Sensory Play and the Young Child


Red Apple Reading post: Sensory Play and the Young ChildWe all want our children to have every opportunity to grow and flourish. It can be overwhelming to think about all that a little person must learn to do even before entering elementary school! What can parents do to facilitate their toddler’s or preschooler’s learning? The answer may be simpler than you think!

Sensory Play

Even as infants our children are learning. Have you ever tried to read your baby a book only to have her stick it in her mouth and chew on it? She is experiencing her world orally. As your baby grows into a toddler and then a preschooler, her experiences may become more sophisticated, but she is still learning through her senses. Parents can help their toddler and preschool children develop and learn by providing simple sensory experiences for them to enjoy.

Benefits of Sensory Play

  • Vocabulary Development – One great benefit of sensory play is that it helps grow your kiddo’s vocabulary. For instance, when your child is playing with playdough, you can ask him how the playdough feels. Helping your kid put labels such as sticky, mushy, or tacky on a material he is playing with benefits his vocabulary growth tremendously!
  • Fine Motor Skills Development– Another advantage of providing sensory play experiences for your child is that it aids her fine motor skill development. Fine motor skills are anything that requires your child to make small movements with her hands, fingers, feet, toes, or other body parts. When your little one is holding a small item, buttoning, tracing, etc, she is actually learning to use her smaller muscles.
  • Emotional Development – We’ve all experienced how therapeutic activity can be when we are experiencing high levels of emotion. Sensory play naturally provides the same outlet for children. For example, your child may find sand play soothing as he feels the grains run through his fingers. An angry child feels the satisfaction of building a structure and then knocking it down. Listening to music can help an anxious child feel peaceful.
  • Neurological Development – Research shows that sensory play actually helps build neural connections in children’s brains. It may look like your kid is only smelling the cake batter she is stirring; in reality, she is also constructing important neural pathways that will aid her brain development!

Visit us on Pinterest! A quick perusal of the internet will yield a plethora of suggestions for sensory play. Check out Red Apple Reading’s Pinterest page, Kinesthetic Learners, for great ideas on how to get started!


Phonemic Awareness and Its Critical Importance in Learning to Read

As parents, we want to know how we can help our children become successful readers. Here we will focus on the important foundational element of phonemic awareness and its importance in learning to read.

Simply put, phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds within words. Mastering phonemic awareness is essential to becoming a successful reader.

According to Learning Rx, “Research has shown that a child’s awareness of the sounds of spoken words is a strong predictor of his or her later success in learning to read.” With this in mind, Red Apple Reading has compiled the following list of simple activities you can do with your child to facilitate the mastery of this important reading skill.

1.  Introduce syllables:  Helping your child recognize syllables is a great way of helping her understand that words are made up of different sounds. Clapping out the syllables and/or determining the number of syllables in a word helps your little one learn to isolate sounds.

One thing to keep in mind when practicing different sounds with your child is that individual phonemes are comprised of one sound only. For example, the /b/ sound in the letter “b” is a short sound, and should not be pronounced like “buh” or “beh.” When pronouncing letter sounds as a model for your child, try to keep each sound as distinct as possible—this will make it easier for your child to eventually blend multiple sounds together to make words.

2.  Teach songs and rhymes:  Children’s songs and rhymes help your kiddo learn to hear the natural rhythms of spoken language. Introduce your child to books and materials that focus on rhymes. As with word families, rhymes help children hear the phonetic connections between words with similar spellings and sounds. For more fun, rhyming activities and resources, check out this series of posts from Fun-A-Day.

3.  Discover beginning, middle and ending sounds:  Learning to segment words into their individual sounds is a great way to develop phonemic awareness. Start with any given word and ask your child which sounds she hears at the beginning, middle, and end of each word. Begin with short Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) words such as “cat,” “bug,” “map,” etc. When your child masters these simple words, you can move on to more complex ones.

4.  Play phoneme isolation games:  Give your child practice with hearing sounds within words. For example, you can go on a “sound hunt” around the home, finding all of the objects that have the /s/ sound in them (stove, soap). Discover how the folks at Kids Activities Blog used Alphabet Sound Tubs to develop this skill!

