If the weather's too grim to go outdoors or you need to stay in for some other reason, it's not always easy to find things for your preschooler to do that will keep them busy and happy for more than 3 nanoseconds.


Which is why you need a corking set of brilliant indoor activities to keep up your sleeve for such occasions, covering all the preschooler-play bases from from physical, imaginative and sensory to arty, crafty and totally messy.

So, we've come up with a whole list of tried-and-tested games and activities for you. Some of them need a bit of prep and some of them need almost no prep at all but all of them have been tested out by the parents and children in our MadeForMums Community – and are guaranteed to create some top-quality fun when you and your child are stuck inside...

Here's our pick of the games and activities you can play with your preschooler indoors

1. Magic up a rainbow

how to make cotton wool rainbow main
Pic: Abi Walker

Prep time: 10 minutes | Materials: cotton wool balls, paper, double-sided sticky tape, paint, pipette or medicine syringe

Yes, this involves lots of paints but it's not as messy as you might think because each paint colour is watered down – and your child using a pipette or medicine syringe (great for fine-finger control), rather than a more splatter paintbrush. Follow our simple instructions, with step-by-step pictures taken by Abi in our MadeForMums Community, whose daughter Maisie is pictured here (above) with her finished rainbow.

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2. Set up a drumming session

indoor drumming game for preschoolers
Pic: Helen Sutherland

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: metal trays and cans, plastic tubs, 2 wooden spoons

Gather up some metal baking trays, tin cans and lidded plastic boxes in different sizes. Place them all on a table, turning the trays over so the metal bottom is facing up. Sit your preschooler at the table in front of their 'drum set' and hand them 2 wooden spoons to hold the wrong way round – so they become drumsticks. Turn on some music with a good drum line – or set your child up with some Bluetooth headphones, as Helen from our MadeForMums Community did with her son, Harris, above – and let them bash out the beat.

3. Get creative with a cardboard box

examples of creative play with cardboard boxes
Pics: Chloe Fensome, Amy McSheffrey

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: big cardboard box (or boxes), scissors, paint or coloured pens, tape

Oh, the joys of a cardboard box that's big enough to fit a small person inside! With some scissors, tape, paint or pens and some preschooler inspiration, you can turn it into a car, a tractor, (like Chloe from the MadeForMums Community has done with a child-car-seat box for her son Henry, above left), a rocket, a treasure chest, a dollshouse, a castle – or even, as MFM Community member Amy's children Rinoa and James did (above, right), a special shelf with a cupboard underneath for a very privacy-conscious Christmas Elf.

4. Make homemade playdough


Prep time: 2 minutes | Materials: Flour, veg oil, salt, cream of tartar, food colouring

Making playdough is almost as much fun as playing with it. Our super-simple recipe (we've made a how-to video, too) takes 5 minutes, plus a little cooling time. If you're making it on the hob, you'll need to supervise your child carefully but we have included a microwave version too, if you'd rather your child pressed buttons than stirred warm pans.

And once your playdough's cooled, your child can squeeze and flatten and roll away. Don't waste money on special accessories: just hand over the rolling pin, some biscuit cutters, a fork (for poking holes) and a garlic press (amazing for making squidgy strings).

5. String the house with paper chains

little girl making homemade paper chains
Pic: Mel Corbo

Prep time: 10 minutes | Materials: old wrapping paper, glue or sticky tape

This simple, traditional craft activity can keep a preschooler occupied for ages, as Mel from our MadeForMums Community can testify after trying it out with her daughter Ilaria (pictured above). And they'll love helping you hang their paper-chain strings around the house afterwards. You'll need to spend a little time cutting out strips from your wrapping paper first: no need to be super-accurate but aim for a good pile of strips about 1.5cm wide and 20cm long. Loop the first strip into a circle and secure it with a small piece of sticky tape or a dab from a gluestick. Then show your child how to take a new strip and thread it through the each circle and secure the ends. See how long a chain they can make.

