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Encouraging play based preschool at home (+ giveaway!)

One of my favourite childhood stages is the preschool years. Three-, four- and five-year-olds are curious and enthusiastic, which make learning fun and easy. At the same time, I don’t feel the same pressure in their learning as I do with my older kids. Preschool is supposed to be a time of exploring through play. I often see parents in homeschool groups worry about what they should be teaching their preschoolers. I want to say, “Relax! Play-based preschool is the best.”

Here are some ways I try to provide plenty of learning opportunities for my preschoolers, while letting them play and explore on their own.

Keep reading to the end for a chance to win a Backpack Bear prize pack for your child!

Encouraging play based preschool at home.

This is a sponsored post brought to you by Starfall; all opinions expressed are my own.

Play based Preschool

I’ve never had a set preschool curriculum for my children. With Sunshine and Lily, I started doing “letter a week” activities that I continued with Jade and now Pearl. The letter simply gives us a theme around which to structure our play based preschool. I could have just as easily chosen animals or colours for our weekly themes and then chosen books and crafts to go with those topics instead of a letter.

I also try to follow the child’s lead. Sunshine and Lily loved our letter activities, which is why I kept doing them. Four-year-old Pearl now sees her older sisters doing school, so she sometimes sits down and asks me to do math with her. “Math” for her involves much simpler concepts than for her sisters, and includes a lot of play. Other days, she’ll be happy with her activities and we don’t do any “math.”

I rarely buy preschool workbooks for my kids, unless they ask for it (because they see their older siblings using workbooks) or I see a book that I think they’d like. Workbooks (and colouring books) provide kids opportunity to work on fine motor skills and pencil grip. I often use free online printables, as then I can just print one or two pages as they want them, instead of having a half-empty workbook they’ve lost interest in.

What I do encourage for my preschoolers (which is four-year-old Pearl and two-year-old Joey right now) is lots of books, blocks, music, and educational apps on our tablet. I also get them to “help” around the house with folding laundry, setting the table, and other easy chores. And we try to get outside to play and be active. Otherwise, I love listening to them play, as they usually have big imaginations!

Books

It’s no secret we are book lovers around here. We have a bookshelf in nearly every room in the house and too many books to fit on all the bookshelves. I’ve organized our shelves to make age-appropriate books easy to reach for the kids. For example, in two-year-old Joey’s room, his board books are on a bottom shelf so he can choose his favourite stories. And he does, even though he’s a typically busy boy who doesn’t sit still for long. I love catching him with a book. (The other day, Lily had our children’s encyclopedia out so he was laying on the floor reading it. He liked the pictures of bugs.)

Play based preschool means leaving books where toddlers can reach them and look at when they want.

Reading aloud to your kids has so many awesome benefits for them! Even reading together for five minutes provides a close connection between parent and child. Plus, children start to pick up on the rhythms of language, improve their vocabulary and memory (have you ever read a story to your child so often that she can “read” it back to you while looking at the pictures?), and so much more. Reading naturally facilitates play based preschool learning because so much can be packed into a fun story, including alphabet awareness!

Reading to your child is the best way to begin exposing him or her to the alphabet. Children will begin to make connections between sounds and printed letters and words. ~ Starfall

When I’m reading with Joey or Pearl, we often talk about the pictures on the page. They often notice different things in the pictures than I did. Sometimes, Joey be so excited about a picture that I can’t read the words on the page until we’ve talked about whatever he has noticed. Go at your child’s pace when reading aloud—preschoolers don’t always read as linearly as we do.

9yo sister reads The Very Hungry Caterpillar to her 2yo brother.

As a mom of five kids trying to blog and write books too, I know it can be hard to find time to read aloud to your kids. That’s why I love the Starfall app. There’s a huge library of “talking books” in the Starfall app so your kids can enjoy stories even when you need to cook supper or help an older sibling with schoolwork. Your child can “flip” the virtual pages to go back and forth in the story. They will also hear how other people read aloud.