5.  Practice with “word families”:  Read books to your child or introduce your child to videos that focus on a particular word family, or words that have the same ending (e.g. words ending in “-an”: can, fan, Dan, man, pan, tan). There are countless ways to practice word families. Start with these creative activities from

Once your little one has grasped phonemic awareness, he will be well on his way to becoming a successful reader! If you want to learn more about this important skill, check out our Open House Video #1 on YouTube.

Intentional Play for Preschoolers

Intentional Play for Your Preschooler - Red Apple ReadingParents do not often think of play time as an intentional part of the day. Many times we dismiss our kiddos with the vague instruction, “Go play!”. Although your child’s play time does not always have to be carefully planned, it is beneficial for preschoolers if at least part of their day is focused on intentional play. What items are needed to play intentionally and what does intentional play look like? Red Apple Reading has a plan for parents who want to incorporate intentional play into their preschooler’s day!

Plan on Keeping it Simple – More toys does not necessarily mean more opportunity for learning. When it comes to playing intentionally, less is actually more! Sometimes a child can become overwhelmed if there are too many toys available. If your kiddo has to dig through a pile of miscellaneous toys, he may become frustrated because he can’t find what he wants or he may become distracted from his purpose. Make sure you limit the number of toys available when you wish for your child to play intentionally.

Plan on Incorporating Unusual Resources – It’s important for parents to “think outside of the box” when they plan intentional play. For instance, hanging a world map on the wall of your child’s play room can peak her curiosity about geography. A calendar placed where a child can flip through it encourages discussion about days of the week. Measuring cups can lead to an impromptu math lesson. Remember, children are creative – they do not always need actual toys in order to have fun!

Plan on Arranging Toys Strategically – Mom and Dad should also place toys in a strategic manner around the room. For instance, putting one or two age appropriate books about Africa next to your world map will encourage your kiddo to locate the continent for himself. Make sure you place measuring cups near a bowl of dry beans so your little one can practice using measuring skills as he plays. If your kiddo enjoys playing “house”, have a pad and pencil next to her babies and kitchen so she can make a “to do” list like mom does. A carefully thought out arrangement very often leads to a teachable moment.

Plan on Being Curious – In order for your child to get the most benefit out of his intentional play time, an adult needs to be present and ready to facilitate. Beware!! This does not mean that parents take charge of play and show the child “how” to do it. Playtime should be child directed. However, parents should be nearby and ask leading questions. For example, if your preschooler is playing with the blocks, you could ask him how many red blocks he used to build his tower. Or if your child is flipping through the calendar in the play room, you could ask her to find the word “Monday”. By being curious about your child’s play and asking questions, you can create a teachable moment.

If you are interested in learning more about intentional play, check out these resources that we found helpful in our research:
Carrots are Orange (Post on Play and Learning Space)
Kindergarten Matters: Intentional Play-Based Learning Videos


Books for Preschoolers

books-for-preschoolersEven if your child doesn’t yet read, there’s no reason he still can’t enjoy a good book. Hopefully, you are already reading to your preschool child on a daily basis. If you’re not, it is never too late to get started! Red Apple Reading has compiled a list of 10 books that your little one is sure to enjoy. So get ready to snuggle in with your preschooler and read a good book!

pomolos-oppositesPomelo’s Opposites (Ramona Badescu) – Pomelo the Garden Elephant is back in this 3rd installment of the Pomelo series. This book explores opposites of all kinds and is sure to turn your preschooler’s frown into a smile!



no-fits-nilsonNo Fits, Nilson! (Zacariah Ohora)- If your little one is going through a “tantrum phase”, No Fits Nilson is the book for her. Amelia and her gorilla friend, Nilson, help one another as they learn to control their tempers.




the-day-the-crayons-quitThe Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt) – Duncan must figure out how to get his crayons back on the job after they quit. The funny crayon complaints will have you and your kiddo laughing. See if Duncan can convince them to come back to work.



press-herePress Here (Herve Tullet) – This fun interactive book will stimulate your preschooler’s imagination. See what happens to the dots in this book when your child follows the author’s directions. This book is both imaginative and amusing!



richard-scarrysRichard Scarry‘s Best Little Board Book Ever (Richard Scarry) – Richard Scarry’s classic titles, The Color Book and Early Words have recently been combined into one board book. Your kiddo will join Franny the Bunny and Mr. Paint Pig on a journey to learn colors and simple words.



