So, you are stuck at home with your preschooler, and you have no idea what to do? Or if you REALLY need to do anything at all, because we're talking about preschool, right? Is it that important?
Yes. Absolutely yes.
However... before you push the panic button, pin 1,324 ideas on Pinterest, make an Amazon shopping list that will break the bank, and then sit and cry real tears, overwhelmed by it all before you have even really began working with your child...
Before all that, hang out with me here for a minute. I would like to simplify things for you a bit and show you some ways I am helping support my own preschoolers' learning at home.
This is not an exclusive list of ideas. Indeed, there's far more you can do beyond my tips here. This is just a starting point for your perspective. My hope is that you might finish reading this post and think, "Oh, that's not so bad. I can do that."
There's also a freebie at the end, so that makes things better too, right? :)
So here we go! These are a few tips that I keep in mind when planning (or choosing) learning activities for my preschoolers at home.
(1) Learning must be hands-on!
It goes without saying that hands-on learning is crucial at all ages, but it is particularly necessary for our younger learners. The more active they are while learning, the better! One of the easiest ways to make learning letters a hands-on experience is to use play dough to create the letters. Play dough mats are great to use to support your child in this type of activity, and there are tons of free ones online. I like simple mats with the letters only, but that's just my preference.
After we build the letters, then we practice tracing the letters, careful to move along the play dough according to the correct letter formation. This is a great strategy to help develop your child's prewriting skills, even though you aren't actually "writing."
Of course, play dough isn't the only option... you can also build letters with blocks or legos. If you're really brave, you can use finger paint to trace printed letters!
I love using blocks, mainly because my son loves blocks, so he is naturally engaged when we incorporate them into our learning activities. I found these write-on blocks at Target and we use them to match uppercase and lowercase letters. This is currently one of his favorite activities!
(2) Paper is okay...
in moderation, preferably with glue and scissors.
Worksheets are easy, and printables are cute, but remember tip #1. If I can't make an activity hands-on in some way, then it's probably not appropriate for my preschoolers. When I do use paper, we are cutting and pasting. We practice holding scissors and using bottles of glue. That's right; I give my preschoolers bottles. Of. Glue. *gasp* We say over and over (and over, and over...) "Just a dab will do!" and they learn how to squeeze the glue bottle just right to make a dab.
All of this supports their development of find motor skills, even while we create something that connects back to the "letter" we are learning.
Here's an example of our "train" project when we were working on the letter "T."
This may require a bit more planning than just printing pages. However, there are some really awesome people out there who have already done the hard part for you! One of my favorites is
The Measured Mom Letter of the Week Crafts. You will find more than enough ideas for creative letter crafts to use with your child there!
(3) Use Familiar Items to Support Learning
This part doesn't have to be complicated, either! Learning is more relevant when we can readily apply it to our daily life. For children, learning about letters (and the sounds associated with them) is a more engaging experience when they can connect those letters (and sounds) with the world around them!
Here's an example of a very simple way to apply this concept. When we were working on the letter "S," I had my children gather "stinky socks" from their laundry hampers. Gross, I know, but stay with me... they loved it. Also, this helps create a strong connection between the letter/sound correspondence for "S." Currently, this correspondence is more important for my daughter, who is 5 years old and ready for more phonics connections than my son, who is 3 years old. However, it doesn't hurt him to start making those connections now, either. Once they collected the "stinky socks" (and had a great many laughs over it), they used the socks to build a giant "S" on the floor.
They are still talking about "stinky socks" anytime I mention the letter "S."
As another example, when we were working on the letter "T," we held an indoor scavenger hunt for items that started with the sound /t/ or had a "T" somewhere on the item. We used walkie talkies to communicate during the hunt, which made it even more fun! Then, again, they used their collection of items to build giant T's on the floor.
These activities are simple, require no prep work, and they are completely relevant to daily life and surroundings for my children.
(4) Focus on Teaching Your Child His/Her Name!
Last, but not least, when you are considering learning activities for letters, make sure you focus particularly on familiarizing your child with the letters in his/her name. Do not worry about making your child try to write his/her name. At this point, it is more than enough to recognize and spell the name. My 5-year-old can write her name, and that's appropriate. My 3-year-old needs hands-on opportunities to learn the letters in his name and the order in which they should appear. I created this very simple activity for him to use on a daily basis to "build" his name. This is not the only thing we use, but it is one that is easy to make and use repeatedly.
The concept is simple: He matches letter tiles to a printed version of his name. The original template looks like this:
And here are a few "action shots" of the exercise:
Once he finishes building his name, he starts at the beginning, touches and says each letter in order. I print it onto cardstock for durability. You could also laminate it. Then, for simple organization, I staple a zip-lock back onto the back and store the letter tiles in the ziplock bag.
I have made a free, editable version of this template that you can use to help your child practice his/her name as well! You can access it in the TallyTales TPT store here.
I hope these tips and suggestions have been helpful for you! If not, please feel free to share your concerns, questions, or specific needs for your household. What would help make your at-home learning experience more successful? I am always open to suggestions for new materials that would be helpful to others!