1. Kumon workbooks - These little books are great for learning skills like cutting, pasting, cutting, and folding. The kids are usually excited to work in their Kumon books when I suggest it (I would NEVER suggest forcing a preschooler to complete workbook pages against their will). The pages are bright and colorful, the pictures are fun, and the skill level required to complete the work increases at an appropriately gradual pace. We started these at about 2.5 years of age.
2. Usborne Ready for Writing Books -
This is a new addition for us at 3 years of age. The book progresses from tracing straight lines through tracing and writing letters, and since it's wipe-clean, it can be done over and over again for lots of practice. Under careful supervision, it also makes for a great waiting room activity (beware the marker).
3. Early Learning Sticker Activity Books -
What child doesn't love stickers? We have this book in both the numbers and letters varieties. These books are perfect for a waiting room as well.
4. Alphabet and Number/Counting Games
Learning should always be fun for little ones, so it's important to incorporate lots of games and toys. These are some of the no-prep ways we work on alphabet and counting skills. We don't have a set routine for doing most of these things. We just do them when the time seems right.
- Melissa & Doug Alphabet Train Puzzle - When we work this puzzle, I sing the alphabet song while pointing to each letter as I sing it. When we get to a gap in the train, I call out the letter that comes next, and the kids search the pieces for the next car on the train. We place it on the train while saying the name of the letter as well as the corresponding animal. ("T for Tiger!") Then we sing the alphabet song again until we run into the next gap in the train.
- VTech Sit-to-Stand Alphabet Train - Linus and Veda have aged beyond the 36 months upper limit for riding this toy, but they still have fun finding the letters I call out and putting them down the train's chute. (As for the train's tinny electronic commands to insert the letter blocks into the slots? They couldn't care less.)
- LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnets - I keep this toy and its many parts in a big ziploc under the kitchen sink. It's great for pulling out when I need the kids to occupy themselves while I'm cooking dinner. The letter magnets could have any number of uses on their own. We've got plans to do an indoor egg hunt this winter with the letters tucked inside the eggs.
- Alphabet Puzzle - There are so many wooden alphabet puzzles out there. Some of them talk. Some of them have pictures underneath. I bought our basic model for about $4 when Border's was going out of business.
- Chalkboard Games - We have one of those two-sided easels in our playroom. On the chalkboard side, I'll write a few letters. Then I call out the letters and have the kids either erase the letter or cross it out with chalk. It's also fun to draw shapes and ask them to count them. ("How many squares did I draw?") We also have fun playing copycat. I draw a circle, then they draw a circle, etc.
- Super Why ABC Letter Preschool Game - This one is on our wish list for 3.5 years of age. It seems a bit old for us right now, but for Super Why fans, it looks like a super fun way to learn about the alphabet and phonics.
- Chutes and Ladders and Candyland - Remember these games? They're still excellent for counting practice.
- Alphabet and Number Cookie Cutters with play dough or cookie dough
- Melissa & Doug Write-A-Mats - With washable crayons, these place mats can be used again and again. They give us things to talk about at meals, and if I ever get it together, I might remember to pull them out for the kids to work on when I'm making dinner.
- Found Counting Objects - I used to think I needed to buy a set of counting bears. Nah. Waste of money. There are so many other things to count: paperclips, matchbox cars, crayons, etc. Remember our acorn counting game I described earlier?
I shook ten acorns up in a couple of plastic cups, bartender-style. Then I'd hand a cup to each kid and let the kids count out the acorns. Fun, and (if you already own a couple of cups and have some access to nature) FREE!
- Bathtub Letters and Numbers - I like to keep about 7 letters and numbers in the tub at a time and rotate them out to keep it from being overwhelming.
5. Baking Day - Linus and Veda love helping me cook, especially when we're baking a treat. Helping out in the kitchen is perfect for teaching fine motor skills, patience, and control ("*Gentle* stirring, please!").
6. Arts and Crafts - It doesn't have to be anything fancy, and at our house, it usually isn't. Coloring, drawing, cutting up magazines, pasting pictures from old magazines onto a collage, finger painting, painting with tempura paints, stamping, painting with watercolors, playing with play dough... there are so many possibilities. With the exception of crazy days, we try to fit in arts and crafts time daily around here.
7. Library Storytime - Our library's storytime involves books, singing, playing kiddie instruments, catching bubbles, and creating a craft. That's a lot of good stuff for little guys. And it's FREE.
8. PBS - Sure, it's no good to sit a child in front of the tv for hours on end, but an episode of Sesame Street and Super Why... that's some good stuff.
9. Encouraging and Exploring Interests - One of an educator's goals should always be to encourage a love of learning. One of the best ways to do that is by helping kids pursue deeper knowledge in whatever their fields of interest might be. It's no secret that Linus is REALLY into rocket ships. We took him to Kennedy Space Center this summer, where among other adventures, he got to touch a piece of the moon and walk under a real Saturn V rocket. His favorite evening bonding activity with his dad is watching videos of launches on YouTube. We've amassed a small collection of rockets that we shoot off on the weekends. We check out library books about all things space. It's all worth it to overhear him making up a conversation between John Glenn and Mission Control.
10. Miscellaneous Activities I Find on Pinterest - Isn't Pinterest wonderful? You can follow my Homeschooling - Preschool board HERE. I try to limit my pin selections to things that require minimal prep and provide maximum learning payoff.
11. A Daily Reading Routine - There's probably nothing else so critical to a child's future academic success as being read to. We aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of reading daily between nap time and bedtime readings. Sometimes one or both kids aren't up for sitting still in my lap. That's okay. It's still beneficial if they can listen.
12. Music - We have a repertoire of songs with ASL signs that we like to sing during bath time. We also have a small collection of instruments - an egg shaker, some maracas, a tambourine/drum, some rhythm sticks, and a retro Fisher-Price xylophone. One of Linus and Veda's favorite things to do is to turn on their Pandora station (The Wiggles, with tweaks) and dig into the instrument box. And there's also car singing, which is fun for me too... until I get shushed.