15 Activities To Keep Preschoolers Busy In Public That Really Work

Rachel Garner
Dec 12, 2023 By Rachel Garner
Originally Published on Jun 03, 2020
Child doing art.

Keeping your toddlers busy can be a challenge at the best of times, let alone when you're out in public.

We're all familiar with the scene: you're at a restaurant, a supermarket, or even a wedding and your preschooler has decided they're utterly bored and want to throw a tantrum. Thankfully, we've rounded up our top 15 tried and tested activities to keep your little ones occupied. Take a look!

No-Prep Activities

Perfect for when you're put on the spot for something to come up with, there are plenty of activities to keep your kids busy that require absolutely no preparation.

I Spy

A classic game that you're sure to have played yourself as a child, I Spy is a super easy and fun way to keep the whole family from getting bored. Simply spot an item or object wherever you are, and start with: "I spy something red (or whatever colour you see)!".

Using colours instead of letters is a great way to engage younger children and make it easier for them to play.

Tic Tac Toe

Perfect for the times you're waiting for your food to arrive in a restaurant, why not try out this clever version of tic tac toe? Using butter knives (to make sure that the game is safe), you'll be able to make your board.

You can then use two different coloured sachets or any other small objects for your x's and o's.

Story Time

If your kids love stories, then they'll have so much fun making them up with you on the go. The game works by each of you coming up with sentences to continue where the other left off.

For example, you could start with: "I see a little boy and his mummy", and the next person would have to make up the next sentence of the story, and so on until you've got a full-blown tale!

The Memory Game

All you need for this one is the contents of your handbag and a little bit of concentration. The kids will want to play this over and over again.

Start by taking out several objects from your bag and giving the kids 30 seconds to memorise them all. Then, ask them to close their eyes and remove one object. It's then up to the children to figure out what's missing!

Number Plate Names

Whether you're stuck in the car or simply sitting near a window, this activity is fun for the whole family and will keep the kids busy for a good while. How does it work?

Use the first letter of every number plate you can spot to come up with as many names as you can. Alternatively, you could do animals, countries, or food items when you're done with names.

Thumb Wars

A go-to since the dawn of time, you can't beat a thumb war when it comes to keeping a preschooler preoccupied when out and about. They'll have so much fun, and you'll certainly get lots of giggles.  Similarly - rock, paper, scissors works a treat.

Build A Tower

Are the kids getting bored waiting for their food? This simple activity needs nothing but a few ketchup packets or sachets of salt or sugar.

Mess (and noise) free if the tower should collapse, your kids can have all the fun in the world piling the objects on top of one another to see how high they can go. For added excitement, you could even time them, or compete against them!

Make Me Laugh

This silly game is bound to keep your preschoolers occupied, and laughing their little heads off. The aim of the game is to make each other laugh without speaking, be that by pulling funny faces, doing silly dances, or whatever else you can think of. You can play as many rounds as you want to pass the time!

Preparation Needed Activities

When you know you've got a tiring day ahead of you that's sure to be filled with restlessness, there are plenty of great ideas to keep your kids busy that require just a little bit of preparation in advance.

Lace It Up

Making your own lacing board or card for your kids to fiddle with is always a winner when it comes to keeping their hands (and minds) busy - it's also pretty easy to do!

Begin by punching several holes through a piece of cardboard, just big enough that a shoelace could fit through. You can then get the kids to decorate their boards with paint, pens, and stickers.

When it comes to being out and playing with it, you'd be surprised at how long they spend threading and winding through the shoelaces - not to mention, this really helps to develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

The Treasure Box

A special little box that the kids only get to have when they're not at home? This idea works wonders on bored preschoolers!

All you need to do is fill up a small box with items such as a new toy, finger puppets, their favourite snack, or any other treats you think they'd enjoy that they haven't necessarily played with before.

Colouring In Time

There's a reason that so many restaurants now offer colouring in sheets for kids - not only is it so much fun for them but it also keeps their minds occupied.

In the case that you're going somewhere that doesn't offer this, it's a great idea to print off some sheets at home before you leave and pack some crayons or pencils along with them.

A simple way to keep the kids quiet and happy when waiting indoors.

Surprise Toys

A great way to prevent the kids from getting bored when out and about is to surprise them with a couple of new, small toys.

These should be little things that you've quickly managed to pick up cheaply in Pound Land, or similar, (so it's not too big of a deal if they accidentally disappear) and can store in your handbag.

The novelty of the toy will make for a super fun playtime for the kids and will hold their attention for longer than any old toy would.

Snack Time

Not only are yummy snacks a great way to entice good behaviour, but they'll also keep your kids occupied whilst they're munching away. Try bringing a few special snacks that your children don't get to have too often at home, to make it all the more exciting.

Busy Bags

Having a busy bag readily prepared at home for your toddler that you can grab whenever needed is a fantastic way to not only keep their minds busy but also help them learn some independence as they complete engaging activities on their own - they're also super cheap to put together.

Some ideas for items to include could be small puzzles, books, paper crayons, pipe cleaners, a little toy, and so on.

Play Dough

If you don't already keep a small tub or two of play dough in your handbag, you need to start ASAP. Not only are they pretty much mess-free, but they're also bound to keep kids entertained for a good while squeezing, playing, and moulding the dough into shapes.

If you wanted to get involved, you could even play games such as guessing what each other has made.

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Written by Rachel Garner

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism

Rachel Garner picture

Rachel GarnerBachelor of Arts specializing in Journalism

Growing up in Switzerland, Rachel developed a love for exploring new places and trying new foods. She has a Bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of the Arts London. She currently resides in Northwest London and enjoys discovering trendy spots around the city. Rachel is also passionate about planning fun activities for her family, particularly her little cousins. When she has some downtime, she can be found indulging in hobbies such as attending concerts, baking, or visiting her family in Essex. Her love for travel takes her beyond the UK, where she meticulously plans and researches each adventure before setting off to explore new places across Europe and beyond.

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