Monday, July 13, 2009

Preschoolwise: Specific Learning Areas

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On Becoming Preschoolwise lists several specific learning areas for mom to focus on. These fit in nicely with the preschool curriculum that I will be sharing soon, so I thought this would be a good pre-cursor to get you thinking. It also goes along well with Learning Activity of the Day.

I am always talking about reading and how important I think it is. To teach reading skills, you can do more than only read books each day (though I think that is a crucial part). Other activities that enhance reading skills include:

  • Puzzles: puzzles help your child "see how one part fits into the whole picture" (page 122). Puzzles for Preschoolers
  • Sequencing Cards: these "help children develop a sense of the beginning, middle, and end of a story" (page 122). Sequencing Cards
  • Alphabet: introduce the child to the alphabet. There is no shortage of activities available for this. Brayden and Kaitlyn have each had a favorite alphabet book that they wore out. Alphabet Books. Brayden's favorite was The Alphabet Book . There is no shortage of alphabet books out there. You can find them with a variety of items represented or specific to suite a special interest your child has. You can also get magnetic alphabet letters. One of our favorites is the Leap Frog Magnetic Alphabet. You can also do alphabet posters. And don't forget the letter of the day! Each week, you can focus on a different letter. Practice writing it, look for items around you that start with it, focus on the sound of it...make it a part of your day! Leap Frog also has an excellent line of movies that teach the alphabet, phonics, and reading:Leap Frog Letter and Word Movies.

Math is all around us--whether we realize (or like) it or not ;). Math is much more than simply adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. It is about shapes, patterns, relationships, and more.

  • Stacking Rings: For younger children, the Fisher-Price Rock-A-Stack is teaching them math by allowing them to become familiar with patterns.
  • Bead Stringing: I make jewelry and Brayden is always fascinated and desirous to help me out. They sell Bead Stringing kits for kids. You could also go to your local craft store and buy big beads and yarn. A benefit of any of the bead stringing kits from the company Melissa & Doug is that they replace lost pieces for free on their products (including with puzzles).
  • Pegboards: These also teach patterns: Pegboard Toys
  • Pattern Blocks: Pattern Blocks teach, well, patterns
  • Calendars: Calendars help your child develop math awareness. It also helps your child come to understand days of the week and terms like "tomorrow" and "yesterday."
  • Counting: Count everything. I like to count when clipping fingernails ("Let's see how many clips it takes to clip your fingernails this week"). Not only does it teach counting over and over, the child holds still and counts with you.
  • Number of the Week: Have a number to focus on each week. Give your child that number of Cheerios to eat or something like it. Count to it over and over.
  • Math Worksheets: You can create or find and print off addition pages and beyond once your child is ready for it. Start simple with the number zero. (5+0=? etc.).
  • Board Games: Many board games require counting. Some include Hi Ho Cherry-O, Chutes and Ladders, and Cootie.
  • Geomag: Geomag teach geometry. Brayden, Kaitlyn, and my husband all have hours of fun with our Geomags.

Art is Kaitlyn's favorite activity, and an activity that Brayden is starting to enjoy more as he gets older. Art time is a good opportunity to teach many lessons like sitting still, being quiet, and focusing. It also helps exercise your child's creativity.

