Preschool Activities with Easy Setups

Activities with simple setups can provide hands-on fun and learning for preschoolers. Try these ideas that use everyday household or craft items to make setup and cleanup fast and easy. 

one step setup preschool activities

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What's in your toolkit today?

Do you want to provide a fun learning activity, but lack time or supplies to deliver?

Early learning in everyday play doesn't need complex projects to be valuable. It doesn't need fancy or expensive materials either.

The activities in this post are meant to provide optimum fun and learning with the least amount of setup and cleanup possible. And using basic items you have around the house.

They are basically one step setups, with few (if any) instructions on how to proceed.

  • Simply set out the materials and allow kids time to explore and experiment

You can easily re-imagine or recycle basic household items and craft supplies for kids activities.

These invitations to play inspire hands-on exploration and discovery.

Include these options in your daily schedule to engage fine motor, gross motor and creative skills.


Easy preschool activities

The activities in this post support the model of hands-on, child-led play.

Activities such as 'sink or float' water play and color sorting with pompoms are primarily child-led and open-ended.

They support independent play with parental guidance and interaction. The amount of independence allowed will depend on age and skill levels of the children.

Note: While most of the activities in this post are intended for indoor play, some may be adapted for outdoor environments. 


Preschool activities with simple setups

1. Divided Tray Activities

A divided tray and pompoms prompt a color sorting activity



A divided tray such as a produce container or a muffin pan is perfect for sorting small parts.

Pompoms are a colorful option, easy to handle and store, and fun to squeeze too!

You can also provide buttons, blocks, or small toys.


Related: Sorting Jar Lids


Water play with eye dropper for toddler and preschoolers


Science Activity

Add water to each section of the tray.

Put a few drops of different colors of food coloring in opposite sections.

Transfer water with a dropper to mix colors.


 Roll marbles around a plastic tray for a fine motor kids activity


Marble Game

This game upcycles a ribbed plastic tray from the deli or bakery department. 

Place a marble inside one or more divided section.

Hold the tray in two hands and roll the marbles around inside the circles.

  • The raised edges keep the marbles inside the circles. 

Can you hop a marble from one lane into another without dropping it out of the tray?


2. Magnetic Letters Activities

Magnetic letters literacy activities with cookie sheet or magnetic board


Magnetic Tray

Use magnetic letters with a compatible surface such as a cookie sheet.

  • You can even use the refrigerator door as your magnetic 'board'.

Engaging with the letters - making patterns and 'words' - will lead into identifying and naming the letters.

Help kids begin to spell their names or other words as they are ready and show interest. 


Math Games

Match magnetic letters to letters on cereal boxes or other printed material.

Sort letters by color. Make a graph and count the letters of each color.


Discovery bottle

Make your own discovery bottle with letters of the alphabet.


3. Coffee Can Activities

Bean bag toss game with a recycled coffee can


Game of Toss

A recycled coffee can and a soft toy or bean bag can used for a game of toss.

  • Use one or more cans depending on availability.
  • Substitute a laundry basket, waste basket, or cardboard box for the coffee cans.

More: A clean coffee can can also be used storage for small toys. 

Related: Ring toss game 


Recycle coffee cans and wooden spoons for a drum set



Use a coffee can as a drum.

Tap the top of the can with wooden spoons and let the music begin!

You'll get a different sound by tapping on the bottom of the can.

  • Add movement and dancing to the play for some gross motor fun.


4. Play Dough Activities

Play dough activity with craft sticks


Play Dough Fun

Play dough is fun on its own, but you can add unique objects to spark imagination and add interest to the play.

Play can be inspired with any small items such as marker tops, craft sticks, small wooden clothes pegs.


Play dough activity with jar lids


Try setting jar lids or a rolling pin with the play dough and see what kids imagine!

The props don't have to be elaborate - the simpler the better for imagination to take over.

Related: Homemade Play Dough Mats


Play dough activity with kids scissors


Place a pair of scissors next to some play dough. Kids will benefit from sensory and fine motor experiences as they use the materials.

Cutting play dough is a simple but effective activity for helping to build fine motor development. 


Related: Play Dough Pinterest Board


5. Scissors Activities


Scissor skills with paper fine motor play for toddlers and preschoolers


Cutting Paper

Support scissor skills by providing just paper and scissors for a simple fine motor creative activity.

Try setting out unusual materials such muffin liners, paper shape cutouts, or different textures of paper (cardboard, sandpaper, greeting cards) to offer unique experiences. 

Practice cutting lines on paper to make a fringe.


Related: Fine Motor Pinterest Board


6. Process Art Activities

Self adhesive stickers and construction child led art activity



Set out a few stickers and construction paper for kids to explore.

Younger kids may need help removing the sticky backs on some stickers. Add markers and crayons to the play if preferred.

Related: Process Art Pinterest Board


Paper and crayons promote toddler and preschooler independent play


Paper Cutouts

Set out paper cutouts to spark creative play.

Use a simple pattern such as a butterfly, a snowman, a house. A shape or pattern can sometimes provide inspiration without having to give instructions or guidance. 

Provide markers or crayons or a combination of both. Keep supplies to a minimum.

Add materials as needed or requested by your young artist - a stick to make a butterfly puppet, craft eyes for a snowman.

Related: Paper Shapes Art Activity


7. Water Play

Water play sink or float preschool science activity


Sink and Float

Set out a small basin of water and small objects or toys that can sink or float.

Kids can sort objects and splash in the water. This activity is great for engaging language and math skills.


Water play painting with a foam brush on cardboard


Painting with Water

Use a small basin of water for a painting activity.

Provide a piece of cardboard to use as your canvas and a paintbrush for dipping into the water. A foam brush works well for spreading water on the canvas.

For more creative painting, dip a wooden block or sponge in the water and use as a paint stamp.


Squeezing Sponges

Add a sponge or two to the water for squeezing.

Squeeze water from one container into another.


I hope you are inspired by these suggestions. They are intended to spark ideas for creative but simple hands-on play, with support for independent play.

Grab as many as you have time for today!

Have fun creating new games with recyclables.

Preschool activities with simple setups


Look for more ideas on our Preschool Toolkit Pinterest boards.


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