Parents and early childhood teachers sometimes offer worksheets to children because they're fast, they resemble the work children do in elementary school, and they seem to provide measurable evidence that a child is learning. But are they really effective with young children? Early educational pioneers, such as Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori, as well as contemporary leaders in the field (e.g., Howard Gardner and Ellen Galinsky) have found that children learn best through rich, hands-on experiences.
Although worksheets may offer some benefits, simple, homemade activities usually provide a more enjoyable and authentic learning experience for children. But don't think you have to turn your house into a preschool or spend hours planning activities. Quick, easy activities can pay remarkable dividends.
Learning Activities for Toddlers, Preschoolers & Kindergarteners
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Read together. Reading together is one of the best - and simplest - ways to foster early literacy development. Choose a wide variety of books, such as non-fiction books on a favorite topic, classic picture books, folk tales, and concept books like alphabet and number books.
- Sing silly songs such as "5 Little Ducks" or "The Wheels on the Bus." Tell your child nursery rhymes and finger plays. Classic children's poems and songs boost language development by helping your child become aware of vocabulary, letter sounds, sentence structure and rhythm in language.
- Point out letters, numbers, and words when you're running errands. Children soon recognize traffic and store signs. Reading these words helps build confidence and motivation.
- Look for every day opportunities to count, sort, graph, and pattern. For example, if your child is fascinated with trucks, count them as you're out and about. How many blue ones do you see? How about green? Count and sort socks, silverware, or shoes. Offer several different kinds of fruit as a snack and show your child how to arrange them in a pattern.
- Keep a box of scrap paper handy and pull it out on rainy days. Let your child cut the paper or glue pieces together. Children love these simple tasks and they help build the fine motor muscles needed for later writing.
- Let your child help you make a grocery or to-do list. Write letters and cards to friends and family. Don't worry if your child isn't writing yet. Ask her to dictate a sentence to you. As you write the sentence, talk about the letters and sounds in the words. Point out that you write from top to bottom and left to right. Soon your child will be writing independently.
- Play board games and work on puzzles together. Children delight in these quiet times spent with a special adult. Board games and puzzles build a variety of skills, including problem-solving, reasoning, counting, sharing, and taking turns.
- Foster a spirit of curiosity by asking questions. Stop to look at insects or plants as you're out on a nature walk. Ponder about where water goes when it runs down the drain. How do the boxes of cereal on the grocer's shelf get there? The world is your child's science lab, just waiting for discoveries.
As you think about incorporating simple learning activities into your daily schedule, remember that learning is happening all the time. Often some of the most memorable learning experiences are those that spring spontaneously and joyfully from a simple moment. When you take a mindful approach to interacting with your child, learning opportunities come with almost no effort.
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