  • Patterns: Patterns apply to art time. See the math section above for pattern activities.
  • Shapes: You can have your shape of the week where you focus on a certain shape. You will also find all the items in your world for that shape. You can also have your child practice drawing shapes. See Learning Activity of the Day for more shape activity ideas.
  • Colors: You can have a color of the day. Find things around the house in that color, eat foods that color, and wear clothes that color. See Learning Activity of the Day for more on the color of the day.
  • Cutting: Preschoolers love to cut. Just be sure to use child safe scissors (Melissa & Doug Scissors Set (2)) and supervise. Also, remember children need to be taught safety rules. Don't assume things like "don't run with scissors" is intuitive to a child. You can also create or buy cutting exercises: Let's Cut Paper!
  • Play Doh: My kids absolutely love play doh. Play Doh
  • Coloring: Color with crayons, markers, and colored pencils. Sidewalk Chalk is also a favorite. For younger children, blank paper is often a good idea. Blank paper is great for older kids, too, but they can also start to practice staying in the lines of pictures. Start with simple pictures without much detail.
  • Painting: I think painting is my children's favorite thing to do. It is also my least favorite thing to do because it is so messy! I have often mentioned that I am OCD. I do a few simple things to make me more fun during painting time :). One is that I bought a cheap table cloth at the store to put over the table. I used to try newspaper or scrap papers, but they always end up being moved around. The table cloth was the best idea I ever had to make painting time more fun. I also made art smocks for the kids to wear over their clothes. You can of course buy these: Art Smocks. And then I also use kid-friendly Washable Paint . You can also use things like Jell-O pudding for your paint.
  • Foamies: Foamies are a lot of fun and you can often find a Foamie kit that goes along with your theme for the week.
  • Holiday Crafts: Around different holidays that you celebrate, include a craft for your child. Perhaps you will dye Easter eggs or you can paint a star picture with star-shaped sponges and construction paper. You can also make special gifts for Father's Day and birthdays.

Music is another area I just love.

  • iPod: I have mentioned this before, but my kids have iPods in their rooms. We turn them on during independent playtime. We had originally purchased a CD player for Brayden when he was two, but we quickly decided that was not a desirable item because he could get the CD out, which can lead to scratched and/or broken CDs. We discovered we could buy a used iPod and a simple player for less than the CD player. People are always upgrading their iPods and selling the old ones for rather inexpensive prices. I put all of the kids music on the iPod. I can create special playlists for them. Also, when they dance around there is no skipping (of the CD). Brayden's docking station is also an iPod Docking Station Alarm Clock so he has an alarm clock in his room. These are often on sale for a great price (around $20-30) on the day after Thanksgiving sales if you brave those :).
  • Variety: Get a variety of music for your child to listen to. We have soundtracks to musicals, Little People CDs (our favorite is Fisher Price Little People: Sing Along Favorites), classical (a great classical CD for your child is Baby Einstein: Playtime Music Box -- I am actually quite surprised at how much our kids love it), and religious music. I also put some of my favorite music that my kids love in a special "Mommy's Music" playlist. And don't forget nursery rhymes. There is a lot of fun music out there for kids.
  • Musical Toys: You can purchase or make musical toys for your children to play with. Musical Instruments for Kids
  • Music Time: A favorite time of day for my kids is music time. We sit at the piano and sing songs. We will sing songs that are in line with the season (for example, at Christmas, we sang Christmas songs). I was surprised to see how many learning opportunities came from singing time. We always sing religious songs. Brayden often stops and asks me about the meaning of what we are singing about and delves deeper with follow-up questions. Music is a great teacher. If you don't have a piano, you can sit and sing with your children A-capella or you can sing along with CDs.
  • Rythm Clapping: This is an idea I love from Pretoddlerwise (page 127). This develops listening skills. You clap a simple rhythm and have your child repeat it. This is a great activity to turn to when your child is growing restless and you need him to wait a bit longer (assuming you are in a location where you can clap. But even in a waiting room, you could pat your legs).

I find history to be a trickier subject to teach children. I think it takes more creativity.

  • Holidays: Tell the history behind the holidays that you celebrate. Tell your child the history of your country at your country's birthday celebration. Our town has a celebration to commemorate the founding of our town. There are also county fairs.
  • Family History: Find pictures of your ancestors and tell your children stories of your family history. Our family has many inspiring stories (we are decendents of immigrants and settlers of the West)--I am sure your family has amazing stories too! Tell your child about the cultures of your heritage.
  • Birthdays: When Grandma, Daddy, or little sister has a birthday, tell stories about that family member. Look at pictures and talk about their life.
  • Other Interesting Stories: Tell your child of other intersting stories from history.
  • Museums: Visit museums for visual representations of history.
  • Books: You can read these stories from books.
  • Movies: You can often watch these stories on movies, but I would caution that you do your homework so that you can clarify what is real and what is not. Movies are not usually accurate.

