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.

*Find more thematic lessons here!





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