Children jumping and title "3 No-Prep Outdoor Game to Play with Your Preschooler"

 

As the weather gets warmer, it’s valuable to get kids outside and moving. That’s what these classic 3 games are all about. Best of all, they are no-prep outdoor games so you can play them just about any time and anywhere.

You may already be familiar with some of these games. Perhaps you played them as a child. I know I did. Whatever the case, if you’re looking for more games to play with your preschooler, keep reading.

Tips for No-Prep Outdoor Games

Before we get into the games themselves, I have a few tips for you.

  • Keep a close eye on the children’s interest level. Try to end the game just before the children begin feeling bored. This way, they will remember it as a fun game. If you wait until they are extremely tired and bored, they are less likely to enjoy the game again in the future.
  • Choose a playing space based on the age and stamina of your children. For older children choose a larger playing area, for younger children, a smaller space will do. You could use a field, your backyard, a multipurpose room, or a patio (with good railings). Get creative.
  • Have fun! If you are enjoying the game your child is far more likely to have fun playing.

What Time is it, Mr. Wolf

Even if you don’t know this game, there’s a good chance your children might. This game can be used in a variety of settings, including swimming lessons and skating lessons.

Number of Children:

  • Large group
  • Small group
  • One-on-one with an adult

Child Development:

  • Counting
  • Gross motor movements (running and stepping)
  • Turn-taking (waiting for their turn to be the wolf)
  • Following instructions

How to Play:

Select one person to be the “wolf”. Have them stand on the opposite side of the playing space. Have the other players line up side by side on the starting line.

Together, all the players (except the wolf) call, “What time is it, Mr. Wolf?”

The wolf calls back a number between 1 and 12, or “Lunchtime!”

If the wolf says, “It’s 3 o’clock,” all the players take three steps toward the wolf.

Then all the players ask again, “What time is it, Mr. Wolf?”

Whenever the wolf chooses, he can reply, “Lunchtime!” When he does, the wolf chases all the players back to the starting line.

If the wolf tags anyone before they reach the starting line, they become the wolf. For small groups of 8 children or less, just the person who was tagged first becomes the wolf and the first wolf becomes a player. For larger groups, every child who is tagged joins the wolf so that, as the game progresses, there are more and more wolves and less players.

For older children, have the wolf turn around so that they cannot see how close the players are getting. This is not necessary for preschool children and it can be tricky to keep them from peeking.

Red Light, Green Light

Fantastic for use while teaching transportation or safety themes, this game is well-loved and for good reason. While this game absolutely works without any prep, it can be improved by choosing something to use as the “red light” and the “green light”. In the past, I have used printed stop and go signs, blank red and green pieces of construction paper, red and green hula hoops, red and green cones, or whatever else I had on hand.

Number of Children:

  • Large group
  • Small group
  • One-on-one with an adult

Child Development:

  • Gross motor movements (running and stopping)
  • Ear-body coordination (hearing instructions and obeying them)
  • Listening skills (learning to respond to “stop” or “red light”)

How to Play:

Choose who will be the “caller”. The caller can be a child or a teacher/parent. Have the caller stand on one side of the playing space. Have all the children stand side by side on the opposite side of the playing area. 

When the caller says, “Green light!” all the players run toward the caller. When the caller says, “Red light!” all players must stop where they are. The caller continues to call “red light” and “green light” until all the players reach where the caller is standing. Then a new caller is selected and all the players return to the opposite side of the area.

For 8 or fewer children, allowing the children to be the caller works well. For bigger groups of preschool children, it may be best to only have the teacher be the caller. This is especially helpful if you are under tight time constraints. When the teacher is the caller they can control the game. For example, they can make it shorter if gym time is almost over.

For elementary aged children, this game becomes a challenge to not be caught moving when it’s a red light. If caught moving, they are sent back to the start line. For preschool children, remembering to follow the instructions is often exciting and engaging without being sent back to the beginning. However, if a child really isn’t responding to the red light, sending them back to the starting line will help them be more intentional to pay attention next time.

Extend the Fun:

  • Extend the fun by adding more colours. This works especially well if you have visuals to hold up for each colour. Some ideas include:
    • Orange = go slow
    • Blue = (stop and) turn around
    • Purple = hop
  • Are you doing a transportation or safety theme? Try making visuals representing the stop and walk crosswalk signals to help children learn what they mean.

Mother May I

I recommend this game for a small group of 3-5 children who are aged 3-5. This is due to how slow the game can be when each child moves separately. For larger groups, try having all the children take the steps together, much like What Time is it Mr. Wolf.

