The early years are a time when children are learning and growing at a rapid rate. As a parent, you may want to know what is the best way for your child to spend their time.
When does most of the learning occur and what are the best activities for young kids to be doing in order to learn optimally?
The answer is simple.
If your children are engaging in hours and hours of play every day you can rest assured they are learning!
Read on to find out about simple play opportunities you can set up that your children will benefit from doing every day!
The preschool years are for play. Very intentional play. During these years, all the most important foundations are being laid down and the skills needed for formal education are being put in place.
Most activities do not involve worksheets, workbooks or any formal work and they can be categorized loosely into about 5 different types of activities.
They are all centred around play and they are the activities that all good preschools have built into their daily programs.
If you are looking for activities to do at home with your child, as long as they fit into one of the following categories, you will know they are age-appropriate and your child is learning a lot from them.
1. Movement Activities
Movement involves free play, during which children get time to run, skip, throw, catch, gallop, jump, hop, bend, balance, walk, climb, hang, etc.
Guided movement activities are also great and can be planned by adults with a specific purpose in mind. Here are some examples:
- Obstacle courses
- Balancing beams
- Throwing and catching games
- Hopscotch, leapfrog, etc.
2. Music Activities
Music involves activities such as:
- Learning simple nursery rhymes and poems
- Singing songs
- Playing with musical instruments (especially home-made ones)
- Discovering sound through body percussion
- Dancing and rhythmic moving – which also develops gross motor skills
- Playing music games
Music is not just about learning to sing and play instruments. Through music, children improve their vocabulary, memory, cognitive abilities, listening skills, auditory processing skills, rhythm, and many, many more things.
Many of these skills are needed to be able to learn to read.
Children are naturally drawn to music and enjoy it without the self-consciousness that many adults develop when singing and dancing.
3. Creative Art
Which child doesn’t love art? Most children want to draw, paint and be creative every day. They should have exposure to many different activities and mediums:
- Drawing with wax crayons, pencils, pens, chalk, etc.
- Painting – including finger painting, bubble painting, painting with brushes and sponges, etc.
- Box construction – such as building things out of waste materials
- Cutting, tearing, pasting and collaging
Here are some really awesome creative art activities that are simple and require no prepping!
The benefits of reading to children are endless and it should be fit into every parent’s schedule, every single day. Parents should read to children in order to develop many skills.
It is also a great time to stimulate higher-order thinking skills and get your children involved in a discussion that is sure to develop critical thinking and vocabulary.
I’ve left the best for last. Although the four activities listed above are still part of play, I thought I’d list this separately just to mention the various types of play children engage in.
During play, children are learning non-stop! Here are some types of play:
- Fantasy, dress-up or symbolic play
- Physical play
- Structured games with rules, such as Duck, Duck, Goose
- Memory games and card games (like my printable memory card games)
- Construction play (e.g. building with blocks or lego)
- Sensory play
- Fine motor play activities such as puzzles, pegboards and threading beads
What About Learning Numbers and Letters?
As a parent, you may be concerned with whether your child is learning letters and numbers, or reciting the days and months in order.
During the preschool years, learning the letters and numbers is actually not as important as you might think!
Why? Because your child will learn those things easily when they are ready. And they will be ready because they will have engaged in the right activities that develop pre-reading, pre-writing and emergent maths skills.
Here is a quick look at learning numbers and letters.
A child may count to 100 but they are not necessarily mature enough to have any concept of what those numbers actually represent.
They learn the value of numbers when playing, for example, in the sandpit or the bath. When they fill up a cup of sand and turn it over, then fill another and turn it over next to the previous one, they are learning concepts such as two items or one more.
The more they play and discover, the more concepts they learn – they compare numbers, make patterns and experiment with sizes.
They may be able to rattle off the numbers out loud, but this is only one aspect of mathematics – rote counting.
Children develop a true number sense when they learn one-to-one correspondence and conceptualize what the numbers actually mean.
In order for your child to recognize the sounds in letters, they need to develop their auditory processing skills through play. Nursery rhymes, poems and songs serve more of a purpose than just entertainment and fun!
Then, learning to write requires building gross motor skills through movement and play. Fine motor skills are then developed which enable a child to hold a pencil, control it and form letters carefully.
These pre-skills cannot be rushed and pushed aside.
The last level is being able to recognize the letters and the sounds they represent when combined, and putting them together into meaningful words and sentences to be read.
Therefore, it is not necessary for children to be writing, adding numbers and reading in preschool.
Know that if your children are coming home from school filthy from head to toe, with art that don’t resemble anything Instagram-worthy and happily signing a tune, they are probably getting a very good education.
Homeschooling? Stick to these main types of activities and your kids will thrive.
Would you like a year of done-for-you, ten-minute activities to teach your 3-5-year-old through play? Get your copy of the Learning Through Play Activity Pack for only $27.