One of the most challenging aspects of home schooling multiple ages is balancing the different needs of each child. This is especially true when there are preschoolers in the home. Keeping toddlers occupied long enough to do lessons with bigger kids becomes a daily challenge.

As much as possible, I try to do intensive teaching of the older ones (in subjects such as math or science) while my youngest ones are asleep—either early in the morning before babies get up or during the afternoon when they are napping.

Once everybody is awake, my older children entertain the younger ones in half-hour shifts while I work one-on-one with another child, but there was a time when I simply didn’t have enough kids to make that work. Back then, I kept a running list of activities my little ones could do with minimal supervision, and referenced it as needed.

I’ve recently had to press many of those ideas back into service, as I currently have a two-year old who wakes up at the crack of dawn and might otherwise disrupt the calculus and algebra lessons that are going on at that time of morning.

None of these things are particularly novel, but referring to the list keeps me from having to “think on the spot”, adds variety to their days, and keeps things running more smoothly.

Naturally, I confine the kids to the fenced backyard for “outdoor activities” and either school where I can watch them through a window or else spread a blanket in the grass and teach their siblings outdoors under the trees.

Feel free to peruse the list below for ideas that may appeal to the preschoolers at your house!

Indoor Activities:

  1. Looking at books

    • Alone
      Board books are a great addition to any child’s library and can normally withstand fairly aggressive page-turning. For a list of our favorites, check out this post: 50 Picture Books Every Child Should Read
    • With older sibling reading aloud
    • Following along with book on tape
      You can purchase tapes, record them at home, or check a few out from library.

    First Look

  2. Drawing/ Coloring

    • Pencil and paper
    • Crayons and coloring books
    • Watercolors and paper
    • Paint-w-water books
    • Shaving cream on the tabletop
      This is a great way for kinesthetic learners to practice writing their letters—if they make a mistake, they can smooth it away and try again (the activity works well on formica tops, tile, or stone… I probably wouldn’t try it on wood).
    • Washable markers
    • Grease pencil and tracing book
    • Colored pencils

    Stabilo Pencils

  3. Cutting and/or pasting

    Use blunt scissors or paper edgers and a glue stick. You can find inexpensive workbooks specifically designed to teach these fine motor skills, or keep a stash of some of the following supplies to dole out when you’re ready for your little ones to practice.

    • Construction paper shapes
      Small uniform squares and triangles can be used to make mosaic pictures.
    • Recycled greeting cards
    • Sunday coupons
      Older preschoolers can be taught to cut on dotted lines, then you can sort the coupons later.
    • Sunday comics
    • Old magazines, catalogs, and advertisements
      Let your little ones use the pictures inside to make collages or paper dolls.

    Kumon Book of Cutting

  4. Puzzles

    Little Red Riding Hood - Another Smart Game for Youngsters

  5. Playing dress-up

  6. Playing with puppets

    This activity is even more fun when you let the kids make their own from socks or lunch bags.

  7. puppets

  8. Modeling compound

    • Play dough
      Make at home by mixing 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 1 Tbsp oil, ½ cup salt, 1 tsp cream of tarter, and 1 small pkg. unsweetened Kool-Aid (for color and fragrance) or a few drops of food coloring. Cook over medium heat until it pulls away from side of pan. Knead until cool. Store unrefrigerated in ziplock bags.
    • Edible dough
      Combine 1 ¼ cup peanut butter, 1 ¼ cup powdered sugar, and 1 cup dry milk; mix thoroughly.
    • Modeling Beeswax
    • Wikki Stix
    • Crayola Magic
      This lightweight product isn’t messy at all and can be decorated with paints or colored markers after it hardens, but it isn’t recommended for children under 3.
    • Thinking Putty

  9. Building

    • Lego or Duplo blocks
    • Wooden building blocks
    • Pattern blocks (use at a table to create pictures or designs)
    • Unifix cubes
    • Brio train set
    • Empty cereal boxes, egg cartons, juice cans, milk jugs, etc.
      Provide a roll of duct tape, as well, and let their imaginations go wild!
    • Marbleworks
      Discovery Toys puts out this set. It can be noisy once the kids begin running the marbles through, so try letting them build it first, then drop the marbles in when Mom is watching. (Marbles can be a choking hazard, so we never let our little ones play with them unsupervised).
    • Toothpicks and miniature marshmallows
  10. Sorting

    • Buttons (into egg carton)
    • Dirty laundry (lights and darks)
    • Clean socks (finding pairs)
    • Coins (from change bank)
    • Silverware (emptying dishwasher)
    • Dried beans (pick out the stones)

    button sorting

  11. Craft projects

    • Putting stickers on paper
    • Folding paper airplanes or newsprint hats
    • Stringing beads, buttons, macaroni on yarn, thread or laces
    • Weaving yarn
      If you do not already own a child-friendly, Simpplicity-type loom, you can make your own by cutting notches along opposite ends of a rectangular piece of cardboard.
    • Making paper-clip chains
      These are especially pretty when made out of brightly colored vinyl-coated clips.
    • Making paper chains
      Use a mini-stapler to link the chain together—it will be far easier to work with and much less messy than paste.
    • Making “books”
      You can use recycled printer paper to do this (our kids only like to draw on one side, so we usually have a large supply of half-used paper). Just fold the the pieces in half with the messy sides facing inward, separate, stack individual folded pieces together, then staple along the open edge opposite the fold.
    • Lacing cards
      You can purchase these or make them by punching holes along the edges of recycled greeting cards. Roll tape around one end of string for easier lacing.
    • Making mobiles
      Let your little ones design their own using clothes hangers, masking tape, yarn and construction paper shapes, small stuffed animals, or other collectibles.
    • Making crayon rubbings over coins or gathered leaves
    • Creating alphabet book or frieze (make one letter a day)
  12. Doing pint-sized chores

