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Preschool Activities

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For more preschooler ideas, see these sites: Find more useful ideas at: Book Suggestions
  • 102 I-Can-Do-It-Myself Activities
  • The Preschooler's Busy Book by Trish Kuffner

What can I do with my preschooler now, to make sure she's ready for kindergarten? There's a good essay on the subject, at Eclectic Homeschool. What if my 3- or 4-year-old is ready to start school? Read Homeschooling 3 and 4 Year Olds.



Activity Ideas for Preschoolers
From: MrsD

These are things we have done at one time or another. OBVIOUSLY, some require more supervision than others. Many are intended for when the child is near you as you work with other children on their lessons. These are in no particular order. If nothing else, maybe reading this list will get your own creative juices flowing!

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Preschool Ziploc Bag Activities
From: Dolly M

WARNING from Paula: Remember that a child can fit a Ziploc bag over his head. Always be sure children are properly supervised.

Here are some of my activity bag ideas. Once you get started I'm sure you'll come up with other ideas, too. Try to focus on self-directed, self-correcting activities that are keyed to specific concepts you want the child to master, such as counting to 10, beginning consonant sounds, learning to use scissors, etc.

Usually I'd present each new activity bag to the younger child in a 3-5 minute one-on-one time. That should be sufficient for that bag to turn into a self-directed activity from then on. As bags became "boring" I'd remove them, or alter them to make the activity harder. I try to use really cheap or free things to create the activity bags. If I HAD to buy something it usually came from the discount store (stickers, counters, index cards etc.) or a yard sale :-)

I think our biggest expense for our activity BOX was in the Gallon-Size Freezer Ziploc bags. You need them because: 1) child can see through and identify the activity without disturbing contents; 2) child can easily get out and put away the items himself; 3) bags "file away" nicely in a milk crate or standard cardboard box; 4) large white plastic zipper is easy for the child to manipulate (don't use the kind that must be pressed together with color change - little kids can't do that successfully).

I recently did a workshop about the PreK ZipLoc Activity Bags. On their own the moms came up with a great idea: They formed a "club" of twenty moms where each mom was assigned one kind of bag. She then went home and made 20 copies of that bag. They all swapped so every mom had a box of 20 different bags.

MATH:

1. Counting. Label 10 index cards with numerals 1-10 (or 10-20 whatever level suits your child). On the back of each card stick on the appropriate number of stickers, i.e., 6 stickers on back of the card labeled "6." I bought a large set of mini-stickers for this purpose. Check the stationary aisle - look for stickers that are dime-sized or smaller. Anyway, provide a supply of counters that are small enough to barely cover the stickers. I used transparent plastic bingo markers in different colors, but you could also use beads, beans etc. Have the child 1) place a card numeral side up, 2) count out the correct number of counters, 3) turn the card over and match up counters & stickers in one-to-one correspondence. This is a self checking activity. If the stickers and counters don't match up something is wrong. He can repeat with additional cards until bored, or have a "rule" like "choose and do 4 cards then stop."

2. Pattern matching / recognition. String some plastic pony beads onto a plastic drinking straw in an easy pattern of alternating colors. Hot glue the first & last beads so they are permanent and won't come off. Provide child with another plastic drinking straw and supply of pony beads in various colors. Have the child attempt to create string(s) of beads to match your sample(s). The straws are easier to thread than string and the samples lay flat on the table. I used colored straws for my samples and provided white straws for the child's use so he knew right away which ones where the samples (and wouldn't try to pull off the glued ones.) You can make this easier/harder by making more complicated patterns, ask "what comes next in the pattern," and so on.

3. Sorting. Provide a supply of nuts & bolts OR different kinds of pasta shapes OR different colors/types of paper clips OR something else that is small and can be sorted. Glue ONE of each major "type" onto an index card (I sometimes use wide clear packing tape to affix items to the card - you can see through it & its more permanent than glue.) Have the child sort the items by matching them up to the "type cards." Make this harder by requiring the sorts to be "by size only" or "by size AND type" etc.

For variety I sometimes would glue the "item" onto a spring clothes pin. I'd clip the pin onto the edge of a small plastic oleo dish - then when he picked an item from the "supply" bucket he was to drop it into the right dish. It's still a sorting activity, but the variety of manipulating the clothes pin was interesting to him ??. We stored the oleo dishes in our Activity Box because we used them for a variety of different bag activities (counting, etc.).

FINE MOTOR

1. Cutting. Provide ½ sheets of paper onto which you have drawn simple wavy lines with a wide black marker. I used to put stickers at the ends of the lines (birds, butterflies, bugs, cars, space ships - something interesting to "go for." Draw 2 or 3 lines on each ½ sheet - the lines should be roughly parallel, not intersecting. Provide scissors and say "Can you cut along the line to all the way to the bird (or whatever.) Graduate to simple closed shapes instead of lines.

