Looking for independent activities to keep preschoolers busy? Learn how to keep a 5 year old entertained w/ fun independent activities for preschoolers as you catch your breath!
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When you NEED a break…
Entertaining pre-schoolers full of energy all day long is not easy. And a busy day overflowing with house chores, outside errands, and constant juggling between baby diapers and feeder bottles leaves no strength for that anyway.
Like me, I see a lot of moms wondering ‘how can I make my child busy at home without being interrupted every 5 minutes?’
Want to remember these ‘Independent Activities for Preschoolers’ for later? Save it by clicking this link or the image below to your favorite board on Pinterest.
So, for such days I have come up with a list of safe independent activities for preschoolers at home which are fun and can easily give you enough time to catch your breath. All of them are simple and easy, most are mess free, -the best alternative activities to screen time.
You can also use some of these ideas (the ones where they are not jumping and hooting) as nap time activities for non nappers or quiet play activities.
And you will find that all of them are pretty long activities for kids to stay busy in- ranging from half an hour to when you pull them out yourself!
I like to keep my son where I can see him but there is also enough distance that I can feel comfortable or free enough to do my thing during that time.
The Caveats To Unsupervised Activities For Young Kids
- Independent activities can NOT be overdone. Anything, even ice cream loses its power with kids when I see they are bored with constant repetitive activities and left unattended for longer periods of time.
For the independent activity to be successful, the kids need to have their attention bucket filled first. Lots of times I see kids misbehaving and think they must have some underlying need unfulfilled. When my own child is acting out of his normal I have to remind myself that he might be needing some extra attention and could use some snuggles.
- A clean house, PLUS young kids playing on their own for long hours, means we are over expecting from life. How is that even possible? This can be a formula for frustration and disappointment.
- What works for one child may not necessarily work for the other. Keep trying different things. Sometimes it takes me multiple activities before my son settles with the one he is ready for that particular day.
- Sometimes one activity may not click the first time right away, offer them an activity more than once after a gap.
- Forcing them to do an activity just won’t work. Present an offer or situation which makes them say yes.
- Once your kids get busy, if you’re like me, don’t stand there wasting time taking pictures and do what you actually wanted to do in that free time.
- Sometimes, you may have to compromise with semi-attentiveness. They don’t fully engage you in their play, but they keep asking you things every couple of minutes. Take it.
(For us, the most obvious red flag to unsupervised play is child safety. I never leave my son completely alone unless there is another person from the family attentive around him. When we are alone and he is doing an independent activity, he is usually at a distance where I can see what he is doing. I never assume he will call out and I will hear him if he needs help. I have experienced this a couple of times where he went completely mute, or quietly sobbed, in a situation where he was scared or hurt.)
With that out of the way, now let’s dive into some activities to keep kids busy.
INDEPENDENT PLAY IDEAS FOR PRE-SCHOOLERS
1. Tying toys
My son can play with a simple spool of thread or a ball of wool for hours. He can use it to:
- tie his animals together
- tie the thread from one door knob to another to make obstacles or hang toys on that string.
- tie anyyyything and then use scissors to open it
- just undo the entire reel for the fun of it
All our door handles have strands of threads hanging from previous thread activities and every time my mom sees my son, she runs to hide her sewing kit which is his first target of attack in their house.
So, just give your child one thread reel or a ball of wool, more if you can afford the mess. You may need to invest 5 minutes to give them an idea of how they can play with it.
This activity may not work for you but if you are lucky enough and it does, it will give you hours of free time at the very least.
2. Jumping from cushion tower
My son loves making cushion towers and then takes lots of time trying to climb this wobbly tower without breaking it.
Once he does manage to reach the top, the glory resides in free fall diving from the top onto the bed quickly before the tower disbalances from his weight and comes crashing down.
Fair warning: this is a noisy activity in case you were planning to use this freed up time for focused work. Can you imagine a child playing and jumping off pillows silently?
Also, make sure there is plenty of space for him as he falls. Put the lowest cushion in the middle of the bed so the tower rises right in the middle of the bed and there is plenty of space for your child to crash land. I also don’t give my son too many cushions or pillows that they eventually run out of space and end up falling off the bed during any jump.
3. Exchanging toys
If your 5 year old won’t play with toys, especially ones they already have then here is another thing you can try. Exchange toys with a neighbor friend or your child’s cousins for a day. This is a universal phenomenon: all kids love and ACTUALLY PLAY with toys that the other child has. This is a win-win, good for the other child too.
First show them the toys, and once they ask for them, give them a basket and tell them they can have them for a day only if they are willing to share their toys. While this barter is very easy for my son, some complications can arise that you should know before doing this activity:
Your child may not agree to share their toys, even though they want the other child’s.
If your child is not willing to share any toy, then maybe the other party is willing to lend without an arrangement. If not, then you may just skip this activity.
My son loves decorating his toys with (my planner’s!) stickers and in desperate times, I’m willing to trade those for a breath. With things he is usually NOT allowed to use like my stationary, he can easily stay engaged for at least half an hour.
If you are looking for the easiest way on how to keep a 5 year old entertained for reallllly long hours, then water games are your best friend! I have to pull my son out of water most days and often times it ends up killing the purpose when he starts crying so he can play some more.
Sometimes I tell him he needs to wash his cycle. Kids love doing big tasks as elders do. Give them soapy water and a washcloth. Let them have fun for an hour at least.
Other times, I fill a bucket or his pool and give him spoons and pots to pour and play.
He also likes to bathe his toy animals. He will scrub them with a brush till half their paint comes off.
I have also kept a few inexpensive soap bars exclusively for his bucket times. He likes having his own bars to use on himself and just try to catch them as they slip off from one side to another in the water.
6. DIY slide or tunnel
Sometimes I roll the rug and make a tunnel of it. I raise one side by placing it on a chair (or something tall ). My son likes to wriggle and crawl through it himself sometimes but other times, he likes rolling cars and dinos through the tunnel.
You can even place a catching basket at a difficult angle on the lower end of the tunnel and ask your child to roll balls through the tunnel to make them go in the basket.
7. Dump and pour
Give them anything to dump or pour, depending on your tolerance for the mess,
8. Patterns on mats
If you have mats with some kind of design on it, let your child create a pattern with his toys, or beans, etc on it.
9. Frozen toys
I found this activity on this blog and liked it so much I thought to share it here too. Freeze your child’s favorite toys in a container full of water. Later when it freezes, take out the block of ice and give them a safe toy to chisel and hammer out the toys lose from the ice.
10. A Lot Of…
Give them a LOT of bedsheets, boxes, spoons, tissue rolls, and stuff like containers, bins, etc. Just the sight of this treasure will overwhelm them for a minute. Leave them to enjoy and invent their own game.
My son loved getting into big baskets since he was very small. Here’s a video of him when he was 3.
Want more activities to keep preschoolers busy?
You’re going to LOVE this great resource on creative crafts for toddlers and preschoolers.
And my big free list of games and activities for preschoolers at home includes sections on independent, co-, indoor, outdoor play and lots of ideas.