Keeping a 3-year-old entertained has its challenges, but her imagination and energy make her a joy to be around -- most of the time, anyway. Three-year-olds are still prone to tantrums and bore easily, so your ability to be flexible is crucial. Keep her distracted, moving and engaged. Luckily, doing so doesn't require pricey toys and daily field trips. Everything you need is within reach.
Engage in pretend play. Enjoying fantasy play is common for kids this age, according to HealthyChildren.org, and playing pretend can keep a 3-year-old entertained for an hour or more. Pull out a basket of your old clothes as a makeshift dress-up bin or create a pretend restaurant using her plastic food and construction paper menus. Use her dolls, stuffed animals or plastic figurines as characters who act out a silly story. Let her be in charge, giving you orders on who to play and how to behave.
Head outdoors, if the weather behaves. Give the child a bucket and take a walk around the neighborhood, encouraging her to collect interesting rocks, twigs and flowers that have fallen on the ground. At home, give her fat pieces of chalk so she can outline your body on the sidewalk and color it in. Play tag in a fenced yard. Have a water-balloon toss on a hot day. Take turns hiding a small toy in the snow or under fallen leaves and sending the other person to look for it.
Wind down with some quiet book time. A 3-year-old can name the books she'd like to read. If she's bored by her selection at home, go to the library together to choose new titles. Take turns reading to one another; read new stories to her, and ask her to "read" the books she knows well to you.
Play games and put together puzzles. A 3-year-old can typically do puzzles of nine or 16 pieces, with some help. Play simple board games together or invent a game of your own. For instance, set out buckets and laundry baskets and take turns trying to throw balls into them from several feet away.
Encourage her artistic side. Spread an old sheet out on the floor to protect it. Gather paper, cardboard, glue, markers, crayons, glitter, watercolor paints and decorative objects like feathers and stickers. Let your 3-year-old create whatever she likes. Alternately, choose a single project. Make picture frames, boxes or bird feeders out of cardboard or wooden craft sticks and let the child paint them.
Have an adventure. Create a fort in the living room and eat dinner inside. Visit a new ice cream shop every day for a week to compare flavors. Head to the closest park and see how many types of insects you can find and photograph. A 3-year-old will love having a special project to enjoy with a beloved adult.