Thursday, March 6, 2008

Preschooler Time!

I've had so much response to my recent post about preschoolers that I thought I'd create a post all about spending time with them. I've done some talks at local MOPS groups recently (four times to be exact) and I thought I'd modify what I did for them- for you!

First I'll state what is probably the obvious for most of you- spending time with your youngest children reaps HUGE benefits. Just think of Moses and Samuel- both of them were sent away at about 3 years old and went on to do amazing work for God. Their moms only had a short time with them and for Samuel particularly his time spent with her probably sustained him, in part, during the time he was with some pretty corrupt men. Our time as moms with our youngest children really counts.

And since you probably already knew that, what's next? Well, it's time to think of all the productive ways we can play with our preschoolers. For some of you some of the time just playing with the toys you have around the house will be enough, but if you have a son like my oldest was early on then you may want more ideas! E9 got bored easily and that's when I started my collection of kid's activity books and began to make games and structured activities for him. He was 18 months old.

First I'll list a few really good resources for the toddler/preschooler set.
  • The Toddler's Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
  • The Preschooler's Busy Book by Trish Kuffner
  • Things to Do with Toddlers and Twos by Karen Miller
  • Baby Days - Activities, Ideas, and Games for Enjoying Life with a Child under Three by Barbara Rowley
  • Science Play by Jill Frankel Houser
  • Wonderplay by Fretta Reitzes, et al
  • Preschool Art by Maryann Kohl
  • Primary Art by Maryann Kohl (she also has Math and Science Art books)
  • The Little Hands Art Book by Judy Press
  • Wow! I'm Reading! by Jill Frankel Houser
  • Usborne Playtime Activities by Ray Gibson
  • Making the Most of the Preschool Years by Valerie Bendt
  • Before Five in a Row by Jane Claire Lambert
  • Picture Book Activities by Trish Kuffner
  • Homeschool Share- a web site with literature based units in several age groups
I split my talk up into five different sections based on the type of activity- well mostly anyway!


For a great read on the benefits of a rich print environment in your home and reading aloud to your kids please check out The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. His website is further down in my sidebar on the right and he contends that reading to kids 20 minutes a day will help them to read well. It's a fast read that will encourage your efforts to read aloud to your kids no matter their age and he has a pretty good book list in there for reference.

Typically my audience for this talk is a room full of mothers of young children who may or may not be oriented toward reading a bunch to their kids or even have thought much beyond a few board books at night. Chances are though, that my blog audience is more the homeschooling set and a few friends that I beg to read on occasion! So, this is the part where I encourage the moms to make books memorable for their kids. The titles above that have to do with bringing children's literature alive for your kids fall into this category. I'll list and picture my examples.

  • Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White- a favorite of my oldest when he was 2yo, he loved the page with the jack 0' lanterns all over it. So, I made him a felt set to match and we'd pull it out while I read the book to him.
  • Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey- who can resist this fantastic book? I have my littles ones hunt for laminated blueberries and drop them into the tin
  • The Red Carpet- roll out a ribbon for the carpet and have them drive the cars there
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom- make the coconut tree and stick the letters all over or better yet play out the story as you go!
  • Henry and Mudge and the Long Weekend- we built a castle out of a large box that is still in our playroom receiving heavy use to this day (5 yrs later...)
Books can provide hours of entertainment beyond just reading them and having fun with books is a great way to make sure your kids enjoy reading them on their own when it's time.

Suggestions for keeping little ones quiet and happy during longer read alouds for older kids isn't a bad topic to visit at this time. I usually start with books that the littles like first and move up to the current chapter book. I also let them play on the floor in the room while we read. Usually I can count on J2 looking for some extra mommy laptime when we do this as well. He likes to hold other books and look through them while we read. I've heard moms let their preschoolers color at the table during read alouds.


Believe it or not, most days your kids should be doing some kind of craft. For some moms this is super scary. I have a few tips on keeping craft time a pleasant time for all. First, make sure you have a spot that is comfortable. Make sure it is a spot where you are comfortable with the materials being out. No one has a good time if mama is freaking out over spills and dropped playdoh! Next, know the best time of day for you and your child to tackle a project. Again, no one has fun if everyone is grumpy. Third, know your limits! I encourage you to stretch yourselves and try new things or ones that you are only marginally comfortable with. However, don't go for glitter if you just cannot stand it. Hate paint? Try watercolors instead of temperas. Eventually though, full exposure to most of the media will be necessary (particularly if you homeschool). Go a little at at time. Lastly, have an area set aside for craft items your preschooler (and older kids) can help themselves to materials. I have a small chest of drawers for this.

On top is a Pampered Chef tool turnabout on a lazy susan. It's full of colored pencil, scissors, rulers, and regular pencils. The drawers underneath hold tape, index cards, stapler, stencils, cardstock, and scrap paper. The kids know that this is an area where they can get things freely without asking (for the most part) and they can just create. No waiting on me to get things out and have things just so. They can just go for it when the mood strikes. If they create something they want to keep forever, they can slide into their art portfolio. Otherwise, eventually it will hit the recycling bin. I also have a scrap paper box where other papers go- half used color paper, etc. They just grab from that box any time.

I also have a craft closet that holds other items that do require permission and supervision. There are many ideas out there on how to store those items. Maybe it's just a rubber maid tote full of stuff, maybe it is a bookcase. Family Fun has great ideas on craft storage using a simple bookcase. I use a closet under the stairs in our learning room. I think I'll give a review of my favorite craft items in another post. Stay tuned for that if you are interested!

