Fast and Frugal Activities to Entertain Your Preschooler
When I was a kid, summer meant a lot of things: yard sales, plastic lawn chairs, water hoses, catching lightning bugs, thunderstorms, ice cream cones and sunbathing.
Now that I’m a parent, summer means trying to keep a preschooler occupied all day, all summer long! Below is a list of fun and inexpensive and safe ways to keep kids from getting bored and blue during the summer.
Never underestimate the power of water! Let your kids run around the sprinklers or through the water hose. Put them to use helping you wash the car, or let them wash their bikes or other outdoor toys that have collected dust since last summer. Get some big sponges in different colors and shapes to make it fun.
You don’t have to go far to have a nice picnic lunch. Head out to your front yard or even to the park with a basket, a blanket and a bucket of toys: shovels, water guns, balls, a Frisbee or a wind toy if it’s a windy day. Let your kids help out from picking out the lunch to packing the basket.
Pitch a tent in your backyard, and let the kids pretend they are camping. Build a pretend fire – or a real one if they are old enough – roast marshmallows, look at the stars and tell stories around the fire.
Go for a walk, and make it an insect adventure. Bring along a magnifying glass, and help your preschooler spot different insects from ants to ladybugs to spider webs.
Kids can help you in the garden easily by watering plants, helping get rid of weeds and spreading mulch. Kids can also paint and decorate flower boxes or signs for your flowerbeds or vegetable plants. With the seed packets, cardboard, glue and a stake, you can have the rows of your garden labeled in style. Waterproof the signs by covering them with tape.
Before you leave the house, write down a list of things that remind you of summer: a water hose, a lemonade stand, bumble bees, someone washing their car, a lawn chair, a lawn mower, etc. Take your preschoolers in a wagon around the neighborhood, and try to find as many things on the list as possible.
They aren’t as popular as they used to be, but kids who love movies will enjoy packing up the car with a cooler, pillows, blankets and lawn chairs to watch a movie and eat popcorn under the starry sky. It’s much cheaper than going to a theater, especially when you pack your own snacks
Sometimes it’s just too hot to play outside. These fun and refreshing inside activities can help cool and quiet down your preschoolers.
Let your kids pretend they are on vacation at a fun resort. Bring in the paddle pool (minus the water!), and let them sit around it on towels or in sand chairs wearing their bathing suits. They can pretend they are at a resort pool, and you can be the waitress. Take their poolside drink and food orders. Bring them fun fruit smoothies – blend yogurt, orange juice and ice with fresh fruit for a tasty frozen and healthy drink. Add toothpicks with cherries or pineapple slices and little umbrellas or crazy straws for fun!
Ice Cream Parlor
Open your own ice cream parlor right in the kitchen. Set up your kitchen table with bowls of sprinkles, crushed Oreo cookies or Graham crackers, M&Ms;, chocolate syrup, strawberries or other favorite toppings for your kids. Let them build their own ice cream sundaes by scooping out their favorite ice cream into bowls and adding their choice of extras.
Bring in a bucket full of multi-sized stones with smooth surfaces. Let the kids paint animals, shapes or their names on the stones with acrylic paints. You can use the stones in your garden or walkway.
Play Dough or Jell-O
Have some fun with play dough by letting your preschooler use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. This is a good learning tool for identifying colors, animals and other shapes. For a cool and edible treat, use Jell-O instead.
Make a Postcard or a Scrapbook
Get some construction paper, markers and scissors, and help your little one make a postcard for a far-away relative. Let your child pick out a few pictures from a fun family event (a vacation, July 4th, etc.), and paste them on the postcard to send to a family member who wasn’t there. Your preschooler can also help you pick out pictures, stickers and other art for a scrapbook of your family’s summer vacation.
Winter is a special time for family moments. What do you remember from your childhood years? Playing outdoors probably was in the top three! So get bundled up, gather the kids and fill their memories with some winter fun!
Outdoor Winter Fun: Snow Required
Angels in the Snow
Get everyone to lie down and face up toward the sky. Then swing your arms (up/down) and legs (open/close). Carefully get up and see the angels everyone has created. Ask your child which is the biggest? The smallest? Suggest that you make a double angel by having your child make an angel within your angel.
