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Games to play with toddlers to preschoolers - activities for 1-5 year olds

Bookmark our online list of games and activities to play with toddlers to preschoolers. Games and activities are split into different age groups, from 1-5 years. Never be stuck for ideas for games and activities to play with your children again!

As a parent, it can be very difficult to know what to do with your children - what 'games' are appropriate at what age, what activities will help stimulate and develop your child at an age appropriate rate.

We've asked Playgroup Australia to assist us with a list of low cost activities for each stage of your child's development.

12 - 18 months
Action songs
Repeat action songs with your baby often so they can learn words and actions. Make up songs about the things you or your baby are doing throughout your day - 'I am walking, You are bouncing'.

Sand Play
If you don't have a sand-pit at home, create one out of an old tyre filled with sand. Your baby can explore the feeling of sand between their fingers and toes, and experience the different temperatures and textures of wet and dry sand. Give your baby small containers such as butter containers with holes pierced in the bottom to make a sieve, or cut open milk bottles to dig the sand with.

What's that smell?
Put some cotton wool in small containers the size of 35mm film canisters, and drop a small amount of different smelly substances into each container. You could use: perfume, mint leaves, vanilla essence, spices such as cloves, cinnamon or ginger, or vinegar. Attach the lids securely and poke a small hole in the lid so they can be smelled. Sit your child on your lap and let them smell each one, while talking about how they use their nose to smell, and simple terms to describe the smell.

Stacking and nesting
Use plastic cups from the kitchen or different sized boxes to make towers, or nest them inside each other.

Provide your child with paper and crayons for some scribbling fun. You may have some masterpieces that can be framed for your walls!

18 - 24 months
Body Parts
It is fun to learn body parts through songs. Sing about, point to and use different body parts in songs like: Heads and Shoulders, If You're Happy and You Know It.

Make a scrapbook of objects, and pictures of objects and people that you child knows. You can stick these into a book or slip them into a photo album.

Encourage your child to play dress-ups by providing a full-length mirror and an assortment of old clothes such as hats, scarves, and shoes.

A simple recipe for playdough:
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • ½ cup oil
  • Food colouring/ Edicol dye
  • Water

Add the oil to the flour and mix; mix food colouring or Edicol dye with water and add to mixture until it forms a soft dough.

This recipe is safe if eaten by little mouths!

Give your child things to stick in the dough (paddle-pop sticks, straws etc), things to pound with (like a toy mallet), and things to make impressions with (jar lids, cookie cutters, or bottle caps).

Hiding places
Big places to hide are often popular with toddlers. If you or someone you know has a large cardboard box after having something delivered, turn it into a cubby house for you toddler to play and hide in. You can even make some slits in the cardboard to allow for opening windows and doors.

Simon Says
Action games keep toddlers busy while they are learning to move and follow directions. Simon says is a simple game where you use commands such as 'Simon says, clap your hands' and give time for your toddler to follow. Encourage your child when they follow correctly.

2 - 3 years
Walk and Stop
A great game for practicing listening skills! This can be played inside or outside and encourages children to try different ways of moving their bodies. Sing (you might have heard this song on Playschool):

You walk and you walk and you walk and you stop.
You walk and you walk and you walk and you stop.
You walk and you walk and you walk and you stop.
You walk and you walk and you walk and you stop.

When the children hear 'Stop!' they should freeze until the song starts again. Other movements can be sung in the song too, like skip, hop, run, dance, jump, or wriggle.

Making instruments
  • Hooters - cover end of a cardboard cylinder with paper with a hole poked through - children can blow or sing through other end
  • Rhythm sticks - cut two 20cm lengths of dowel for hitting together
  • Sandpaper blocks - cover two small timber off-cuts with sandpaper and rub together
Play your instruments along with your child's favourite CD.

Simple Puzzle
Glue a picture from a magazine onto a sheet of cardboard, and cut the picture into a few pieces. Help your child to learn how to put the pieces back together again to make the picture.

