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30+ Fun Indoor Play Activities from a Preschool Teacher

Creative and educational things to do with kids on rainy days

Published on: July 10, 2024

a mom and daughter watch an entertaining home puppet performance
Photo:
You don't need fancy equipment or high-tech toys to keep kids entertained and engaged inside. Photo: iStock

Northwest kids are used to gearing up to go outside: hats, jackets, rain boots and gloves. But sometimes, staying inside is the only option, and you need a quick game plan for fun.

Here’s a grab bag of easy kids’ activities. Any of them can also be the centerpiece for a preschool birthday party. 

Toys, technology and rules not required. Just add imagination!

Arts and crafts

Masks are fun and simple to make and are a great way to spark kids’ imagination. Photo: iStock

1. Mask making

Homemade masks are fairly easy to make, yet are highly covetable. There are so many possibilities for characters, from animals to superheroes, and lots of variations in how to make them.

Children’s masks can be made out of different types of paper or fabrics, and either tied with elastic or glued on to a craft stick to hold up. The adult will probably need to measure where the eyes should be cut out of the paper or fabric, and how long the elastic should be to go around the child’s head.

No matter how it’s done, it’s likely to get a big smile when the child wears it and peeks in the mirror.

2. Bookmaking

Yep, just make your own books. Children have so many stories to tell, and only need help writing it all down. Fold paper in half and staple at the crease to make pages. After the story is written, go back and read it to the child so they can illustrate each page. This simple activity builds confidence, self-esteem and literacy skills.

3. Three-dimensional collage with reusable materials

Simply provide a few items that can be rearranged again and again. Arrange them on a tray or placemat to make patterns, designs and objects. Since the materials are reusable, take a picture to commemorate each creation. Ideas: craft sticks, buttons, paint samples, fabric swatches, spare keys.

4. DIY stuffed animals

You really can make a lovable stuffed animal (or insect!) with only four things: markers, construction paper, a stapler and recycled newspaper. It’s so easy and gets the kids excited every time.

Put two pieces of paper together, draw your animal’s outline, and cut it out, making two identical shapes. Decorate, color and add as much detail as desired. Then staple the two pieces together about halfway.

Now for the fun part: Stuffing! Use pillow stuffing from a craft store, or just rip and ball up newspaper, and begin stuffing it into your creation. When fully stuffed, staple closed and you’ve got a keeper!

Indoor play to grow kids’ love of nature 

Plants and flowers can be used to make natural dyes to paint with or dye fabric. Some flowers can even be used like a stamp to decorate cards, keepsakes and clothing. Photo: iStock

5. Create a tabletop biosphere 

Teach kids that Earth is a biosphere — an enclosed, self-sustaining system that operates without any outside intervention —by creating a beautiful mini ecosystem that will be fascinating and educational all year long. For this activity you’ll need a clear glass jar, some small plants, soil, pebbles and water. For fun, you can also add natural materials like tiny rocks or crystals. It’s amazing to see the little worlds children create with just these few items. The creative makers Makezine.com have a great step-by-step guide for bringing this project to life. 

6. DIY natural watercolors with flowers, fruit and veggies

Flowers, fruits and vegetables from your neighborhood or fridge can create a range of beautiful, eco-friendly watercolor paints. Simply gather items like marigolds, nasturtiums, blueberries, beets, or even avocado skins and crush or blend them with warm water to release their natural pigments. This activity is not only fun, but it’s also educational, teaching children about the natural sources of colors. Kids can use these natural colors to paint a picture, or if you have old t-shirts or dish towels lying around, they can also try their hand at dying cloth with the pigments. 

7. Easy homemade birdfeeders

This classic birdfeeders craft is a hit with kids of all ages from preschoolers to teenagers. All you need are pinecones, peanut butter, birdseed and string. First, help your child spread peanut butter all over the pinecone, making sure to get it into all the little crevices. (Pro tip: if your pinecones are closed tightly, pop them into the microwave for about 30 seconds and they should open right up.) Then, roll the pinecone in birdseed until it’s fully coated. Finally, tie a piece of string around the top of the pinecone and hang it from a tree branch or balcony railing. The whole family will enjoy watching the birds enjoy their treat.