As an adult, this game may seem pointless, but many children love it. They enjoy having the power to make choices when they are the “mother”. Be careful to ensure that every child has a turn to be the mother.

If you are uncertain about using this game’s traditional name “Mother May I” try calling it something like “Monkey May I”.

Number of Children:

  • Small group

Child Development:

  • Variety of gross motor movements (large steps/small steps, and if extending the play: jumps and turns)
  • Turn-taking (waiting for their turn to ask to move and to be the mother)
  • Making choices (preschoolers love being able to choose and that’s why this game holds appeal for them)
  • Counting
  • Following instructions (if extending the play, following 2-step directions)
  • Good manners

How to Play:

Select one child to be the mother. The rest of the children line up on one side of the playing space while the mother stands on the opposite side.

For this game, each child has a turn to ask the mother what number of steps they can take. Typically, I limit the number to anything between 1-12. Have the first child ask, “Mother, may I take 3 steps?”

The mother gets to choose. They can say, “You may,” at which point the child who asked moves the prescribed number of steps. Alternatively, the mother can say, “No.” If the mother says, “No,” she must then tell the child how many steps they may take, for example, “You may take 2 steps.” The child who asked will then take only 2 steps forward.

Following that, it is the next child’s turn. Continue giving the children turns. The game ends when a child reaches the mother. Then choose another mother and have all the children go back to the starting line.

Again, I stress that when playing this game, it is very important to give every child a turn being the mother.

Extend the Fun:

Once the children have played several rounds, change things up by describing the type of step. “Mother, may I take 1 giant leap?” “Mother, may I take 12 tip-toe steps?”

Ideas include:

  • Tiny steps
  • Giant steps
  • Small hops
  • Big jumps
  • Backwards steps
  • Tip-toe steps

Final ThoughtsGirl running outside

Do you have older kids? For groups of children aged 4-10 I recommend the game: Farmer Farmer. It is similar to British Bulldog, but with a twist. 

What other no-prep outdoor games do you enjoy playing with your preschoolers?

Do your preschoolers still have energy? Great! Here are two other ideas to help you keep them moving:

 

Looking for a game to play with your preschooler? Here’s a new one for you to print and enjoy together.

Are you familiar with the classic game Snakes and Ladders? If so, you are well on your way to knowing how to play this game. The primary difference is that, for this game, rather than having snakes and ladders, if a player lands on a yellow framed square, they move to the matching rhyme square. Confused? Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

What You Need

  • The ABC Rhyming Snakes and Ladders Game board printed out
    • Alternatively, open the image on a tablet or iPad and use that as your game board.
  • 1 six-sided die
  • 1 playing piece per person – I encourage you to use plastic pawns from a board game. Alternatively use very small toys, buttons, or even coins. (Beware of choking hazards.)

How to Play

  • Place everyone’s playing piece on the “START” square.

    Direction of play on the game board
  • Have the first person roll the die and move their playing piece accordingly.
    • For example, if they roll “4”, have the person move their playing piece to the fourth square which has the pig on it.
  • Players take turns rolling the die and moving their playing piece to the appropriate square.
    • Further details: Once everyone has had a turn to roll and move their playing piece, the first person gets to roll again. If the first person rolls a “5” on their second turn, they will continue counting from the fourth square with the pig on it until they reach the umbrella.
  • If a player lands on a square with a yellow frame around it, such as the boat, they move to the matching rhyme, in this case, the goat. Only squares with yellow frames have matching rhymes. The player moves to the corresponding rhyme regardless of whether they are moving forwards or backwards. (These moves are equivalent to snakes and ladders.)
  • The goal of the game is to reach the “FINISH” square first.

Educational Elements in ABC Rhyming Snakes and Ladders

Rhyming Matches
  • Rhyming – Listening to the distinct sounds in each word is a challenging skill for many children. It is also an important pre-reading skill. When playing this game with your child keep in mind that learning to rhyme is difficult for a 3 year old and may still be challenging for a 4-5 year old if they have not yet been taught about rhymes. Have patience as you model and teach the skill. Say the words slowly and emphasize the rhyming sounds. Once your child has a handle on rhyming, learning to read will be a little easier.
  • ABC Order – You may have noticed that the letters on this game board are not in alphabetical order. This is intentional. Children are incredibly smart. It is not uncommon for a child to memorize the letters in alphabetical order rather than learning to distinguish each letter by shape.  Mixing up the order of the letters gives an extra challenge and a chance for the parent to see how many letters their child can recognize by sight. I encourage you to take a moment to look at the letters on the board together.
  • Pictures – I have included a picture for each letter. These pictures serve as reminders for the child of what sound the letter makes. Sound out the name of the picture with your child to help them distinguish the sound of the letter at the beginning of the word. Grasping that each letter makes a sound and that those sounds can be combined into words will go a long way in preparing your child to start reading.
  • Counting / Turn-Taking / Waiting – These are three of the hidden developmental bonuses of playing a game like this. Every time your child rolls the die and moves their playing piece, they are practicing counting. Every time they have to wait for their turn, they are sharpening valuable social skills.

