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Activities With Preschoolers

Play for healthy development and fun

Teaching Young Children Through Work and Play

When Children Imitate Superheroes

Reading Tips


Activities With Preschoolers

Scribble, Draw, Paint and Paste

Young children are natural artists and art projects can spark young imaginations and help children to express themselves. Scribbling also prepares them to use writing to express their ideas.

What You Need

  • Crayons, water-soluble felt–tipped markers
  • Different kinds of paper (including construction paper and butcher paper)
  • Tape
  • Finger paints
  • Paste
  • Safety scissors
  • Fabric scraps or objects that can be glued to paper (string, cotton balls, sticks, yarn)

What to Do

  • Give your child different kinds of paper and different writing materials to scribble with. Coloring books are not needed. Crayons are good to begin with. Water-soluble felt-tipped marking pens are fun for your child to use because they don’t have to use much pressure to get a bright color. Tape a large piece of butcher paper onto a tabletop and let your child scribble to their heart’s content!
  • Spread out newspapers or a large piece of plastic over a table or on the floor and tape a big piece of construction paper or butcher paper on top. Cover your child with a large smock or apron and let them finger paint.
  • Have your child paste fabric scraps or other objects such as yarn, string or cotton balls to the paper (in any pattern). Let them feel the different textures and tell you about them.

Play Dough

Young children love to play with dough. And no wonder! They can squish and pound it and form it into fascinating shapes. Helping them to make play dough lets children learn about measuring and learn to use new words. What You Need

2 cups flour

1 cup salt

4 teaspoons cream of tartar

2 tablespoons cooking oil

Food coloring

Food extracts, such as almond ,vanilla, lemon or peppermint


Objects to stick in the dough, such as popsicle sticks and straws

Objects to pound with, such as a toy mallet

Objects to make impressions with, such as jar lids, cookie cutters and bottle caps

What to Do

Add the food coloring to the water. Then mix all of the ingredients together in a pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring until it forms a soft ball. Let the mixture cool. Knead slightly. Add food extracts to different chunks of the dough to make different smells.

Talk to your child about what you are doing as you make the dough. Let your toddler or preschooler help you with measuring and adding ingredients.

Let your child handle some dough while it is still slightly warm and some when it has cooled off to teach him about temperatures.

Give some of the dough to your toddler or preschooler so she can pound it, stick things in it, make impressions in it and make her own animals, houses and people from it.

Letters, Letters, Everywhere

Sharing the alphabet with children helps them to begin to learn the letter names, recognize their shapes and link the letters with the sounds of spoken language.

What You Need

Alphabet book

Alphabet blocks

ABC magnets

Paper, pencils, crayons, markers


Safety scissors

What to Do

With your child sitting with you, print the letters of their name on paper and say each letter as you write it. Make a name sign for their room or other special place. Have your child decorate the sign.

Teach your child” The Alphabet Song” and play games with them using the alphabet.

Place alphabet magnets on your refrigerator or on another smooth safe metal surface. Ask your child to name the letters they play with and the words they may be trying to spell.

Wherever you are with your child, point out individual letters in signs, billboards, posters, food containers, books and magazines.

U. S. Department of Education
Office of Communications and Outreach
Helping Your Preschool Child


Block Play: Building a Child’s Mind

Unit blocks may not be as sophisticated as some toys we find in stores or on TV commercials, but they are ideal for learning because they involve the child as a whole—the way she moves her muscles, the way she discovers how different objects feel in her hands, the way she thinks about spaces and shapes, and the way she develops thoughts and interests of her own.

Unit blocks vary in name and material by manufacturer, but they are all based on the proportions1:2:4. These blocks must be sturdy and accurately cut so that children of all different ages and levels of learning may use them to create, solve problems, and challenge themselves.

Toys that grow with your child

Unit blocks are a good investment because children may continue to use them as they grow. Infants and toddlers enjoy simply touching and gripping larger, textured blocks. As toddlers, they develop more muscle control and are able to combine blocks, stack them, or line them up. Two-year-olds may demonstrate their first attempts at building structures, and show the beginnings of fantasy play.