6. Make and play paper plate ring toss

Prep time: 10 minutes | Materials: paper plates, paint, paintbrush, kitchen roll tube, tape

This activity is art-action combo, with some painting at the start and then some throwing-at-the-target fun. Cut the flat middle out of an even number of paper plates, leaving yourself with set of paper rings. Set your child up with a paintbrush, some paints and lots of splatter-saving newspaper and ask them to paint each ring one of two different colours, so you end up with one set of rings in one colour and one set of (an equal number of) rings in the other colour.

While the paint is drying, take another (uncut) paper plate, turn it over and tape one end of the inner tube of a kitchen roll tube to the middle, so that when you place the plate upside down on the floor, the kitchen toll tube sticks up like a hoopla target. When your paper-plate rings are dry, give your child one coloured set while you take the other and then you can see who can throw the most rings over the sticking-up tube.

7. Decorate stones

boy sitting on floor and decorating stones
Pic: Louise Donaghy

Prep time: 2 minutes | Materials: stones, cloth, paint, paintbrush, stickers/googly eyes (optional)

"We collect, wash and paint stones, then hide them around the neighbourhood," says MadeForMums Community member Louise, whose son Jack is pictured above. "It’s about four activities in one!"

8. Peel the tape

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: parcel tape or masking tape, scissors

This idea is super-simple but such a genius way to keep a preschooler busy for quite a while. Cut different lengths of parcel/masking tape and stick them in different places on a window or glass door – at a height your child can reach. Now challenge your child to peel all the tape lengths off, without leaving any bits behind

9. Splat paint with elastic bands

elastic band splat painting
Pic: Helen Sutherland

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: tray or shoebox, elastic bands, paint, paintbrush, paper

Ok, so this is messy but it's worth it for the huge smiles it brings. "My son REALLY enjoyed this!" says Helen from our MadeForMums Community, who took the picture of her son Harris splat painting, above. First, cover your table/child's clothes/floor to protect them from splatters. Then place a piece of paper in the bottom of a metal tray or shoebox, and stretch and fit some elastic bands (go for at least 4) over the tray or shoebox, spacing them out from each other. Get out the paints and paintbrush and encourage your child to cover each elastic band a generous amount of paint – making each band a different colour. Now for the fun bit: tell your child to pull a band and let it go and see what happens. The paint will splat all over the paper underneath. Repeat with each of the other bands. You can also experiment (with new bits of paper) with pulling the bands in different ways or loading each band with more than one colour of paint.

10. Splash out in a disco bath

Prep time: 2 minutes | Materials: music, glow sticks/coloured lights (optional)

Who says bathtime has to be at the end of the day? It can actually be a brilliant way to occupy a restless preschooler – especially if you turn it into a splashy, sparkly singalong. "We turn off all the lights in the bathroom," says Anna from our MadeForMums Community, "and make a bubble bath. We throw some glow sticks in, set up a multi coloured disco light and play our favourite Disney songs."

11. Take a trip on a pretend bus

dad and child pretending to drive a bus

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: chairs or cushions, dolls/soft toys

Beep beep! Line up chairs in pairs or place cushions on the floor and take an imaginary bus trip to wherever you'd like. Fill each of these seats with dolls and toys, while your child, of course, takes the wheel up front. Take it in turn to describe loud where you're going, while the other one makes bus noises and deals with the passengers.

12. Turn lunch into an expedition

child sitting on floor with rucksack, anorak and hat
Pic: Ruth Boldon

Prep time: 15 minutes | Materials: plastic containers, rucksack, sunhat, anorak

"Pack your child's lunch into a few different containers," explains Ruth from our MadeForMums Community, "and hide the containers in different places around the house. Help your child pack a rucksack with 'expedition essentials', like a sunhat, anorak, water bottle and so on. Now go on a hunt for lunch. Make it as dramatic as you like – my son Thomas (pictured above) and I swim through imaginary rivers, dodge crocodiles, jump over lava, toil up mountains... And when everything has been found, have a (worn-out) picnic on a blanket in your living room."