The Ever-Lasting Snowman
Start by taking snow in your hands and forming a ball. Take your snowball and roll into the snow to make a bigger ball (the more you roll the bigger the ball). Place two, three or four on top of each other. Let your child decide how you will decorate the snowman; you’ll be surprised by what they’ll come up with. Who said you have to make a snow-man? Have you ever met a snow-cowboy? Or a little snow-baby? Make more than one snow-person — make a whole family.
Here comes Picasso! This activity can be very creative and lots of fun. All you’ll need are empty spray bottles. Fill them with water and add a few drops of food coloring (or washable tempera powder paint). Put rubber dishwashing gloves over your child’s mittens and let your child spray art onto the snow. Play outdoor Pictionary or Tic-Tac-Toe. Can you figure out the drawings? Can you write letters?
Your child will really enjoy this activity because it will make him feel big. Buy your child a child-size shovel and let him “help” you after a snowstorm. Not only will your child benefit from the fresh air and exercise, but he’ll also feel proud for helping you with the work.
Follow around in each other’s footprints in fresh snow. When fresh snow isn’t packed, it will take double the effort for both you and your child to walk in. Take turns running after each other in the snow. If you have many children over, bring out noisemakers and have a parade.
Outdoor Winter Fun: No Snow Needed!
Have you tried bubbles outside in the winter? Let your child jump up and try to burst them. The bubbles stay a little longer because of the cold air.
Use a piece of cardboard from a cardboard box (about 12 inches x 12 inches) to use as a sliding carpet. Who can slide down the farthest? Who’s the fastest? Take a bigger piece of cardboard and sit on it together and go for a tandem ride. Sliding can be done on a hill with snow, on sand or on the grass
Set out some hula-hoops, old tires, boxes, toboggans and any climbing structures already in the backyard. Let your child run, jump, climb, slide — remember not to let your child just stand around. Be especially cautious with climbing structures. Children who are dressed in bulky clothing for winter might not fit as easily as they would in shorts in the summertime.
Bird Feeding Station
Set up a bird feeding station for your little bird friends.
Take a pinecone and spread peanut butter onto it; then roll the pinecone into birdseed. Hang it in a tree.
Have your child string O-shaped dry cereal on a piece of string. Tie a knot with both ends and hang it on a branch.
Take a clean milk jug and cut out an opening on the side have your child fill it with birdseed. Place it outdoors near your window or hang it on your roof. Count the birds that visit your playground. Talk about the colors and the singing of the birds.
These are very popular with young children. All you really need is a blown up balloon, string or pieces of yarn and paste. Paste can either be white glue or a mixture of flour and water. Have your child dip the string or yarn into the paste and put it onto and around the balloon. Let her place as many as she wants. When finished, hang it up to dry for a day or two. With a pin, pop the balloon and remove it from the inside. Make many small ones and hang them from the ceiling.
Winter Wonderland Creations
Have your child draw a picture on a sheet of construction paper. Spread a thin layer of glue on top of her drawing. Using rick-rack (the wavy pieces of trim you get from fabric stores — it’s cheap and comes in white, silver, gold), cotton balls, swabs, rice and glitter, let her winterize her drawing.
Start by explaining to your child how dew is made (it’s the result from a quick change in temperature). Once dew freezes it becomes frost. To make your own frost you will need: a tin can with a lid, half a cup of rock salt and two cups of crushed ice (crushed in a blender). Let the child put the ingredients in and stir vigorously. Move on to something else for about 30 to 40 minutes and dew will form on the can. Leave it again and when you return, the dew will have turned into frost. Let your child discover the coldness on her little fingers. What happens when she touches the can? Warm fingers cause the frost to melt and the finger makes a print.
This is a science experiment that only requires ice cubes, a plate, a towel and curiosity. Let your child discover, feel and describe the melting process. For an older child you can tell him about the process of warm air turning the ice into water. When the melting is over, don’t forget to take your child a step further in the experiment: What will happen if you put the plate back into the freezer? What if you added a few drops of food coloring? Paint? You can also make Popsicles for this experiment and then let your child enjoy a frozen treat. Who said Popsicles were only for summertime?
Take a pie pan and fill it with water. Add some birdseed, leaves, twigs, pinecone, acorn, nuts and other nature items you have. Place the pie pan in the freezer and freeze until solid. Then hang in a tree and watch it twirl around and around and sparkle. Watch it melt on mild days. Children love activities that are constantly changing. When the sun-catcher melts, suggest making another.
Now you recall all the fun times you had when you played outdoors. Get dressed, go out and have fun!