I know science can bring up dreaded memories from high school for many adults (though some of us loved it), but it can be a very fun topic with your children. Preschoolwise says "Preschool science can be summed up in three words: observation, conversation, and exploration" (page 128).

  • Bug Watching: I admittedly have a bit of a phobia for most bugs. I try to muster up my courage to explore bugs with my kids. My husband is good to fill in; he actually will pick the bugs up!
  • Gardens: My children have an endless fascination with our garden. We have a raspberry patch, flowers, and also a vegetable garden. We prep soil, plant seeds, plant flowers, weed, water, and watch things grow. We harvest when the time is right. This is a great exercise in patience and persistence. If you don't have the space for a garden, you can plant a seed in a cup and put it in a sunny window sill. Our church nursery recently did this with Kaitlyn and her peers. They planted seeds in a little plastic cup. Kaitlyn has her own seeds growing in our kitchen window.
  • Weather: Talk about the weather. Play in the rain. Make a snowman. Feel the warmth of the sun. Rake the leaves. Don't forget to discuss all that you see, feel, and smell.
  • Field Trips: You can take field trips to the lake, ocean, dairy, petting zoo, museum, etc. to help teach your child about all of the varied topics you can cover in science.
  • Books/Magazines/Movies: You can explore the things you cannot reach in person through books, movies, and magazines.

Penmanship activities start around three years of age. Penmanship is discussed on pages 124-125 in Preschoolwise.

  • Grip: Start with working on the grip. Help your child learn to hold the pencil or crayon with the correct grip.
  • Relax: Help your child to learn to relax while coloring or drawing.
  • Lines: At first, you don't need to worry about the lines. As your child gets older, you can encourage him to stay in the lines if he doesn't start to try to do it on his own.
  • Tracing: With tracing, your child can practice grip and also exercise the muscles of the hand. Start with tracing inside the stencil, then move on to tracing outside the stencil. Stencils. You can also have your child trace pictures from coloring pages.
  • Cutting: Cutting strengthens the muscles of the hands. Melissa & Doug Scissors Set (2). As mentioned above, you can buy fun cutting activity books (Let's Cut Paper! ). You can also draw lines on a paper for your child to cut.

There is more to learning than information; there are many social skills that are important to helping your child be able to focus and learn. If you plan to send your child to school, there are certain social skills that will help him succeed there. If you plan on homeschooling, it would be a good idea for your child to learn to sit and pay attention to you. Here are some skills to work on.

  • Classroom Interaction: Standing and walking in line, raising your hand and waiting to be called on, listening and following directions, staying quiet while the teacher is talking, and no talking during quiet work time are all good classroom skills for your child to learn. You can practice these skills at home. Remember that your preschooler will not automatically know what should be done and what shouldn't be done. Proper classroom behaviors are not inherently known. They must be learned.

    These skills can admittedly be tricky to teach a single child. It takes some creativity to teach you single child how to line up correctly. It can also be hard if you try to teach something like this to several of your children. I could try to do this with Brayden and Kaitlyn, but Kaitlyn is a bit young for such practices. You can start by verbally explaining things. I find that Brayden learns best through visual representations. I will explain, then he and I will practice. Then when we want a larger group, we can have Daddy help out in the practice sessions.

    Do realize, however, that while your child might be excellent at such things at home, once he gets into a classroom setting there will be peers to distract him and to have fun with. You can practice with peers if you know moms with similar goals to you. You can get together and practice.

    I find that all of these skills are practiced at church. In Primary, Brayden is expected to sit still, listen, raise his hand and wait to be called on, and line up to walk quietly through the halls. I like to check in with his teachers to find out how he does with peers around him so we can work on things at home. There are also great ideas in Preschoolwise (pages 129-132).
  • Social Interaction: Children will enjoy school more if social life is pleasant. It will be helpful for them to know how to make friends. I haven't found the need to explain this to Brayden. He makes friends well. We go to the park each week and by the time we have left, he has made at least five new friends. You might want to observe your child on the playground to see how he does; my guess is that most kids will figure it out themselves. Social rules for children are different for adults. Children are in general more friendly and more accepting. If you see your child has difficulty making friends, you can try to give him pointers. Otherwise, they seem to be pretty natural at it.