13. Stamp love hearts with loo roll tubes

boy stamping heart shapes with squashed loo roll tube
Pic: Joanne Hellowell

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: loo roll tubes, paint, paper

There really is no end to the number of preschooler-friendly crafty uses for a loo roll tube! This cute idea for a paint-stamping activity, suggested by Jo from our MadeForMums Community and demonstrated by her son Isaac, above, is quick and simple to set up. Pour some paint onto a tray and then take a loo roll tube and squish the middle of it in on one side, so that it forms a heart shape. Hand the heart-shaped loo roll tube over to your child to dip one end into the paint and then stamp heart shapes onto paper.

14. Turn leaves into trees

two boys holding up their leaf art
Pic: Samantha Gillham

Prep time: 2 minutes | Materials: paper, glue, brown pen

This is a good way to follow a trip to the park with a little creative play. Spend your time at the park gathering fallen leaves (if it's not the right time of year to find many leaves, you can gather small twigs, moss and fallen blossom or flower heads). Bring your leaf haul home. Give your child a piece of paper and get them to put their hand and forearm on it. Trace round the outline of their hand and arm with a brown pen: this is the trunk of their tree, for them to colour in. Once that's done, they can stick their leaves to the (finger) branches, like Sam from our MadeForMums Community has helped her sons Alexander and Oliver to do so beautifully in the picture above.

15. Play ABC Hide and Seek

child playing ABC hide and seek game
Pic: Natalie Rankin

Prep time: 15 minutes | Materials: large piece of paper, pen, Post-it notes, container

We love this letter-recognition game that Natalie from our MadeForMums Community often sets up for her son Theodore to play. You use a pen to write out the letters of the alphabet in a large sheet of paper and draw a square around each letter that's roughly the same size as a Post-it note. Then you write each letter of the alphabet on a separate Post-it note and put all 26 Post-it notes, nicely jumbled up, into a container. Your child now takes out one Post-it note at a time and tries to match it the letter on it to a letter on the big sheet; if they're correct, they can stick the Post-it note onto sheet in the right place.

16. Play red light, green light

boy in police officer cap with stop sign

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: red card or paper, green card or paper

This is a fun, active (but not ridiculously runaround) game that also reinforces traffic-light rules. Get your child to stand at one end of the room and tell them their challenge is to get to the other side of the room but they can only move one step at a time. Explain that they can only move – one step – when you say "Green light", and when you say "Red light", they must stand still. If they move when you say "Red light", they have to go back to the start. You can vary the game by letting your child be the one to 'call the lights', by allowing jumping instead of stepping, or if your space is big enough, by allowing more than one step on the "Green light".

17. Go all sensory with rainbow rice

how to make rainbow rice
Pic: Abi Walker

Prep time: 1 hour (mostly drying time) | Materials: rice, food colouring, sandwich bags, baking tray

Easier to clear up than play sand, rainbow rice make a brilliantly sensory prop for imaginative play: your child can use it as play food for dolls or toys, something to hide and find toy treasures in, something to scoop and measure and divide, and – with it myriad colours – the basis of all sorts of colour-sorting games. It's simple to make at home – just follow our step by step instructions.

18. Make binoculars for a treasure hunt

mum and daughter making toilet rolls binoculars

Prep time: 2 minutes | Materials: loo roll tubes, sticky tape, paint or felt-tip pens

Another craft-and-then-get-active idea, this one. Stick together two toilet roll tubes (or two parts of a halved kitchen roll tube) and then hand the 'binoculars' over to your child to draw or paint on. Once they're dry, your child can take their binoculars on a treasure hunt around the house. You could download and print our simple picture clues to help your child find their way – and hide a little treat at the end.

19. Take (small) toys swimming

little girl playing with her toys in a basin of water
Pic: Katie Zara

Prep time: 2 minutes | Materials: container, water, towel

Fill a container with water – you can add a drop of washing-up liquid to give the water a little frothiness, if you like – and place it on a towel on the floor. It's now a swimming pool for your child's smaller plastic toys and figures. Katie from our MadeForMums Community, whose daughter Flora is pictured above, absorbed in her toys' swimming session, says, "She spends ages playing like this, dipping her toys in the water and talking them through their swimming lesson. It's lovely to watch – and I get a chance to have a quiet cup of tea!"