8. Tend to an indoor garden

Kids love doing grown-up work, like watering plants, and they excel at playing with dirt. Want some new indoor greenery? Let the kids help you plant, pot and water them! They also love learning plant and flower names.

Add natural materials like rocks or crystals, household items like spoons, measuring cups and bowls or any little plastic toys they like. Then let the fun begin! It’s amazing to see the stories children build from just these few items. Sensory play is open-ended, engaging and can also be surprisingly calming for kinesthetic learners.

9. Rock painting

Kids excel at turning ordinary objects into works of art. Gather some smooth rocks (this can be a scavenger hunt!); a variety of non-toxic paints; brushes, sponges, or fingers for painting tools, and maybe a few googly eyes or stickers. Newspapers spread over a floor or table will create a clearly defined art area while protecting you from a home makeover you weren’t looking for. Rock painting is not just engaging for little tree huggers, it can also be quite meditative. 

Projects to build STEM skills with kids

a child makes rocket wings out of a box for an indoor play activity
If you have a cardboard box, you have a STEM craft project waiting to happen. Photo: iStock

10. Egg drop experiment

Gather materials like egg cartons, tape, cotton balls, and perhaps even some bubble wrap or feathers for extra cushioning. Challenge your kids to design and build a protective container that will keep an egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height. Discuss concepts like gravity, impact force and engineering principles as they brainstorm and construct their designs. Once ready, head to a safe spot indoors that’s protected with newspapers or a tarp (or perhaps your backyard or a balcony) and drop the eggs in their DIY containers from varying heights and record the success rate for eggs that remain unbroken. It’s a hands-on way to learn about physics while encouraging creativity and problem-solving skills.

11. Toothpick bridge building

Inspire young engineers with a toothpick bridge building challenge! Provide toothpicks and miniature marshmallows or gumdrops as construction materials. Encourage your kids to design and build a bridge that can span a gap between two points on a flat surface, such as between two books or across a table. Discuss structural integrity, weight distribution and load-bearing capacity as they experiment with different designs. This activity promotes critical thinking, spatial reasoning, and teamwork as they work together to create a sturdy and functional bridge. It’s a fun way to introduce basic engineering concepts while fostering creativity and hands-on learning.

12. Transform boxes into anything your child can imagine

Unleash your child’s imagination with a box building adventure! Gather cardboard boxes of different sizes, tape, markers and scissors. Encourage your kids to design and build anything they can dream up — a spaceship, a castle, a maze or even a mini cityscape. This activity not only promotes creativity and fine motor skills but also encourages storytelling and imaginative play. Help them cut windows and doors, decorate with drawings or stickers and explore how different boxes can be stacked or connected to create elaborate structures. It’s a versatile and open-ended activity that can keep kids engaged for hours while fostering spatial awareness and problem-solving skills.

13. Turn old electronics into new learning

Engage budding engineers by inviting kids to take apart an old electronic device. Choose something simple like an old remote control or a non-functional toy that you no longer use. Provide child-safe tools like screwdrivers (with supervision) and let them explore the inner workings of the device. Discuss the different parts they discover — buttons, wires, circuits — and encourage them to make observations about how things fit together. This hands-on activity not only introduces basic engineering concepts like mechanical systems and problem-solving but also encourages curiosity and teaches about technology and how things work.

14. Build a fort

There is something so cozy and magical about a fort. Let your kids create their own using sheets, blankets, pillows, chairs, the couch or whatever else you have at home. Throw some pillows into the fort, give the kids a flashlight and you will be amazed how long they play. You might even end up serving them dinner in the fort!

Fun and educational indoor play activities for kids

a child plays with her mom with an abacus for an indoor play activity
Creating and playing with an abacus is not just fun for little learners, it’s also a great way to practice numbers and get a head start on math lessons. Photo: iStock

15. Self-portraits

Using a mirror, let the child draw themselves. Point out facial features like eyebrows and eyelashes. If they draw their whole body, add in some fashion design! Don’t be surprised if your child takes some liberties, i.e. “Yes, I do have rainbow hair!”

16. Tracing shapes

Help your child learn their shapes by tracing common household items. Turn over a cup to make circles, and trace your cell phone for rectangles. Hunting is part of the fun. Kids may want to decorate their shapes, cut them out and glue them on to larger paper for fancy art projects.

