Under-threes play ideas - paper and card

Rip, scrunch and pop your way to fun activities for early learning

In the trunk

  • Fill an old suitcase or travel trunk with a variety of paper such as tissue, crepe paper, newspaper, sandpaper, tracing paper and bubble wrap.

  • Sit the young child beside the trunk and let him explore the contents.

  • Sit next to them and choose a piece of paper to put on your head, hide behind.

  • Choose a piece of paper to tear, slowly then quickly, and react to the sound it makes.

  • Then choose another piece of paper to scrunch up then let go.

  • Encourage the toddler to scrunch and rip pieces of paper.

  • Touch the sandpaper but do not rip it. Instead, offer the child a spoon to draw across it and explore the sound.

  • Pop the bubble wrap and help the child pop some more.

Crepe paper art

  • Gather together crepe paper in ‘rainbow’ colours and ask the toddlers to help you rip it into small pieces.

  • Sit together on the floor and chat about the colours and how helpful the children are being while they rip the paper up.

  • When you have lots of pieces of paper invite them to watch you do some 'magic'.

  • Ask them to choose a few pieces each for you and place them on to a piece of white paper.

  • Take a water spray bottle and gently soak the crepe pieces on the white paper.

  • Suggest you sing a song such as 'Sing a rainbow' while you wait for the 'magic' to work.

  • At the end lift one or two pieces of the crepe off the white paper and draw their attention to the marks left behind.

  • You could spray a little more water and sing again, or let the children remove the rest of the crepe.

  • Invite toddlers to do their own if they would like to.

  • Let it dry and laminate.

Bring the post

  • Gather a selection of empty gift bags with patterns and colours on them.

  • Save large envelopes including the padded type. Decorate the envelopes to make them more interesting for the babies and toddlers.

  • Stuff the envelopes and gift bags with scrunched up newspapers and seal them with Sellotape.

  • Scatter the packages around the room and encourage babies and toddlers to lift the packages and bring them to you from their different locations.

  • Older children may enjoy throwing and catching the light packages.

  • Create a posting box from a large box. Make sure the hole is large enough for the packages to fit through.

  • Offer sacks (pillowcases) for the children to transport the mail around.

Balance beam

  • Choose catalogues or phone books of the same thickness.

  • Take a length of paper and cover each phone book individually.

  • Choose paper that has a rough texture, to minimise the chance of slipping.

  • Add bold patterns to each of the 'stepping stones' using paint or felt-tips.

  • Suggest the children remove their shoes and socks, again to reduce the chance of slipping.

  • Place each of the books together to create a beam.

  • Invite the children to 'walk the beam'.

  • Then place the books with spaces in between to create a footpath.

  • Repeat, this time with the 'stepping stones' in a crooked path, to provide an extra challenge when stepping.

On a plate

  • Gather a selection of different sizes of white paper plates.

  • Cut bold shapes from black sugar paper and stick them to the plates. Alternatively, paint bold black shapes directly on to the plates.

  • Hang the plates around the babies' cots, making sure they are no more than 1m from the baby.

  • They can also be dangled from the roof above the cot using a piece of string, so that the patterns are facing down towards the baby.

  • Change the plates regularly and use different colours to create strong contrasts.

  • Face up

  • Using thick black and red felt-tip pens, draw faces with different expressions, such as happy, sad, surprised and angry, on some white paper plates.

  • Use thick card to create sticks and attach them to the faces with sticky tape.

  • Use the plates as puppets to create stories that incorporate the emotions that the puppets are showing.

  • Ask which face is happy, sad and so on.

  • Make the puppets available to the children to use in their free play.

Clean sweep

Toddlers love to sweep so scrunch up pieces of paper into balls and litter them around the floor for the children to sweep up with dustpan and brushes. Sing a tidy-up song as they play:

'Let's all tidy up,
Tidy up, tidy up
Let's all tidy up, tidy up the room
Let's all brush and sweep,
Brush and sweep, brush and sweep
Let's all brush and sweep
As we move around the room.'

Shape up

  • Cut sets of shapes from card, for example squares, rectangles, triangles, stars and hearts. Make the sets of different colours, include shapes of varying sizes and also make a black master card of each of the largest shapes.

  • Space out the master cards on the floor like a series of stepping stones and place two sets of the shapes in a basket.

  • Suggest that the child helps you place all the smaller shapes on the matching master cards, naming the shapes as you go.

  • Repeat the activity using the remaining kinds of shapes.

  • You could also repeat the activity using sets of splodges, all of the same shape but in different colours.

See also ‘Mirrors’ for more ideas on using reflective paper

When using these suggestions, make sure that your resources are clean and safe for young children and that the activity is age appropriate - the ideas outlined cover the birth to three age range 

Based on ideas by Alice Sharp, managing director of training and resources company, Experiential Play, http://www.experientialplay.com

Nursery World Print & Website

  • Latest print issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Free monthly activity poster
  • Themed supplements

From £119 per year


Nursery World Digital Membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Themed supplements

From £119 per year


© MA Education 2020. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved