Are you anxious for your children to learn and do all sorts of wonderful things? Sure, you want them to be smart, and to have every advantage in life. You want them to be ready for anything, to develop good character, and to be healthy and strong. You want them to read well, speak well, and write well. And you have always heard, the earlier you start the better. So, it’s time to get started! Do you begin applying to the best preschools in your area? Do you scour catalogs and websites for the best preschool curriculum? Do you spend hours searching for ideas for fantastic educational projects to complete?
I am going to give you some advice—some unsolicited, shameless advice. This is profound, so get ready. If you have toddlers and/or preschoolers, the best thing you can do for them is: play with them and let them play.
We all seem to understand that babies learn by playing, but for some reason many of us think that once kids turn two, we need to begin lots of structured activities to make sure they learn everything we think they should learn. In most people’s minds, structured activity and “education” is equivalent to workbooks and activity sheets.
As children develop, they learn through play. I am using play in a broad sense, as you will see from the list of activities below. The point is that learning for preschoolers should be based more on fun than on paperwork. There is a place for adult-directed play, in which you set up an activity for your child and have certain objectives that you want him to learn. However, toddlers and preschoolers need to spend much of their time in child-directed play. They need to explore for themselves and use their imaginations!
This is a general list of basic activities for preschoolers. Try to think about ways you can incorporate the learning of basic skills into these types of activities. You will find that your preschoolers will learn many things that you do not even realize you are teaching or they are learning. They will surprise you over and over again!
- Play with them (whatever they want to play).
- Let them play. Provide basic toys that they can do things with, like blocks, balls, cars, dolls, and plastic animals. Dress-up items are great, too.
- Talk to them. Even before they can talk back, you must be talking to them!
- Go outside, play, and take walks. Talk about what you see and hear around you.
- Involve them in your daily tasks, like laundry, cleaning, and preparing food.
- Get out art supplies—paper, safety scissors, glue sticks, crayons, washable markers, coloring books, old magazines. Let them draw what they want to draw. Or let them scribble. Let them make the trees blue and the sky green if they want to. Use the art supplies to make cards to send to relatives.
- Sing songs. Listen to music.
- Read to them. Talk about the pictures, colors, and shapes in the books you read.
- Let them look at books independently.
- Go to the library. Get more books.
That’s it. Those are my profound ideas. These are just the general concepts, the foundation for your preschool education. There are plenty of ways that you can teach specific skills through playing, art, music, books, and daily tasks. A follow-up article will give some examples in these areas.
Everyday life provides education if you just look for the opportunities. Yes, it is helpful to read and see ideas other people have, and to find craft and science projects online. I have done that many times, and I am glad I did. My caution to you is that you don’t spend more time looking for things to do with your preschoolers than you do actually playing with your preschoolers; that you do not think that something elaborate is required to educate your children well; and that you do not think that a lot of money is required to educate your children well. Have confidence in yourself as a parent and teacher! Talk, read, play, draw, and give them plenty of time for free play. You will see them thriving right before your eyes!