Preschool develops many important skills for children. While we can’t replicate it completely at home, you can teach your preschooler at home.
One of the saddest things about COVID-19 for my family is that my three-year old son isn’t going to preschool. He had the most amazing teachers and this year was full of some substantial social and emotional growth. Plus, he sees his big sister doing school work, and he wants to learn too.
Preschool develops children for the social and emotional demands of kindergarten. It develops many self-management skills that are truly prerequisites for traditional academic learning. Plus, children get a strong foundation in the motor skills and academics that set them up for success.
So, I needed to come up with some easy ways to teach my preschooler while feeding a newborn and teaching a first grader. I wasn’t an early childhood educator – my teaching experience was mainly in 2nd and 5th grade. But I put on my thinking cap to come up ideas on how we can keep our preschoolers learning while at home.
These are 15 easy ways you can teach your preschooler while you’re stuck at home.
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1. Give Two-Step Directions
In preschool, it is important that children can independently follow two-step directions. One example is “hang up your coat and sit down for circle time.”
Remembering those instructions uses working memory. Working memory is the cognitive function that remembers and uses information on a short-term basis.
You can teach your preschooler by giving two-step directions at home like “put your shoes away and sit down for snack.”
You can also play games where you give silly instructions. Say something like:
- give me a toy car then jump three times.
- pat your head and then toss me the yellow ball.
- put your bowl in the kitchen sink then make a funny face.
Preschoolers love this! And you can sit and drink your coffee or feed a baby while you play this.
2. Practice Patience
At school, the teacher can’t help all the children at once. Developing the patience for waiting is an extremely important life skill you can teach your preschooler.
Play a waiting game
Try playing “Mother May I?” In this game, a child makes a request and has to wait for permission.
Your child might ask, “May I take 10 steps?” And you can draw out your response by waiting 10 seconds or longer.
Then you could build some tolerance for frustration by responding, “No but you can take 8 steps!”
Use a sand timer
Time is so abstract. We say, “Wait a minute.” Then kids have no idea how long that it.
Using sand timers helps children visualize how long they will need to wait.
We routinely use sand timers for taking turns with a toy, sitting down at the table for a meal, or staying engaged with an activity. I love this set of Teacher Created Resources timers because they start with just one minute and work up to five minutes.
Starting small helps your child gradually learn to wait. Plus with a minute, they are more likely to be successful.
Delay saying yes
When your child asks for something and you already plan to say yes, try delaying. You could say something like, “Hmmm, let me think about that.” Then pause for ten seconds.
Next time, you could pause for 30 seconds. Then tell your child that you want to think about it for a minute, two minutes, and so.
This builds tolerance for waiting which is an important life skill (and one many adults struggle with!)
3. Rip Paper
That’s right. Teach your child how to destroy something! Ripping paper is a precursor skill to writing and using scissors.
Children develop a tripod grasp by holding and tearing a piece of paper. Tearing also uses all the tiny hand muscles, and thus, it’s a real workout for the hands.
Here’s what you do:
- Grab some construction paper (approximately 9″x 12″).
- Start a small tear at the top of the 9″ end.
- Model for your child how to tear it lengthwise so your child has two long strips.
- Repeat with each of those two strips.
- Once you have four strips, create some little tears lengthwise.
- Model how to tear those with a tripod grasp.
- Tear those so you end up with a handful of approximately 1″ squares or rectangles.
- Save those ripped pieces for the next activity.
Eventually, your child won’t need you to make the initial tears and will be able to tear independently.
4. Make Collages with Elmer’s Glue
If you’re like me, you might have initially gravitated to glue sticks because they are so much neater than Elmer’s School Glue. But using Elmer’s glue is important when you teach your preschooler at home.
Drippy glue, as my son’s teachers called it, requires more hand-eye coordination. Squeezing the glue bottle develops hand strength.
5. Play Outside
Here me out – there is a reason playing outside is part of teaching your preschooler.
If you have access to a yard during social distancing, it is important to let your child have a lot of time to free play outside. Outdoor play is important for motor skills and regulating your child’s mood. Both those are critical skills learned at school.
Outdoor play can also be self-directed play. Sometimes parents have a tendency to say, “Just go outside” in a dismissive way when they are exasperated. I’ve been there. But it’s more helpful to show that we value outdoor play as a very important job for children.
Some children don’t like to go outside because they think it’s boring. That’s okay. It’s important for children to experience boredom because it leads to creativity and problem solving. Those skills are also learned in preschool.
(Outside play is good for you as a parent, too. You can hit pause on life, leisurely supervise, and drink coffee without directing the play.)
6. Make a Sensory Bin
Sensory play is so important for children. Whether they are outside digging in dirt or sand, or inside with a sensory bin, sensory play helps children develop tolerance for and an understanding of their tactile sense.
Also, sensory bins are great for limit setting in a really tangible way. You can create boundaries around how to use the sensory bin, then enforce them:
- Say something like, “The water stays in the bin.”
- When your child purposefully dumps the water, give one reminder.
- After that, say, “Bummer, we’ll try again tomorrow.”
- Expect a tantrum – it’s okay. Put the bin away.
- Try again tomorrow.
Here are four easy bins with water because rice, noodles, and beans might be hard to find right now.
Float and Scoop
Use items you already have at home that float and practice hand-eye coordination to scoop them.
- Fill a large bin with water and the balls (or other floating toy).
- Give your child the spoon and show them how to scoop.
Trucks or Matchbox cars- any waterproof vehicles that you have at home works.
- Grab a bin.
- Fill with water and a bit of dish soap.
- Add cars or trucks and a scrub brush.
- My son can do this for a good 15 minutes.
Grab your measuring cups, plastic pitchers, and some bowls and let your child practice their pouring skills.
- Fill pitcher with water.
- Place in a large bin along with plastic bowls and measuring cups.
- Let your little one practice pouring.
- After 10 minutes or so, I’ll dump all the water back into the pitcher, including the spills in the large bin.
- My son will try again.
Bath alphabet toys are great for sensory play because they float in the water. If you don’t have waterproof alphabet manipulative, use a different filler like cotton balls, shredded paper, or rice or beans if you have them already.
- Fill a small bin with water and add about a dozen letters.
- Place inside a larger bin.
- Give your child the tongs.
- Call out letters for your child to place in the other side of the bin.
7. Cut Play-doh
Before you teach your preschooler to use scissors to cut paper, try using scissors to cut Play-doh.
Play-doh isn’t as flimsy as paper and thus, it offers more resistance. It’s also easier for your child to focus on snipping than cutting in a line.
Roll some Play doh into 1″ thick logs and give your child some scissors. Melissa and Doug’s Clay Play set has safety scissors, but regular children’s scissors work, too!
8. Work on a Concept Activity Book
Preschool is excellent for exposing your child to a thematic curriculum. Topics like farms, body parts, communities, shapes, and animals are included in typical preschool curriculum.
My preschool son wants to do a workbook like he sees his first grade sister doing worksheets for school. So I bought the Preschool Color & Activity Book and I’m so glad I did.
While we’re stuck at home and can’t go to the farm or zoo, we can discuss the concepts in this activity book. As we complete a page, it sparks my thinking and I can introduce vocabulary and concepts. We can have conversations about the topics.
Truthfully, without a prompt, sometimes busy parents don’t have the mental bandwidth to know what to discuss.
I didn’t like the other preschool activity books I found online because I thought they were more “worksheety” (yes – I made up that word) than I feel is appropriate for my 3-year old. He is not ready to use a pencil to trace 1 inch letters and numbers. That requires a lot more fine motor skill than the average 3 year old has.
If you have a child who is at Pre-Kindergarten readiness, has a good pencil grasp and wants to trace on worksheets, the Scholastic Pre-K Jumbo Workbook is a great option.
9. Make an Alphabet Notebook
Making an alphabet notebook is the only real academic skill on my list. So much of preschool is building social, communication, self-control, and motor skills.
But the alphabet is introduced preschool. Plus, letter-name recognition is correlated to reading fluency once children begin kindergarten.
While I don’t think preschoolers should do a ton of worksheets, this Alphabet Mini-Pack is different. First, it has just large size capital letters to trace.
Then it has vertical and horizontal lines to trace. This reinforces that in English we read and write from left to right, top to bottom.
10. Read, Read, Read
I know reading books is the most obvious thing to do with your preschooler. It is so powerful because it develop concepts about print, vocabulary, and knowledge about a variety of topics.
When I read to my preschooler, I often ask my child to sit with his legs crossed on the floor as if he were in circle time at preschool. I ask him questions and he raises his hands.
I do the same when I read to my older child with my preschooler. I’ll say something like, “How many dogs do you see?” and modeling raising my hand. Being a big first grader, my daughter loves to show my preschooler how to raise his hand.
Just to be clear, there are tons of times when we just read for enjoyment and snuggle on the couch. Enjoyment is the most critical factor for developing a love of and a lifelong habit of reading.
Since the library is closed, here are some bundles of our favorite books you can purchase for your preschooler:
11. Play Board Games
Board games are great for teaching turn taking and developing frustration tolerance.
- Related: Best Board Games for Preschoolers
We love Snail’s Pace Race for a first board game. It’s not super competitive – you can play so you work together for all snails to cross the finish line or each player can choose one color of snail.
This game also develops one-to-one correspondence as children move one space for each time they roll the dice. The thick figures are easy for little hands to maneuver and sturdy.
12. Follow a Routine Chart
Following a routine chart is one of the most important things you can do as you teach your preschooler. Preschools and Kindergartens have a schedule or routine posted for children to follow.
First routines are incredibly helpful for teaching children to be independent and self-manage. But they also help children tolerate that there is a structure to their day that they need to follow.
In preschool, children can’t always do whatever they want whenever they want. Learning to tolerate that certain things happen at certain times is a good skill.
13. Read the Calendar
Using the calendar develops so many skills for children, including concepts around how time passes and counting.
If you don’t mind your home looking like a preschool, you can use a commercially-prepared calendar set for preschoolers.
You can also use a plain old wall calendar. Every day look at the calendar and talk about the day of the week. Point out the day of the week prior and the day after.
For example, on Wednesday, you’ll point out that yesterday was Tuesday and tomorrow will be Thursday.
Similarly count from one until the current date. Stop and say the month, the date, and the year, and think aloud about tomorrow’s date. Then talk about the season and the weather.
14. Watch Scholastic Storybooks
There will be times when instead of teaching, you’ll need to give your preschooler extra screen time. During these times, we watch Scholastic Storybooks on Amazon Prime Video or on DVD.
This week, when my daughter has had Zoom classes and I’m feeding the baby, I can’t physically keep my son from Zoom-bombing her class. So, I let my preschooler watch these stories with headphones on our iPad.
The DVDs have a read-along option which I love but we don’t use them when my first grader is trying to work – she loves them too! The DVDs highlights the text as it is read aloud. There are several Story DVD’s to choose from:
15. Sort toys
Sorting, classifying, and categorizing are all higher-level thinking skills that children learn in preschool.
Your child can also categorize them into the different types of pets or dinosaurs or different sizes for the bears. This develops your child’s ability to visually process and make decisions about a group of items.
Recapping Teach Your Preschooler
Here’s the summary for all busy parents on how you can teach your preschooler:
- Give two-step directions
- Practice patience
- Rip paper
- Glue with drippy glue (Elmer’s school glue)
- Cut play-doh
- Play outside
- Use a sensory bin
- Do a concept workbook
- Make an alphabet notebook
- Read stories
- Follow a daily routine
- Play board games
- Read the calendar
- Watch Scholastic Storybooks
- Sort toys
It’s not the same as going to preschool with peers, but you can teach your preschooler. Use these ideas to plan out some fun activities to keep the learning going at home.