Toddlers often get a bad rap, but I must say I love their inquisitive nature and eagerness to learn. It makes my teacher heart so happy. I can barely keep up with my toddler’s questions. She wakes me up in the middle of the night with them! I cannot do much about her nocturnal inquisitions, but I am able to quench her thirst for knowledge during the day.
As I virtual teacher (and blogger!), I work from home. I am able to engage my toddler in learning activities throughout the day around my work schedule. However, I also needed activities that my daughter can engage in independently while I am occupied that are still learning based. Thus, I created my very own preschool at home!
My toddler just turned three and I did enroll her in preschool for the fall. Since I am currently her best (and only) friend, she definitely needs the socialization. Whether you homeschool or just need a few activities to supplement your child’s preschool or daycare program, you can pick and choose what works for you below. The idea is to satisfy your toddler’s insatiable curiosity and have a little fun at the same time!
How to Do Preschool at Home with Your Toddler
Before you embark on some fun learning activities, you will want to set the stage for learning. You want to get everything organized before chaos ensues. It is okay if things get messy! It means learning is taking place, but save your sanity by having a few things in order for easy cleanup.
Step One: Choose a Location
Pick a place in your house that is conducive to learning. Maybe it is the dining room table or the kitchen counter. Just make sure that it is free of distractions. Turn the TV off and clear the space. Toddlers, as you know, are easily distracted! Although toddlers are eager to learn, too much information or stimuli can be overwhelming.
Step Two: Get Organized
I use my daughter’s playroom as our “preschool”. We clean up all toys before we start to set the stage for learning. I store all of my materials in plastic bins with labels. Each “subject” has a bin, for example, “Literacy/ABC’s”, “Math/Numbers/Counting”, and “Arts and Crafts”.
For easy access, I organize my materials for the week in a milk crate and separate each activity into designated file folders for each day. The milk crate is also great for easy transport, as it is great to have a designated space for learning within your house, but occasionally you may want to take your “classroom” outside on a beautiful day.
Step Three: Have a Routine
I have been an elementary teacher for a long time, but teaching a toddler is a whole different animal. There are certain things that I noticed that are the same as older kids. One, kids love a routine. They love knowing exactly what to expect and when to expect it. Even if they cannot yet tell time. Two, kids love to get their hands dirty. The more kids can engage their bodies, as well as their minds, the more they will learn.
However, toddlers do not have the attention span of older kids and they are easily overstimulated. I keep our “preschool” activities to 20-30 minute blocks throughout the day, rather than engaging in a learning activity for an hour or two straight. Eventually, we will work to longer segments, so that my daughter is prepared to attend a “real” preschool in the fall. However, for right now short is the way to go.
Learning is so much fun, but toddlers can easily become overwhelmed. Look for signs of frustration or overstimulation. If your child loses eye contact, becomes flushed, or their breathing speeds up, take a break. Crying and throwing things are sure-fire signs that frustration is happening. You can take a break or switch activities. You can encourage your little one, but try not to push too hard.
Preschool at Home: Choose a Theme
I love a good theme! Thematic units are a great way to incorporate reading, math, science, social studies, and arts and crafts without having to constantly switch gears. As I also have a love of subscription boxes, I ordered The Learning Box Preschool Program. I tried several different learning subscription boxes and this is my favorite.
The downside of this subscription box program is that it is pricey. Depending on the program you choose, it can cost between $50-70 per month for one child. Yes, this is most likely less expensive than enrolling your child in a formal preschool program, but it is still a lot of money! You could easily go in on this program with another mom (or group of moms) and split the cost. There are price breaks for multiple children. Or, like me, you can ask the grandparents to make this your child’s Christmas and/or Birthday gift! It is the gift that keeps on giving.
The upside of this program is that it includes all of the materials you need to really create your very own preschool at home. It has a lesson plan guide, posters, books, and every material you need for every lesson. As a busy working mom, this saves me so much time and energy.
I have the three days per week program and I am able to extend the lessons/activities for 5-6 days easily with some of my own ideas. The theme for the month of March was “Teddy Bear Picnic”, so if you are not wanting to spend such a large sum just yet, check out the “bear-y” fun activities you can do right now with your toddler in your home preschool.
*I am not an affiliate for The Learning Box, however some of the links to resources below are affiliate links to Amazon. Check out my disclosures page for more information.
Preschool at Home: “Bear-y” Fun Literacy
The Learning Box came with a copy of The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, which my daughter just loved. However, I realized I have a ton of other bear themed books from my classroom days. So, I decided to gather them all up and do a different read aloud every day, both during “preschool” and as part of our nightly bedtime ritual.
Preschool Bear-Themed Read Alouds and Activities
Early literacy is so important to your child’s future success. These bear themed picture books are fun to read and will get your toddler excited about learning!
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
As I mentioned in my post, 3 Guaranteed Reasons to Love Eric Carle, my toddler is obsessed with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Eric Carle books are perfect for preschoolers because there is plenty of repetitive text and the illustrations are fabulous. This book is perfect for teaching several pre-literacy skills.
Color Matching– Use paint swatches or scraps of construction paper from your latest art project to match colors to each animal. For example, ask your child to match brown to the “brown bear” and red to the “red bird”. Then, ask your child to find other objects in the house with the same color. I like to give my daughter a bag or basket and ask her to go on a “color hunt” for a particular color. Then, we discuss the color and the varying shades.
Sequencing- Make a copy of each page of the book and ask your toddler to put the pages in order. This is the precursor to story retelling and summarization skills! Your toddler can use the book to “match” and put the pages in order. Then, ask your toddler to “read” the story to you in order.
