The Play Years

Have you ever sat down with a preschooler and paid attention to the way he/she engages in a conversation? The way that preschoolers think, speak, create scenarios, imagine ideas, ask endless questions, is the the reason I fell in love with this age group and chose to teach. I have always called them little scientists. 

In early childhood development, age 2 through 6 are often referred to as the preschool period, but a better description is the play years.

It is during these specific years in a child’s life that play is most important and fundamental.

“During early childhood, children spend most of their waking hours discovering, creating, laughing, and imagining as they acquire the skills they will need. They chase each other and attempt new challenges (developing their bodies); they play with sounds, words, and ideas (developing their minds); they invent games and dramatize fantasies (learning social skills and moral rules).”  (The Developing Person Through Childhood and Adolescence Seventh Edition)

Almost every morning at the age of 3, my oldest son Ethan would wake up, run to the bedroom window, use his hands to open the curtains as wide as possible and say, “The sun is shining mommy! That means it is time to play!”.

The enthusiasm, wonderment, and drive in a preschooler is remarkable! It never ceases to amaze me!

Today I want to empower YOU MOMMY by sharing examples of educational activities that promote thinking skills and discovery.

*Worksheets are a great tool to reinforce learning concepts and allow for practice of tracing letters and numbers, but that should not be the ONLY way for preschoolers to learn. They need purposeful activities that not only engage, but promote learning in a fun and creative way.

The following are some fun activities that promote purposeful learning! After each one, I give learning concepts.

Nature Treasure Walk

Tell your child you will be going on an adventurous nature walk to find treasures! It can be in your own backyard or at the park, the location is completely up to you! Collect things that you see all around. It can be different colored leaves, twigs, flowers, grass. Take a ziploc bag to put all the items in. Remember to ask your child open ended questions to promote higher level thinking skills and imagination. Where do you think these leaves fell from? Why do you think there are different colored leaves? You can talk about the different seasons as well as the current one in more detail. Describe different colors you see, like green, yellow, red. Ask how the twigs feel when you touch them. Incorporate all their 5 senses! What does this pink flower smell like yo you? Does it remind you of anything?

Learning Concept

When you get home with the bag now full of nature’s treasures, set them out and engage him/her with simple learning strategies. For example, you can help your child group items from smallest to largest, item type or by color (grouping concepts). Count how many leaves, twigs, flowers were found (math). You can label each item by writing the name on a paper (pre reading and pre writing association). At the end, set up some glue and construction paper and let your child create his/her very own nature art masterpiece!

Pizza Box Story

If you have a weekly pizza night, don’t throw that pizza box away! After dinner, ask your child to think of a story about pizza. Older preschoolers will love this because they tend to get very creative and give you some silly scenarios. Make sure to write everything down on the actual pizza box. Word for word.

Learning Concept 

Once the story is done and you have written it all down, read it back to them. Point at each of the words as you read them out loud. Since older preschoolers are cognitively learning to associate the spoken word to the written word, this is a great concept to support it. At the end, encourage them to illustrate the scenarios in the story by drawing on the box. A creative approach to creating a book!

Kitchen Utensil Art

This art activity was a FAVORITE in my classroom. I bought a variety of plastic cooking utensils at the Dollar Tree. For example, spatulas, large and small cooking spoons, measuring cups, potato mashers, measuring spoons, etc. I would lay them all out and ask if they knew what any of the items were or what they thought it was used for. I let them take the lead in creating a verbal discussion.  I had different color of paints set up on paper plates along with large white paper so they can dip the utensils in the paint and create art with them!

Learning Concept 

You can ask open ended questions about what they would use the utensil for if they could cook or bake something. You can also write down the names of each utensil and place it next to the corresponding one. This will help associate it with print.

More and Less Water

Gather cups or containers that are the same in size. Use 2 at a time to start when doing this activity in order to compare. Fill one with more water and the other one with less. Ask which one has more? Then which has less.

Learning Concept

If you see your child grasped the concept easily, you can begin adding more containers and filling them with different water levels. You can also incorporate patterns with the containers. More, less, more, less and ask them which one comes next. With supervision, you can also let your child fill the containers with what they think is more and less water.

Dice Roll

All you need for this game is a dice, paper and a pencil. You and your child can take turns rolling the dice to see who gets the higher number. Preschoolers love to play games!

Learning Concept

This is a great and fun way to incorporate early math skills. If you have a younger preschooler, you can count the dots on the dice and write the number on the paper. If you have an older preschooler, you can have your child practice writing the numbers on their own after each turn. You can also add all the numbers rolled after 2 turns to practice adding sums. The key is to be enthusiastic and make it fun!

Now On To Dramatic Play!

Dramatic or role play, is defined by experts as the type of play where children accept and assign roles, and then act them out. In essence they are playing grown up and learning about how the real world operates.

This type of play is the most important throughout the preschool years because it fosters development in all areas: physical, cognitive, language and social/emotional.

Here are a few ideas for dramatic play at home. 

  • Indoor/outside picnics or tea time with your child and his/her stuffed animals, super heros, or dolls (great for building social, conversational, and vocabulary skills).
  • Playing “Bank”or “Toy Shop” will help introduce money and it’s concept of deposit and withdrawal to older preschoolers.
  • Playing grocery store (great for labeling everyday foods, talk about where they come from).
  • Playing ice cream shop (creating different flavor combinations, labeling colors).
  • Playing hospital (building empathy and emotional awareness of others).
  • Playing school (reinforces leadership skills by allowing your child to be the teacher and take the lead).
  • Vet clinic (you can use all of your child’s stuffed animals for this one and let him/her lead by being the animal doctor)
  • Playing house (mom, dad, brother, sister role play)
  • Playing restaurant (great for creating menus, writing down orders, your child can also be the chef)
  • Playing Doctor (this one is great for strengthening memory and recreating occasions when your little one got shots or was really sick).

The possible scenarios are endless! Get creative with your little scientists.

6 thoughts on “The Play Years

    1. Thank you for your marvelous comments sweet friend. You are an incredible mommy to your amazing girls! Keep up the fantastic work!

  1. I LOVE all these different ideas for play!! The kitchen utensils with the paint and the pizza box especially 😀 I remember how much Ethan loves to play his game with the monopoly pieces and money, but making his own rules as he goes!! He has such a vast imagination! <3

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