Here's a few stress free toddler/preschooler craft ideas for you to think on:
  • Contact Paper collage- set up a piece of contact paper sticky side up on the high chair or table (tape it down) and give your child a pile of stuff- yarn, tissue paper, fabric scraps or whatever. Let them put the items on the sticky and then cover it with another sheet of contact paper. If you use all tissue paper then you can hang it as stained glass. This is one of my favorites!
  • Playdoh- homemade or store bought this provides lots of fun. I keep a box of a few things on hand for time at the learning table. Wax paper provides a great mat or you can get a set of these. I use these mats all the time.
  • Paints- dot painters are great for keeping paint in check. I can pull them out anytime.
  • Kumon books for toddlers and preschoolers

Although preschoolers are not the best at taking turns, a lot of good time can be spent teaching games to this set. Always keep in mind that playing games with a 2 to 4 yo doesn't necessarily mean playing by all the rules! If they are sorting, taking turns, matching, etc. it is ALL good. There are plenty of commercial games out there for this age group and you can make some of your own with a little investment of time.

Commercial Games:
  • Goodnight Moon
  • Hi Ho Cherrio
  • Barnyard Bingo (one of my favorites- it dispenses chips)
  • Sequence for Kids
  • Boggle, Jr.
  • Connect Four (great for fine motor control for a two year old!)
  • dominoes- hours of pleasure come from a giant tin dumped on the floor!
  • Candyland
  • Chutes and Ladders
  • Scrabble, Jr. (I'm seeing this one coming to our house soon)
  • Blokus- totally for 5 and up, but a toddler/preschooler can place shapes and again a great activity for fine motor control.
Homemade Games:

Many books have directions for making homemade games, but here are few ideas for you.
  • bingo boards (colors, animals, objects made from clip art or google images) This site has a bingo card maker. I made one for all the seasons- fun stuff!
  • alphabet games - Jen in OK has a great idea for sorting letter laundry. I just made up the clothes myself and we'll be hanging the clothesline this week.
  • Preschool Activities in a Bag has many games. A few years ago I organized the first swap of these activities on the FIAR boards. Check out our stash!
  • The Busy Books listed above give many ideas for simple games- one of my favorite toddler choices was to put holes in a cardboard egg carton and let the child put spring clothespin in the holes. Simple, but oh so fun for a 2yo!
  • Lacing beads- I have an egg carton full of large beads that J2 can put in the holes on the top of the egg carton.
Our preschool activities in a bag- just a sampling!

Funtastic Frogs! You can lace 'em, sort 'em, pattern 'em, color match 'em and use 'em as counters. I-5 is counting by three's with them at this very moment.

Pattern blocks are great for visual discrimination and shape sorting even for younger kids.


I like to have some things on hand to give the kids a variety of creative outlets. The best storage option for me is the center idea. I like to put all the props and clothes for a pretend play activity together. Saves time in cleaning up!
  • Active Play- Hullaballoo by Cranium, obstacle courses, parachute (6 ft) with foam balls, sit and spin to name a few. These we pull out when things get a little crazy being still. The winters are long here. I know some moms who keep mini-tramps in the house for just such occasions!
  • Book Nook- a place for books on CD. I have a basket of the books and CDs there and some chairs like a Pooh Bear Chair and a bean bag. My toddler will sit and listen or dance during a song or story time and it isn't too distracting for my older kids
  • Restaurant- small clipboard, aprons, take out menus, order forms
  • Grocery Store- some empty grocery boxes, sale signs, grocery lists
  • Hairdresser- barber kit, salon kit, appt cards, stylist's smock
  • Doctor- medical kit, scrubs, lab coat, appt cards, prescription forms
  • Dress Up Corner- a box full of misc stuff and bags on hooks of themed dress up or those used most often. We have an adventure bag (binoculars, hats, goggles, etc.), knights, prairie. I would add a mirror to the corner if I could.
  • Cash Register- we keep it separate for all paying jobs. This one from Learning Resources is the best and they sell replacement money. How cool is that??


Open ended toys stand the test of time and can be used for so many things over and over. At our house some favorites are:
  • wooden train- amazing what you can do with this
  • good maple blocks for building, counting whatever- I like Constructive Playthings for these
  • Lincoln Logs
  • Wedgits
  • LEGOS/Duplo/Quatros
  • Milk Carton Blocks- like preschool brick blocks, but I made them from half gallon cardboard milk cartons. You cut the tops off and put one inside the other making sure the seams run the opposite way for strength.
  • Marble run- I like the one from Discount School Supply. We have two sets that we make huge runs or multiple little ones (I like to manage less sharing issues so I go for volume)
  • Puzzles- I'll add these here. We have lots of matching puzzles, floor puzzles, wooden puzzles, etc. These are great for conversation and playing together.
This picture shows the trains, the blocks, and the milk carton blocks in action! This was built by I-5.

In the end, you have to know yourself and know your child. How does your child like to spend his time? What can you put together that would bring him joy? Know the best time of day for such activities and be in the moment with her!


Jen said...

This is AWESOME, Heather!!!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for so much great information Heather! I have a 3, 4, & 6 yr. old. They will love all these ideas.

Holly said...

What an encouraging post! I love it!

Alana - The Mommy said...

A craft everyday! Man you are hard core!

Great post!

Homeschool Loser

Mi said...

Great post! I'm the kinda girl who needs a list, so this was perfect.

Elinette said...

Oh my goodness, Heather! That is a wonderful post! We have many of the things you have but yours seem so organized. Can I come over with my boys to do school at your home??? hahaha!

Anonymous said...

Great post- even though I read to my kids a lot, reading the Read Aloud Handbook brought it to a whole new level- even homeschool moms need some extra inspiration. Love all the information. Thanks.

Nedra said...

Heather, you are THE COOLEST!

Amber said...

thanks for the ideas. I have a two year old and we think we shall homeschool-I just bought B4FIAR. I can't imagine what homeschooling will look like since I have struggled through the infant stage but everyday is more enjoyable as she can do more and I learn more about children.