Blocks

We have multiple types of blocks around our house, from wooden blocks to building blocks to pattern blocks. All my kids have enjoyed building things with blocks, no matter what size or type. This is a great play to encourage play based preschool and let them use their imaginations to create. There are so many different things kids can learn from blocks.

For example, we have a set of pattern blocks that came with our math curriculum. All the girls like using these geometric shapes to make different images, like flowers or robots. While we often use these pattern blocks as part of a math lesson, Pearl pulls them out just as often to play with on her own. I don’t have to say, “Let’s learn about shapes now!” Play based preschool allows them explore this learning material when they want.

One of Joey’s favourite games in the Starfall app involves sliding shapes into specific places to make an animal or bird. I’ve been amazed at how fast he figured out this game, because I would have expected it to be a bit too hard for him. Yet he can recognize where different shapes fit in the puzzle and drag the right shape into place. (This might be easier for him than using real pattern blocks, as once he’s placed each block, it doesn’t slide out of place while he’s fitting the next block in.)

Blocks and puzzles are a great way to facilitate play based preschool at home.

Blocks are also useful for teaching counting skills, matching, measuring and more. Whether I’m building blocks with the kids or they’re playing with each other, we often talk about the size of different blocks. We have nicknames like “twoozer” and “fourzer” to describe how long the pieces are. I can also work in some lessons on symmetry and matching by having Pearl copy what I’m building.

Take the opportunity to count everything in natural settings. For example, count cars, houses, and signs while you drive. Count blocks while playing, count food items while cooking (i.e. macaroni, beans), and toys while cleaning up. Use a number line or hundreds chart to indicate and count numbers, or to play counting games. ~ Starfall

Toddler playing with his alphabet blocks.

Music

While preschoolers aren’t ready for formal music lessons, there are still many ways they can enjoy music. Joey and Pearl both like “playing” piano and violin just like their older sisters. We also have harmonics and recorders, though I have a short tolerance for either of those. Learning about music, though, can be as simple as giving your preschooler control of what music to play.

Friends of ours have a toy record player with little plastic records. Pearl spent most of our visit putting one record on, listening to the song, and then changing records to listen to another song. I was amused by how much she enjoyed this simple activity. At home, we have a shower radio that Joey loves to play with. He’ll twist the button until he finds a station playing music, listen for a bit, then twist to find another station.

The Starfall app has a “jukebox” of songs where kids can pick various classic kids tunes to listen to. There’s no animation or pictures to go with the songs. Yet both Pearl and Joey love picking songs and just listening to them. Sometimes they have a dance party, and Pearl might sing along with the songs, but other times they just listen. For kids, the repetition of a song (that drives mom nuts) is part of their learning.

Joey listens to nursery rhymes on the Starfall app.

Starfall can be downloaded in your favourite app store for free. You can explore with your preschooler and try out the activities. A subscription to the app gets you access to even more activities, songs, and books. There is so much more to the app than I’ve mentioned here; check out my full review for more about why we love this app.

Creating a rich learning environment for your child doesn’t need to mean buying a lot of educational supplies or even a lot of toys. I’ve found that my kids gravitate towards a few favourite activities each day. Books, blocks, music and Starfall are among their regulars, as well as play dough and trains or cars. I don’t try to plan their play each day. I simply follow the lead and let them explore (and redirect if they are fighting over a toy or too tired or hungry to do anything happily).

How do you keep your preschoolers busy and encourage play based preschool learning?


Enter to win a Backpack Bear Prize Pack!

Many of the stories in the Starfall app are about Backpack Bear, an adorable little bear who tries new things. Enter to win a Backpack Bear prize pack with a plush bear and two Backpack Bear stories. Your child will love snuggling with Backpack Bear and reading stories together. Just use the Rafflecopter form below!

Backpack Bear with books giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway open to residents of Canada and the US except where prohibited by law. One random winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter and notified via email. The Koala Mom is not responsible for the prize or shipping.

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