The winter days can get long and dull, especially if you have preschoolers who are stuck inside. Next time you are faced with a herd of bored youngsters, try going big.

The preschool years are a time when kids are usually fascinated with really big things in general. I’m sure you’ve met a preschooler (or even live with one) that obsesses over construction equipment, trains, dinosaurs, or other very large things. One of my daughters shocked me by brutally stamping on a bug on the sidewalk at that age. When I asked her why in the world she did that, she said, “Because I’m BIG and it was LITTLE. It made me feel BIG.” Preschoolers definitely have a fascination with the world of big things.

You can tap into this fascination to intrigue your youngster on one of those dull days by going big with your play suggestions. Here are some ideas to try.

Does your child love to color and draw? This idea just might occupy them for a few days at a time at least. Get some very large paper. By large, think the kind of paper that comes on long rolls, like newsprint or even wide butcher paper. Cut off several lengths of about eight to ten feet, and tape them side by side to create a giant sheet of paper that still fits into a large piece of open floor space. It’s important that your paper can lay completely flat somewhere.

If your child collects any of those playsets with toy cars, buildings and people, you can dig all of them out now. You know the ones I mean; they often have gas stations, schools, houses, and more. These are optional, though. You can enjoy this project with or without them.

Find the toy cars, too. Use a yardstick to draw roads that are roughly the right scale for the majority of the cars and the playsets if you are using them. The roads can be in a grid, like a planned city, or you can let the kids have a hand in mapping them out. The idea is to make them wide enough for at least two of the cars to drive, just like real 2-lane roads.
Now that you have a city “map” of sorts, fill in the important buildings, preferably at your child’s direction. Use the playset buildings if you wish, or draw them on the paper. Add homes, a school, a gas station, and a few stores. If you wish, you can include a hospital, a church, a farm, or any other buildings your child is familiar with.

And here’s the kid-occupying portion of this project. Turn your children loose with crayons or markers to bring the city to life. They can add trees, sidewalks, and more. For some children, this process can literally take days. Remember that a lot of the fun of this is the process of creation, so allow them as much time as they need to create their city.

When the play mat is finished, it’s time to play. You’ll find that the kids will happily use it to pretend complicated scenes from their imaginations. Language skills and story-telling skills will blossom. Best of all, the mat will fold or roll up for storage and you can use it until they get tired of the game. In a few months, start all over again!

Another big idea is to create a giant, room-sized game board. Preschool and young elementary children are generally familiar with board games where dice are used to control the movements of pawns. Imagine their delight when you get them help create a huge playing board that snakes around the entire room and THEY get to be the pawns! All you need are some big pieces of poster board or cardboard. Line them up end to end to make spaces. Mark a starting square and a finish line. If you wish, add some shortcuts or detours. You can put special instructions on some of the squares (like “go back one” or “take another turn”). You can also create a large set of dice by folding a cube out of poster board and gluing it together or putting appropriate spots onto a cardboard box with the lid taped shut. Remember that the spots on opposite sides of the dice always add up to seven. It might be a good idea to tape the “game board” squares down and to have the kids play in stocking feet so there is less chance of slipping.

Now make up a few rules to govern how the kids take turns and move, and you’re off! They will be able to run their game all by themselves if they have even limited experience with regular board games. Have fun!