llama-llamaLlama Llama and the Bully Goat (Anna Dewdney) – Llama Llama is having some problems with class bully, Gilroy Goat. Fortunately, he remembers his teacher’s instructions to walk away and tell someone. This rhyming book is an enjoyable read and will help equip youngsters with a strategy to implement when faced with a bully.



hide-and-seekHide and Seek (Taro Gomi) – In this board book, little ones will hunt for hidden objects located among the book’s characters. Find out which raccoon is hiding a sock, which rooster is hiding a glove, and more in this delightful read.



pantone-colorsPantone: Colors (Pantone) – This book for preschoolers is visually stunning. The author introduces children to nine basic colors and then to 20 varying shades of each color. Your child will enjoy deciding which shade of red is his favorite!



stickStick! (Andy Pritchett) – Puppy is excited because he has found a stick! Join him as he attempts to enlist his other animal friends in playing with his new toy. Before long, all the barnyard animals join in. This book is simple in content but has lots of heart!



caterinaCaterina and the Perfect Party (Erin Eitter Kono) – Your child will love Caterina the bird. She works very hard to pull off the perfect party, but soon learns that creating a fun party is not about perfection. This is a nice life lesson for children.



Reading with your preschool child is an important activity that every parent needs to engage in. Make sure you take a moment out of your busy day to have some quality time with your little one while reading a quality book together. Let us know if you and your little one enjoyed these preschool titles.

Opting Out of Preschool

Opting Out of Preschool - Red Apple Reading ExpressIf you are the parent of a young child, you will eventually have to make the decision to either enroll or not enroll your child in a preschool program. According to the NAEYC, 43% of three-year-olds and 69% of four- and five-year-olds were enrolled in a center-based early childhood program in 2005. Many parents (for various reasons) have opted out of sending their 3-5 year-olds to school.

If you have decided against enrolling your child in a formal preschool classroom, your kiddo can still be prepared to enter kindergarten when the time comes. Red Apple Reading has some suggestions to help ensure that your little one is school ready!

Be Intentional
If you are a stay at home parent, you have a full time job! Not only are you responsible for the care of the children, but most likely you take on a large load of the household chores. It may seem overwhelming to add educational activities to your already busy schedule. However, you must distinguish between what is urgent and what is important. For instance, while mopping the sticky kitchen floor seems urgent, how important is it in comparison to sitting down and reading to your little one? Many times we get caught up in the things that need to be accomplished (errands, housework, phone calls, etc.) and forget that our children will only be little for a short while.

It is important to schedule intentional times of learning into the daily schedule. Perhaps you could take a half hour to hour each morning to do a hands on activity with your kiddo. Make play dough, play with a sand tray, or do a collage. If you think that this sounds like playing and not education, think again! Little ones learn by playing. For example, making play dough requires measuring; let your child be responsible for that task. Using scissors to cut out paper for a collage requires the use of fine motor skills which your child needs to be developing.

By setting aside time each day for specific activities with your child, you are helping him become ready for school. Also, you should have times during the day in which you read aloud to your child. Prior to nap is a great time for a little snuggle and a good book. By being intentional you can give your kid a head start when he begins school.

One positive aspect of preschool is the opportunity it provides for children to socialize and work together. Just because your kiddo doesn’t attend preschool doesn’t mean you have to forfeit this advantage. By scheduling play dates, going to story time at the library, participating in community sports, and playing at the park, you can make sure your child is getting the social interaction she needs.

Remember, group activities should not be an occasional event. There should be a few times each week that your little one is socializing with a group of her peers. When given the opportunity to be a part of a group, your child will learn how to work and get along with others – and that is a life skill!

In addition to scheduling learning activities into your day, you can also teach your little one as you go about your daily tasks. For instance, as you fold laundry you can have your little one match the right wash cloth with the towel it goes with; just like that you have had a lesson on matching similar patterns! When you are working in the kitchen, you can fill the sink up with water and give your child different size containers to pour water in and out of; you have created a lesson on capacity! As you can see, learning doesn’t always require a well thought out lesson plan. You can teach your child valuable skills while you go about your daily routine.

Young children have a great capacity for learning. By simply providing the right set of circumstances, you can make sure your little one is prepared for elementary school. We would like to know how you incorporate learning into your preschooler’s daily routine. Leave a comment below sharing your teaching secrets with us!