Like this free resource? Be sure to tell your friends about it and join my email list for access to other free printables.

Many preschool theme pictures

 

Having been asked about preschool themes to teach, I’ve compiled a list of various themes that can be used with a preschool child at home or with a whole class at a preschool or childcare centre.

I’ve attached a free printable pdf of my list of themes at the bottom of this post.

How long should you use a theme?

That depends on your situation and your children. I’ve taught in preschools that use one theme a week, though sometimes a big theme is extended over two weeks or more. Other preschools will choose to combine two themes and keep them for an entire month. The best length for you will be affected by how engrossed you are in the theme and how often you teach or do crafts regarding the theme. Also, pay attention to your children’s interests. If you know your children love animals, you likely could use an animal theme for longer. Other times, however, changing up the theme every week will keep the children more engaged.

What aspects can be affected by the theme?

You can embrace your chosen theme as much or as little as you want. Here are some areas you could choose to incorporate your theme.

  • Circle time:
    • The first place most people think of incorporating a theme is during the teaching time, referred to by preschool teachers as circle time. Themes can be incorporated through songs, stories, activities, and direct teaching. Using visuals is beneficial whenever possible.
  • Crafts:
    • There are endless craft ideas available online to go with nearly any theme. A quick search on Pinterest will show you a few. Keep in mind, theme-focused crafts are often product-oriented (i.e. the child is given a specific example to replicate). There are benefits to product-oriented crafts, but don’t forget to include some open-ended art as well. For “Autumn” you could give your child a blank paper and yellow, orange, and red paints to use however they’d like. For “Transportation” you could allow your child to drive cars through paint and make tracks on their paper. (Cleanup for this one is trickier!) For other open-ended ideas check out Beyond the Paintbrush then put on your thinking cap to tie them into your theme.
  • Books:

    • If you have a local library, books are a great way to incorporate a preschool theme. Is “Under the Sea” your theme? Search for books about fish, sharks, and the ocean. Some themes have countless fantastic books, for other themes it’s harder to find suitable books. Here are some books I’ve enjoyed with my preschoolers, sorted by theme: Books for Preschoolers and Toddlers
  • Decoration:
    • Some preschools will totally transform their classroom with theme-based decorations (bulletin boards, posters, etc.). It’s a lot of work! Others rarely change their decorations. A happy compromise, in some cases, could be having one theme-decorated area or bulletin board that you change based on the theme. If you don’t have posters, consider putting up crafts the children made or printing colour sheets corresponding with the theme. However, don’t feel bad if you don’t decorate by theme. It is not essential.
  • Games/Gym:
    • Get creative during gym time. With preschoolers, a simple game such as this one “4 Sides Preschool Gym Game can be adapted to countless themes. Alternatively, if learning about Space, grab some hula hoops and pretend to fly to the moon together.
  • Field Trips/Outings:

    • Some themes work well to be taken outside the home/classroom. Are you learning about bugs? Go on a bug hunt around the yard or neighbourhood. Are you studying transportation? See how many different types of transportation you can find on a walk around the block.
    • Visit the zoo, aquarium, pet store, science center, or a farm, if your area has them.

Preschool Themes List:

Any season:

  • All About Me
  • Alphabet
  • Numbers
  • Shapes
  • Colours
  • Safety
  • Community Helpers
  • Science
  • Space
  • Music
  • Emotions
  • Five senses
  • Healthy Eating
  • Healthy Habits
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • Transportation/Things that go
  • Mighty Machines
  • Wheels
  • Ramps
  • Bible
  • Multicultural
  • Circus
  • Superheroes
  • Princesses and Pirates
  • Fables/Nursery Rhymes

Animal:

Here is a fantastic action song that could go with nearly any of these animal themes: If You Want To Be A…

 

  • Zoo Animals
  • Desert
  • Jungle
  • Safari
  • Birds
  • Pets
  • Bugs
  • Farm
  • Dinosaurs
  • Baby Animals
  • Under the Sea
  • Winter Animals
  • Forest Animals
  • North American Animals
  • Reptiles and Amphibians

Fall:

If your program begins in September, remember to keep these first few weeks simpler as you and the children settle into routine.

