3-5 year olds are so much fun! Their interest in life and learning seems never-ebbing, their enthusiasm inspires and exhausts those around them…so let’s explore a few of the endless activities that abound to encourage this age group.
I’ve mentioned before how much I love Terri Camp’s Ignite the Fire: Freedom Is Real Education. Terri likens fire to the passion for learning, and just as fire needs oxygen, kindling, and logs to keep fueling itself, it also needs sparked to begin with. And, if you the parent aren’t careful, you can easily extinguish that fiery (yes it’s a word) love for learning.
William Butler Yeats said,
“Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”
And in my opinion, the preschool years are the best for sparking that love of learning. Here are some of the ways I prepared my 3, 4’s and 5’s for Kindergarten.
Use that time in the car for word games and story problems:
- Play the syllable game. Give them words and have them break them into syllables, telling you how many syllables each one has. My girls loved this game, and being able to distinguish syllables is one of the first steps in being able to read and spell. If it helps, have your child “clap” the syllables out as they repeat the word. They’ll catch on in no time.
- Make up short poems; kids love to rhyme and this game will be full of hilarity. Everyone gets a turn thinking up a line.
- Glue and unglue three letter words. This is great exposure to the sounds that letters make. Say the word “cat” and then help your child sound it out (ungluing it) /c/-/a/-/t/.
- Explore homonyms. My middle child couldn’t get enough of this activity for some reason. (strange child!) She still likes to “collect homonyms”. (words that sound the same but are spelled different: reign, rain, rein)
- Play the “Minister’s Cat” (“the minister’s cat is an adorable, bratty, calico cat…and so on taking turns and repeating each adjective all the way through the alphabet) or the “ABC” game (take turns naming and claiming in order the alphabet letters seen on road signs, billboards and license plates)
- Use nature to come up with math story problems. This is great for the contextual learner. If there are 5 horses in that pasture, and 4 in the next, how many all together? What if 3 wandered off and got lost? How many then? (We used to count antelope on family vacations to Wyoming…hundreds and hundreds of antelope…)
- Quiz them about what numbers they should call in an emergency (Grandma, daddy’s cell, 911) (my girls at three years old could recite our bank account number!)
- Quiz them on their phone number and address.
- Give them paper and pencil and see how many times they can write their name in one minute.
- Dot to dots are really fun for three and four year olds, and it’s a great way for them to learn the coordination needed for writing. Most dot to dots are numbered or alphabetized which gives that added exposure/practice.
- Anything math is made more fun with small candies such as m&m’s. We’ve woven elaborate stories, illustrated even, of a bag of m&m’s and its trip around the neighborhood as it’s divvied up with all the children on the block. These candies are great for sorting and charting, and your preschoolers won’t even know they’re learning math! Until you proudly tell them and watch them beam from ear to ear!
- Teach them games like tic-tac-toe, and rock-paper- scissors. Talk about “critical thinking”. Especially when they ask questions with obvious answers. :O) (Please don’t tell me your kids don’t do this!)
- Put shaving cream on a cookie sheet and have fun “drawing” numbers and letters in it. (chocolate pudding works good for this too, but my dh forbids us from playing with food…yeah, no edible play-dough for our family)
- Give them a bucket of water and a paintbrush and have them paint their abc’s on the driveway or sidewalks.
- Use sidewalk chalk to draw a numbered clock face on the driveway and practice running “clockwise” and “counter clockwise”, telling them to stop on certain “times”
- All the science you need for this age is outdoors. Make bark rubbings, wormeries, collect two or three caterpillars and put them in a glass jar with a hole punched lid and a twig with leaves on it…a few months later you’ll have a moth or butterfly! Make sure you take advantage of the time nature-walking to talk about all that was created for our enjoyment.
- If you want to play science while indoors, experiment with the 5 senses. Blindfold your children, and have them guess what certain smells are (vinegar, lemon, banana, mom’s perfume), distinguish between the sours/sweets/salts of various foods (still blindfolded!), have them feel around in a bag of items and tell you what they’re touching.
- Sing. A lot.
- And don’t forget reading. Of all the above, reading is my favorite way to “teach”. Good books are good friends, and a great way to engage the mind. As are magazines like Your Big Backyard, Clubhouse Junior, and Highlights.
In my last post on preschoolers, First Things First, I wanted to stress that in addition to Biblical training, children need play time. Time to expand their imaginations, to pretend, to draw, to play outside and explore nature. Not time in front of the tv or computer, if that’s what they’re going to be doing, then by all means, enroll them in gymnastics or tee-ball or piano lessons. Yet, I think children come to depend upon being entertained, and they forget how to exist by themselves happily. Many adults cannot stand to be alone. They’ll leave the tv on, or music, anything to avoid a quiet house. So be alert and try to instill a sense of quiet into your child’s life.
The preschool years are magical. They shape your child’s personality, character, and interests. Don’t take them for granted.
Expanding horizons…here we come!