Screen Free Preschool Fun: Entertaining My Youngest During The School Day

Preschool aged boy playing with car on floor - Screen Free Preschool Fun Entertaining My Youngest While the Others are Off to School

Screen Free Week is the first week of May – May 1-7, 2023. Whether you want to go completely screen free or just have some fun unplugged play options to do with your preschooler while the big kids are at school, bookmark this page for Screen Free Preschool Fun ideas.

I don’t know about your family, but my family gets stuck in a rut very easily. We hear a lot of whining for more screen time. Well, maybe not whining so much as debating. By the end of the summer, Dash had learned that if he whined for more screen time, he lost it. Instead, he would build up a case for how we should actually run screen time: what days, how often, and why it was necessary. We were looking forward to kindergarten starting so we didn’t need to hear his testimonies again and again. We had to find some screen free preschool fun!

Now that school has started, I don’t have to listen to his reasoning, but I still have one child at home and it would be easy for me to just turn on the TV and let him watch so that I can get some stuff done. Instead, we played with cars, went on a run (while Jack rode his bike), visited some friends, played more cars, and set up his train track. He also helped me bake banana bread and played with soapy water in the sink. Currently, he is back in his room with the train.

Go-To Screen Free Preschool Fun

Being at home alone is not going to get easier, so I will need to have some tricks up my sleeves. For me, these come in the form of regular outings that I know will entertain Jack and give me a break from being his only companion during the days.

  1. Preschool Programs: One of those tricks is Three Rivers Parks Preschool Programming.
  2. Exercise and Play: Another trick is going to the Y for exercise and playtime.
  3. Books: And of course, the library!
  4. Fresh Toys: A key way to stay home with young children is to use the toys we have and rotate them.  Maybe not everyday but at least a couple times each week. This may be the time to consider a membership to the Minneapolis Toy Library. Start out Monday mornings by selecting your “new” toy of the week!
  5. Mommy (or Daddy) and Me Play Dates:

My Screen Free Preschool Fun Arsenal

Some of the toys in our rotation will be creative and some just fun. But this is a list of the items I like to have on hand all the time. However, if you don’t want to own them or you don’t have the space to own them, we also have ideas of where to find these toys around town. We’ll also keep adding ideas, so leave your favorites in the comments.

1. Trains & Cars

Pushing a vehicle along a floor can entertain for at least 10 minutes, maybe even 15! I’m kidding. With the right set up and a little time playing along when you need a break from housework, this can be a go-to.

Budget Fun: Create some cardboard roads or railroad tracks. Stef at Non-Toy Gifts offers some great ideas, including a road from a cardboard box, a cardboard town, a carwash & more.

Where to Find Trains Around Town.

  1. The Minnesota Transportation Museum: Jackson Street Roundhouse has a train table as well as real train cars to play inside. Wednesday Tots & Trains events are slightly cheaper than the weekend open houses. Bonus, a membership pays for itself quickly with regular Wednesday visits.
  2. Choo Choo Bob’s Train Store has moved to St. Louis Park with its train tables and trains you can buy and take home!
Toddler playing with trains at Jackson Street Roundhouse in Saint Paul
Jackson Street Roundhouse

2. LEGOs

Preschool kids are just getting to the age where they can manipulate Legos enough to start building. During the day they don’t have to fight with the big kids for all the best pieces.  Set them up at the dining room table for building fun.

Budget Fun: If you are not already getting it for your older kids, now is the time to sign up for the FREE LEGO Magazine. These fun periodicals will just keep coming until they are 9 years old and they offer tons of ideas and entertainment.

Where to Find LEGOs Around Town.

  1. Snapology Minneapolis has special Coffee & Creative play hours on Sundays. Bring the big kids with you.
  2. Barnes & Noble Bookstores often offer LEGO play areas. Check out the Woodbury & Edina locations.
  3. Of course, the LEGO Imagination Center at the Mall of America offers a play area.
Snaoology Open Ended Play 2023
Snaoology Open Ended Play

3. YOXO (Play from Scratch) and Other Blocks

Paired with any cardboard you happen to have on hand, YOXO offers endless fun. Joy’s family created  a family puppet show out of YOXO pieces and packaging from Cloth Diapers. Get your preschooler started with this idea and they’ll follow you around with puppet entertainment all day long.

Unfortunately, these locally-made toys have gotten pretty hard to find since we originally published this article. If you come across a pack, we recommend snapping them up.  Otherwise any kind of block, tinker toys, or other building toys offer endless building fun.