2. Toothpick Punched Art. Layer a folded tea towel or face cloth, blank ½ sheet of black construction paper, ½ sheet of paper with simple "pattern" (heart, star, circle, square, etc.) drawn in heavy black marker (or print from computer). Layer so that towel is on table, pattern sheet is on top. Provide tooth pick and tell child to poke holes in the white pattern paper along the edges of the heart (circle, star, etc.). When done he'll like to hold his black punched piece up to the window to see the shape he made. I put lots of pattern pieces, lots of black construction pages and one face cloth in the activity bag along with 2 wooden clothes pins to hold the "sandwich" together while the child worked. He'd pick a different shape each time. We displayed the results by taping the black punched pages on the sliding glass door (sun shines through the holes).

3. Tweezers & pony beads. I had a supply (6-8) of medicine dose cups that come off the top of cough syrup bottles. I glued a different colored bead into the bottom of each cup. Then I provided a supply of beads (in those colors) and a pair of tweezers. Say, "can you use only the tweezers to move the beads to the right (matching) colored cups?" Let the child work for 5 or so minutes then count the beads before putting them back in the "supply" - sort of a cross-over counting, sorting, fine motor activity.

4. Tracing. Provide ½ sheets with simple shapes (similar to the ones from the toothpick art activity) and ½ sheets of tracing paper. I put a small clip board in this bag to hold the two pages together while the child worked - along with a marker or crayon.

LANGUAGE ARTS

All my activity bags for this subject shared the same goal - to teach DS beginning consonant sounds. I mainly used a variety of pictures clear-taped onto index cards and a set of plastic letters (like the magnet type used on ‘fridge.) Then I'd have him do matching activities. The reverse of the card always had the correct letter so this was self correcting. The best place to get lots of pictures (you need LOTS for this) is to buy alphabet books from yard sales at 10c to 20c each, then just cut them up! I got some from magazines but that's harder and more work! He especially liked to "work on the fridge" for this, so I had a bunch of plain magnets to attach the index cards to the fridge. I'd stick up the "B" magnet and have him go through the cards finding all the pictures that start with "buh, buh, buh."

Make it harder by making cards for consonant blends, ending consonants, etc.

COLORS.

Before you cut up those alphabet books take some BLACK & WHITE Xeroxes of various pages. Try to get pictures of items that are USUALLY one color (fruits, veggies & food items are good for this - i.e. bananas are always yellow, broccoli always green, etc.). Cut up the Xeroxed pictures, clear-taping one per index card. Have the child match the item with something else that shows the right color (crayons, colors on another index card, paint chips, whatever - or make a game board with different colored spaces for the item cards). The idea is to match the item with the appropriate color. Make lots of item cards (25-30). (This is probably only for 3 year olds ?)

LISTENING.

I visited the library weekly to have a rotating supply of cassette tapes and read-along books. I'd change the book/tape bag after each use so there was always something different. He used this activity bag every day. We used a player with earphones so the older kid wasn't disturbed.

JUST FOR FUN

Once in a while I'd include a Ziploc Bag with a can of shaving cream. We'd spray a big glop onto the kitchen counter and he was allowed to draw letters or numbers into the shaving cream until he got bored with that. Sometimes it was good for a half hour! Other times I'd whip up ½ cup of Ivory Liquid in a small bowl. Set the bowl in the sink, push a kitchen chair up to the sink and let him have at it. After a few minutes turn on a trickle of water from the faucet and provide a bunch of plastic measuring cups. This could be good for 40 minutes!!!

Hopefully these ideas will get you started. I bet I spent two whole days one summer coming up with ideas and getting bags ready. Those were the best two days of preparation I ever spent. It literally saved us countless times during the years that our son was 3-4 and our daughter was in 1st & 2nd grades. We still use many of the bags this year (he's K, she's 3rd). Have fun and God bless.

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Birgit's Shoeboxes
From: Birgit

My children are 4, 8, and 10. We do different activities in plastic shoeboxes, and the 4yo can only play with them during school time.

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Susie's Activity Totes
From: Susie (twinsplus3)

I will have 2 toddlers so I’m making 3 - 4 Rubbermaid activity totes, 15-20 quart size, for each day. For smaller activities, I'll use shoebox-size totes. Whatever you use, make sure they are stable when they stack (instead of tipping over). The criteria for the activities: non-messy or quick clean up, totally independent, reusable, interesting, can last 15 - 30 minutes.

Coral's Tote Ideas
Coral added some suggestions to Susie's ideas for Activity Totes. Some More Tote Ideas
Michelle in Orlando says: Return to the top of this page



Leigh's Kiddie Pool
From: Leigh in TX

I got a small, inflatable kiddie pool for $2 on clearance. It's my 3yo's indoor playground.

