’t take me long to realize that I needed some structured activities during the day. Otherwise, they would be perfectly happy to sit in front of the TV for hours at a time.
While I have no problem letting them watch TV for awhile periodically throughout the day, I don’t want toddler couch potatoes. Enter indoor preschool activities.
If you spend any time on Pinterest, it can be intimidating to see all of the projects and craft ideas some moms come up with. But you don’t need to get overwhelmed. You just need a plan.
I’ve developed a habit of keeping a handful of things on hand at all times that are well suited for indoor preschool activities. Things that I can pull out for art projects or science experiments, or spur of the moment baking. Whether it’s because the weather is bad, the kids are sick but restless, or we’ve just watched enough TV for the day, having a small arsenal of projects in my back pocket has kept the crazies at bay on more than one occasion.
Kids don’t need the best, most creative projects. They just need you. These indoor preschool activities are sure to please your little ones, and as long as you keep these items on hand, they require little to no prep on your part. Perfect for the busy, stressed parent.
Plus, many of these items you likely already have on hand, or can get very cheaply at the dollar store. Frugal and entertaining is a win-win scenario in our house!
And what’s even better, these indoor preschool activities scale down for toddlers and scale up for bigger kids, making them great projects for siblings.
Ready to see what you need to keep in your pantry and craft bins? Let’s get at it!
Vinegar and Baking Soda
Vinegar and baking soda is the be all, end all of indoor preschool activities. Whenever my kids see me bring out the vinegar and baking soda, they immediately run to the kitchen table, giddy with excitement for what project I’m going to introduce. It doesn’t matter how many volcanoes or fizzy rainbows we make, or how often we make our paint fizz, they are always eager to play with vinegar and baking soda.
Once you’ve done a few projects with vinegar and baking soda, you start getting a bit more creative. I’ve had them put baking soda in cookie cutters and then gently pour in vinegar. I’ve also put baking soda and a few drops of food coloring in muffin tins and let them drop in vinegar to watch a colorful, fizzy explosion.
Baking soda and vinegar projects are so much fun! And the kids love them. Every. Single. Time. Get creative and let the kids experiment with this introductory chemistry lesson.
Do yourself a favor and buy the large containers of vinegar and baking soda. Like I said, once you introduce your kids to the world of fizz, they’re going to keep coming back for more!
Here are some pics of some of our favorite vinegar and baking soda experiments!
Sugar and Salt
Conveniently, you probably already have these items in your pantry! You know they’re good for seasoning your food but did you know they’re also great for indoor preschool activities?
I stumbled across a recipe for Sugar Sand and it was an instant hit. I gave each of the boys a tray, some cookie cutters, and some sand toys and they went to town. They sat quietly playing for thirty minutes. Amazing.
I simplified the recipe by just adding a bit of food coloring and skipping the fragrance/essential oils, and it was totally fine. When the boys were done playing I scooped everything into a plastic container to save for the next time I need a quick activity.
If you’re looking for a twist on regular painting, try salt watercolor painting. It only requires a few ingredients and it turns out beautifully.
Use regular white glue to make a design on paper (if your family likes, slime, go ahead and get the gallon size!). Cover the glue thoroughly in salt and tap off the excess. Then, load the brush with your watercolors and gently touch the salt. It’s mesmerizing to watch the color travel through the salt. Be aware though that this project can take several days to dry, so hands off for a few days!
Of course, these are just two projects that use salt and sugar. Scour Pinterest for even more ideas!
I can’t say that before kids I regularly stocked cornstarch in my pantry. But now that I’m regularly looking for indoor preschool activities, it’s a staple. I still haven’t cooked with it, but it makes a regular appearance in our projects!
Cornstarch is one of the primary ingredients in the Sugar Sand recipe I noted above, but it’s real shining moment is in what my family calls “goop.”
It’s more commonly known as Oobleck, and if you want a way better description than I can provide, check out this great primer from Instructables.
What I can tell you is that it’s goopy and sticky, but runny, and…alright, I don’t really know how to describe it. But it’s fun. And my kids can play with it for quite a long time.
If you’re a parent of young kids you know that any time you can get your kids to focus on one project for twenty minutes or more, you’ve struck gold. Parents: you will strike gold with goop.
I make my goop on baking sheets, add some drops of food coloring and give the kids a spoon. They swirl and mix to their heart’s content and I have to admit, I have fun playing with it too!
My kids love baking, so I always keep brownie or muffin mix on hand. Pre-made mixes are quick and easy, so they’re perfect for curious toddlers and preschoolers with short attention spans! When I see them on sale at the grocery store I stock up.
Refrigerated cookie dough mix is also a fun option, though they’re usually more expensive and have a shorter shelf life.
Baking is a perfect indoor preschool activity because it’s fun and educational. Baking let’s kids practice measuring and following directions. Even better, they get to create a delicious treat. What’s not to love?!
We use food coloring for almost all of our projects, as you’ve probably noticed by now! Another fun project where food coloring is essential is “fireworks in a jar” from I Can Teach My Child.
I make a few adjustments in that I pour the oil on top of the water, and then add the food coloring. One less dish to mess up! But I think the effects are the same. My kids love this one and are so excited to see the color explode through the oil.
Another fun project (though more of an outdoor project!) featuring food coloring is erupting ice chalk paint, which is perfect for a hot day. Make a bunch of these at one time and keep them in the freezer all summer long so you always have a fun project in your back pocket.
