Easy Hacks for Purposeful Playtime

Published on: January 15, 2022

Early years teacher Jessie shares some simple ideas for home-based activities that are low cost, quick to set up, and a lot of fun for young children.

By Jessie Kanchan

I love spending time with kids; it’s how I choose to spend my days. I’m excited to explore and discover various things with them. Most of all, I enjoy being present with them during those experiences. What I don’t love is arduous, time-consuming prep for an activity that will be over in 30 seconds. And I’m pretty sure every parent and caregiver here will feel the same! What also hurts is how much premade kits can cost. So here are some simple, easy and cheap to prepare, tried-and-tested activities that you can do at home with your kids aged three and over. 

Remember—these activities will go as quickly as you let them, so really add to the excitement by connecting them to a story or a character, or an experience like a holiday to the beach. Kids feel more invested in an activity if you are invested, too, and if the context means something to them.

Essential items to stock up on:

Shaving cream 

Baking soda

Food coloring 


White TOA glue


Once you have a nice stash of goodies, let the fun begin!

Water play 

Sink or float?

Start with a simple sink or float experiment by filling a container with water and gathering a few objects to test. Ask your kids to make predictions and talk about why they think certain things will sink or float, then put them in the water to find out! Every single child I have done this with wanted to do it repeatedly. 

Extension Tip: Afterwards, hand them some foil and let them construct boats. How many objects will sink the boat? How can you design a boat that will float? This can go on for a while!

Water beads

Water beads—available for cheap on Lazada—take any water play to the next level. Soak them overnight and add them into a container of water and you have a lovely sensory activity. Add spoons, bowls, cups, and containers for kids to enjoy some water transfer play. When I played this with my kids, we also added mini ocean animals and shells. They enjoyed it for days!

Wash days

What’s next? Wash days! Play a game of car wash and wash all the toy vehicles. Don’t stop there—add in all the other washable toys. All you need is soap, water, and a toothbrush. Kids love engaging with their toys differently, and it teaches them how to take care of their things.

Fizzy fun

Erupting volcanoes

Volcanos are always a blast, and they are so cheap to make. Prepare a 500 ml plastic water bottle filled with around 200 g of baking soda so it comes a little under halfway. Add in a few drops of red and orange food coloring. Pour in the vinegar slowly and watch the eruption happen! Have about 700 ml of vinegar ready for this activity to keep the eruption going, and you can keep adding more color, too

Extension tip: Get out a sheet of paper and some paint and encourage kids to fingerpaint the volcanic eruption. Let them just have fun painting with the colors of the volcano. Finger painting allows them to use their body (hand movements) to express the momentum of the eruption. Notice how they will paint fast and with big movements.

Fizzy snowballs

Create a mixture of baking soda and water so that it’s damp enough to mold into a ball. I get kids to do this part because it’s so great for strengthening their fine motor skills. Squeeze and squash into roundish balls. Freeze. When the snowballs are frozen firm, place them in a bowl so that they don’t roll around too much. Hand kids a cup of vinegar and droppers and let them have fun melting away the ‘snow’. 

Extension tips: 1. Make more than one and stash away for a rainy day or playdates; 2. Add glitter to make them sparkly; 3. Hide small objects like plastic animals inside for a little surprise. 

Bubbling Colors

Kids enjoy mixing and discovering what new colors they can make. Here’s a fun way for them to play with that concept. Spread a generous amount of baking soda onto a tray or plate. In a separate container or cup for each color, mix a few cups of vinegar with a few drops of red, blue, and yellow food coloring. Kids can then use droppers to add the coloured vinegar to the tray of baking soda, creating new colors by mixing the primary colors.

Shaving cream activities 

Slippery building
Slippery building is another fun twist to playtime. Simply add shaving cream over Lego or blocks and let kids try building in this slippery situation. It’s fun but do warn them it’s meant to be silly to avoid frustration.

Messy drawing
Spread shaving cream onto a tray and let kids use their fingers to draw shapes, practice forming letters or words, or just get messy!

Extension tip: Add rice, paint, or both for extra fun.

Puffy paint
Don’t just paint, puffy paint. Mix shaving cream, paint, and white liquid glue, and you have puffy paint! For this, put in at least half the amount of glue to shaving cream. Get your kids involved in mixing the ingredients together to make the paint. When the mixture is ready, the only limit is their imagination! We used forks to paint pufferfish, but kids could use spoons or their hands to apply the mixture to the paper. Note: paintbrushes do not work well with this type of paint. 

I hope these ideas make having fun a little easier—I know they have helped me. The greatest benefit, though is that they encourage kids to be curious, laugh, and play. Good luck and have fun!

Images courtesy of the author.

About the Author

Jessie has been an early years teacher in Bangkok since 2013. She has a degree in TESOL and is also the founder of Curious Cubs, a private teaching service. She wholeheartedly believes in the power of play and movement and feels that all activities naturally provide a fun way to learn. Contact her on: ms.jessietutoring@gmail.comms.jessietutoring@gmail.com, Insta: @curious_cubs, Facebook: Curious Cubs 

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