Around the age of three, children learn how to balance and fit pieces together to build sturdier towers, then bridges and enclosures. Threes and fours begin to recognize designs and patterns, their towers and buildings becoming works of art. In kindergarten and early primary grades, blocks allow children to recreate structures, cities and landscapes from everyday life.

Blocks help children to learn

Socially--Blocks encourage children to make friends and cooperate. Large block play may be around child’s first experience playing in a group, while small block play may encourage an older child to work with others in solving problems.

Physically—When children reach for, pick up, stack, or fit blocks together, they build strength in their fingers and hands, and increase eye-hand coordination. Around two, children begin to figure out which shapes will fit where, and get a head start on understanding different perspectives—skills that will help them to read maps and follow directions later on. Blocks help kindergarten and primary grade children develop skills in design, representation, balance and stability.

Intellectually—Blocks help children learn across many academic subjects. Young children develop their vocabularies as they learn to describe sizes, shapes, and positions. Preschoolers and kindergartners develop math skills by grouping, adding, subtracting and eventually multiplying with blocks. Older children make early experiments with gravity, balance, and geometry.

Creatively—Blocks offer children the chance to make their own designs, and the satisfaction of creating structures that did not exist before. Beginning at the age of two, children may use a variety of blocks for pretend-play. Children may become life-sized actors in large block structures, or use figures to create dramas in miniature landscapes.

Children value their own block structures whether or not they represent specific things. Rather than asking a child, “What did you make?” say, “Tell me about what you made.” This will encourage a dialog and offer the child new opportunities to explore.

Blocks in the classroom

Ideally, the block area in a classroom should be three-sided, appropriate for noisy activity, out of the way of other classroom traffic, and big enough for many children to work in at once. Create safe places for block structures to remain standing so that children may go back and continue building at a later time.

Shelves at children’s eye-level can be used to store blocks and provide space for other activities. Blocks should be organized neatly so that children are invited to use them independently and capable of cleaning up on their own.

Block play is open-ended, and its possibilities are limitless. Even as children grow and develop new interests and abilities, blocks remain an active, creative learning tool.

Posted with permission from the National Association For The Education of Young Children.


Play for healthy development and fun.

Right from the time they are born, children want to play. It's nature's way of helping kids learn about the world and practice new skills.

Here's what happens when your child plays:

  • The brain develops.Healthy play fosters creativity and builds the base for reading, writing, and mathematical reasoning.
  • Muscles grow strong.Play helps kids learn to pick up, hold, move and carry things; roll over; crawl; stand; walk; run; jump; climb; kick a soccer ball; and much more.
  • Good habits and life skills get started.Children learn how to share, take turns, make choices, solve problems, and understand the feelings of others during play.

Children at play

Scenes like this occur every day in homes and early childhood programs all around the world. As a parent or teacher, you may wonder whether play is worth children's time. Absolutely! Play enables children to become eager learners and well-rounded individuals. The children in this example are learning about mathematics, about how businesses operate, about how to get along with each other, about words, planning, solving problems, and much more.

You may wonder if you should be searching for educational software instead of crawling under the kitchen table to play bear cave. Can this really be stimulating your child's intellect? Can a child who stacks up blocks and then knocks them over, or a child who scribbles with a marker, really be learning? You bet!

Children learn about geometry and gravity, shapes and balance when they play with blocks. Scribbling enables children to perfect muscle control, leads them toward drawing and writing, and helps them see cause and effect. And when playing bear cave the child looks at the world from a very different perspective.

Experts have been studying play from birth through adulthood, and some of what they have learned may startle you.

Posted with permission from Playing for Keeps, an initiative of the Association of Children's Museums. Visit and click on 'playing for keeps' for tips and ideas, or to find a children's museum where your family can play.

PLAY IS FUNdamental

Here are some general principles for adults to follow when planning for children to make the most of their play.

