15 Independent Play Ideas for Preschoolers

These independent play ideas are great to have ready to go so you can pull one out when you need your preschooler (or older toddler….or kindergartener…) to be happily occupied for 10 minutes or so – maybe longer if you’re lucky!

15 creative Ideas for Entertaining Preschoolers

This post is brought to you by a brilliant (and free!) app called Knoala, which you’ve got to go download it if you’ve got an iPhone.  It gives you a sortable catalog of hundreds of simple activities as well as story starters and kid friendly videos right at your fingertips – everything in the app is perfect for infants to preschoolers.

Need something active to do inside?  Click, click – done! Knoala gives you a list of ideas right for your child’s age.  Need an outdoor art activity?  No problem.    Quiet and quick – sure.  Mark your favorites, keep a list of activities for each of your kids and follow other parents to see what they suggest as well. You can download it for free here.

Knoala and I both want you to have happier kids.  With that in mind here are my top picks for independent play.

15 Independent Preschooler Activities:

  1. Play dough filled balloons – I love the idea of the sensory experience of play dough without the accompanying crumbles of play dough all over.  At The Chaos and the Clutter I found tips for filling balloons with play dough and recommendations for other sensory balloon fillings.
  2. Forts and other Cozy Spots – suggest a new space to make a fort and grab a pile of blankets or pillows for construction.  The other day we had a very snug house happening under the dining room table.
  3. Write and wipe books – We have this Crayola Dry Erase ABC Activity Book (Amazon affiliate) which is nice because it contains enough pages with space for drawing as well as the letter pages.
  4. New magnets for the Magnadoodle (Amazon affiliate) – If you save those thin flat magnets that come stuck on phone books and junk mail you can cut shapes from them for your board.  My daughter also enjoys trying to trace items like an upside down cup on her Magnadoodle. 

    15 Independent Play for Preschooler Ideas


  5. Rubberbands and a Geoboard (Amazon affiliate) – Preschoolers love the fine motor challenge of creating pictures with rubberbands on these boards and they continue to be entertaining for years.
  6. Audio Books – The library is a great source for picture books along with a recording.  Some kids find wearing headphones a novel and fun experience too.
  7. Looking through toy catalogs – nope, you’re not saying you’ll buy anything, just giving them a happy time imagining playing with all of the different toys.  I tell my kids, “Circle what you like to put it on your wishlist!”
  8. Pipe cleaners and beads – sometimes we add a collander into the mix too.  Adding different sized beads can add another level of interest. 

    15 Ideas for Preschool Independent Play


  9. Rubber Stamps – I highly recommend Washable Ink (Amazon link)! Stamp ideas:
    • Get out a large sheet of paper and a few stamps and have your preschooler go to town.
    • Draw an shape, number or letter and ask them to fill it with stamps
    • Give them stamps and markers to decorate a cardboard box.
    • Ask them to stamp on a card to send to a loved one far away.
  10. Pattern Blocks – These are fun with or without a pattern card
  11. Sorting treasures – Gather a collection of small empty boxes and a handful of your unwanted jewelery, glass stones, old keys…you know treasures and let your child look through and sort as they like. 

    15 independent preschooler play ideas


  12. Poker Chips – the clay filled chips have a satisfying heft and kids enjoy fitting them into the slot of an empty wipes container or sorting them into piles – similarly, putting coins in a piggy bank can be very engrossing.
  13. Matching Nuts and bolts – At the hardstore choose five or six diffretn sized bolts with matching nuts.  Let your child sort which goes with which. 

    15 Independent Play Activities for Preschoolers


  14. Quiet reading- Or perhaps I should say “quiet picture book looking” This may take time to develop as a habit, but it’s one worth working on.  Seek and find books, textured books, and books with lush detailed illustrations are a big hit.
  15. File Folder Games – Many of these printables are free and can be done independently by a preschooler.  Find a huge directory of all sorts of file filder games at Ideas for Preschoolers and find puzzles, matching and sorting games at Montessori Printshop.

Want more preschool activity ideas?

3-5 playful preschool


More ideas for Simple play for preschoolers can be found in my collaborative ebook: Three to Five: Playful Preschool

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  1. says

    Are you kidding me???? Half of these are NOT independent play ideas— you just gave parents a list of very hazardous games and said *let your kids chock while you get 10 or more minutes of “quiet time”* Don’t get me wrong, but these are wonderful OT games to be doing with children. just not alone. I don’t understand how you could think it is safe to give a preschooler nuts and bolts, beads, balloons, or rubber bands.

    • says

      I simply find these activities to be ones that my preschoolers have enjoyed on their own without a lot of parental input. It doesn’t mean I am leaving them alone, but I can sit nearby and do school work with one of my older children while the preschooler is doing their own work. But of course everyone needs to choose activities that fit within their own levels of comfort for supervision and that fit within the capabilities of their child.

  2. may says

    i agree with sara, these activities grant u as much five minutes for a toddler who has previously played them and as much if lucky ten minutes for the newbies, but these are o-dependant games, for most of them the kids need supervision, you are asking for an awful chocking hazard.

  3. says

    I think it depends on your child. For preschoolers (which is what this seems to be aimed at) its probably not an issue. However, if you have a mouther, then obviously, don’t be giving these to them and walking away for long periods of time. Then you’d be sitting next to them, like Alissa mentioned above, working side by side, but not WITH. But if you don’t have a mouther, I think these would be excellent for some ‘quiet time’ in short doses!

  4. says

    I am a parent of six kiddos and I think that only parents can be the judges of whether or not their kids are capable of independent play. It’s a child-by-child decision. I know one of my three year olds who never puts stuff in his mouth would be fine with small parts – he will sit with his brother and play with those tiny legos for hours… but his twin, no way! AND preschool also includes 4 year olds… and all of my four older kids by the time they were four would sit and thread bolts merrily and I wouldn’t need to worry about them.

    I bet the readers of Creative with Kids are just as savvy about their kids and are able to judge their “independent play” abilities.

    • Steph says

      I totally agree Rachel. Parents know their own kids and are completely capable of judging whether or not their preschooler is ok being left alone with small objects. My daughter just turned 3 and I would have no qualms about setting her up with any of these activities for her regular quiet time. In fact – I think I’ll head to the hardware store this weekend to pick up some nuts and bolts.

  5. JamesSimon1 says

    I love the nuts and bolts idea. As long as you’re sure that the kids aren’t going to eat them, that is! I feel like that sort of activity would really involve kinesthetic learners in a very intense way. Plus, it will help them practice fine motor skills that they will definitely use later in life! Most importantly, it keeps them engaged and learning.

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