Pregnancy & Parenting

5 Free (or Cheap!) Ideas To Keep Young Children Busy!

Need ideas to keep young children busy? Sharing 5 of our favourite ways to keep young children busy – on a budget!

During this sunny spell, keeping busy involves outside time! Today, we decided to make the most of it with activities which might mean we got a bit wet. Creating a car wash for the ride on toys. A small bucket of soapy water, and a brush to scrub them with. Plus a cloth to dry them with once they’re dry.

For over an hour each “car” was carefully washed and dried. Yes, an hour of focus from my 3 year old – happy play

It was a great activity as he loved “helping” and it was actually great to get the toys clean! It could also work with small push along cars, although perhaps use a soft sponge rather than a brush. You could also do similar with dolls, but give each one a bath – or spa day! Minimal space required, only a bucket with a water and bubbles – you could even use bubble bath.


Playdough is cheap and easy to make using store cupboard essentials – not technically free but I felt it should be included. It can be made different colours, and you can even you things like lavender or cinnamon. It requires a little prep time so I’d suggest making it the night before you want to play with it. Then it will be cool and ready to play with. My favourite playdough recipe can be found over on The Imagination tree.

We have such fun with playdough. Making “food” or practicing letters is our favourite way to play at the moment. I write the letters down on a piece of card – or using a wipeable pen and board. Then we talk about the letter, and practice making it. Playdough is great for fine motor skills too!


Need a free trip out? Visit your library. Remember – it’s free to join to borrow books. You can spend time choosing the books you want – really involving your pre-schooler in which books they might enjoy. Think about what they like before going into the library, so it makes it easier to head to the right section – and find something to capture their imagination quickly!

Play Shop.

One of our current favourite activities is to play shop. You don’t need any special play equipment, just use tins from your cupboard, and you can either make play money – milk lids work well! Or keep a collection of 2p coins – this is an activity to play together with your pre-schooler, do supervise carefully if you are using real coins. It works well as my son loves to “sell” me things. His counting improves as he will say something costs e.g. £3 and we will count the money out. Also, it helps him to understand how shops work!

Explore – treasure hunt!

Exploring around where you live can be a great way to keep young children busy! Head to a park and see how many bugs you can spot. Or how many flowers! Make a collection of treasures in a small cardboard box – egg box sized is ideal. My children have each loved making little collections of things.

Collecting stones.

N is particularly fond of collecting stones and shells – we talk about why each one is special. Questions like what does the shell feel like? Is it rough? Or smooth?

He will spend a long time putting the shells in order. I try to encourage him to put them in order e.g. smallest first! But he’s quite keen on ordering them in his own way. Currently he loves making circular patterns with the things he collects. The best bit, we can pop them back at the end of play! No mess or clutter to take home.