He can play with one color of Playdoh and a Tupperware container of accessories (cookie cutters, etc.) that I put in his pool. The rule is that he must stay in the pool while playing with his activities. I let him play with rice as well, as long as he keeps it in the pool, and not with the Playdoh.

I set his little table inside the pool and he just sits there and colors, finger paints, puts stickers on paper, stamps, water paints, uses his spray bottle to clean the table and chair, cuts paper with his special scissors, or any project that I use to keep him entertained. He will usually last close to an hour playing in there. I keep it right by the kitchen table so that I'm able to keep an eye on him, he doesn't feel left out, and I can work with my older son at the kitchen table.

When he's finished, I just shake the pool outside and store it in the garage against a wall, so there is no mess for me to clean inside the house. If it's really messy, like the cornstarch and water mixture from a few weeks ago, I just spray it down outside and let it dry before storing it.

Best $2 investment ever!

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Sherry's Ideas
From: Sherry Bowlsby

Here's some ideas for your 3-year-old tornado:

Don't do any activity more than once each week; rotate them.

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Some Additional Activities
From: various sources

A warning about bean activities from Vicki C: "Dry beans are a choking hazard for very small children. Years ago our neighbor's lost their 18 month old son after he found and ingested a dried bean."

From Mom9x: This is my 2 year old's favorite: We have a Tupperware filled with different colors and shapes of dry beans. I put a tablecloth on the floor and put the beans and an empty bowl on a cookie sheet. I give her a couple of measuring cups and a tablespoon and she will spend more than an hour transferring beans from the big bowl to the little one, then dumps them back in the big and starts over. She also has a bowl of rice and she does the same thing with the rice. She loves to use a funnel with this.

Mary Beth's I Spy Bottle: Into a 2-liter soda bottle, insert several small I-Spy type items (Barbie shoe, key, dime, marble, Cootie leg, Lego brick, paper clip, etc.) Make an I spy list, and tape it (folded shut) to the side of the bottle. Fill the bottle half to three-fourths full with bird seed. The kids have to turn the bottle to find the items. My kids loved this!!!

From Paula H: Keep a baby blanket handy for when they play with small toys (Legos, etc.). The rule is, you have to keep the pieces on the blanket. When you finish playing, I will pick up everything that's on the blanket (it's easy; I just pick it up by the corners and pour the contents back into the toy tub). You pick up everything that's not! Great motivation for keeping all those pieces in a limited area. Some people have a blanket rule for puzzles, toy cars, blocks, etc. You can play with them whenever you like, as long as they stay on the blanket. When you want to switch to a different blanket activity, put the first blanket-ful away before you take out the second one.

Cindy had an important reminder: Start your tote activities about a month before you start school. This will give you time to train the little ones and get them used to it before you start school and expect them to work independently with the materials. You can supervise them without the stress of needing to work with the other children.

This one is from Donna in NC. To keep my 3yods occupied this morning I drew a shape (triangle) and let him fill it in with stickers. Not big stickers, little ones, it takes MUCH longer to fill it up this way! I bought a pack of 3,350 stickers on a roll at the discount store for about $3. I thought this was a good way to reinforce shapes too. Now, if I could only find a good way to occupy my 1yods!

Brenda in MA suggested the following. This is working with my 18 month old. I created a "bean box" for her. I purchased a plastic box with a lid that is just big enough for her to sit in and several pounds of pinto beans. Set her in it with some nesting/stacking cups and she has a BLAST! Also, my 7yo ds made Heidi a "tent" from a blanket draped over a couple chairs and put some toys in it for her. She LOVED it and played happily in there while we got some school work done.

Merry suggests math manipulatives - counting bears, cuisenaire rods, pattern blocks, balance scale... anything you have. Dried beans & dump trucks & bulldozers or cars are fun. Let them stand at the sink with either their toy boats or with various Tupperware bowls & a couple of spoons. They would play at that for a long time.

From Paula F: I put the 1yo in a walker in a narrow hallway. It keeps him occupied for a while as he zips back and forth from end to end, but I can still keep an eye on him. Kim H. sent me a warning that I posted at this link.

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Increase Their Attention Span
From: Lisa in CA

Let's work on his attention span a bit and help him grow in this area. Give your little guy a planned activity and require him to stay with it for a fixed period of time. Set the timer. Start with 10 or 15 minutes. Do 2 of these times per day to begin with, one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and not when they're hungry or tired. Build up the time gradually. Stick to your guns about waiting for the timer when they say they're all done in 5 minutes. Focusing is a skill and like any skill, some people find it easier than others, but everyone can learn.

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A Few More Ideas See more at Barbara Rowley's article.

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