1) Play ball:
Get a selection of balls (Big balls, tennis balls, footballs, golf balls, etc.), establish a few rules (this will be depending on where you are playing ball) and practice what happens. When you drop each type of ball onto different surfaces what happens? You may surprise yourself! This year we have branched out from doing this, or rather adding to it by guessing what might happen based on the ball, the surface, and the distance, and writing it down followed by notations on what we thought occurred. BUT, at three and four you can begin the process by briefly wondering aloud.
"Sally, what do you think will happen if Daddy drops this little rubber bouncy ball onto the carpet? I think it will go PLOP!" and drop it, then allow them to drop it. Now to be really effective, I make faces and noises; at three and four, the more exaggerated the better.
If you have access to marble tracks this is a fun "round" cause and effect lesson as well. But even without that nifty toy you can have fun learning experiences. You can build contraptions pretty easily. Take a paper towel tube or wrapping paper tube, for instance, find a ball, and use the tube as a track. Put one end up higher than the other and select a ball that can easily track through the tube without getting stuck and let the child have fun seeing it roll. If space allows and you or your spouse is handy, you could make a pretty cool "track" out of plumbers pipes (think PVC) and experiment with turns and angles and slopes. We had to stick with the one at the children's museum, because of lack of space in the house. It is a fun activity and it does teach as well!
2) Oil and Water Waves:
I think we have all seen the "time out bottles" on Pinterest. You can make something similar with an old plastic water bottle that will provide wonderful learning opportunities, questions, and more; it is said to calm as well.
Take 1(ONE) sturdy water or pop bottle and fill it about 1/3 of They way with water, add a few drops of food coloring, and then fill up the rest of the bottle (2/3 of the way) with oil. Any kind works, baby, vegetable.... whatever you have. Then glue the lid back on and tape it with "duck" tape. Even a paper bandage type tape would work, but I never have good luck with cellophane tapes and water or oil.
The littlest, slightest motion makes for a very pretty effect. It may capture the attention for all the family..... Try it.
3) Water Fun!
Get out the bucket and grab a rag or sponge, some plastic bowls, cups, and funnels.
Keep them handy for some time to come, at five we still adore water play. You can make things yourself out of objects that you have laying around. Take a old cottage cheese container and poke holes in the bottom. Voila, strainer!
Ice cubes melting, washing the sink and counter, scrubbing the floor in the kitchen, giving their doll a bath, washing clothes, spray bottles, and even dishes being washed the old fashioned way are all learning opportunities, DON'T PASS THEM BY!
4) Drummer Girl/Boy.
Pots and pans, spoons, lids, and a strong constitution is all that's needed for music fun! I think this is pretty self explanatory. Get them out, do a quick demonstration and then stand back. The music will pour forth from their little hands, joined with peels of laughter. You can add another element by taking a Pringles can (empty of course) and put a handful of beans into it, put the lid back on, tape it closed and wham bam! Music JAM. You can even have the child decorate their shaker. Get ready to shake your booty all around the kitchen. Try a water bottle again, and add beans, rice, beads, etc and experiment with their different sounds. Be sure to glue or seal with tape the lid. I never tried coins, but I bet they would be fun as well. Just remember to do what is age appropriate for your child, and secure lids well.
5) PLAY DOUGH!
Ok, what child doesn't like play dough. Here are a couple recipes you can try at home.
4 c Flour
2 c salt
4 Tbs cream of tarter
4 c water
2 Tbs oil.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until stiff. Let it cool and then knead. When you feel confident allow the child to help you make it! Store this in a air tight container or bag.
2 cups of plain flour
4 tablespoons of 'cream of tartar'
2 tablespoons of cooking oil
1 cup of salt
2 cups of boiling water
Put it in a bowl and mix. Divide into air tight containers. Have fun! How easy is that?
6) Finger or brush painting.
Everyone always said to give my child a paint brush and water and let her paint like that.... well that may have worked at 10 months, but well before 2 she knew color was missing and that color paints existed in the world.
Pudding, shaving cream, paint, liquid water colors, etc. are all great fun to smush and paint with.
A recipe for paint (or you can also do a general search for finger paint): Mix 1/2 cup of corn starch with 1/4 cup of cold water. Gradually add in 2 more cups of hot water . Cook over low heat until it boils and then remove from the heat. Add another 1/2 of cold water and a tablespoon of glycerin. Pour into small jars and add a few drops of food coloring.
7) Texture or Sensory box/bin.
I use a clear plastic bin and in that bin have different objects. We have done rocks, sand, beans, cotton balls, rice, dirt... and then I "hide" objects within the bin. Little toys, cars, household kitchen objects. Just be careful the object can't be damaged nor that the child can be hurt.
Old milk cartons rinsed of course. The paper/cardboard ones are what I am talking about. These make fun big stacking blocks. However, you can also pick up good natural blocks for not too much or buy a 2x4, 1x4, 1x2 and cut and sand away. This would make a big set of blocks for hours of fun. If you did this you could have the child help sand the blocks after they were cut.
Have a MUD PLAY DAY. We do, still! Nothing like playing in the mud. The critters discovered are interesting to and it can sedge way into LEARNING fun!
10) Puzzles and paper time.
Puzzles begin to be important during this age as well. But I also want to stress the importance of just being able to rip paper! Save all those old used pieces of paper and give them to your little and give very little clues, but encourage them to rip and then glue the pieces onto another sheet of paper. This is fun and creative!
So there is a list of 10 things to do with your preschooler and many are even going to be enjoyed by any bigger children in your home as well. Remember, getting dirty is fun!
Edited on 1/12/13:
I was reminded of one big important thing I forgot to add. READING TO YOUR CHILD. This is by far the most important thing you can do with your child.!