Allow ample time. Children's play takes time-lots of it. Babies need time to chew and taste, to dropthings and hear them land, to feel textures, to see things from different angles, to explore. Toddlers need time to experiment: squish the fingerpaint around, stack the nesting cups in both directions, pedal in circles. Time is essential for 4- and 5-year-olds, whose play activities and themes become ever more elaborate. They may play hospital for days. Or build with wood. Or mix different colors. And as they enter the elementary years, children continue to benefit from hours spent each day in active play. Their block construction can take on immense proportions. Papier-mâché items may require weeks to construct. Games may hold their interest for long periods.

Keep it active. Children benefit most from play when they become intently involved in what they are doing, whether they are making their own drawings, constructing a parking garage for toy cars, or creating their own music. Dolls that talk or battery-powered trains that go round and round, for example, simply don't offer children much to do, and the novelty wears off quickly.

Create a special space. Whenever possible, give children a space to call their own, where they can play without interference, even if it is only a corner of one room. Toy chests create clutter and broken toys, and when children can't find what they want, they often lose interest. Instead, use shelves to display toys and help children learn responsibility by making it clear that toys must be returned to their places when the day is done. Pictures will lead nonreaders to the right spot on the shelf.

Children need variety. Select many different types of toys, always keeping safety in mind. Make sure some are wood, some fabric, some metal, some plastic. Children enjoy texture. Offer toys that can be played with alone (such as shape sorters, or sewing cards) and toys that invite cooperation among children (such as balls or a cash register). Include items that are realistic and others that can be anything. And think beyond the typical toys. Supply some of your old clothes, a typewriter, a briefcase, discarded paper towel rolls, old magazines, jewelry, wooden spoons, and plastic bowls. Price is no indicator of learning value. People and imagination are great playmates.

Go outdoors. Playtime doesn't need to be limited to the playroom or a swingset. Take a small table outside, hook up the hose, or make angels in the snow. Nearly everything that can be done indoors can be done outside. Enjoy the weather, warm or cold. Stay inside only on the most extreme days-just bundle up in winter or play in the shade in the summer. Fresh air invigorates everyone.

Posted with permission from the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Teaching Young Children Through Work and Play

We have learned so much recently about the importance of play for young children that many families may overlook how meaningful work can also nurture development.

Young children flourish when allowed to enter the world of real work that surrounds them-from picking up toys or feeding the cat to grating carrots for salad. In the company of family or other adults, children eagerly engage in work. They want to” help” with the pursuits of adults, and this work can be a crucial part of their early learning.

If you shield young children from a whole category of activity simply because it is called “work” and not “play,” you may be limiting their developmental opportunities.

On the other hand, if you invite children to participate in work and play, you give them many more ways to grow and learn.

Through work that is meaningful and a real contribution to the family or group, even young children can gain a sense of purpose, and come to feel more a part of the family.

With proper adult supervision, there are many types of chores that families can consider for young children, which can help them begin learning about responsibility ,independence and caring for themselves. Here are a few examples:

  • Gathering, preparing and cooking food
    Even when they are too young to help with lunch or dinner, children can play a role in preparing snacks. And by taking your children to the grocery or market, you can help them better understand where food comes from and how we buy it.
  • Running errands
    Letting young children run errands conveys your feelings of trust in them. When you need something- another family member or the phone or a sponge- tell one of your children you need help.
  • Caring for younger children
    Even simple tasks (like reading or singing to younger family members) help older children learn about responsibility and sharing.
  • Housekeeping
    Children can help set the table and serve themselves at meals. If you are vacuuming the carpet, you can empower your child by letting him run this most-adult-of all housekeeping tool.
  • Caring for animals
    Pets and livestock require water, food and clean environments. Young children can learn valuable lessons by caring for animals.
  • Gardening
    Nurturing plants helps children learn about the wonders of nature. If you don’t have space for a garden, a small window planter can bring opportunities to explore.

In all of these activities, it’s important to remember several points:

  • Keep in mind what your children can accomplish, and how much you need to supervise to make sure the activity is safe.
  • Even young children can tell the difference between busy work and real work.
  • Also, remember that many chores actually take longer with the help of young children, but a little patience and a few extra minutes lets them reap real benefits from assisting the family.
  • By matching your expectations to their abilities, encouraging and approving their efforts, and allowing plenty of time for the performance of each task, you can give your young children many opportunities to learn and grow through work.

