Your preschooler is at a pretty exciting stage right now! Right on the cusp of a wonderful learning journey that has been building up since birth; now is the time for your little one to start putting all of his play practise to good use! From the age of three, your preschooler will no doubt astound you everyday with the knowledge he retains and the rate at which he wants to know more! Make the most of this, by ensuring that each and every activity he does at home is enriched with learning opportunities, and the chance to practise essential skills such as counting, reading, writing and social interaction. Here are some simple ways to achieve this, using play at the heart of it all.
Toys to encourage reading and writing skills
If you shop by age, you should be able to find plenty of toys that are designed specifically to teach your preschooler certain skills, whilst at the same time encouraging practise of existing skills. Don’t be afraid to go for toys that are aimed for slightly older children too, as your child will reach that level eventually and it never hurts to set a challenge!
Take a look at the toys we recommended in our post, Using play for letter recognition, and don’t be afraid to use the toys in different ways too. Use the alphabet blocks to create your own treasure hunt- hide the blocks around the garden and invite your preschooler to find them, and order them alphabetically. Bury them in the sand and use them for a letter dig. Turn them face down and ask your preschooler to find objects that start with certain letters, as they are revealed. Use them for mark making during messy play. The possibilities are endless! The alphabet beads are also great to use this way too.
Toys to encourage counting and number ordering
Again, we’ve already written about using play for number skills, and again we think that using the toys in new and creative ways will help to boost your preschooler’s interest. Make a number trail in the garden with the number blocks- hide them around the garden but challenge your preschooler to only pick them up in the correct order. Hide them in the sand and ask your preschooler to dig them up, then find that number of small objects, such as marbles, for counting practise. Talk about which is more or less, and ask your preschooler to show you one more with the marbles. Play shops, asking your preschooler to count out ten apples for you, then ask him to order the number blocks to ten. Often you’ll find that your preschooler will come up with lots of alternative ways to play too.
Toys to encourage social skills
Learning through play is not just about reading, writing and counting. At this age, preschoolers are still yet to learn many social skills, and all of this comes through life experiences that we as parents can give them. There’s no reason why social skills can’t be taught through toys, so here are some of our favourite ways to do this:
- Role play. This is a fabulous way to get children to think imaginatively, and to respond to others too. Use dressing up costumes to encourage your child to think of others and how they might act in certain situations. How would the pirate respond to the knight charging aboard his ship in the dead of knight? Could the doctor help the princess with her magic spell gone wrong? There are so many opportunities for preschoolers to interact and play together here. Additionally, your preschooler can learn lots from pretend play too. Set up the play kitchen and encourage good food hygiene manners, good table manners, sharing and turn taking.
- Puppets. We love the potential for social skills when it comes to puppets. Use them to talk to your child and emotions and feelings, and encourage your preschooler to get into role too.
Toys to encourage concentration
No doubt you already know that concentration is not always a trait that preschoolers display throughout the day, but this is something that you can build on with various activities. Remember that studies have shown children are able to fully concentrate on a task for around their age in minutes, plus two more. So if your child is four, you can realistically expect up to six minutes of full concentration. With this in mind, its worth planning a few activities that your preschooler can dip in and out of, and be prepared to take over or call it a day when its time. Some of our favourite toys to encourage concentration are:
- Wonderworld Trix Trax. Setting up the tracks may need help from an adult, but its a great way to encourage your child to get involved. Setting the balls down the tracks is wonderful for hand to eye co-ordination and concentration too.
- Haba Tack Zap sets are also wonderful for concentration and the instructions are simple enough for preschoolers to go ahead and follow independently. Also great for hand to eye co-ordination and fine motor skills!
- Jigsaw puzzles- again, adult interaction may be needed, but quiet activities like this are fabulous for concentration skills.
Away from toys, try to see the learning potential in every day activities too. Remember that your preschooler is looking to you to guide him through many situations and often the things you do without thinking can boost their leaning threefold. So the next time you go shopping, ask your preschooler to help you find things on your list. When you make dinner, your preschooler can count out the correct number of knives and forks for the family, and so on. The learning never ends, as long as we see the potential for it.