Let’s Build! Activities for a Preschool Tools and Construction Theme

Young children seem to be almost as intrigued by building and creating as they are by demolishing and dissecting.  That’s just part of why a tools and construction theme is so great for young kids!  And while they’re having a blast, they’re also learning some great concepts.  Here are just a few:

  • Tools and simple machines make work easier (Science)
  • There are shapes in architecture (Geometry)
  • You can measure using objects as units (Math)
  • Tools can be used in a variety of ways (Science, Inquiry, Motor Skills)

Here are just a few of my favorite activities to use within this theme (*’s mark those with details to come in future posts):

Dramatic Play:

Using large blocks (I made mine copying something like these…when I had just one toddler….who took long naps) build a creation against a wall and then outline the blocks using blue painter’s tape.  Ta-da!  You now have a full-scale blueprint!  Encourage children to follow the blueprint or create their own.  Other props in this theme might include hard hats, play tools, tool belts (Home Depot sells a tool apron for only $1), clip boards and pencils, real blueprints, phones/radios, orange cones, and caution tape.  You could also include a large appliance box and let your children use it to design and create their structure.

Working Tables (Small Motor):

Let children explore with nuts and bolts or doorknobs.  They’ll love taking them apart and putting them back together!  Push or pound golf tees into styrofoam.  Sort small nails and screws and count them out into numbered cups of a muffing tin.


Color on sandpaper for new tactile experience.

Build toothpick structures like these.

Paint with real paint rollers.

Drive toy construction vehicles through paint for cool tire track designs.

Do some “bulldozer painting” by pushing paint across paper with combs and flat edges.

Draw blueprints and create shoebox building models.

Sensory Bin:

Finally come to grips with the fact that you don’t need that old ghetto-blaster or VCR and let the kids Take it Apart!  (Keeping it in the bin helps to keep track of loose parts.)

Hide treasures in sawdust.

Drive small construction vehicles through sand.

Block Area:

Use a variety of building materials in addition to your standard unit blocks.  Kids love using pipes like these, or gutters like this.


Set up a woodworking area.  Find ways to let children saw, hammer, and sand!  If you don’t have a wood bench, just hammering nails into a stump will do.  Try using the pipes or gutters from the block area in the sandbox or on the lawn with water.  Set up some simple machines like ramps, pulleys, and levers.  (Of course use rope with supervision…..but do use rope.)

Large Group Activities:

Act out the Three Little Pigs (Props Here)

Sing Johnny Pounds with One Hammer 

Sort building and fixing tools (screwdrivers, hammers, etc.) from kitchen tools (whisks, spatulas, etc.).  (Emphasize that both groups are tools because they make our work easier.)  Use it as an opportunity to talk about some tools they may not be familiar with.

Measure using objects for units.*

Examine shapes in architecture.  (Check out Shapes, Shapes, Shapes and Cubes, Cones, Cylinders, and Spheres by Tana Hoban.)

Explore and experiment with simple machines.

Create a Word-Building Crane*

Book Activities:

Alphabet Under Construction by Denise Fleming*

The Construction Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallota*

Jack’s House by Karen Magnuson Beil*

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton*

Construction Zone by Tana Hoban, or the same title by Cheryl Willis Hudson*

So….Let’s Get Building!

What are some of your favorite building-themed activities for young children?

Top photo by Lars Sundstrom.

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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, Unit Themes

8 responses to “Let’s Build! Activities for a Preschool Tools and Construction Theme

  1. Kate

    WOW! What a wealth of ideas. Bookmarking this for sure!
    I want to say thank you for sharing your knowledge and ideas here. This has become one of my favorite blogs.

  2. As usual, great ideas! I’ll have to ask my dad for some saw dust for sensory. For others out there, do places like Home Depot give away sawdust if you ask? I’m just wondering for those who may not have easy access to it.

    I love your art ideas! I’m a process art kinda gal and you always have some great ones. I especially love the sandpaper idea and “bulldozer” combs. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

    • notjustcute

      Good questino Rachele. I got my sawdust from my mom when she finished a woodworking project. If you don’t personally know a craftsman, you might check with your local high school if they have a woodworking class or find a place that makes custom wood furniture and ask for the donation. You could also always use the sawdust they sell at the petstore as well. Thanks for chiming in, Rachele!

  3. Tiffany

    Such great ideas! How did you make those large blocks? I have been trying to figure out a way to make foam blocks for a while now and haven’t been able to come up with anything. I will definately be back to your site! TFS

  4. Ditto on the foam blocks…I would love to know how to make them!

    • notjustcute

      Hmm, maybe I’ll put a tutorial on the First Friday Q&A post (4/1/11). That will give me some time to put it together. I’m kind of a make-it-up-as-you-do kind of sewer! It’s certainly not a project for the faint of heart, but my boys have gotten a lot of miles out of them!

  5. Pingback: Playful Picks (March 14, 2011)

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