Posted with permission from from More Than Line Leader and Door Holder: Engaging Young Children in Real Work, by Christine A. Readdick and Kathy Douglas, which appeared in the NAEYC journal Young Children.

When Children Imitate Superheroes

Remember back when you had to look up to all “big people,” and tasks like tying your shoe were still a challenge? How much fun it was to imagine yourself as a superhero, and take on the powers you wished for in everyday life.
Children naturally imitate fearless superheroes who can overcome any obstacle in their path. When children begin leaping and tumbling about however adults worry that accidents will happen. Sometimes adults discourage superhero play for fear that it will become too disruptive, or that children will engage in it at inappropriate times.
Keep in mind that this type of play gives children the chance to face their fears and show off their physical feats. When supervised by adults,”superhero play “can help children improve their language skills and teach them to work together to solve problems-not to mention how it encourages creativity. When children begin pretending they are superheroes, adults can help them make the most of it. Here are some tips:

  1. Show children that superheroes are not special just because they are physically powerful. Point out when superheroes show kindness and helpfulness to others, and praise children when they do the same.
  2. Talk about real heroes and heroines with children. Introduce them to people like Helen Keller and Martin Luther King.
  3. Point out the difference between movies, TV and real life. When you see actors pretend to leap out of windows or jump over speeding cars, explain to children why they shouldn’t “try this at home.”
  4. Make the rules about when and where superhero play is allowed. You may limit this sometimes rough-and –tumble play to outdoors, or during recess time. Be consistent-if “flying” indoors is not allowed on Monday, it shouldn’t be allowed on Tuesday.
  5. Help children build on their interests through superhero play. Watching Star Wars may lead to learning about space travel. A Spiderman comic book may lead to exploring the world of insects. Always keep your eyes open to learning opportunities for children.
  6. Be on the lookout for overly aggressive play. Get involved if you see a child become frightened or angry. When the laughter stops, and threats or complaints begin, help children get back on track-or end their play. Show them you are there to help, and offer options. Maybe it's time to take a break, or to find out why the frustration occurred. In any case, make it clear that physical or verbal aggression is not acceptable.
  7. Give children the chance to make choices and take on responsibilities. Children become bored when activities are not challenging and frustrated when they are too advanced. Keep a close eye on children so that you will know when they are ready to take on new challenges, like helping with a recipe or dressing themselves.
  8. Praise children when they accomplish real “feats”-like putting together puzzles, or learning to spell their own names. Children may still imitate superheroes, but they’ll have more confidence both during play and in everyday living.

Posted with permission from the National Association For The Education Of Young Children.


Reading Tips for Parents of Babies

It's never too early to read to your baby. As soon as your baby is born, he or she starts learning. Just by talking to, playing with, and caring for your baby every day, you help your baby develop language skills necessary to become a reader. By reading with your baby, you foster a love of books and reading right from the start. The tips below offer some fun ways you can help your child become a happy and confident reader. Try a new tip each week. See what works best for your child.

Snuggle up with a book

When you hold your baby close and look at a book together, your baby will enjoy the snuggling and hearing your voice as well as the story. Feeling safe and secure with you while looking at a book builds your baby's confidence and love of reading.

Choose baby-friendly books

Books with bright and bold or high-contrast illustrations are easier for young babies to see, and will grab their attention. Books made of cloth or soft plastic (for the bathtub) or "board books" with sturdy cardboard pages are easier for a baby to handle.

Keep books where your baby can reach them

Make sure books are as easy to reach, hold, and look at as toys. Remember, a baby will do with a book what he does with everything else — put it in his mouth. And that's exactly what he's supposed to do, so you may only want to put chewable books within reach.

Talk with your baby — all day long

Describe the weather or which apples you are choosing at the grocery. Talk about the pictures in a book or things you see on a walk. Ask questions. By listening, your child learns words, ideas, and how language works.

