How can I prepare my little ones for learning?
Read with your children, play with them and be present.
The number one thing parents who have preschoolers can do is to read to them. Every day. Several times a day. Read books they enjoy. Read the same books over and over again. Read rhyming books. Read non-fiction books. If you have older children, include your preschoolers in family read-aloud time using some of the classic children’s chapter literature books. Children develop literacy skills just being read to every day. Once they’re a little older (kindergarten/first grade), you can begin introducing more formal phonics and reading instruction.
VISIT THE LIBRARY
Don’t feel like reading all these books means you need to purchase them. Purchase only your favorite books and use your local library to read a wider variety of literature. Many libraries also host storytimes for preschool age kids on a regular basis. In addition to reading stories, these programs often include songs, games, activities, and crafts that can be engaging for your preschoolers, in addition to the social interaction that so many seem to be concerned with as homeschoolers.
DEVELOP GROSS & FINE MOTOR SKILLS
Many of the skills children need once they start formal academics are based on the early development of gross and fine motor skills. Many parents would probably be surprised to find that these skills are best developed through natural toddler and preschool play.
Fine motor skills enable a student to do things like write and cut. Some of the best ways to work on these fine motor skills include playing with soft dough (either homemade or store-bought), using clothespins to grasp objects like pom poms, painting with liquid watercolors in a squirt bottle, building with Legos, and lacing cards or beads. Simply providing these for your child will allow them to naturally explore and develop these vital skills. Some additional ideas can be found here or by looking on Google or Pinterest.
Gross motor skills involve larger body movements – things like running, jumping, throwing, and balancing. While not as important to academic skills, having strong gross motor skills and core strength can actually help students better focus when they are studying and learning (SOURCE). Ideas to develop gross motor skills include hopscotch, tossing and kicking balls, beanbag games, climbing, swinging, and spinning. Some additional activities may be found here or through Google and Pinterest searches.
When my daughter was younger, I created shoebox-sized plastic containers with several different activities for each day (Monday through Friday) so she wasn’t always doing the same thing each day and I could be intentional about providing variety for her.
GET OUTSIDE & EXPLORE
One of the best ways that little ones learn is through natural exploration. There are many different environments that little ones can explore at their own pace and with their own curiosity. Spending the afternoon in your backyard, visiting the local park, taking a nature walk or short hike, or making a trip to a local children’s museum are all great ways to allow preschoolers the opportunity to explore on their own, under a parent’s supervision.
If you are connected with other families with similarly aged children, you can also plan some “field trips.” Some ideas for preschoolers include your local fire and police stations, post office, zoo or aquarium, farm, a doctor’s or dentist’s office, and library. Anything that involves animals or any place they might find a “community helper” (people who live and work in our community) are usually enjoyable locations for young children. Those “helpers” are always eager to welcome them and teach them about their jobs and the role they play in their local community.
LEARNING THROUGH PLAY
There are some “academics” that are developmentally appropriate for preschoolers. Learning things like colors, shapes, counting, recognizing numbers (and possibly letters, depending on your educational philosophy), their name and address, how to respond in an emergency (calling 9-1-1; stop-drop-roll; duck and cover), etc. are all commonly learned during the preschool years. Many preschoolers will not enjoy learning through flashcards and they’re not really developmentally ready for writing or workbooks. One of the best ways to learn is through play. Count the blocks, identify the color and shape of the block, role play with dolls or stuffed animals, involve them in your day to day activities to learn about the world around them and how things work.
If you feel like you need a guide to help you be intentional about learning through play, there are several resources available. One we used was called ABC Jesus Loves Me. Looking back, I wouldn’t have pushed some of the letter recognition and sounds as early as I did, but many of the activities, especially the Bible stories and activities, were enjoyable for my daughter and me. Other sources include Hubbard’s Cupboard (Joyful Learning for toddlers; Joyful Heart Bible & Rhyme for preschoolers; and Joyful Heart Character for pre-k children) and The Peaceful Press. All three of these suggestions provide resources for a gentle approach to learning during the preschool years.
A child’s brain IS most receptive to learning during the first five years of life. However, this does not mean we need to try to cram as much information using traditional academics into those five years. They will learn and absorb a lot of information if it’s presented to them in an age-appropriate manner. Don’t become overwhelmed by all the options and activities out there. You don’t need to do them all in one week. Select one or two to try out at a time. Children do need to learn to entertain themselves and play independently as they grow, so it’s okay to allow time for them to do that so you have the opportunity to address some things you need to accomplish during the day.
SOURCE: Katie Julius; Institute for Excellence in Writing