At every turn, a parent can find gadgets, games, and gear guaranteed to give a child a leg up on learning, but a preschooler’s education need not cost a fortune. With a little imagination, anyone can turn inexpensive household items into great toys that will stimulate hands-on learning. Be creative and explore the world through the eyes of a child. These activities not only build school readiness skills, they are also fun.
A bucket of rice can be turned into a treasure hunt, a task that can be used for matching activities, sorting by size or color, or for general entertainment. Plan a dinosaur excavation or plant “flowers” using colorful plastic toys. I store my rice in a bucket with a tight-fitting lid. All this goes on the kitchen floor atop an old tablecloth for easier clean up. Remember that buckets can be dangerous to small children, and always take the appropriate precautions.
Dry beans can also be a cheap thrill. Find several different sizes and colors of beans. Pour a variety of beans into a good-sized box to allow for imaginative play. Add measuring spoons, scoops, funnels, and other assorted implements. Or, provide several bowls and ask your child to sort the beans by type. This is a good way to reinforce category grouping and also to talk about color and size differences.
A family coloring book is a cinch to make with your kids. A little bit of prep time is needed, and then the kids take over so you can get back to helping an older child. Print out black and white copies of family photos. Some photo programs on the computer allow you to embellish, add cartoon features or insert captions. Print out several pages and staple them together or put them into a notebook for your child to color. This activity can be used to teach colors, family names and relationships, letter and word recognition and fine motor coordination as you collate, staple, and color.
It’s also fun to use color photos to fashion a family memory game. You will need 2 copies of each picture. Arrange a few sets face down and take turns picking 2 to find a match. As with the traditional memory game, this game reinforces a child’s turn-taking and memory skills.
Preschool learning activities don’t have to be elaborate. Children are so adaptable and eager to learn. Blowing bubbles is a delightful way to encourage turn taking and vocal play with your child. Plan a tea party, play dress up, read a book, just play.