Last week I wrote about not doing anything for preschool at home. I know that many parents will want to do something, even just a little, to help their 3-4 year olds learn. I had planned to write about how I structured my then 4 year old’s day using the Pre-K curriculum I had purchased. But I want to back up a bit and talk about the kinds of things to have in your home for your preschooler.
First of all, the most important thing to remember is that a child learns best by playing and interacting with people of all ages. Workbooks and flashcards are not what they need. Instead, focus on toys that have many of different ways to play. Here are my “must haves” for my preschoolers.
1. Books! Have a good stash of books in your home always. Store your young child’s books in a dishpan or new kitty litter pan, lined up with the covers facing out. Keep the books on the floor where they can reach them and flip through the books, looking at the covers to choose the ones they want. Reading to your child is the most important thing you can do for them! Look online or ask your librarian for a list of good, age appropriate books. Set aside some time every day to read, but also let your child have access to her books so she can “read” to herself.
2. Music. We have a child’s tape recorder and a small collection of children’s songs on tape. The “Wee Sing” brand always makes good children’s tapes/CDs and they are readily available. Children love to sing and dance so supply them with the means to do so.
3. Musical instruments. You can buy prepacked “orchestra in a box” sets for children, or shop around and customize your own set. I highly recommend egg shakers (get 2 sets if you can), rhythm sticks, bells (the kind you shake), and mini maracas. These are all highly durable and easy to use. Let your child listen to music as much as possible and encourage him to play along with his instruments. Form a marching band together and parade around the house. Here’s an online source that has everything I mentioned and more: LP Rhythm Instruments
4. Stacking cups. You probably already have some from the baby years. Get them out again! If you don’t have any, get ones in primary colors. See if you and your child can build a tower out of them. Knock them down! Can he get them to all stack together in order? What is the order of the colors when they are stacked together? How many of the smallest cup of water does it take to fill the biggest one? What happens when you try to pour the water in the big cup into a smaller cup? The play possibilities are endless with the stacking cups.
5. Counting bears. These little bears come in primary colors and can be purchased online or at a teacher supply store. They are used in elementary grades to help with math, but they are fun for a preschooler too. Use them with the stacking cups by sorting the bears into the cups by color, matching the color of the bear to the color of the cup. Or see how many bears you get into each size cup. One of my children would sort bears into cups in all sorts of different ways, without much guidance from me. Gave me some time for a little housework!
6. Puzzles. Lauri makes some great puzzles, but any brand is fine. Get some that are easy to do and some that are a little harder. Work with your child to complete the puzzles, but also give him time to work them without help.
7. Play kitchen, pretend food and a tea set. Play kitchens can be very expensive, so if it’s not in your budget, just stick to the pretend food. Children love to pretend to be grown ups, and they learn so many social skills by doing so. If you give them a tea set (yes, even boys) to go along with their play food, they will happily pretend to cook and serve you food. They’ll set up restaurants, feed their stuffed animals and go shopping. Think of all the good things they learn by doing this! An alternative to a tea set would be set of inexpensive plastic plates, bowls and cups.
8. Crayons and paper. Who doesn’t like to color? If you take the time to draw alongside them, they will try to mimic what you are drawing. Don’t give much instruction, unless they ask for help. Encourage their efforts!
9. Play dough. Make your own or purchase it then have fun. Don’t worry when the colors get all mixed up! Play dough is good for fine motor skills, especially if you let them cut up play dough ropes with safety scissors. I used to make several ropes and just let my son cut them to pieces. He’d cut, I’d make more ropes, which he’d cut while I made more.
So those are my top recommendations for your preschooler. With all of the things I mentioned, I tried to give you suggestions for how to direct your child’s play, but it is also important to let them play freely. Next week, I really do promise to talk about structuring your preschooler’s day.
When Lorri is eating pretend meals cooked by her 3 year old or marching around her home playing egg shakers, you can find her blogging at The Mac and Cheese Chronicles.
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Great tips! My daughter loves books and we have TONS of them. Homeschoolers can get into the Scholastic warehouse book sales 🙂
Really fabulous list of materials, Lori! We have most of these things at our house, and my four year old gets a lot of use out of them. Heck — even my older boys still sometimes like exploring with these “preschool” toys.