    • Dusting furniture or mini-blinds with feather duster
    • Cleaning fingerprints off cabinets and door-knobs with spray bottle full of water or a child-safe cleaner
    • Sweeping floors
    • Cleaning scuff marks off linoleum with baking soda or toothpaste
    • Washing dust off baseboards with a damp cloth
    • Sharpening pencils
    • Mending stuffed toys or nightshirts with blunt-tipped needle
    • Cleaning and organizing junky drawers
    • Holding math flash-cards for older sibling’s drill work

    Age-Appropriate Chores for Children

  13. Working in the kitchen

    • Scrubbing and/or peeling potatoes, carrots, etc.
    • Putting biscuits on pan for baking
    • Washing, drying and tearing lettuce or other greens for a salad
    • Laying bread slices on cookie sheet and topping with cheese slices for melted cheese toast
    • Washing and plucking grapes from stem for fruit salad
    • Rinsing non-breakable cups and plates to put in dishwasher
  14. Listening to CDs

    (this often helps keep little ones in one place)


Outdoor Activities:

  1. Yard work

    • Water Flowers
    • Pull weeds
    • Rake leaves
  2. Creative Play

    • Sandbox
    • Sidewalk chalk
    • Paint with water on sidewalk using large brushes
    • Gather sticks, stones, moss and build “fairy huts”

    Sidewalk Chalk

  3. Outdoor games

    • Swing/slide
    • Hopscotch
    • Play ball
    • Climb trees
    • Practice balance on landscaping timbers
  4. Blow soap Bubbles

    Mix the solution up yourself using 1/2 cup of dishwashing soap, 5 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of glycerine (find it at your local drugstore). You can use this to refill the smaller bubble containers and re-use those little plastic wands, or pour the mixture into a shallow pan and use cookie cutters, recycled rings from six-pack sodas, or larger loops made from pipe cleaners as bubble blowers.

  5. Soap Bubbles

  6. Eat a snack

    (outdoors is a great place for eating popcorn)

  7. Look for bugs, toads, lizards, etc.

  8. Play in the water sprinkler

    (no kiddie pools without constant adult supervision)

  9. Put up a tent

    Let your kids “go camping” in their own backyard. If you don’t own a tent, make on by throwing a blanket over a clothesline or a rope strung between two trees.

Need a printable list of ways to entertain your little ones? You’ll find a free, pretty one here: Cultivating Creativity in Young Children

Cultivating Creativity in Children


  1. I am sitting here in tears, as this has been VERY ENCOURAGING to my heart! As a mother of 5 little ones, and still new to the whole homeschooling aspect of our life, trying to juggle it all with joy and a cheerful spirit and still be an effective teacher of academics AND building character in my kids, has been so tricky! And I have been doing most of what you listed, and I have doubted myself as to whether or not that was the BEST way or not. So, as I read your kind words, I just broke out crying, and felt so uplifted in my heart, knowing that someone far more experienced than myself, is suggesting most of what I am already doing! BLESSED ME GREATLY! THANKYOU! And some ideas were new to me, and so I will be TRYING them this next year of schooling our blessings! 🙂

    1. Bless your heart, Jessica. You are in a busy, busy season of life with five young children. I remember those days (and the attendant exhaustion!) well. Rest when you can, and savor this time with your little ones as much as possible. They grow up SO FAST, but your faithfulness to teach and train them — and to remain a cheerful, happy mama in the process — will reap a bountiful harvest of blessings in the end!

  2. young mother of 3 toddlers … thank you so much …constant reminders and continuous support is necessary for all families growth…knowledge and experience are greatly appreciated.

  3. This is so great! I dont homeschool but I take college classes and hate putting my 3 year old in front of the tv to get my homework done but I admit I’ve done it. This list will help me not do it again!!!

  4. Thanks very much for this! I am graduated now and living at home with multiple little children, and many school-aged children. My mom and I often have a hard time coming up with things for the little ones to do during school time. Especially loved the idea with the flash cards!

  5. So happy to have found your page!! Truly look forward to reading so many different topics and I thank you for posting so much info!! 🙂

  6. Thanks for the homeschool toddler/prek info:-). It was funny how many activities were the same for us:). Even down to the VCR Richard Scarry videos! Good reminder and good list– never had put it down that distinctly. I have 4 children and live nearby- saw you on TACHE. 14 down to 2:-).
    Thanks Again,

  7. Thank you for this. I am homeschooling my 5 and 7 year old daughters, and I try to keep my 3 year old son busy but sometimes he isn’t very happy about it. This gives me a little more insight.

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