Every stage of child rearing has difficulties and challenges, but perhaps the biggest challenge for preschool aged children is how to keep them entertained and occupied. For some parents and caregivers it is easy to relate to the mindset of a three year old, and for others it is not. Fortunately, all it takes is some creativity, planning, and imagination to keep this age group busy and happy.
Preschoolers love imaginary play. One of the main focuses of learning at this stage is copying what others around them are doing. This is a great way to incorporate play into your daily life, because you can give them almost anything and teach them how to use it. Some ideas are a wooden spoon and a bowl, so they can help you “bake,” an old phone that they can pretend to answer and talk on, crayons and paper so they can practice scribble writing, a soft brush, facecloth, or toothbrush they can use on teddy bears, or simply hand them a broom and teach them how to sweep the floor. This is one of the easiest ways to make a preschooler happy, because while you get some chores done, they feel involved and helpful.
Instead of buying expensive toys, first take a look around the house to see what can be used for play. Clean, empty boxes can be used as a doll house or bed, a fort, stacking activities, or hiding toys. They are also great for turning into other things during craft time, such as a train or jewelry box. Empty food containers can be used to play house, restaurant, or grocery store pretend games. It And when you are finished with them let the child help you put them in the recycling boxes for another fun, teachable moment. Measuring cups are good for stacking activities while old magazines are wonderful ways to play recognition games. Before you throw anything out take a look to see if it is a safe and appropriate toy for a child.
Hopefully most preschoolers are already familiar with books, but if not, don’t worry. This is a perfect age to foster and encourage a love of reading and learning. Simple story books with pictures of familiar objects will be a hit, because after reading the story, a child can point out things they know in the book. This is an important way to support a growing vocabulary, and while children may be too young to read, they will learn the basics of a book, such as left to right, front to back. Books with thick pages and board books are best for this age, because the child can help to turn them. There are also plenty of informational books out there for this age group, so instead of a storybook, try a picture book with information about vehicles or animals. Remember that timing is important too for books; a child should be relaxed and receptive so they can learn to associate books and learning with pleasure.
Most children at this age also love to be artistic. Sometimes providing them with crayons and paper will give them hours of entertainment. You can sit with them and draw as well so they can copy the basics, or if they are struggling use a hand-over-hand technique to demonstrate. If time and opportunity permits, cover the floor with plastic or an old sheet, and let them paint with a brush or their hands. Keep a washcloth nearby in case of spills, but a child will love to create their very own messy masterpiece. Play dough is another good medium for artistic expression, and a great tactile experience.
Preschoolers are at the age where they can retain more ordered information and have a few memorization skills, so they will enjoy learning about basic things like numbers and letters. There are several ways to teach these, but some popular ideas are puzzles, books, and organizing games. Once a child is familiar with letters see if he or she can recognize some familiar words. Take the opportunity when you are out to point at signs with letters and numbers so your preschooler can learn why they are useful.
Whatever you decide to do with a preschooler, with a little imagination it can be a learning experience. Focus on what a child is interested in and find different ways to teach them about it. Preschoolers are developing important life skills which you can foster and encourage. There are several ways to keep them entertained and occupied, but follow their lead. Never force a child to do an activity that is making them upset. Incorporate new things into a familiar routine, and you will have a happy and busy child.