9 Awesome Preschool “Learning” Activities
A lot of people I know get stressed out about making sure their preschooler is “doing” enough “school.” It turns out that there are TONS of educational “learning” activities that you should give you and your preschooler credit for!
1- Help develop a love of learning.
2- Encourage a broad range of experiences.
3- Develop skills to learn more.
Amazingly, your child comes pre-programmed to explore, learn, and develop on their own! Preschoolers will naturally gravitate toward activities that they are ready to learn from and avoid activities that are too hard or too easy!
This is incredibly important to remember! I have met A LOT of parents who are stressed out that their 5-year old does not recognize all the letters of the alphabet or does not add and subtract. The simple fact is that just like walking and using the toilet, these are skills that our brains need to be ready to develop. There is a lot of development that needs to happen before we’re ready, and our children will be drawn to the activities that they are ready for. If we try teaching them things that are truly too difficult or that they are truly not ready for, the stress from the experience produces hormones that block memory pathways in their brains, making it even more difficult to learn.
You should also know that I am a HUGE fan of learning through play and delight-directed activities. I consider preschoolers children 2-6 years old, or anybody who is not ready for “formal” education experiences. All of the things that preschoolers need to learn can be taught through play, fun adventures, and every-day activities. Tomorrow, we’ll look more at formal lessons, but today, I want to go over some of the types of activities that you can provide for your children that are educational and meet the three Big Picture Goals.
It’s also not in any particular order, but since you’ve hopefully printed a copy of it, I’ll go over the activities starting in the top left:
#1: Arts and Crafts: I have had some preschoolers who will do 3-5 art or craft projects every day, and others who will not do any! Like I mentioned before, children will gravitate toward the activities that are most helpful for them, so if your preschooler wants to do art all day, that’s wonderful! If they don’t want to do any art, that’s okay too! I would still provide an opportunity to do some kind of art or craft that they might like at least once or twice a week, but I wouldn’t force them to work on it any longer than they want to. I have two children relatively close in age, and when we did art projects together one of them would spend more than an hour on the project every time while the other would spend about six minutes. Literally! And that’s okay! They were both getting different things out of the project.
Arts and crafts can help strengthen fine motor skills, develop math, reading, and science skills, and provide a visual outlet for children’s creativity, emotions, feelings, and ideas. People have told me they have children who “just want to paint all day,” and that’s totally okay!
#2: Outside Play: Outside play strengthens large muscles, builds endurance, trains neurons in the brain to communicate across both halves of the brain, helps develop math, reading, and science skills, helps with emotional regulation, and strengthens immune systems. I actually feel like outside play is so beneficial that children need to be outdoors every day, even if it’s not their favorite thing! It doesn’t need to be long, and they can always find something to do outdoors that they like…even if it is coloring, playing with stickers, or another activity that actually could be done indoors too. 😉
#3: Hands-on Experiments & Exploration: These activities can be done at a desk, a standing “station,” outside, in the sink, in the tub, or dozens of other locations!
Some examples of these activities include…
** A walk where you take the time to investigate cool pinecones, sticks, bugs, or other interesting things you child sees
** Playing in a sandbox or at the beach
** Experimenting with baking soda and vinegar
** Mixing, pouring, and squeezing water in different bowls, cups, or sponges
** Sensory bins
** Building a tower, castle, car garage, maze, or something else with magnetic blocks (or any other kind of stacking toy)
** MANY other experiments or explorations!
Children can learn a TON from exploring and experimenting! You can tie in loads of different science and history lessons. They are also developing skills that will help them in math, reading, writing, science, and more. They are developing longer attention spans, solving problems, learning cause and effect, strengthening fine motor and writing muscles, developing observation and analysis skills, and much more.
#4: PE / Physical Movement: There are a lot of benefits to exercise, but that’s not really the point of this article. I will briefly mention that high-energy movement for 20+ straight minutes a day will help regulate your children’s energy, emotions, and more (even diet and cravings)! Aside from the physical benefits of high-energy movement, it also helps develop “academic” skills!
For example, doing sommersaults (forward rolls), spinning on a tire swing, and flipping off your couch develop inner ear balance and the capacity to focus on many small objects quickly in a row — these are necessary skills for reading! Large muscle exercise also strengthens children’s core, which allows them to sit and focus on activities longer as they grow older. Preschoolers also experiment, learn cause and effect principles, and problem solve as they choose what parts of the couch are best to flip off of, predict where they will land, and feel the impact of using different amounts of force as they move.
There are TONS of different physical activities you can use! Here are a few:
** Dance parties
** Floor is Lava
** Couch flips
** Playing at the playground
** Organized classes (like gymnastics, dance, karate, etc)
** Many more! (again, go with what your kids love!)
#5: Reading: There are only two activities in this list that I think you really need to include in every single day. The first one was outdoor play. Reading is the second. Read to your preschooler! Find the most fun, outrageous, serious, and engaging books! Look at fiction and non-fiction! Read picture books! If your child has the attention span, read novels! Look at the pictures. Talk about the pictures, the story line, the characters, and the ending. What might happen after the story? Who wrote the book? Who drew the pictures.