Budget Fun: Because YOXO packs are getting harder to find, I recommend tracing the ones you have onto sturdy cardboard so you can make your own when the originals wear out. Definitely look around the house for items to mix with your YOXO toys. Consider your recycle bin your “expansion pack”.

Where to Build Around Town:

  1. The Minnesota Children’s Museum has play tables and some oversized blocks for building. This is the age when a family membership will get the most use.
  2. Check the children’s section of your favorite library.

4. Play Dough

Pull out the cookie cutters, the pasta press, a rolling pin and let them go crazy rolling snakes and making “cookies” for you to declare delicious.

Budget Fun: Instead of buying Play Doh, make Easy Sugar Cookies.  All the fun of Play Doh with a snack at the end.

No Play Dough? Make a Pizza or Cookies Together

5. Puzzles

The trick to puzzles is to pick a theme your child loves. Once they get the puzzle bug, you can expand and start to go with more and more pieces. This can even become a life-long hobby.

Budget Fun: Some Little Free Libraries feature puzzles. Take a puzzle home and then return it when you are done.

Where to Find Puzzles Around Town:

  1. Puzzles are great thing to borrow from the Toy Library.
  2. Traditional libraries often feature puzzles in their children’s sections.
Kids putting together giant puzzle at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Mill City Museum offers Giant Puzzles.

6. Dress up and Pretend Play

The best thing about being home, is that your preschooler can live in their dress up clothes if they want. Let them pretend to the heart’s content and try out different grown-up personas.

Budget Fun: Discards from your own wardrobe and a few scarves and old sheer curtains can provide tons of fun.

Where to Play Dress Up & Pretend:

  1. Another reason to consider a family membership at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The Our World exhibit offers plenty of dress up and pretend play fun.
Girl playing mail carrier with dress up uniform and toy mailbox at Wescott Library in Eagan Minnesota
Wescott Library Once offered Dress Up and Pretend Play

7. Fort Building

This activity is a classic for a reason, you don’t really need any special toys. Blankets, pillows and a table or chairs create the basic structure for an indoor fort.

Splurge: You can buy kits for building forts. I know a lot of families love their Fort Builders. Joy started referring to them as “bludgeons and projectiles” kits, but her kids are kind of special that way.

Where to Build Forts In the Twin Cities:

  1. Nature Playgrounds often offer materials for fort building in the form of branches and other natural items. You don’t have to be as elaborate as the picture below when building with small children.
  2. Playgrounds offer premade forts to play in.
Boy building a fort in the Dodge Nature Center Play Area, South St. Paul, Minnesota
Dodge Nature Center — Nature Playground Fort Building

8. Puppets, Dolls & Stuffies

Dolls come in all sorts of forms – including puppets, action figures and stuffed animals. Whatever form attracts your child dolls encourages empathy and promotes make-believe play and imagination.

Budget Fun: Old school paper dolls can be made out of magazines and catalogs – just like Grandma used to make in her childhood.

Where to Find Make Believe Toys:

  1. Children’s areas of libraries often have puppets.
  2. Look for Puppet Wagons at Parks around the Twin Cities each summer.
Kids in window of Puppet Wagon with hand puppets
Puppet Wagon

9. Craft Supplies

Crafts can be messy but my kids love them. That is why it is worthwhile to keep some crafting supplies on hand – crayonsmarkers, colored paper, stickerschalkbeads & yarn or pipe cleanersclaypom poms and foam cutouts, .

Budget Fun: If you don’t want to invest a lot, crayons and paper are enough, save envelopes and paper that would otherwise go in the trash for an endless supply of coloring paper.

Where to Find Make Believe Toys:

  1. You know my love/hate relationship with crafts. That’s why we hit the local Arts Studios with Kids Open Studio Times.

I completely expect to have a helper with me all day long. Helping in the kitchen, helping with the laundry, helping out in the yard. But I think letting him play on his own and encouraging creativity will be something that will help him even more in life!

And don’t get me wrong. I do plan to use the TV. I have a feeling it will be an easy fallback for me. (Just being real, folks).

More At Home Resources for Parents with Preschoolers

This article was originally written by Gianna Kordatzky in September of 2014 and is updated as needed.

1 thought on “Screen Free Preschool Fun: Entertaining My Youngest During The School Day”

  1. We’re going through this transition at home, too (only with two most days). We’ve found that we needed to get rid of unused toys so the ones they really love could be easily found and played with. Then we took another batch and put them up high for what we like to call “feed the meter” time. We’ve found that if we proactively pull down special toys for together time, it doesn’t take much to satisfy their need for mom or dad and then we can get back to work.

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