How to Keep Little Ones – from Infants to Preschoolers – Engaged and Entertained

Photo by __ via Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo by __ via Flickr Creative Commons.

by lynn perkins

Now that big kids are back to school, what do you do to keep their younger siblings entertained during the long school day? You can never have too many tricks up your sleeve when it comes to keeping babies, toddlers, and preschoolers entertained. Here are some suggestions for fun activities, for both indoors and outdoors, for the next time you find yourself at a loss for what to do with little ones.

Classic Baby Games

As you know, playing and reading to infants is critical to their social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development. Picture books are always great, but when you tire of the same old stories, try some of these tried and true activities. They are just right for bringing a smile to baby’s face and a little peace to the house.

  • Get them outside! Being outdoors engages all of the senses and is often the best remedy for a cranky infant.
  • Find a swing. Babies of all ages love to be pushed in an infant swing, especially when there are other children around to watch.
  • Refresh your memory or learn the lyrics of a few simple, entertaining songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.
  • Don’t forget the classic baby games such as “This Little Piggy” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”. They’ve been around for decades for good reason!
  • Encourage babies to grab and touch soft toys or objects, letting younger babies simply follow the toy with their eyes.
  • Create a simple form of “Hide and Seek” with a toy, catering to the baby’s age.

Functional and Symbolic Play for Toddlers

Imaginations begin to blossom between one and two years of age. Little ones begin to engage in what’s called functional play, meaning they like repetitive actions like filling and emptying containers, throwing, catching, and simply moving objects from one place to another. Once they reach the age of two, they begin to experiment with symbolic play, such as pretending a hairbrush is a microphone. Here are some fun games to try with toddlers.

  • Build a miniature bowling alley with rolls of paper towels for pins and plush balls to knock them over.
  • Create a fort by draping blankets over chairs and other furniture, and pretend it’s your house, your boat, your plane… the opportunities are endless.
  • Entertain toddlers by putting on an impromptu puppet show with their dolls or sock puppets.
  • Toddlers love to push and pull things. Take a toy baby stroller outside and let them take their baby dolls for a walk.
  • Bring a bottle of bubbles to blow and chase outside. Toddlers love to chase and be chased!

Educational Games and Activities for Preschoolers, A.K.A the Busybodies

Parents will be thrilled to know you are not just entertaining their child, but teaching them, too. You can rely on simple art projects and math activities to keep their attention and interest while helping them prepare for Kindergarten. Here are a few favorites of the 3- to 4-year-old set.

  • Math activities for preschoolers are a good way to teach and practice numbers while having fun. Take turns choosing an object easily found in the neighborhood such as acorns, pretty leaves or flowers, rocks, or shells and take a walk together to find the objects. Count them as you find them.
  • Create chalk drawings and practice letters. This activity is great for outside time. Bring a bucket of colored chalk and plop down on the nearest sidewalk to scribble, have kids copy letters you write, or trace objects like the chalk container, your keys, or a toy.
  • Play dough is fun and great for sensory and fine motor skill building. Bring along the ingredients to make your own play dough with an older child.
  • Dive into a simple cooking project such as making jelly sandwiches, fruit kabobs, or frosting premade cupcakes.
  • Guide preschoolers through a visually exciting science project such as making pennies turn shiny and new. It’s easy! Help little ones add one tablespoon of vinegar and one teaspoon of salt to a sealable plastic bag. Add a few dirty pennies, shake and squish them around, and watch tarnished coins turn shiny again.

These suggestions should help you keep little kids entertained while their older siblings are away at school, and will hopefully inspire you to come up with more of your own fun activities and games for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.