17. Make and explore counting with an abacus

Use art supplies to practice math and fine motor skills. You just need string, scissors, tape, paper and beads. Cut a piece of string, tape one end of the string onto the paper and begin stringing the beads. String 10 beads on and tape down the other end of the string. That makes one row. Your child can make as many rows as they like.

Tip: Circle-shaped cereal (like Cheerios) or candies (like Lifesavers) can replace beads in a pinch. Keep the abacus for counting practice.

18. Build life skills with cooking

When you have some extra time, make up an easy, hands-on cooking project for your next snack or meal. For children, cooking can mean sensory exploration, logical ordering and confidence boosting. Let them do as much of the work as possible.

The easiest recipes are ready-to-eat foods like sandwiches, wraps or rollups and salads. Even sophisticated kale chips are kid-friendly; kids wash the kale and pat it dry, tear it off the stem into bite-size pieces, toss it in olive oil and spices and spread the pieces on a tray. Adults work the oven then everyone crunches away!

19. Ice cube tray sorting and pattern-making

Here’s another way to mix math, art and fine motor skills. You’ll need an ice cube tray, egg container or muffin tin, plus small items to play with, such as various dried beans, buttons, coins or marbles. Jewelry, like plastic rings or earrings have that lost their partner, makes it extra exciting.

Your child can sort the items (by color, size, pattern or any way they like), make patterns with them or invent their own game. There are tons of possibilities and no right answers; this type of play blends logical thinking and mathematical reasoning with creativity.

For extra fun and challenge, use tweezers or clothespins to pick up the items.

Projects for preschoolers to activate visual learning

a child makes a collage for an indoor play activity
Collage-making is a great way to keep your budding artists busy while making use of scraps and small items like buttons that you have around the house. Photo: iStock

20. Dyed paper

Art, science or interior design? This project is so versatile and produces such attractive results you may want to use it as decoration. Similar to tie-dye, but without the tying, just use paper towels and a few colors of either diluted food coloring or liquid tempera paint to make fantastic designs.

What to do: Fold a paper towel until it’s the size of cracker, then dip it into the paint until saturated, dipping each corner into a different color. Then carefully unfold it and let dry, preferably on a tablecloth or anything you don’t mind staining. Be prepared for repetition as children experiment with different ways to fold the paper and marvel at the lovely results.

When dry, the paper towels can be strung together and hung up, or taped to windows for a stained glass-like effect.

21. Squiggle art

Each player gets a piece of paper, makes a squiggle on it, then trades with someone. Then make a picture out of the squiggle. The beauty is in the simplicity, as children see that you can turn any mark into art. It’s fun for the adults to see what kids come up with, too!

22. Collage

Recycle your old magazines and exercise the imagination, all in one! Let children choose and cut their favorite pictures out of magazines (or help them). Then they glue them on paper, then draw and decorate all around it.

Scissors and glue are a must; markers, crayons, oil pastels, stickers and glitter are optional. In addition to magazines, recycle wrapping paper, postcards (you know, like the ones for take-out pizza), tissue paper and (clean) cotton balls to make even grander creations.

23. Melted crayon art

If you have old, broken crayons hanging around, then you have an instant craft project! Reuse those old crayons by making them new again. Unwrap the crayons, arrange them in a muffin tin in a single layer, and cook in the oven on 200 degrees for about 10 minutes.

Let cool, then stick them in the freezer to make it easier to pop them out. Just turn the pan over and you’ll have new cool, round crayons.

Note: When the crayons are fresh out of the freezer, they may not color well. Warm them up in your hands to get them going.

24. Shaker container painting

Take an old yogurt container (or whatever type of plastic container with a lid is sitting at the top of your recycling bin) and drop in a handful of shakable small items (coins, rocks, marbles, buttons, etc.). Line the inside of the container with a long strip of paper. Squirt some paint on top of the items, put the lid on tight and shake, shake, shake! When your child tires themself out, open the contain and carefully take out the paper, which is now a cool piece of splatter art. Repeat as many times as you’d like! 

25. Paper mâché

This craft can get a little messy, but the results are worth it. Gather newspaper, or scrap paper from your recycling, and rip it into long thin strips about an inch wide. In a bowl, mix flour with water until you have a paste close to the consistency of glue. Dip a strip into the paste and make sure it is completely coated, pulling the strip through two fingers to take off any extra paste. 

