I’m always looking for easy budget-friendly activities for preschoolers; I see no reason my daughter can’t have fun without breaking our budget! Here’s some of the free or cheap activities we’ve tried so far this year! Also, for more great activity ideas, be sure and see these posts:
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Easy Activity for Preschoolers: Bubbles in the sink.
Who would have thought that this simple activity would be so fun? I love this one because I can set it up in less than a minute, and there’s endless possibilities for variation without having to spend a dime. Some dish soap and water and a couple spoons or cups and Butterfly will be busy for 20 minutes (which is about as long as her attention span gets at the moment, lol).
And yes, there’s usually a mess by the time she’s done, but it’s just water and soap, so a quick wipe up with a towel (and maybe a change of clothes or throwing a few things in the dishwasher) isn’t too bad of a clean up.
P.S. We love her learning tower for this- it puts her up at the right level without having to worry about her falling over! And it wipes down easily when she’s done.
Here are some things we’ve added for washing to make it more interesting:
- Play dishes/food from her little kitchen to “wash dishes” like Mommy
- Plastic animals who “need a bath” + toothbrushes to clean them
- The painting supplies that need cleaning anyway (win-win!)
- Actual dishes (that aren’t breakable) and silverware
- Lots of plastic cups/measuring cups
- Bath toys (like these Boon Pipes)
- Wash cloths/dish cloths
- Snack cups/water bottles, especially if there’s a fun brush to wash them with
- Old medicine droppers
- Cooking utensils (ladles, stirring spoons, etc)
Easy Budget-Friendly Activity: Cardboard Boxes
Cardboard boxes are the perfect play toy. And of course I get lots of them from Amazon, especially when my subscribe & save boxes come. And then when we’re done, I can throw them away…subtly and when Butterfly isn’t looking…Haha.
Here’s some ideas for how we maximize our cardboard box play time:
First, we decide what the box is going to be. So far the most popular options are animal cages, doll houses, baby cribs, and Daniel Tiger’s trolley. But you could modify that toward whatever your kid loves at the moment. And then we cut up the box accordingly.
Second, we decorate them. Stickers, markers, crayons, paint, dot markers (current favorite)…any or all of these make for great decor on our boxes.
And then, we play with whatever animals, dolls, Little People, etc. are the current favorites. We’ve even set up a little city for our animals before when we’ve got several boxes to play with.
It’s a great way to occupy time, encourage creativity and imagination, and put those boxes to use before throwing them out. And it’s free (minus the purchases you got in the boxes, haha)!
Easy Activity: Audiobooks
Butterfly is very auditory (definitely got that from her dad and not from me!) and loves to listen to music and stories. Our preferred method is to put them on during other activities that maybe otherwise she’d be done with quickly or that wouldn’t hold her interest for long. It’s a great way to stretch out something like Play-Doh or coloring long enough that Mommy can get the dishes done!
Our favorite resource for finding audiobooks is Read Aloud Revival. You can check our her current list of audiobook deals here! We also enjoy the free Hoopla app to check out audiobooks from our local library.
Bonuses: Amazon has an Annual Membership to Audible and Audiobooks.com lets you get two Free Audiobooks!
Activity for Preschoolers: Freezing Animals/Objects in an Ice Cube Tray
So for this one, I took a bunch of her little toys and just froze them in ice cubes overnight. Then I gave those to her (I chose to give them to her outside in her water table the first time, and on a baking tray the second time) and she played with them to try and melt them and eventually got the animals out.
One of our favorite ways to get the animals out so far has been to get a little bowl of water and either dip or “paint” the ice cubes until they melt! And then she played with the animals for a while because of course they were more fun having just come out of an ice cube. A friend also suggested adding wooden mallets and squirt bottles to help get the animals out!
Here’s a list of ideas of things to freeze in ice cubes for more fun sensory play! I love using things from around the house to make a new activity- no extra cost and great for exploratory play.