Encourage your baby's coos, growls, and gurgles

They are your baby's way of communicating with you, and are important first steps toward speech. Encourage attempts to mimic you. The more your baby practices making sounds, the clearer they will become. Go ahead and moo, woof and honk!

Give baby a hand!

Encourage your baby to pick up crackers or peas, touch noses and toes, point to pictures and grab toys. The muscles in those little hands will grow strong, agile, and ready to turn pages.

Develop a daily routine (and make reading a part of it)

Routines can soothe a baby, and let a baby learn to predict what will happen next. The ability to predict is important when your child is older and is reading independently.

Sing, Read, Repeat

Read favorite stories and sing favorite songs over and over again. Repeated fun with books will strengthen language development and positive feelings about reading.

"Read" your baby

Pay attention to how your baby reacts to the book you are reading. Stop if your baby isn't enjoying the story and try another book or another time.

Posted by permission of Reading Rockets.


Start Reading to Your Child Early

What to do

From the time your child is born, make reading aloud to your child a part of your daily routine. Pick a quiet time, such as just before you put them to bed. This will give them a chance to rest between play and sleep. If you can, read with them in your lap or snuggled next to you so that they feel close and safe. As they get older, they may need to move around some as you read to them. If they get tired or restless, stop reading. Make reading aloud a quiet and comfortable time that your child looks forward to.

  • Try to read to your child everyday. At first, read for no more than a few minutes at a time, several times a day. As your child grows older, you should be able to tell if they want you to read for longer periods. Don’t be discouraged if you have to skip a day or don’t always keep to your schedule. Just get back to your daily routine as soon as you can. Most of all make sure that reading stays fun for both of you!
  • Be enthusiastic about reading. Read the story with expression. Make it more interesting by talking as the characters would talk, making sound effects and using facial expressions and gestures.
  • Give your baby sturdy board books to look at, touch and hold. Allow them to turn the pages, look through the holes or lift the flaps. As your child grows older, have books on shelves or in baskets that are at their level. Encourage them to look through the books, and talk about them. They may talk about the pictures and they may “pretend” to read a book that they have heard many times.
  • For a late toddler or early preschooler, use reading aloud to help them learn about books and print. As you read aloud, stop now and then and point to letters and words: then point to the pictures they stand for. Your child will begin to understand that the letters form words and that words name pictures. They will also start to learn that each letter has its own sound- one of the most important things your child can know when learning to read.
  • As you read, talk to your child. Encourage them to ask questions and to talk about the story. Ask them to predict what will come next. Point to things in books that they can relate to in their own life:”Look at the picture of the penguin. Do you remember the penguin we saw at the zoo?”
  • Reread favorite books. Your child will probably ask you to read favorite books over and over. Even though you may become tired of the same books, they will enjoy and continue to learn from hearing them read again and again.
  • Read “predictable” books to your child. Predictable books are books with words or actions that appear over and over. These books help children to predict or tell what happens next. As you read, encourage your child to listen for and say repeating words and phrases, such as names for colors, numbers, letters, animals, objects and daily life activities. Your child will learn the repeated words or phrase and have fun joining in with you each time they show up in the story. Pretty soon, they will join in before you tell them.
  • Buy a children’s dictionary- if possible, one that has pictures next to the words. Then start the “let’s look it up” habit.
  • Make writing materials such as crayons, pencils and paper available.
  • Visit the library often. Begin making weekly trips to the library when your child is very young. See that your child gets his own library card as soon as possible. Many libraries issue cards to children as soon as they can print their names.
  • Show your child that you read, too. When you take your child to the library, check out a book for yourself. Then set a good example by letting your child see you reading for yourself. Ask your child to get one of their books and sit with you as you read your book, magazine or newspaper. Don’t worry if you feel uncomfortable with your reading ability, look for family or adult reading programs in your community. Friends and relatives also can read to your child and volunteers are available in many communities to do the same.

Courtesy of:  U.S. Department of Education

Office of Communications and Outreach

Helping Your Preschool Child

Washington, D.C., 2005

Book Suggestions

If you click on one of the subjects below, the Reading Rockets website will suggest books you can borrow from the library to read with your child: