Last fall, my 4-year-old son was looking forward to starting preschool. But we didn’t feel comfortable sending him to school during the pandemic. Like many families, we were disappointed and nervous about the sudden changes in our plans.
Still, I wanted to make sure my son was prepared for kindergarten when, eventually, the day comes. I am not the type to sit around, wait, and see what happens. So we started our own “preschool” routine at home with lots of learning and play.
Of course, structured academic time is important for developing listening skills and concentration. But true love for learning has to come naturally, too. All children can benefit from a little extra fun mixed in. They won’t even realize they’re learning!
Here are some tips to make every situation an opportunity to learn.
Create your own routine.
While some families choose a more traditional approach to learning, other home-school families like to allow the day to progress more naturally without a schedule. Create a routine that works for you and your child so that everyone knows what to expect throughout the day. After all, learning won’t happen if everyone is frustrated and disinterested.
With a new baby in my house, it’s difficult to stick to a schedule by the hour, but we have managed well with an order of events to follow. While every day is a bit different, we generally follow this routine:
- Review date, time, and weather
- Pledge of Allegiance
- Writing practice
- Free play and snack time
- Outside play (as weather permits)
- Review numbers in English and Spanish
- Activity, board game, and/or crafts
Sometimes we do crafts earlier in the day, and other days we read more stories. As long as your child is engaged, don’t be afraid to mix it up. The point is to learn through having fun together.
Set weekly themes.
If you’re wondering how you’re going to decide which skills and activities to work on each day, you may benefit from setting weekly themes. For example, we dedicated one week to learning the water cycle. We sang a song, made our own water cycle in a bag craft, and talked about the weather every morning. We even made clouds and rain with shaving cream and droppers. By the end of the week, my four-year-old son had mastered the concepts of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.
Another week early last fall was all about apples. First, we read Ten Apples Up On Top by Dr. Seuss. To coordinate, we cut out paper apples with the letters of my son’s name and glued them on top of a picture cut-out of his face. We made homemade applesauce, taste-tested slices of different colored apples, and learned about the changing season, too! There were so many possible activities for this theme, and we had loads of fun.
When in doubt, hop on Pinterest to find simple ideas for crafts and learning at home. There are also loads of activities you can find online from local attractions right here in Tidewater, such as the Virginia Zoo, Virginia Aquarium, Nauticus, and more. (Psst…check out our Calendar of Family Events so you don’t miss out on the fun!)
This is probably the most important tip. You must train yourself to start noticing opportunities for learning around you.
When we learned about primary and secondary colors, I started pointing out the colors of his toys and asking him if it was a primary or secondary color. We’d pick out “secondary colors only” outfits together. We looked for cars that were primary colors.
Since I am half-Cuban, it is also important to me that my son learn some Spanish basics. We read stories in Spanish and pick out a key word, like camisa (shirt), and try to use the word naturally as many times as we can throughout the day.
One day, my son made the shape of a pyramid with his magnet tiles and seemed to love it, so we hopped online and learned about the Great Pyramid of Giza. He was fascinated! Who says you have to wait until middle school to learn about Ancient Egypt?
Learning can be intuitive and fun if you know where to look. Find opportunities at your own kitchen table or out on the town. Common knowledge to adults is still brand new to growing young minds, so reach for your inner child and see the world from their perspective.
Build-Your-Own Water Cycle Craft
Here’s what you need to create your very own rainstorm!
- One Ziplock plastic bag, any size
- Masking tape
- A permanent marker
- Food coloring (optional)
Step 1: Have your child draw the water cycle on the Ziplock bag. Draw one arrow pointing up from the bottom and label it “Evaporation.” Draw a cloud at the top and label it “Condensation.” Finally, draw an arrow going back down and label it “Precipitation.”
Step 2: Add about 1/4 cup of water dyed with blue food coloring to the Ziplock bag. Seal closed.
Step 3: Use the masking tape to tape the bag securely to a window. Over time, the water inside the bag will condense and form droplets. When enough droplets accumulate, your child can gently tap on the bag to watch them fall back down to the bottom, just like a real rainstorm!
Depending on the weather, the condensation inside the bag will be different every day, so keep the bag up long enough to observe the changes every day together!