    You can also have play dates with children. This might be helpful for children who are shy who might not feel comfortable approaching children on the playground. Sibling playtime is also a fun social interaction, though I think children benefit from playing with children their own age sometimes once they reach the point of interest in such things.

    As your child plays with other children, step back and observe his strengths and weaknesses socially. Observe sharing ability, bossiness, cooperation, and obedience. Think through your reaction to conflict with your child, also. There are times it is wise to allow the children to work through conflict themselves (so long as things are civil). There are other times you will want to immediately step in. For example, if they are in disagreement about what game to play, you might hold back and allow them to work it out. Conflict resolution is a skill to learn. If you see your child throwing sand, however, that is a moment to step in immediately and stop your child.

    Remember your preschooler and play (Play and Your Preschooler). Observe your child during play to help evaluate strengths and weaknesses. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses, it is a fact. Weaknesses do not make your child a "problem child" or anything else negative. Recognize what the weaknesses are and lovingly help your child turn them into strengths.

This is a really long list. I hope you do not look at it and become too overwhelmed to start. Take baby steps. Work on things progressively. You do not need to have all of these things perfected within a month. These are all learning time activities (though you can and should try to have many just be part of every day life). These are things for your child to learn, not things your child must know immediately. As Preschoolwise states, "The key is to keep it simple and on your child's level. Remember, you are just laying the foundation" (page 129). Learning is a process and takes time. That is how it works. Make learning into something your child can enjoy and he can be a lifelong student!



Kyle, Amanda, and Tobias said...

In addition to helping with reading, the sequencing is also a wonderful tool for behavior. You can easily do sequence charts with things like "Marcus wanted to play trucks." "Marcus took the trucks from Jacob." "Jacob cried" then switch it around to replace "took the trucks from Jacob" with "asked Jacob if he could play too." which changes the consequence "Jacob said 'yes' and they played together". We've even used similar things (more of a free-flow chart) with middle schoolers with a lot of success in bringing down the rates of violent behavior at school. For preschoolers and school-aged kids it really helps teach them social skills and how to manage their feelings.

As a teacher, the -wise books are just dead on! If all my students came to school with the skills practiced in the -wise series, life would have been wonderful, lol! Seriously though, I do think the Preschoolwise book does a great job of giving tips for parents to help prepare them for school and I like the specific examples you give here Valerie, they are exactly what I plan to do as part of our homeschool-preschool curriculum.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks Amanda! That is a great idea for sequencing. I can't wait to use it.

Susanne said...
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Susanne said...
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Penny said...

Another great post Val - thank you!
I wish I had known this stuff before my eldest hit school last year.

Even though I had read Preschoolwise, I had a preconceived idea that I didn't need to prepare my son in these ways as he would get it all from his teacher(s).

I have mixed feelings now. His teachers were and are fantastic, and he has made huge progress from the child he was at 3.5years: language delay, undetected fine motor problems, and confidence issues that stopped him trying because he couldn't do it perfectly first time.

In some ways, I'm glad I didn't try to teach him at home, as I didn't know how and I could have made things a lot worse. But I regret that I didn't do more research and work out ways to start.

However, I am learning from my mistakes all the time, and my toddler and baby will benefit!

Susanne said...

I am a reading specialist and one of the most important things you can do for early reading is to read to your child. When you read to your child, stop and ask questions and make predictions about what will happen next. Also, make connections to the story, like, "this reminds me of the time when..." Don't just read the book to your child, talk about it. When you are done, if you can find a fun activity to do together, that will enrich your reading experience. For instance, if you read the book "Green Eggs and Ham" you could cook Green Eggs and Ham with green food coloring. Also make a point to use your finger or a fun pointer of some time to point to each word as you read it. This helps a child to understand the concept of what a word is and that you read from left to right.

Read lots of poems, stories, and nursery rhymes that has rhyme. Rhyming is a huge skill that children need to have in order to read. When I still taught, I would test all Kindergarten children to see if they understood rhyming. If they had a difficult with rhyming, they were at a potential risk for reading failure (at which point I would intervene with extra instruction). You can play a game by reading a poem and having them guess what the word is that rhymed with the previous word or give them two words that rhyme and have them come up with another (cat, hat, ____).

Understanding syllables in words is a very important skill in reading and spelling. You can clap the syllables out or you can use manipulative to represent each of the syllables. So for instance, the word picnic has 2 syllables. You would clap twice while saying the word (pic---nic). Or you could lay down two M&Ms for the two syllables. At the end, the child gets to eat the candy. You could also do this with cereal. You can also pretend you are a robot and say a word with multiple syllables in chunks and they have to guess the word that you are saying. For more suggestions on early literacy development check out the book: "Phonemic Awareness in Young Children."

Susanne said...

Visual discrimination is another important skill for children to learn to become proficient readers. This is a skill that requires a child to determine if something looks the same or different or to notice patterns in a word. Here is a link to some workbooks that teach this skill

For teaching handwriting to young children, I highly recommend a program called handwriting without tears.
I also recommend the grotto pencil grip to teach correct holding of a pencil.;jsessionid=9E332E8A1E36AEAA395C8FAC13D04B57.qscstrfrnt01?productId=378

It is also never too early to write. Give your child an idea to write about. Maybe you just read a story and your child can drawl a picture. Have your child write what is about under the picture. Then have your child dictate what he/ she wrote. Record what they wrote below their writing. You might also take a picture from a magazine and have them write about what they see. Another great writing activity is to write about a trip or experience they just did like going to the zoo. It is okay if all they do is scribe at first. Eventually you’ll start to see strings of letters and then possibly clusters of letters that represent words. If you model writing to your child, this will enhance their understanding of writing. Children learn by seeing and modeling. You could sit down and write a caption to a picture and tell them what you are writing about. Another good activity to teach the concept of spacing words is to say a simple sentence like (Each word should be one syllable) “I like grapes” and you place an M&M down for each word. Count how many words there are and talk about how there are spaces in between each word. Then, you the parent, write down what you just represented with the M&Ms. This is a great learning activity to teach space between words.

Then teaching phonics to young children...Buy Lively Letters. Each letter has a cute story and song- which makes learning the sound each letters produces fun!

Sorry I know I wrote a book, but I love to talk about this kind of stuff! If you want more suggestions feel free to email me at

Kyle, Amanda, and Tobias said...

Susanne, thanks for mentioning "Phonemic Awareness in Young Children". I have this book too :) It's a good book and I love phonics games with kids, they're so simple and fun! That book was invaluable in my kindergarten class because the children were so far behind, this would normally be an excellent reference for preschool-age children.

I agree 100% with the rhyming thing, most of my students could not rhyme anything when they came to us (I taught kindergarten and first grade at a failing inner city charter school). I struggled all year to teach the concept of rhyming all because the kids had never heard nursery rhymes read to them.

orkut.musical.scraps said...

Thanks Amanda! That is a great idea for sequencing. I can't wait to use it.

Kristi said...

Reading this post made me miss teaching so much! (I taught 1st grade before I became a full-time mommy to my twins). I'm so looking forward to doing all these activities with my babies. Amen to all the ladies who talked about phonemic awareness. I think so much pressure is put on phonics (the alphabet) that sometimes the sounds themselves (without the letter connection) get forgotten. Both are important to make good readers. Keep reading to your babies and kids no matter how old they are!

I totally agree about church teaching classroom skills too. I could definately tell which of my students practiced those skills at church, and it didn't matter what religion, just regular church attendance. That's not the reason we go to church in our family, but it a nice side effect. :)

Plowmanators said...

Susanne, thanks again! I look forward to your posts on this topic.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks Penny! Our younger children do get a lot of benefits...but that is what makes oldest children such great self-starters :)

Plowmanators said...

Amanda, how sad! I can't imagine being a kindergartener and never heard a nursery rhyme. I appreciate you bring up the importance. While we do nursery rhymes each week, I never knew they were so important :)

Plowmanators said...

Kristi, it is a nice bonus with church, I agree!

I have to brag on Kaitlyn. Last night when I was reading an ABC book to her, I asked her what sound each letter made. She got all but three right! I was so amazed.


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