Let’s go over some practical ways you can prepare and perfect the home or learning environment for a preschooler.
1. Create a small child-adult ratio, whether one-on-one with a parent or a preschool setting where the teacher has the ability and freedom to monitor and interact with each child.
2. Provide opportunities for language stimulation. This can be done in a number of ways, including:
- talking with children about their play (ask questions that encourage them to expand on their details and then listen carefully)
- linking language with sensory aspects of play (“How does that glitter feel on the paper?”)
- encouraging them to make simple decisions (“What color paper would you like to use?”) and then some basic self-evaluation (“Why did you choose to draw that?” or, “How did you do on that activity?”)
3. Cultivate a kind, gentle, orderly and predictable climate at home and in the classroom.
- Be consistent and reasonable with your rules.
- Provide emotional stability for the child(ren).
- Give plenty of encouragement, but try to focus more on effort/process (“You worked so hard on that!”) than ability/outcome (“You’re so smart/fast, you won!”).
- Help children become sensitive to the emotions of others by discussing the effects of certain causes (“That made Tommy very happy when you shared with him” or, “Lilly is sad today because her grandma is sick.”).
4. Make time for free play in which the child is allowed to take the lead, make decisions and learn to deal with mistakes in a safe setting.
5. Balance free play with structured play experiences as groups or one-on-one with you. Sometimes you can center the activities for the week around a theme. What matters most is not the finished product but the process itself.
6. Get children actively involved!
- Provide plenty of sensory stimulation and opportunities for exploration with their fingers, arms, legs and bodies.
- Avoid workbooks to whatever degree possible (depending on child’s age) in exchange for meaningful learning activities they are engaged in with their senses.
- Keep electronics to a minimum. According to Dr. Jane Healy, occupational therapists are now treating many “video kids” who have missed out on some of the most basic motor patterning, attention skills and intellectual growth that accompany it.
- Use materials that refine motor skills such as finger paints, clay, Play-Doh, construction paper, glue, water, etc.
- Do activities that need practice to improve on: cutting paper, throwing a ball, using utensils. The game “Simon Says” can help here and also forces children to pay attention and practice self-control!
- Basic household “chores” are a lot of fun for children to model: gardening, cleaning dishes, cooking, working with “tools.”
- Puzzles are a tried-and-true activity that provide wonderful visual and motor practice for children.
7. Help children look for patterns and sequences whenever they arise naturally in the external world, and provide activities that require them to notice relationships between objects (like stacking blocks, arranging by size, sequencing events in order or categorizing by color).
8. READ, READ, THEN READ SOME MORE! Reading challenges the mind in so many ways. It helps children develop cause-and-effect connections, gives both visual and auditory stimulation, provides patterns to follow, excites their imaginations and allows an opportunity to spend quality time with the caregiver. You can never go wrong here!
9. Provide time for rest, quiet and downtime. The brain needs these times to process all the new information it is learning, and the brain needs sleep in order to commit things to memory and come back stronger for more stimulation. If the child never has time to rest and be quiet, their brain will actually weaken with new input.
10. Be patient and let children make mistakes! It is less important how fast children learn than how far!
God’s word reminds us children learn in different ways. The most important thing is to provide a variety of ways for them to learn and for you to be involved in this amazing process as they learn, grow and develop!