When Work Looks Like Play
What do you think of when you think of learning? Do pictures of desks, quiet classrooms, and flashcards come to mind? While there is certainly a time and place for these things, the preschool years are probably not that time. Children (particularly small children) learn best through play and exploration. Have you ever noticed how anything your toddler gets his hands on goes directly into his mouth? Or how your four-year-old can’t seem to keep her hands off of anything? How many times a day do you have to tell your little one to settle down?
How Parents Can Help
While it might seem like these small children wake up daily with an agenda to drive you crazy, they are actually busy learning about their world. Parents can begin by recognizing that when their preschooler is playing, she is doing important brain work. Mom and Dad can also create a play-friendly environment. Television should be limited during the early years and exploratory play should be encouraged. Lastly, play and exploration should be intentional. While parents do not need to be fussy about formal instruction at this stage, they should be purposeful in facilitating and directing play.
If you wish to facilitate literacy development in your preschooler, Red Apple Reading has five fun play activities for parents to try with their little ones!
- Playdough – Playdough is a great tool for providing sensory stimulation. When your kiddo manipulates the playdough he is developing his fine motor skills, which will in turn prepare him for literary tasks such as gripping a pencil. Not to mention the fun that can be had with alphabet cookie cutters! Want to incorporate the added stimulus of smell? Try this recipe from The 36th Avenue that includes Kool Aid in the ingredients!
- Singing Nursery Rhymes – Learning rhyming words is a key step in attaining literacy. You might not realize it, but when you sing nursery rhymes with your little one, you are actually doing important work! So the next time you sing The Itsy Bitsy Spider, keep in mind that you are doing more than entertaining your child. If you want to add a little extra fun to crooning time, put together a singing basket! The props needed for this simple activity can probably all be found in your child’s toy box. Visit The Imagination Tree for complete instructions
- Sensory Trays – Preschoolers love to explore their world through touch. Sensory trays are great tools for promoting literacy in little ones. Fill a small tub with dry beans, rice, sand or shaving cream. Bury plastic alphabet letters for them to find or small toys for identifying beginning sounds. Make sure to provide proper supervision (particularly for small kids who still may put things in their mouth).
- Alphabet Walk – Most preschoolers are little bundles of energy who have trouble keeping still. Take advantage of your child’s liveliness! Put on your walking shoes and take an alphabet walk. Stroll through your yard, neighborhood, or favorite walking trail and spot items beginning with different letters of the alphabet. If your little one is too young to identify what letter a word begins with, let him do the spotting and you label with a letter – “Yes, that’s a snail! Snail begins with the letter S.”
- Construction Site Scoop and Spell –Here’s another great activity from The Imagination Tree! If your kiddo is a fan of construction vehicles, she’ll love this literacy activity. Gather several rocks and write a letter on each one. Next, get out the dump trucks, bull dozers and excavators and let her get to work moving her ABC boulders!
Remember, not all play needs to be directed. Your child is still learning when he is rolling down a hill and playing with his cars. However, occasionally introducing a literacy activity is a great idea. Just remember that it will be best received and processed when it involves playing!