20. Musical animals

This is a good one for blowing off a bit of preschooler steam. It's a more active version of the classic party game called musical statues. Explain to your child that you're going to put some music on to dance around to and, when the music stops, they have to make like the animal you shout out – so if you shout 'elephant', they have to stomp about swinging their arm like a trunk, or if you shout 'mouse', they can zip around squeaking on all fours. Once you've had a few goes and your child's got the hang of it, try the 'Mystery musical animals' variation: you take it in turns to be the animal when the music stops but nobody shouts out – the person who's not the animal has to guess what the animal is.

21. Cook and host a toy tea party

little girl having a tea party for her toys
Pic: Katie Zara

Prep time: 2 minutes | Materials: toys, toy tea set or plastic cups, toy food

It's a time-honoured way for a preschooler to while a way an hour or two – and it's time-honoured for a reason: little children just love organising their toys, involving them in role play and telling them how to behave. "My daughter Flora loves setting up a tea party," says Katie from our MadeForMums Community (her daughter is pictured handing out plates, above) . "She will cook food in her play kitchen and serve it on plates to her 'friends' then serve them all tea too. She keeps up a running commentary and enjoys modelling manners to her 'friends' and showing them how to share, too."

22. Raid the recycling box

girl sits beside the junk model bus she's made
Pic: Kate Jeffery

Prep time: 1 minute | Materials: sticky tape, glue, paint, scissors

Your recycling box is heaving of art and craft material potential. Rifle through it together, looking for (clean) paper, boxes or plastic containers you can cut or fold or stick or glue together to make a junk model. "The possibilities are endless," says Kate from our MadeForMums Community. "My daughter Nellie (pictured above) especially likes making vehicles out of anything from the recycling box."

23. Turn a door into a marble run

marble run game
Pic: Abi Walker

Prep time: 30 minutes (including drying time) | Materials: kitchen and loo roll tubes, paint, tape, scissors, small ball or pompoms

Brilliant for developing your child's spatial thinking, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination, a home-made marble run costs loads less than a brand name one, and your child can help you paint and tape the kitchen and loo roll tubes you need to make it. Follow our step by step instructions, with pictures taken by Abi from our MadeForMums Community.as she made her marble run with her daughter Maisie.

24. Build the tallest tower

child building tall tower of bricks

Prep time: 1 minute | Materials: building blocks or bricks

Challenging your preschooler to see how high they can build a tower of bricks may seem like a simple, almost baby-ish, game but this kind of trial-and-error, problem-solving play teaches great lessons about not giving up if things go wrong, and that having another go often leads to success. And, if you're building a rival tower alongside your child, they'll just love getting theirs that bit taller than yours!

25. Lay out an obstacle course

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: chairs, balls, toys, socks

It is possible to make an obstacle course that's indoor-friendly. Position chairs to crawl under, toys to jump over, balls to roll and paired-up socks to throw into a basket or bin. Set a timer to see how quickly your child can complete the course: ready, steady, go!

26. Launch a rocket

space rocket made from kitchen roll tube and tissue paper
Pic: Karen Stark

Prep time: 5 minutes | Materials: kitchen roll tube, card or paper, glue ribbons or tissue paper, paint

Hand the kitchen roll tube to your child for some paint decoration. While that's drying, create a cone shape out of the card or paper, secure it with glue – and then hand it over for more paint decoration. When the rocket body is dry, stick ribbons or small strips of tissue paper to one end. Then stick the (dry) painted cone to the top of the other end. Now you're ready for take-off and a mission to a planet of your preschooler's choosing.

Pics: Getty, MadeForMums Community


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Helen Brown
Helen BrownHead of Content Delivery

Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies and a mum of 3. Before joining MadeForMums, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.