Getting plenty of outdoor physical activity can help preschoolers settle in to activities.

How to Keep a Preschooler Engaged in Activities

by Julie Christensen

Preschoolers are often busy little people who rarely stay in one place for more than a few minutes. However, some kids seem to have an especially difficult time engaging in activities. They wander around the house or classroom, loudly proclaiming their boredom. Maybe they simply don't know how to use the materials, or they're overwhelmed by too many choices. Learn some simple rules of engagement to keep your tot on task.

Set realistic expectations. Sometimes it's hard to know exactly how long a child can reasonably stay engaged in an activity. For preschoolers, 15 to 20 minutes of a table activity or group reading time is plenty. Active children balk at workbooks and writing activities, which are usually not developmentally appropriate.

Plan activities based on your child's interests and strengths. Perhaps you want your busy little one to write his name, but he'd rather be off playing blocks. Instead of forcing him to sit at a table writing, why not add a clipboard with paper to the block area? Encourage your child to "write" stories about his adventures in the block area, or use the paper to design a castle or zoo. The end result is the same -- your child's increasing his fine motor and writing skills -- but you'll both enjoy the process much more. Most preschoolers prefer hands-on, sensory activities, such as play dough, paint, blocks, and Legos, over formal, academic work. Research shows that hands-on activities are the most effective method for teaching young children, so it's okay to indulge your child in the activities he craves.

Add new and novel materials to the play area and rotate toys and games to increase interest. You wouldn't want to do the same thing day after day, and neither does your child. Put away toys for a few months and bring them out again. Add some new paints, glitter glue or paper to a writing or art activity.

Work with your child. Preschoolers crave attention above all else. Play games, act out stories, draw pictures or build with Legos together. Your child will stay engaged much longer than if she played solo. Praise her efforts with comments such as, "You really worked hard painting that picture. You stayed there for a long time and really thought about what you wanted to do. Great job."

Offer choices most of the time. Kids are more likely to become engaged in an activity if they helped choose it. Say, "Do you want to play with blocks or work on a puzzle?" Give preschoolers plenty of time to play with their choice. Sometimes kids hurry through activities because they feel rushed. Provide a verbal warning five minutes before it's time to clean up.


  • Most preschoolers flit from activity to activity, and this is a normal part of development. However, an exceptionally busy child may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, or another condition that makes it difficult to sit still. Talk with your pediatrician if your child seems unusually busy or has other symptoms that worry you.

About the Author

Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."

Photo Credits

  • Cameron Spencer/Digital Vision/Getty Images