This may seem like an oddball to this list, but hear me out. You can do a ton of things with painter’s tape (or masking tape if you have that on hand instead).
Hands on as We Grow has a lot of fun activities with the humble roll of painter’s tape. We tried these simple activities with six lines of tape and it was a lot of fun.
You can also make a maze, “balance beam,” or an obstacle course to climb through.
What my kids had the most fun with is when I used tape to make different shapes on the floor. I would then call out a shape and a kind of animal movement and they would have to imitate that animal to get to the shape. For example, frog jump to the triangle! Or, crab walk to the square! It was a great energy buster for a dreary day and the kids had fun with it for twenty or thirty minutes at least. (unfortunately, I can’t claim credit for this great game, but I also can’t remember where I found it! If I do, I’ll update with a credit!).
Painter’s tape is perfect to have in your arsenal of indoor preschool activities because the projects you set up with it are great energy busters, which is what you need when the weather is too yucky to go outside. Cabin fever in kids is no joke. Keep everyone happier by getting the kids moving with these fun games.
Toilet Paper Tubes
I love using toilet paper tube rolls for projects. You don’t need to buy anything – just save the tube when you’re done with the roll. Frugal and fun makes for one happy mama!
Toilet paper tubes are incredibly versatile. You can make caterpillars, telescopes, binoculars, swords…really, the only limit is your imagination! We made these cute love bugs for Valentine’s Day!
This is a no-brainer. Water colors or tempra paint, it doesn’t matter: kids love to paint.
And the nice thing about painting is that kids don’t usually need any guidance or prompt. Just give them a brush, a piece of paper, and some paint and they will become the next Monet. Indoor preschool activities that don’t require a lot of planning on my part are a win for me!
Now if you’re a neat freak like me, painting with toddlers or preschoolers can be stressful. I recently learned about spill proof paint cups and I have to admit that they do have their appeal. When I paint with the kids, I create a palate on a paper plate, but invariably, that creates a giant mess. Spill proof cups keep the mess at least a bit more contained, which would allow me to enjoy the project more!
If you’re going to do any painting projects, you’re going to need paint brushes!
While I’m usually a fan of getting kids’ arts supplies at the dollar store, I haven’t had the best luck there for paint brushes. I’ve found the bristles to be hard, so they don’t pick up paint very well, which leads to frustrated kids.
You certainly don’t need to get artist grade paint brushes but spend another buck or two to get thicker, soft bristle brushes, like these ones from Crayola.
Markers are another thing that are probably already in your arsenal, and just like paint, they’re great because kids don’t need any direction with them. Which also makes them a perfect option for when you need to get something done, like making dinner, taking a quick phone call, or when you just want a moment of peace.
Whatever you get, make sure they’re washable. Someone in my life gave my kids nonwashable markers (who does that?!?). Now I feel like the bad mom who doesn’t wash her kids when my kids come to school with marker ink all over their hands!
If your kids are little, a simple eight-pack will probably do fine, but if your kids are older, you may want to get a larger pack to give them more coloring variety. And as you need to replace your kids’ markers, mix it up every now and then: try out thin tips, or bold instead of classic colors. Or if you’re feeling really wild, try glitter markers! Note though, that glitter markers aren’t often washable.
I typically shun paper plates for eating, but they are useful for craft projects! Go to the dollar store or buy the bargain brand from the grocery store. You don’t need to go for quality here.
Need inspiration? Check out these twenty paper plate animal crafts from i Heart Crafty Things, or do a Pinterest or web search for “paper plate craft.” You will find no shortage of projects that are perfect indoor preschool activities.
Construction paper is a heavy hitter in many of our indoor preschool activities. You don’t need anything fancy, but do aim to get a package with a variety of colors so you have lots of options for your art projects.
My toddler is obsessed with cutting. I can give him a pair of safety scissors and some paper and he will be quiet and happy for ten minutes or more (which in two year old time is like hours!).
It’s a great task to give him when I’m trying to get dinner ready or need to help my five year old with something.
To try to save our construction paper for arts and crafts, I like to give him junk mail, magazines, and other paper headed for the recycling bin.
Other Craft Supplies
Periodically I roam through the dollar store to restock our craft supplies. Some of the items I make sure I always have on hand include:
- Pom Poms
- Googly eyes
- Pipe cleaners
- Stamps and ink pads
- Popsicle sticks
- Toothpicks (for creating structures with grapes or mini marshmallows)
- Cotton balls/cotton swabs (fun to use instead of a paint brush!)
Taking the Stress Out of Indoor Preschool Activities
With crazy schedules, work obligations, sleep deprivation and everything else that comes with the early childhood years, it’s easy to get stressed out. And when I’m stressed, if the kids will hang out in front of the TV so I can get a few minutes of peace, I’m happy to let them do it.
But that can only last so long. At some point that nagging voice in the back of my head gets the better of me and I want to introduce a fun or educational project to keep those brains growing. And just as importantly, these indoor preschool activities help us build wonderful memories.
I hope when my kids are older, they will be more likely to remember the fun art and science projects I did with them rather than every plot line of Paw Patrol.
Keeping these items on hand at home has been a tremendous help when I need to put together a fast project. I know they will help you too!
If you have little kids, what are your go-to craft and project supplies? Leave a comment below!