I put together a list of 21 play ideas for you to play with your toddlers and preschoolers because y’all sometimes the struggle is real. I was chatting with you about this on Instagram, as moms some days there are so many things on our to-do list that playing with our kids can get a little lost in the shuffle. And then there is the fact that many of us would rather deep clean every crevice of our home than engage in pretend play. It just feels so darn awkward. Cue the mom guilt.

We all want to enjoy playing with and spending quality time with our kids; thus, I have created a list of 21 play ideas for you do play with your kids that does NOT involve pretend play. I am going to add a printable PDF so that you can stick it on the refrigerator for moments when you need a little inspiration.

Sensory Play Ideas
  1. Play Dough – Y’all had to know this was coming. Play dough is one of our favorite ways to play EVER. It is a method of play that my kids absolutely love, they engage in pretend play, and create social scenarios, but there is no expectation that I engage in the pretend play. They are perfectly happy with me being next to them stamping, cutting, squishing, and rolling dough. If you are on the fence about play dough be sure to read this post I wrote to about why we love play dough.elephant cookie cutter on green play dough surrounded by small wood discs, sticks, rocks, and a rolling pin.
  2. Sensory Bins – There are so many ways to put together a sensory bin. They can be super simple (plain old salt or rice with a few cups or incredibly elaborate with various fillers in a variety of colors and themed manipulatives inside). Here are a few we have made and loved:
  3. Water Play – This is such a broad play idea. You can play with water in so many ways. Here are a few ways we have done water play:
    • Sensory bin with funnels and scoops
    • Pouring Station – pouring water from cup to cup
    • Running through the sprinklersblue and yellow water in a larger bin for sensory play
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Inside Play

4. Dance Party  -Turn on the music and start dancing. This will definitely improve everyone’s mood, it gives you a chance to move and be silly and your kids will love it. If you have an Alexa or Google Home you can ask it to make animal noises too. This will keep us occupied for a solid 10 minutes.

5. Puzzles – Puzzles are a fabulous way to play inside with your child and work on problem-solving skills without feeling like it is work.

6. Building – Legos, Magnetic Tiles, or blocks are a big hit over here. One of the three is ALWAYS out to be played with and we build daily. It takes creativity and skill to build a tower of blocks and honestly I enjoy trying to build the tallest tower.

4 year old girl building a tower with blocks

7. Board Games – We are on a board game kick right now. We play a board game at least once a day over here. I was hesitant a little because I didn’t think Reagan (4) was old enough (I was wrong) and I didn’t want to deal with D destroying the game (it does happen), but honestly this is such a great way to spend quality time with your kid. I will write a post soon dedicated to the board games we have and love.

8. Build a Fort – I can thank Reagan’s Poppa for the fact that she loves to make forts. To be honest, I love the old school fun factor of building a fort. Sometimes the classics ways to play with your kids are the very best.

9. Train Table –  Train tables are seriously underrated at times. My kids love our train table and I am perfectly capable of moving a train along some tracks. Definitely, an easy way to play.

10. Baking and Cooking – I always love being in the kitchen and my kids want to be in there with me as much as possible. I will be honest some days I do not have it in me to cook with my kids, it will result in more dirty dishes than normal and a bigger mess. But the days that I am not on the edge, bringing the kids into the kitchen with me is so rewarding. There are tons of giggles, tasting, and smiles. I will always cherish the moments in the kitchen with my kids.

11. Read – You know the phrase “there is no app to replace your lap,” it is so true. Taking a moment to stop the hustle of the day and read a book to your kids will allow you to spend quality time together and connect. This is also a great way to stop the day when everything is feeling crazy. Simply sit down and read a book. It is like pressing the reset button because in the 5 minutes it takes you to read, both you and your kids will calm down.

12. Cards- One of our favorite ways to play is with a deck of cards. We play Go Fish, War, and Old Maid. The simple games, but Reagan feels so grown up and special when she plays. We have found that a card holder like this one, is helpful for little hands to hold cards.

Outside Play Ideas

13. Tag – good old fashioned tag is truly one of the best. Everyone will be running, laughing, and expending tons of energy. Perfect right before bedtime. This is Reagan’s favorite.

14. Ride Bikes- Go for a bike ride. You can ride to the park, to the end of the road, or across the driveway.

15. Swim- In summer swimming is my saving grace. The pool allows us to cool down, we hit triple digits DAILY,  play and move.

two kids on a raft in the pool

16. Hide and Seek- We play this both inside and outside. It is one of my favorites and I am the best hider in the family unless Derek follows me (you can hear his giggling across the house).

17. Sidewalk Chalk Another classic. Doodling is my jam, I am terrible at it but I feel like I am back in grade school as I doodle little pictures and all the names of our family in chalk.

18. Red Light, Green Light – Red Light, Green Light is a classic kids game that my kids have always loved. I love that it takes zero prep and we all just run around.

19. Gardening – My kids love our little garden. They have the most fun putting on their gardening gloves and grabbing their little shovels. But they also enjoy observing the plants and finding the red tomatoes that are ready to pick.

toddler boy picking fruit from garden

20. Hike- Now, I’ll be honest, I have never taken my kids on a hike before, but several of you suggested this on Instagram when I asked you how you play with your little ones.

21. Obstacle Course- Sometimes my back yard feels like it is already an obstacle course with all of the kids’ toys that are not put away, so let’s put that clutter to go use and add a starting line and a finish line. There is no need to buy anything here, simply use what you own and get creative.