Many children love animals, so it is a great idea to incorporate an animal theme into preschool activities. By incorporating something interesting, children will enjoy learning and look forward to several activities that they may otherwise not want to do.
Preschoolers are at an age where they love sorting and defining. Cut several pictures of animals out of magazines. At the beginning, use animals that are familiar, such as dogs, cats, birds, horses, etc. As time goes by, add more exotic animals, like camels, penguins, voles, flying squirrels, or any animal that’s not very common. Ask a preschooler to sort the animals into different categories. For example, animals that start with the same letter, animals that eat only grass, animals that can be pets, etc. This game is good for recognition and problem solving, as well as critical thinking. When a child becomes really good at this and has become familiar with some of the more exotic animals, try subcategories of animals. For example, different kinds of birds, lizards, fish, etc.
Another classification game for this age group is a verbal game. You will not need anything, except maybe a pencil and paper if you want to review lists later. Come up with a criteria for an animal, like “four legs.” The child or children then say all the animals they can think of that fit that category. You can do any classification: color, diet, sounds, size, etc. This develops similar cognitive skills as the above activity, except it requires children to think on the spot, leading to more creative thinking and adaptability.
Another interesting game to play is acting out certain animals. You can act out an animal with the child or children, for instance, everyone pretends they are a pig. This promotes teamwork and socialization. You could also make it into a guessing game, where each person takes turns acting out an animal and the others need to guess what it is.
A nature walk is usually enjoyed by young children, so instead of collecting leaves or sticks, point out animals on your walk. There are several birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals prevalent depending on the area you live in. If there aren’t many animals around, talk about their habitats instead. You could say, “That’s a nice tree, do you think a bird would like a nest there because of all those branches, or do you think he would prefer one with more leaves for shelter?” If the theme of your nature walk is animals, you can incorporate food, habitat, weather, etc. This enables them to think about things in context, so they can apply what they already know to the real world.
Of course, drawing and painting are also favorite preschool activities. Use some pictures of real animals for children to create their own representations. Add a label and some facts about that animal when the picture is finished. To get even more creative, use props such as cotton balls for a rabbit’s tail, craft feathers for bird wings, embroidery thread for a horses tail, or anything else textured you can glue on. It’s also fun to give the children the tools first, and then see what they can come up with from textured materials. This association activity helps with critical thinking, creativity, and imagination.
Preschoolers are gaining new vocabulary skills every day. To encourage this development, play a vocabulary game about animals. Say the name of an animal, and have the preschooler name a different animal that either rhymes or starts with the same letter. Keep taking turns until no one can think of any more. For example, if you say “cat,” a child can say “rat” or “cow.” See how long you can go and consider listing your words so if you get stuck you can go back to one and head off in a different direction.
There are several ways to incorporate an animal theme into preschool ideas. If you are caring for one or several young children who like animals, use the theme to gain their interest and enthusiasm. After a few of these activities, children may even start coming up with their own ideas for animal activities. This is when you know it’s been successful.