As soon as you hear the term preschooler, many descriptions automatically pop into your mind. One of the traits that most preschoolers have in common is their knack for repetition. How many nights in a row have you read the same bed time story? And who can forget the fact that their pint sized human wants to play with the same toy over and over again? All of this repetition can be used in your favor when you are trying to teach your child. Leverage their current obsession and turn it into a learning tool. This article will give you some ideas on how to turn every day playtime into learning time.
Dinosaurs? Princesses? Animals? Ducks? Whatever their obsession may be, you will use it to sneak some learning into your child’s day. Let’s pretend your child is enamored with bugs. They probably have a lot of toys with bugs on them, but if they have recently developed a new fascination then check out your local dollar store. They usually have a wide variety of toys and games that are perfect for learning and the price can’t beat.
Sorting is a very quick and easy skill to mix in during playtime. While your child is playing with their bug collection, you can easily start a sorting game. You can have them sort by size or color. To have them sort by color, set out different colors of construction paper. Depending on your child’s age they may automatically start sorting the bugs onto the correct colored paper; however, if they do not begin to sort on their own show them how through normal conversation.
If your child has already mastered sorting, another easy option is to set up story problems using the bugs as manipulatives. There is no need to even hint at the fact that you are doing a math problem, just tell a problem story while they are playing. For example, “My blue bug is crawling through the grass. Two yellow bees fly over to join him. How many bugs do I have now?” After they answer, confirm their answer while using some math terminology. “Yes! You are right. I had one bug and added two more bugs for a total of three bugs.” Another variation would be to have your child tell you a story using their bugs as props. If they don’t naturally use numbers and other descriptive terms, ask them questions about their story that would encourage them to use those key terms.
Early literacy activities can also easily be incorporated into play. One option is to use a permanent marker to write letters on the backs of the bugs. If you think that would really throw your preschooler into a tailspin, you could print out pictures of bugs and write the letters on the printed pictures instead. Name recognition is a big part of preschool. You can help your child spell their name using the bugs. Then work on letter identification and sound recognition with the letters in their name. Ask your child to find the correct bug with a designated letter on it, and repeat with all the letters in their name. The next time you do this activity you could add a few new letters.
For another quick idea, hide the bugs with letters around one room in your house or outside if the weather permits. Have your child use a fly swatter, bug spray (spray bottle filled with water), or a stuffed animal who will eat the bugs to identify the letters/sounds you call out. You would say, "Find the bug with a, /a/ on it." Note: /a/ denotes the spoken sound for the letter indicated. Your child would run over to the designated bug and swat it, spray it, or have their animal eat it.
Hints and tips: Most of the letters that children see in print are lowercase with the exception of proper nouns; therefore, when introducing letters to kids it makes the most sense to start with lowercase letters. Obviously when teaching their name you need to use the capital letter for the first letter, but you should explain that special people and places get a big letter because they are important (and your kiddo is very important!). It is also helpful to begin teaching the letter and sound at the same time. While you may think this would confuse your child, the opposite is actually true. If they begin to associate the sound with the written letter from the beginning, it eliminates confusion when they begin blending sounds into words. When you read you say the letter sound NOT the letter name. By learning the sound from the start you can eliminate your child trying to say the letter name instead of the letter sound.
The opportunities to incorporate learning into your child’s play truly are endless. With a little creativity and imagination on your part, you can sneak quick lessons into their playtime and they will be none the wiser. Whatever your child’s infatuation of the week is, just go with it! Your child will love that you are playing with them, and you will love that they are learning while playing. It is a win-win situation.