Inside Activities for Kids – Quick and Low Prep!

Updated – Originally posted December, 201o

Note: I now have a printable list of preschool activities for you!

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Sometimes we just need an activity QUICK.  When energies are spiraling downwards into chaos the best option around here is to refocus with a little sensory play.  Here is a list of indoor kid activity ideas I keep in mind that I can get going in a moments notice.

Indoor sensory activities for kids - easy!


Water and kids just seem to go together.  I usually use warm water in these activities.

  • Bath time– an obvious option, but we can’t do ten baths a day.
  • Finger paint the tub–  A natural extension of bath time, or a way to extend bath time: give blops of finger paint on the tub side and have the kids paint the sides.  It cleans up right down the drain.
  • Car or dolly wash– I have the kids grab a few of their toy cars and we put soap in the bathroom sink.  They use rags or sponges to give the cars a bath.  Sometimes I’ll let them wash a stuffed animal or doll instead, but only if I know it won’t cause a melt down if that doll is wet still at bed time!
  • Wash dishes– Set up a stool at the kitchen counter and let them wash, just the tupperware if need be.
  • Legos in water

Our Best Quick Sensory Activities

  • Blowing bowl bubbles– Get out the largest mixing bowl you have and fill it part way with water.  Add a splurt of dish soap and get out the straws and show how to blow out to make bubbles.  Once you have a mountain of bubbles you can do fun things like blowing into a bubble and making it bigger or hiding a toy under the bubbles.  Blowing can be a very calming activity for kids
  • Water play on the kitchen floor– Put a towel on the floor with bowls of water and scoopers.  Sometimes I add food coloring to the water to make it extra exciting.
  • Sponges– We get out two bowls and a sponge to transfer water from one bowl to the other- lots of good SQUEEZing to do.
  • Mop the floor– I always forget that my five and three year old think mopping is SO cool.  I ought to do this more often. Not just because they think it’s cool either.

BLowing bubbles - the best sensory fun

Sensory Tubs:

Any of these items put out to swish fingers through, drive toy cars through or hide small treasure in can be fun.  On my post last week about cornmeal, a preschool educator mentioned the idea of putting a smaller tub inside a larger tub on the floor to keep the mess contained, so you might try that.  With items like beans or rice we spread a blanket out under the play area and any over-spill can be swooped up at the end by lifting the blanket corners.

  • Plain Cornmeal or Cornmeal “Sandcastle dough”
  • Rice
  • Beans
  • Salt
  • Oats
  • Make a treasure hunt with rice or Moon Dough
  • Shaving cream– Some kids are hesitant to get fingers messy- you may want to try just a little bit of shaving cream at first, or get play going by bringing out a plastic animal or other toy they can dip in.  We keep a napkin nearby for the first tentative touches, but soon the kids don’t care about the shaving cream on their fingers.
  • Water and cornstarch ( I can’t stand the sensation this makes, uck, but it IS interesting…)

best sensory fun

Activity Cards:

Yes, the purchasing or printing does have to be done ahead of time, but once you have them, they are an instant source of activity.

  • Alerting Activity Cards– These are really worth printing out!  I printed a set and laminated them with clear contact paper.  When the crazies hit we can grab this deck of cards and go play.  We put them upside down and each take a turn grabbing a card and doing the activity.  All the activities are something you can do right away and if you pull one you don’t want, just pitch it back in and pull another.
  • Animal flash cards- Useful to have a stack to grab and say, “OK, can you…hop like a frog?, Swing your “trunk” like an elephant? Gallop like a horse?” etc. etc.


  • Tearing paper (either to glue onto something, or just to tear up)
  • Crumpling newspaper – throw it at a target or into a basket
  • Cutting with scissors- either on a line you’ve drawn, randomly, or the ever popular cutting up drinking straws
  • Destroy a cardboard box – jumping, ripping and smooshing

Other quick ideas:

  • Play-dough, of course
  • Bubble wrap popping, of course
  • Aluminum foil sculpting (not a favorite here, but your kids might like it.)
  • Blowing with straws- blow a cotton ball or kleenex off the table, across the floor, etc.

3-5 playful preschoolHave fun!


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

    You have so many great ideas for your children. The picture at the end is wonderful, seems like one of them got a lot of water in the face. I love that you let them have true kid fun. :) joyce, I’m glad you liked the idea of the larger container under the small container. It truly does make clean up easier.

  2. says

    Those photos look like such fun! And this is a great list! I’ll have to try cutting up drinking straws. My daughter loves cutting craft foam… and bedspreads and clothing too, but we try not to encourage that! :)

  3. says

    Hi there! What a great blog you have and this is a fantastic list! I’d love for your to link up to my Tot Tuesdays linky party. Its every Tuesday and a chance to link up crafts, activities, tips, recipes and educational resources for all things TODDLER related. I hope you’ll stop by. Have a great day!

  4. says

    Hi Alissa, what an awesome list of quick activities. I agree with the idea that water has a calming effect, and when my daughter was a toddler, if she’d had a particularly traumatic tantrum (glad she’s grown out of those!) I’d pop her under the shower with a couple of tupperware containers for 10 minutes or so. It was really effective.

    We grab the playdough quite regularly too and I always keep a little bottle of bubble mixture in my handbag – for emergencies!

    I’ve only just given the sensory tub a go, and it was a great success!

  5. says

    I just noticed your link to my Alerting Activity cards. So glad you and yours are enjoying them! Also, glad to find your site… Stop by anytime for more ideas and printables that you might lile.

  6. Misty says

    This is a great list! I was looking for something different for me and my 2 year old to do. I can’t believe I didn’t think of the water play idea! It was so easy to set up and clean up. She played for hours!

  7. Wendy says

    You are awesome! I know that these fun things are there. Sadly I don’t think to do them! I’ve printed the list, and it will be our staple and go to from now on. From my heart thank you…;’)

  8. says

    Bird seed and a tea set in a tub is a great sensory one too! My eldest like to use a sandpit sieve to separate all the different sized seeds!

  9. says

    Thank you!! Wow! These cards are GREAT!! I will put these cards – and the principles behind them – to good use! Wonderful. Thanks for sharing. :)

  10. says


  11. says

    Thank you so much for this list, you are a life saver! This is like the 3rd time I have found your site looking for something interesting to do with the kids. I am bookmarking you, please don’t quit with the ideas. :)

  12. Alyson Klinger says

    I love that there is a destruction category! Good for kids and moms:)

  13. says

    Great ideas. I love these as I often want to do something different and unique with the kids but often don’t have the time for a a ton of prep work that is required with so many Pinterest crafts. I really do love your site. The articles all seem so useful. Thanks so much.
    Alison (

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