  • Welcome to School
  • Leaves
  • Apples
  • Harvest
  • Forest Animals
  • Fruits and Vegetables

Winter:

  • Winter Sports
  • Winter Olympics (when it’s on)
  • Winter Animals
  • Snowflakes
  • Snowmen

Spring:

  • Bugs
  • Flowers
  • Baby animals
  • How Plants Grow

Summer:

  • Beach Party
  • Fun in the Sun
  • Teddy Bear Picnic
  • Summer Olympics (when it’s on)

Special days:

  • There are many holidays that can also be used as themes, but I’ll let you make your own list of those.

 Click here to download your free printable pdf of the Preschool Themes List

 

What other themes would you add to the list?

Woman talking to her laughing toddler

Some children get excited for storytime. Other children are restless and simply cannot be bothered to pay attention at storytime. Some adults enjoy reading picture books to their children. Others do not. Regardless, engaging children through story is valuable for pre-reading development.

I hope this helps you on your journey of engaging preschoolers with stories.

Why engage preschoolers with stories without reading a book?

As a preschool teacher, here are some key reasons I would tell a story without using a physical book:

  • Children who have a limited grasp of English, whether due to speech delays or English being a second language, find it hard to follow long strings of words.  Many picture books have a lot of words with only a few storyline clues in the pictures. Several of the methods recommended below show the action of the story rather than just telling about it.
  • Some children have a hard time sitting still in general. Using new and unusual ways to tell a story catches their attention far better. Later, as they learn to follow and enjoy stories, they may be more able and willing to sit for a picture book.
  • Sometimes the child has already heard the story you are telling many times before. They get bored and fidgety because they know exactly what’s coming. This is an important indicator for the storyteller that it is time to find a different story or a new storytelling method to help capture the attention of the audience.

Methods of storytelling

The possibilities are endless, but here are a few ideas to get you started. Keep in mind, you don’t have to make up your own story. Find an engaging preschool book you enjoy and retell the story using one of these methods.

  • Toys as props
    • Lego/Duplo – If you have time beforehand, you can build whatever building or vehicle the story requires. Better yet, ask the children to help you build it, then set it aside until storytime.
    • Small dolls or animals (stuffed or plastic, etc.) – I recommend using small dolls or animals, especially ones that can bend as needed for the story (some dolls can’t sit down).
  • Playdough
    • Some stories might lend themselves well to playdough. It would likely be best to pre-build all the props you will need, or at least practice building them so that you can make them quickly without losing the children’s interest. Think ahead about how you will make sure all the children can see what you’re doing.
  • Act it out
    • Stand up, put on a hat and play the parts yourself. Only some stories will work well this way, especially for preschoolers. Alternatively, allow the children to be actors. However, here again, I caution you to be intentional to keep things fair.
  • Felt board
    • Felt boards or flannel boards might seem old fashioned, but the children love them. You can buy felt board sets to use that correlate with specific stories or buy generic sets of farm animals or community workers. Also, consider cutting your own shapes out of felt or paper with velcro on the back.
  • Puppets
    • Puppets can be store-bought or homemade. Children thoroughly enjoy puppets with or without a puppet theatre to hide behind. If you don’t want to make the puppet talk, have them whisper in your ear and then repeat what they “told” you, such as:
      • “What’s that, Mr. Rabbit?” “Oh, you’re looking for your carrot?” “Mr. Rabbit says he wants us to help him find his carrot.”
  • Cut out paper shapes
  • Picture book pages
    • When it comes to preschoolers, you don’t have to change things much to make it seem brand new and exciting. Do you have a picture book with a spine that is falling apart? Consider cutting all the pages out and laminating them. Then you can hold up the pages, one at a time, while you tell the story. I encourage you to number the pages for your own reference. Laminating the pages will help them last far longer.

