50+ Irresistible Play Ideas for Kids

Inside: Play ideas for kids. Inside you will find the best ideas for sensory play, water play, baby play, morning play, and ways to encourage backyard fun for kids.

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I’ve been there.

I felt the need to get my children playing more and wasn’t exactly sure how to get there.

My kids were saturated by media, toys that light up, and items that blink/make noise at the touch of a button. It seemed as if every gift given to them had a pre-intended purpose, and the novelty lasted a few short minutes.

I felt overwhelmed by the task to minimize the stimulation and encourage my kids to be more creative.

Morning television was zapping the day. Blinking toys were growing old. Our day wasn’t working.

I needed to find solutions.

How do I set up an environment for play?

So I did some research, dug into my teacher brain, and looked for the best toys for kids that encourage open-ended play.

play ideas

As parents, we know that play is important.

We have also learned that play is the foundation to all learning.

Here’s the thing:

It is up to us to allow more time for play.

But HOW?

Sometimes, toddlers and preschoolers need a small seed planted to get them going.

These seeds will not be planted from a worksheet. The seeds I am talking about are play ideas that encourage children to touch, move, and manipulate objects in order to create.

The more we encourage play, the more children will become exceptional at self-guided play, problem solving, and forming conclusions on how things work.

The following play ideas will allow your preschooler to hit the ground running.

These play ideas as good as that savory cheese dip you get from your favorite Mexican restaurant. 😉 - Tried and true, preschooler approved!

play ideas

But wait! Why is play important?

Before we dive into the best play ideas, allow me to set the stage and allow you to better understand the importance of play.

During the infant/toddler stage, the child needs physical experiences using senses, experiencing substances, and discovering how things fit together

Then at preschool, the child will begin to add social play into the learning they have had the chance to dive into. Now they are making connections with their peers.  

During the middle years, the child is more analytical with text book concepts because they had a chance to touch move and explore what they are now reading about. The middle schooler is now ready to take learning to next level with greater ease pulling it all together.

Finally, during the teenage years, the child can show how things come together. The child has touched, worked with peers, read more about key concepts, and is now ready to become the producer.  

It all goes back to the early years.

The early years are the foundation to learning.

How to Introduce Sensory Play for Toddlers

When we first began sensory play I quickly realized that beans were sprouting from our deck cracks, and rice was under the fridge for months. It wasn’t working.

And we certainly don’t want that for you!

Instead, I am happy to be your guinea pig and guide you along for success.

With that being said, I put together this Introduction to Sensory Play page to help you get set up like a boss.

Inside this post you will learn how to set up your buffer zone, how to prompt your toddler back to the sensory bin when they walk off with oats in hand, and better understand when it is time to put the sensory bin away.

play ideas

Sensory Play for Preschoolers

Okay! Now that the training is over, let’s keep the momentum going with our preschoolers.

Scissor Sensory Cut -Sensory fine motor play

Color Mix - A Play on Ketchup and Mustard

Fill the Lines - Sensory play with pom poms

Ice Rescue Game -indoor sensory play

Sand Sensory Play - Multi-age learning

Water Beads - See our favorite brand of water beads here

Color Squirt - The fun way to repurpose shredded bills

Dry Noodle Sensory Play - Simple way to color noodles

Outdoor Sensory Supplies - The supplies you need to own

Water Play Ideas

Water play was one of my very first WHOA. I just got 40 minutes of parenting from the sidelines realizations. I made sure the water level was low, and watched them closely as they poured and scooped.

But before you dive in, I want you to know my best tip.

My boys are allowed ONE refill. They know this from practice. Need more water? Sure. One time. Once it is gone, it is gone.

This quick tips will avoid numerous trips to the sink along with having your child better understand how to assess play so it doesn’t all go to waste.

Now you are ready! Dive into this post because it is packed with ways to engage independent play!


Baby Play

Having a one-year-old can be tricky! I get it. They are too old to sleep all day, yet too young to be emerged in self-guided play for long amounts of time.

We may notice our one-year-old exploring a color matching game, and then quickly becoming distracted with wanting a snack. again

With all of this said, I am a firm believer that babies, toddlers, and preschoolers should explore the environment and different textures. This means that you do not have to buy out Amazon at 12 months. So how can we use our environment to encourage baby play, as we catch our breath?

I searched the internet, so you don’t have to. Here is a list of 40+ Ways to Play that will help entertain your baby!


Play School Ideas

Let’s give it up for the independent play school ideas that allow us to drink our morning coffee, as we get our preschooler thinking about important concepts they will explore throughout their lifetime.

Since we all understand that playing is learning, let’s plant some seeds and watch our children dive in.

I like to call these play school ideas, Breakfast Invitations.

Simply put, these play invitations are:

  • quick and easy setup (think under 5 minutes)

  • engage play to create a powerful morning routine

  • use supplies you probably already own (items like markers, painter’s tape, etc.)

  • align with life long learning skills


messy olay ideas

Messy Play

Eek! I see you looking at this image and shrieking in fear, so I am here to give you a quick tip.

Right now, go fill up your washing machine with water and detergent. Get it ready to toss the clothes in once your preschooler is done exploring. I assure you, it’s as simple as that. - Get messy, strip them down, and toss the clothes in to wash.

Why is messy play important?

Messy play encourages children to explore substances. These are the same substances that will be what they will revisit in grade school.

If you encourage children to touch and feel now, they will make dynamic discovers as they connect the dots later.

You will help spark connections such as:

I know this! I remember when I poured the liquid into the tall, narrow squirt bottle that it overflowed faster than the large pitcher

backyard fun for kids

Backyard Fun for Kids

As adults, we know when we need a restart, it is helpful to walk outside, breathe in the fresh air and get some sunshine. Being outside stimulates the senses and wakes up the brain. Let’s begin to encourage more outside play for our children as well!

Ways to Play Outside:

Backyard Hunt and Sort - Use with A Little Bit of Dirt

51+ Things to Do for Spring - sensory, crafts, and field trip ideas

Stick Painting - Gather and create

Dash and Sort - Simple backyard running race

How Balance Can Improve Reading - No supplies other than the outdoors!

Practice Prewriting with Movement - Outdoor chalk game

DIY Movement Dice - Make in a flash

RELATED: Read what the NAEYC says about outside play being important for the whole child HERE.

Additional resources to promote play:

RELATED: How is cognitive development and sensory play helping our babies, toddlers, and preschoolers? Be sure to read this from Michigan State University.

play ideas