Easy Budget-Friendly Activity: Paint rocks. And ALL THE THINGS.
I got this idea from my brilliant friend Marty and it was GREAT. It took a little more prep, but it also kept Butterfly busier for longer, so it was worth it.
I set her up outside with washable paint, brushes, and some rocks. Actually I sent her off to find most of the rocks, which was even better. Then she painted them for a while and then wanted to paint the sidewalk. Then the plastic wagon. Then the concrete.
And I figured out that she could really paint everything as long as it wasn’t wood (like our front porch rails…oops) and it would wash off….so I let her go to town! She painted everything in sight- and it was all gone with the next rain storm.
Easy Activity: Coloring Yourself
I figured my expressive daughter would love this one. We taped big pieces of easel paper to our floor, then we traced each other. Then we took crayons and decorated/colored ourselves, including “painting” our fingernails and giving ourselves fun hair colors. It was a blast!
When we finished she immediately wanted to trace herself again and do another one. This one would also be fun with stickers, foam stickers, paint, markers, and any other decorative coloring devices you have around your house!
Preschooler Activity: Paper Chain ABCs/123s
I always love activities that can double as being educational. Butterfly loves using scissors and tape, so this one was great for her!
We cut up strips of construction paper and I wrote letters on each one (I chose to put the capital letters on one side and the small letters on the other side, though we didn’t really end up using the small ones this time), then taped them together in order (A, B, C, etc.).
Butterfly enjoyed singing the alphabet song over and over and was very pleased with herself when she would figure out the next letter! I plan on doing this again, and at some point doing the same idea but with numbers instead! It made for a great letter/number recognition activity.
Butterfly also added her unique spin on the taping by using some washi tape that was laying around. We used construction paper already at the house (some of which had previously been painted), so it was very budget-friendly and easy!
What are you doing to keep your preschooler entertained?
Please share your ideas below! I need more things to try, and I’d love to expand this post to include your ideas!
Also- want to learn more about how your kids learn (along with a bit about how YOU learn/teach so you can see if they match up)? Throw your email in the box below and I’ll email you a short email course about kids’ different learning styles and how to best teach to each style!
Be sure and check out these similar posts for more kid-friendly ideas:
- 40+ Easy, Cheap Craft and Activity Ideas for Kids
- For more no-electronics-required fun, check out out Gift List for 3 Year Olds!
- Easy, Healthy Snacks for Kids
- For more ways to entertain your preschooler, check out The Home Education Collection
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16 thoughts on “7 Easy Budget-Friendly Activities for Preschoolers”
These are great! Another bonus of the sink play is that the floor usually ends up cleaner than before once I wipe the water and soap up with a towel :).
Lol yep! I’ve been known to hand her actual things I want washed (as long as they aren’t breakable). Put them to work, right?
We did alot of walking.. anywhere I could take the pushchair. Fresh air and busy.. kids are very hard work.
Yes, fresh air is always a great thing!
Nature collections are fun (but not so much in 90 degree weather and 150% humidity!) I plan to go outside with Butterfly soon with clear jars to look for buggies and rocks and flowers and such. We can look at them / draw them/ take and print photos/ etc and then return them to their homes outside!
Also, Butterfly is my favorite 3 year old.????????
And you are Butterfly’s favorite Nana! I pretty much need to do a post that is just “ideas I stole from Nana….” 🙂
Oh, you are far more creative than this nana! I love all these ideas!
My kiddos loved to be on the back patio with a big bucket of water and things to scoop with- spoons, measuring cups or drinking cups, bowls, shovels- whatever! Maybe throw in a boat, or some little animal toys that float. Then just play!!!! But do keep an eye out. Once my daughter decided to add her stuffed animals and dirt. Then she rubbed them all over the yard, getting them as muddy as possible! Not our best day. ????
Great ideas! Love the cardboard box ideas, we have so many laying around!
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