Tips

  • Know the story
    • Whether you make up your own story or retell a story from your favourite picture book, the most important key to storytelling is to know the story well. If the story is written down, read it over several times and practice paraphrasing it. If you need to, write cue cards to jog your memory of the order of events. If it is a repetitive story such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle, try writing out the first few stanzas to help you get started.
  • Know your audience
    • If the story you want to tell is too complex, or otherwise not age-appropriate, you will lose your audience. It isn’t so much a matter of whether the child is a five year old or a two year old. Rather, pay attention to where they are at developmentally. When you tell a story, watch for cues that they are not following a too complicated story or that they are bored since the story is too simple. This, of course, gets tricky when you have more than one child and a range of developmental levels.
  • Make eye contact
    • Once you’ve learned the story inside out, you won’t have to be looking at the words on the page. This frees you to make eye contact with the children as you are telling the story. Eye contact makes storytelling more personal and engaging.
  • Consider the setup
    • Think about how you can hold whatever props you might be using so that all the children can see them. For larger groups, you may need to sit on a chair while the children sit on the carpet. Or if the children are in chairs, you may need to stand. A child who can’t see the props will find it much harder to be engaged.
  • Involve the children
    • Find ways to involve the children in the story. Some of the methods in the following bullet points work well to enhance the reading of a picture book rather than telling the story without using the picture book.
      • Let them fill in blanks: A key way to do this is by letting the children say parts of the story based on clues you provide. For example, when I’m reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, I might say “Brown bear, brown bear what do you see? I see a…” then wait for a child to tell me what picture/prop I’m showing.
      • Include actions: Some stories lend themselves well to actions. Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes, is a good one for this. You can encourage the children to wiggle their noses or pretend to climb a tree with the character.
      • Ask questions: Pause the story from time to time to ask a question. The question could be in line with the story: “Do you think he will do it?” “How did that make her feel?” Or the question might be a side comment that enhances general knowledge: “What colour is her shirt?” “How many buttons does he have?” Be careful to watch for signs of your audience’s engagement with this one. Too many questions, or miss-timed questions, can break the flow of the storyline.
      • Hold props: Most children love being allowed to hold the props, but I caution you on this one. Be very careful about fairness. For small groups of children, or one on one storytimes, allowing the child to hold the props, or find whichever prop you need next, can be excellent. However, if you have a large group of children, but only two props, it may cause arguing over who gets to hold it. On another note, once you’ve let the children hold the props for one story, they may beg to hold them for all future stories. Therefore, consider carefully whether this powerful engagement tool will be beneficial in your setting.

Other resources

Need something simpler, yet still engaging? Check out my post about 7 interactive preschool books. These are a great way to engage a child with picture books who won’t sit for most books. sjlittle.ca/preschool/7-fantastic-animal-guessing-books-for-preschoolers 

For a list of my favourite stories see my Pinterest board: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/preschooltoddler-books-s-j-littles-favourite 

Other picture books I also recommend: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/books-for-preschoolers-and-toddlers 

What are other ways you’ve engaged preschoolers with stories?

Child colouring behind title "3 Go-To Places for Preschool Resources"

Free Printables – 

With all of the Covid-19 restrictions, you may be finding yourself in need of new, easy activities for your youngster. Here are three sites with free printable resources that I recommend.

(Note: None of the links below are affiliate links. I am recommending these websites because I have found them to be valuable resources in the past. I have no control over these websites, nor am I connected to them in any way.)

1.  SuperColoring.com

While there are many free colouring page websites out there, my go-to is Super Coloring. I especially enjoy their realistic animal colouring sheets. Sometimes I print their pictures for my preschool class to colour. At other times, I use the pictures to make visuals for circle time. They have just about everything from dinosaurs to flowers and from insects to world maps. If you’re looking for something more academically based, they even have colouring sheets for letters A-Z.

supercoloring.com

2. Teaching2And3YearOlds.com

Teaching 2 And 3 Year Olds is a website full of free resources, including free printable activities or other creative play ideas. Many of the posts include tips and mention the developmental benefits of each activity. Activities on this site are often sorted by theme.

teaching2and3yearolds.com

3. TheBeginnersBible.com

Have you read the Beginner’s Bible with your children? Did you know that there are free printable colouring sheets and activity sheets that go with it? With the same illustrations and pictures as found in the picture Bible, your youngsters might enjoy this extension to their learning.

thebeginnersbible.com

Looking for more? Check out some of the ideas I’ve collected on Pinterest:

S. J. Little’s Preschool Posts: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/s-j-littles-preschool-posts

Ideas to Try: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/ideas-to-try

Keeping Toddler Busy: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/keeping-toddler-busy

Make Your Own Toys: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/make-your-own-toys

Free Preschool Teacher Tools: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/free-preschool-teacher-tools

 

What are your go-to websites for free printable preschool/toddler activities?