Engaging with books has so many benefits that thousands of books have been written about it. I will try to summarize by saying that when you read with your child you are helping them develop language skills, reading skills, writing skills, math skills, logic skills, science skills, and more. At the same time they are building relationships, learning stories, and discovering people and places around the world…and in other worlds!
Some preschoolers love books. They enjoy finding letters and analyzing pictures. They bring you books and ask you to stay up late looking at more. Reading with them is easy!
Some preschoolers struggle to hold still long enough to listen to a whole book. This is okay! I have worked with several children like this, and I personally have one child who literally could not hold still for two minutes as a preschooler. This child was a “late” reader, but was reading on a typical grade level by the end of 3rd grade. Here are a few ways to read with children who don’t hold still:
** Read to them while they play.
** Read to them while they eat.
** Read to them in a funny position (they find it a little irresistible)! For example, lay on the couch, but put the book on the floor. Lean your head and elbows down by the book, and just start reading. Your preschooler might lay down next to you, almost upside down, and look at a few pictures.
** Tell them stories while you play with them. Use cars, action figures, or other toys to act out the story you’re making up. Or use the toys to act out a story you’ve already heard. 😉
However you do it, reading to your preschoolers will benefit them!
#6: Music: Music helps children develop language, math, reading, science, and other skills. There are SO many ways to introduce music, especially with modern technology! Here are a few of my favorites:
** Dance parties (5-30 minutes long, depending on your kids!)
** Freeze Dance
** Watching music videos
** Singing songs or nursery rhymes
** Playing music while you clean or sort laundry
** Singing at bedtime
** Age appropriate music classes
#7: Creative/Imaginative Play: This may just seem like your preschooler is playing with toys or dressing up, but it actually helps develop language and reasoning skills, communication skills, and processing skills that help with math and reading! Plus, it’s loads of fun!
#8: Every-Day Activities & Field Trips: The daily activities and trips you go on lead to SO much brain development and skill strengthening that it would also be impossible to list them all! The shortened version of benefits includes math, reading, science, social studies, language, communication, problem solving, and more skills! And if you talk about what you are doing, the processes you are using, and what will happen next, you speed that development even more!
What falls in this category? Here are a few examples:
** Sorting laundry
** Doing dishes
** Grocery shopping
** Visiting museums
** Playing at a park
** Picking up toys
** Visiting the library
** Visiting fire or police stations
** Bird watching
** Getting dressed
** And so much more!
Yes, even getting dressed counts as part of a preschooler’s education! During this simple, short process they are learning about sequence, larger/smaller size concepts, prediction, cause and effect, and communication. If you talk during the process you can tie in colors, numbers, left/right, time, and rhyming/phonics skills.
What might seem like a simple grocery store trip actually includes math, reading, communication, prediction, problem solving, social studies, science, and more!
I have met many people who feel like they “get nothing done” on grocery or doctor days, but the fact is your preschoolers learn just as much (and likely much more) during a trip to the doctor or grocery store as they do during a desk activity. Which actually brings me to…
#9: Desk Games & Activities: These are activities that can be done sitting down at a desk. I actually did put them last because they are my least favorite, partly because they are less effective than some of the others and partly because I have a short attention span (so it is hard for me to sit at a desk very long)!
There was a time when every single child I had worked with preferred any activity over a desk activity, but… that has changed. As I’ve worked with more children, I’ve discovered something: some children really love desk activities!
The first few kids I worked with who really liked worksheet-style activities made me think their parents had just taught them to like writing. Life has a way of humbling you, though, and I realized I was completely mistaken when one of my own children LOVED worksheet-style activities! To be honest, I was a little shocked! I had always given my kids room to pursue what interested them the most, so when I had a 2-year old who suddenly wanted to write (on paper!), I was definitely surprised! As the years went by, I actually had more than one child of my own who truly enjoys worksheets. If this is your child, let them do those worksheet activities!
If this is not your child, do NOT worry about it! Some preschoolers are not ready or interested in worksheet-style activities. Some are. Both are fine. Both end up reading and writing, and both are wonderful people!
Just remember our original 3 Big Picture Goals:
1- Help develop a love of learning.
2- Encourage a broad range of experiences.
3- Develop skills to learn more.
The best way to know what your preschoolers are ready for is by following their lead–what are they interested in? Remember we want to introduce a variety of experiences, but we need to pay attention to how our preschoolers respond to those activities. If an experience is creating a lot of stress in our young children, we need to “shelve” it for a little while and try coming back to it after our preschoolers have had a chance to grow and develop a little more. Interestingly, when we are stressed, we actually create hormones that literally make learning difficult! It is better to let our preschoolers learn and experience something different than to create a sense of dread and stress associated with school time.
As always, thank you for being here!
Let me know if you have any specific questions you’d like me to cover, and…