Children at this age will appreciate the chance to draw with different materials, such as crayons, pencils, and felt-tip pens. They could also trace around objects such as round plastic cups, or leaves etc.

3 - 4 years

Word games
Make a routine activity fun - maybe in the car or while cleaning - by playing word games with your child. Help them think of rhyming words, words to describe an object, beginning or ending sounds, or opposites.

Window art
On a gloomy rainy day, use window paints or wet chalk to decorate the windows. Colourful rainbows will brighten up the day, and will be easy to clean off later!

Potato Prints
Cut some potatoes in half, and then carve some simple shapes into the flat sides (such as a square, triangle, or a star for the more adventurous). Put out a wide, flat container with some different coloured paints and some paper, for some wacky potato masterpieces.

String Magic
Dip a piece of yarn or string into glue and place it on construction paper in an interesting pattern. Let it dry overnight, then your child can colour inside the spaces between the yarn to make an interesting design.

A Bear Hunt in the Park!
Children love to pretend, and this song will give them an opportunity to move around and explore the park or backyard. This can also be played sitting down with the actions in brackets.

Bear Hunt
Let's go on a bear hunt. (slap hands together)
I see a wheat field.
Can't go over it. Let's go through it. (brush hands together)
I see a bridge.
Can't go around it. Let's go over it. (slap hands together)
I see a lake.
Can't go over it, can't go under it, let's swim. (arms swimming)
I see a tree.
Can't go over it, can't go under it, let's go up it. (climb with arms)
I don't see any bears, (look around)
Let's go down.
I see a swamp.
Can't go over it, can't go under it, let's go through it. (pull hands up and down slowly)
I see a cave.
Can't go over it, can't go under it, let's go in. (slowly slap knees)
I see two eyes. I see two ears.
I see a nose. I see a mouth.
Yikes! It's a bear!!!
Let's get out of here. (reverse movements very fast)

Alphabet Fun
This is fun, but not always easy! Help your child to make the letters of the alphabet by using their body. This will help them learn the shapes of the letters, and move their body.

This activity can help your child to improve counting and fine motor skills. You can use a variety of objects for sorting and counting - buttons, rocks, or pasta. Pasta can be dyed with food colouring or Edicol dye for colour matching and counting.

Help your child fold paper planes, and have them decorate the planes brightly. Take the paper planes outside and see how far they can go.

4 - 5 years
Natural Object instruments
Go for a walk in a local park and collect natural objects to make sounds eg. small branches, leaves, seedpods, and stones.

Musical Stories
Act out a musical story like 'There were 10 in the Bed' - place a blanket or rug on the floor and get children to lie in a line. Children roll off the blanket one by one till they have 'all rolled out'!

Sand Painting
Provide your child with coloured or black paper, and cotton buds or frayed sticks etc for smearing glue onto the paper - then they can sprinkle sand onto the glue to make interesting patterns.

Branch Weaving
Explore outside for small branches and other objects like leaves, feathers and bark. Children can wind brightly coloured wool around the branch, and then weave other objects through the wool - even scraps of coloured paper and cloth.

What's the Time Mr Wolf
For this game, you (the wolf) stand with your back to your child, with your child standing a few metres behind you. Your child says 'What's the time Mr Wolf', to which you reply 'xx.. o'clock', with the time you say being the amount of steps they take towards you. The child's aim is to get past you before you respond with 'Dinner time!', when you turn and chase your child!

Pretend Play
Kids love to pretend, and can make use of a few simple objects to have a great time. You can inspire hours of fun inside or outside by providing various sized cardboard boxes, blankets and sheets (great for making cubbies), hoops, or old dress-up clothes etc. If you're outside, you could use wooden boxes and packing crates, chairs and tables, or a short ladder etc under careful supervision.

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List compiled for Bub Hub by Playgroup Australia

ph: 1800 171 882 (toll free)

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