Lay the strip on an inflated balloon, or around whatever object you want to paper mâché (you can build a shape out of cardboard and tape, chicken wire, or whatever you’d like to use as a base). Repeat with strips of soaked paper until the entire project is covered. Set it aside and let your project dry for several hours (overnight is best if your project is large or if multiple layers have been applied). When your project is dry you can paint it, add streamers or puff balls or anything else you need to make it unique and amazing!

Fun indoor activities for kids to get them moving 

a child and dad dance for an indoor play activity
Tutus aren’t required for indoor dance parties, but they are highly encouraged. Photo: iStock

26. Obstacle course adventure

Transform your living room or play area into an exciting obstacle course for your preschooler! Use pillows for stepping stones, tape lines on the floor for balance beams, and cushions for jumping over. Incorporate tasks like crawling under tables, tossing soft balls into baskets, or even doing simple exercises like jumping jacks or mini squats at designated stations. Not only does this activity promote physical activity and coordination, but it also encourages problem-solving and planning as kids navigate through the course. Adjust the difficulty level based on your child’s age and abilities to keep them challenged and engaged in this energetic indoor adventure.

27. Indoor scavenger hunt

Create a scavenger hunt using clues that lead your preschooler around the house in search of hidden treasures! Write or draw simple clues on paper and hide them in various rooms. Each clue can lead to a small surprise or treat, like a sticker or a favorite toy. Encourage your child to use their observation skills and critical thinking to solve each clue and find the next hidden item. This game not only provides physical activity as they move from place to place but also enhances cognitive skills such as memory, attention to detail and spatial awareness. 

28. Dance party

Turn up the music and host a lively dance party right in your living room! Encourage your preschooler to dance freely or follow simple dance moves that you demonstrate. You can even add fun challenges like freezing in place when the music stops or dancing with scarves or ribbons to enhance creativity and coordination. Dancing not only provides great physical exercise but also boosts mood and self-expression. It’s a fantastic way for kids to release energy, improve their motor skills, and enjoy quality bonding time with you. Plus, it’s easy to adapt the music and dance styles to suit different preferences and cultural backgrounds, ensuring everyone has a blast during this lively indoor activity.

Engaging sensory play for indoor entertainment

a child plays with a sensory bin for an indoor play activity
Sensory bins can be any size. If you have a plastic kiddie pool in the garage, go for it! Smaller scale sensory exploration works great too. Baking pans and muffin tins are also great receptacles for items to squish, pour, pile and crunch. Photo: iStock

29. Water play

Most preschools have a water table that children use for sensory exploration, dramatic play and more. You can make your own using any sized plastic tub or even the bathtub with just a few inches of water. Let kids use cups or pitchers to fill it with water. For safety, always be sure to supervise water play with children. 

30. Bring the outdoors inside with a nature sensory bin 

Start with a large container filled with a base like rice or dried beans, then add natural items like pinecones, leaves, feathers and twigs. Encourage your child to explore the different textures, pile, scoop and sort the items. This hands-on activity stimulates the senses, supports fine motor skill development, and fosters imaginative play and love of the natural world. 

31. Explore your home with a scavenger hunt and sensory bin

For this bin, your home turns into a treasure hunt. Have your child fill a bin with things of different textures from around the house. Cotton balls, plant cuttings, dried pasta, aluminum foil and play doh are all fair game! Anything goes. Once their bin is full, encourage sorting, comparing and drawing pictures of how each item feels. 

Bring on the drama! 

a family enjoys a puppet show for an indoor play activity
You don’t need a stage or any fancy equipment to turn your home into a theater. Photo: iStock

32. Turn your home into a theater

Put on a play using puppets, dolls or just yourselves! Use a favorite book, classic tale or make up your own story. Find props and costumes and play dress-up with younger children, or put on longer plays with preschoolers. Just act it out and have fun.

If your child has a flair for the dramatic, they’ll take charge of this one and it can easily last an hour (“Okay, pretend I’m the queen. Now you say …”). They love it when you just play along and let them be the director.

More indoor play ideas:

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2017 and was updated most recently by ParentMap’s senior editor Kristin Leong in July 2024 with additional indoor play ideas and a new headline, formatting and photography.

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