She is stubborn, prone to tantrums and easily gets antsy, but a preschooler won't turn into the devil incarnate if you can keep her occupied. You don't have to run a non-stop circus, however.
Traditional games are fine to keep preschoolers busy, but even better are activities that will have a lasting educational impact. Use these important learning goals for 3- to 5-year-olds as a basis for playtime.
- Tea party. Have the preschooler host a tea party for dolls, stuffed animals and you. Invite others -- whether siblings or sitters -- to join in on the make-believe play to develop social skills, in addition to imagination.
- Cooking or store. If the child has Little Tikes or similar plastic food and playsets at home, encourage her to re-enact familiar scenarios from real life. Or she can use older pots and pans. By driving the action herself, she's learning to develop narratives.
- Dress up. Allow her to put on and take off costumes herself, which teaches hand-eye coordination in addition to creativity and role playing.
Stories and Songs
- Story time. Read stories often. Ask questions about what objects the preschooler might see in picture books, and encourage the child to ask about any words she doesn't understand. This develops comprehension and vocabulary skills. It also provides important fodder for pretend play.
- Sing songs. Build listening, voice and language skills by singing favorite songs like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." Adding the hand and body movements also develops hand-eye coordination and memory building.
- Foreign languages. Encourage word association and second-language building at this age in a game form. Take a handful of familiar objects such as "ball" or "train" and teach them in Spanish, French or American Sign Language.
- Take advantage of social and cultural opportunities. Preschoolers are curious about the world around them. A day trip -- even if it only lasts a couple of hours -- will occupy a preschooler while providing important social and cultural experiences. If you visit local museums and art galleries, point out colors and shapes. "Please touch" museums and exhibits encourage preschoolers to explore with their eyes and hands.
- Visit a park. Spending time at a park that is frequented by children of the same age can be a healthy, fun and inexpensive outing.
- Explore your neighborhood. Walk around your neighborhood looking for acorns, leaves, bugs or architectural features, which can teach your children to observe the world around them more closely.
Preschoolers are like sponges of social and cultural information. Plan activities that will both entertain and educate them, and you'll both have a great time.
Tiffany Smith is the senior associate editor here at Care.com. She has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Getting them to eat their veggies -- that’s a different story! Follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyiswrite.