In previous posts (search early childhood education) I’ve been examining cardboard boxthe difference between early education for children from deprived environments vs “good enough” environments.

Middle and upper class families tend to fall into the “too much, too soon” trap, pushed by marketers to sell a product and policy makers desperate for a quick fix to problems with our education system. Educationally “too much, too soon” is detrimental to children. It leads to stress and burn-out by around grade 3 and a lack of interest in learning and the world in general. (Read Dr. David Elkind’s book Miseducation).

Does that mean we can do nothing with our young children, either at home or in day care settings? Absolutely not. It simply means we have to select appropriate, thoughtful, and child-centered activities. We have to be honest with ourselves that we are not doing this to make ourselves feel better about staying at home with our children or sending them to day care, that we are not trying to prove something to the world about ourselves as parents. It really does not take much to raise a happy, healthy, curious preschooler.

So you have a toddler or preschooler who is awake and energetic and curious for about twelve hours a day? What to do? Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t let this blog title fool you: Early Literacy Counts. I’ve been following it for several weeks and it’s just a splendid example of how we can do things with our kids without overdoing. If my kids were still under the age of five and I wanted some age appropriate ideas, it’s where I would look first..
  • One of the great books for life with preschoolers is The Mother’s Almanac by Marguerite Kelley. It’s been around for decades, has been updated several times, and most importantly, most parents who have owned a copy have worn it out.
  • Some kids are clamoring for intellectual stimulation even at an early age. When you child seems interested, check out Peggy Kaye’s series of books on reading, math, writing, and books (Games for Math, Games for Reading, etc.). These work with ages 5-ish through 3rd grade and are great investment for only $11 each. Every page is a game–and the games do all the teaching! (In fact, if you start using the game to teach, you’ll spoil the learning). Pick and play as long as it’s fun! I used these for years with both my boys and with children I tutored.

Finally, whatever you plan for your child, doublecheck it meets these criteria:

  • It interests them (in other words not you or someone else you’re trying to impress).
  • It’s age appropriate. That means if it frustrates or bores, then it’s too easy or too hard. In other words, it’s not age appropriate.
  • Make it sensory. Does it involve at least one of the six senses (feeling, hearing, seeing, moving, tasting, smelling)?

Other activities that you can always fall back on at a moment’s notice? (Yeah, we all have days like that).

  • Reading-aloud.
  • Singing.
  • Going places & talking about them. Even a walk down the street counts if you have your eyes and ears open and think like a child for whom the world is new.

Finally here’s a list of “toys” that encourage solo play, side by side play, sharing play, imaginative play, age appropriate “learning” play:

  • sand box (add cups, spoons, and other containers for pouring)
  • rice box (ditto the above)
  • blocks
  • pretend play props (kitchen, tools, dress up, etc.); these don’t have to be toys, real ones are great!
  • balls
  • water (indoor, outdoor, in the tub, in the sink, etc.)
  • pots & pans, real ones!
  • nature walks (that walk down the street counts)
  • riding toys (no batteries, the push or pedal with your feet kind)
  • large empty boxes
  • blanket over a table
  • paper, markers, glue or tape, scissors
  • play dough
  • nesting containers
  • toy kitchen (both my boys loved this and when it had finished its “indoor” years, it became an outdoor toy near the sandbox)
  • button jar (yeah, just a jar full of buttons, my grandmother had one and I loved playing with it)

And remember the mantra of all good teachers: “Curriculum” (in other words, anything you “use” to enrich your child’s life) is only a tool. It doesn’t have to “be finished” and if it doesn’t work, you can (and usually should) put it aside. It’s only a tool.

Enjoy having little ones around!