The Building Blocks of Learning

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The preschool years are full of wonderful learning opportunities. Provide inspiration for your little one at home and at local spots around town.

“Look, Mommy! Come see what I made!” says 4-year-old Connor, running toward his mother and sliding in his socks on the hardwood floor. He’s busting to share his accomplishment — and there’s a lot of that these days. In his room, Connor’s put together a giant fire engine floor puzzle by himself, and he’s overjoyed about it.

“His excitement is my greatest joy,” Smithson says. “I love reading to him and encouraging his effort to do things on his own. Not all kids his age are so self-sufficient, but I think just playing with him and prompting him toward independence has helped him to blossom.”

Just like trust is the foundation of babyhood, the preschool years are characterized by interdependence and mastery, says Marianne Neifert, M.D., in her book Dr. Mom’s Prescription for Preschoolers: Seven Essentials for the Formative Years (Zondervan; $14.95). Neifert says the building blocks of learning during a young child’s formative preschool years include social and emotional characteristics, language, self-care, gross motor skills, fine motor skills and intellectual abilities. These “blocks” modify each year as a child’s capabilities change. But not all kids are the same. While children follow the same predictable sequence in early development, each child progresses with learning at his own pace. That’s why play time is learning time.

Helping your child to develop and learn is one of the great joys (and challenges) of parenting. But Neifert cautions not to think of it as a chore; think of it as fun for you, too. You can help your child gain ground in the preschool years of 3 to 5 by simply doing fun activities together. Here are several ideas for doing so:

Create a Special Place

Children love the idea of a secret club house. Some quick and easy suggestions: put a bean bag chair or large pillow in the bathtub, a big box or an old boat. Or, spread a blanket or put an umbrella over the top of two lawn chairs or try an old sheet attached to the ceiling, with a hula hoop sewn into the hem to hold it open. Use the secret club house as a “thinking room” for quiet talk together.

Get All Dressed Up

Children enjoy being “in-character.” You can use real costumes or create a special outfit from yarn, lace or ribbons for this fun learning time. You can use simple things such as a floppy hat, Dad’s slippers, Mom’s fancy blouse or Grandma’s apron. If you want to be truly creative, make a paper-bag vest and decorate it with stickers each time your youngster completes a project.

Build a Learning Kit

Have all  the basics: pencils, pens, crayons, markers, tape, glue and scissors.  Gather magazines, audio books and activity pads. Have a large box for “fine and wonderful junk” to bring out the creative genius in your child. Collect cardboard, computer paper, envelopes, junk mail, pop sticks, buttons and other treasures. Also useful are left over pieces from games and puzzles as well as mismatched socks.

Do Fun Educational Things

Encourage independent activities or work together. Have your child draw a picture to go with a story you’ve read to him. Assign a letter each day and cut out pictures that start with that letter and tape them to index cards. Use them to make sentences, find rhymes and for placing cards on household objects that start with the same letter. Organize them into groups like animals, food, toys, furniture or clothes.

Have Rewards

Keep a weekly record and write each day’s accomplishments on a large chart. Once a week, have a special celebration such as a tea party or quick-snack picnic. You can use stickers or draw happy faces on the chart as you review and discuss all the fun things that were done. You can take photos and mail them, along with art work, to Dad at his office, Grandma (near or far) or friends.

Providing these simple opportunities for your preschooler will help get him on the track that learning is fun, and, when you’re engaged, easier!

Want to get out of the house with your child to inspire more unique learning opportunities? Here are our TOP 10 LOCAL SPOTS in Middle Tennessee with cool programs for preschoolers that engage learning.


Valerie Allen is a mother of six and a school psychologist. She is also the author of two books, a frequent speaker and a freelance writer.

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