Me and My Mom/Me and My Dad
Besides being great books for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, Me and My Mom! and Me and My Dad! are just really sweet stories. Each book talks about the activities the little bear cub does with mom and dad. These stories are great for literacy, but they also help your toddler learn about their family relationships.
Role Playing– You can act out the activities the bears do like playing with leaves or going ice skating. Role playing is great for developing your toddler’s imagination. Later, this translates into reading comprehension because your child will be able to picture or “imagine” what is happening in the story as they read. You can also role play real activities you do with your toddler to model appropriate behavior, like going to the grocery store or setting the table.
Arts and Crafts– After reading these stories, you can ask your toddler to draw their self-portrait and include their family members. Families can take all shapes and sizes, so this activity is perfect for discussing the roles each member plays in your family. The self-portrait is a wonderful way to talk about body parts and where everything goes. Ask your toddler to look in the mirror and then draw what they see.
The Bear Books
There is really a whole series of bear-themed books! Bear and Friends: The Bear Books are a series of books centered around a bear who learns some important lessons like using proper manners, making friends, and what happens if you get sick or lose a tooth.
Compare and Contrast- Toddlers love to match and find what “goes together”. I have this entire series of books and as I read each new book in the series, we spend time talking about what is the same and what is different. I ask my toddler questions like, “Was there a bear in this book and that book?” Or “Was bear sick in this book and that book?” This is another early reading comprehension skill!
“B” is for Bear
If you are talking about bears, it only makes sense to focus on the letter “B”! This link has some great printables for bear themed letter B crafts. Your toddler can identify the capital and lower case letters and practice tracing the letters. Plus, there are several “bear” themed crafts to celebrate holidays throughout the year.
“B” Writing – Tracing a letter B on paper with a paper is wonderful for fine motor control and you can teach your toddler how to make the strokes to write the letter. Another fun “writing” activity is to spray shaving cream on a table or in a tray and ask your toddler to “write” the letter with their finger. I love doing this with bath paints in the bathtub, too!
Sound Box- Give your child a box or bag and ask them to collect items that make the “b” sound around the house like a “book” or a “ball”. This is also fun to do on a hike or car ride. Ask your child to say the name of objects aloud and to include it in their box if they hear the “b” sound. You can also collect a group of objects and ask your toddler to distinguish which objects have the “b” sound and which do not.This helps build your toddler’s phonemic awareness.
Lion, Lion, Bear– I love this idea from 123 Child. Play this game like “Duck, Duck, Goose” except ask your child to run and growl like a bear when they hear Lion, Lion, BEAR! If you are limited on participants for this game, stuffed animals (especially teddy bears) work great!
Preschool at Home: “Bear-y” Fun Math
There are lots of counting and number sense related activities you can do with your toddler that stick with the “bear” theme. The Learning Box had us make our own counting book. We were given pre-punched construction paper bears and glued them to the appropriate number page. One bear on page one, two bears on page two, etc. I loved this activity because we build on it over several weeks and when we were finished we had a book we had made ourselves!
Counting Bears- I love this set of Counting Bears. They are great for both counting and sorting by color. We also practice matching our counting bears to the number of bears we saw in our bear books. This set is a staple to have in your preschool/homeschool materials!
Arts and Crafts Shape Bears– I can actually draw bears because they are really just circles! We practiced the circle shape and then we turned it into art! First, I had my daughter paint the background of an 8 x 10 canvas. She chose to paint it yellow. Once it dried, we made large brown circles for the head and body and small circles for the ears, arms, and legs. I attached googly eyes for the eyes and glued a ribbon for easy hanging. It turned out so cute!
Bear Patterns– Identifying and creating patterns is such an important early math concept. The Learning Box supplied us with plenty of die cut bears in multiple colors, but you could easily make your own with this Bear Punch (also great for scrapbooking!) You can also find precut bears at your local craft or scrapbooking store, as well. Then, teach your toddler a few simple patterns. I would start with ABAB, ABB, and ABBC. Model how to use a different colored bear for each variation in the pattern.
Preschool at Home: “Bear-y” Good Real Life Experiences
I am a huge fan of the Montessori-style of education young children, especially preschoolers. One of the components of a Montessori classroom is practical life learning. These activities are designed to develop everything from fine motor skills to real-world applicable skills like how to take care of yourself and how to use nice manners.
A Real Teddy Bear Picnic– Playing off the Teddy Bear Picnic theme, I thought my daughter would enjoy creating one of her own. I printed several pictures of place settings and asked her to recreate them using items from her play kitchen. When she had set the “table” (or blanket) for myself and her teddy bears, we practiced skills like taking turns talking, passing the salt, and using our napkins. This activity is so much fun, but it also teaches skills like setting the table, sharing, taking turns, and even how to clean up!
“B”ear Hunt at the Grocery Store– “B” is for so many foods at the grocery store! Take your little bear along for a ride in the grocery cart and ask them to “hunt” for foods that start with the letter “B” like bananas, broccoli, bread, and beans. This bear hunt will give your cub experience in a real-life setting while practicing a bit of phonemic awareness.
Real Life Bears– Nothing says real life than actually learning about real life bears! I chose brown bears (grizzlies) and polar bears for us to learn about. We looked at pictures of these bears and their habitats. I loved this site for kid-friendly facts on Grizzlies and this link for facts about polar bears. If you live near a zoo, it would be awesome to culminate this unit by visiting real-life bears! Grrr!