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Learning through Play- How to Help Your Young Children Learn

Updated on November 8, 2015

The Early Childhood Classroom

Back to School is an exciting time for everyone- parents, kids, teachers and all who are involved in one way or another with school. For children of all ages, feelings about going back to school (or starting school) can range from happy excitement to complete dread! For the early childhood Teacher, the beginning of school is full of mixed emotions as well. Anticipation and eagerness to see the new faces of the children they will be spending the next several months of their lives is combined with the anxiety of being able to meet all of the diverse needs and expectations of the children in their care.

Being the lead teacher in an early childhood family literacy program, I learned that one of the most important things to do at the start of the school year was to help the children become familar with their teachers, with each other and with their new surroundings. I would like to share a few of my favorite activities for getting children familiar with the areas and centers in their early childhood classroom and with the supplies, toys and manipulatives in them. Hope you find something useful :)

cooking in the housekeeping area
cooking in the housekeeping area

The Housekeeping Center

Home Sweet Home

The housekeeping area is one of the most used areas in an early childhood center. Kids love to sweep, vacuum, prepare food (real or make believe), set the table and believe it or not, wash dishes! So, allowing the kids to explore the housekeeping area is a great way to begin the year in a familiar and comfortable setting. Here are a few of the activities we like to set up in the housekeeping area.

SETTING THE TABLE- The children find the dishes, cups, spoons, forks, etc. and set places for each other at the table. By setting the table, kids not only become familiar with each other's names but also learn things like one-to-one correspondence and quantities (they learn to have a napkin, plate, cup, spoon, etc. for each child).

FOLDING NAPKINS- A fun way for children to do an eye-hand coordination activity is by folding napkins, which is difficult for a young child to do. Place several napkins on the table. Demonstrate how to fold a napkin by making the corners match. Let them practice folding for as little a time or as long as they like... and remember that the napkins may not be perfectly folded, which is just fine as this is not the goal of the activity.

WASHING DISHES- Children love to play with water and most likely do not have the opportunity at home to help with the dishes. So, a fun way for young children to become familiar with the housekeeping area is to set up a dishwashing area. After snack time (or breakfast or lunch- depending on when the children are in class) the children are able to throw their garbage in the trash and place their dishes in a small tub of warm soapy water. They will probably spend a lot of time "washing" so we usually set up a few tubs with water, sponges, towels. After washing the dishes, they can dry them and put them away. In this fun, natural way, they learn that everything has its place.

POURING WATER- If it has to do with water, kids love to do it. For this activity, we set up several small plastic pitchers with a small amount of water. The children have fun pouring the water into cups or containers of different sizes.

Toys for Playing House

Children love to play house! Here are some basic housekeeping toys that your child will enjoy playing with for hours.

Cutting Food Playset for Kids with 13 Fruits, Broccoli, Fish, and Cutting Board Play Set
Cutting Food Playset for Kids with 13 Fruits, Broccoli, Fish, and Cutting Board Play Set

kids love to cut food, even if it's only pretend. These foods are attached with velcro and the child "cuts" them in half with a plastic knife.

The New York Doll Collection Toy shopping cart for kids and toddler - Pretend Play - Folds for Storage Metal Frame
The New York Doll Collection Toy shopping cart for kids and toddler - Pretend Play - Folds for Storage Metal Frame

the enjoyment of pushing toys- a play shopping cart to push around the house and fill with all kinds of interesting things!

Toy Electronic Sink Unit
Toy Electronic Sink Unit

sink and refrigerator in one compact toy!


The Art Center

A Work of Heart

Children, even little ones, love to be able to take home something they've done on the very first day of school. Parents also love to see their children's "work." Allowing the children to explore painting is a wonderful activity for the first day of school and anytime afterwards.

FINGERPAINTING- For very young children who may have difficulty holding brushes, fingerpainting is a fantastic way to begin the school year. We place aluminum pie tins containing fingerpaint on the tables and tape a large piece of paper onto the table (so that each child will have their art work to take home, tape a paper for each individual).

After putting on art smocks, the children are able to "express themselves" on their papers. As they paint, the teachers will comment on the color, the feel of the paint, etc. so that the children hear the language related to art and the names of the supplies they use. When each child is done, teachers are sure to write the child's name on her work, naming each letter of the child's name as it is written. In this way, from the very first day, the children begin to hear the letters in their name and begin to be able to recognize their written name.

LEAF PRINTS- This an activity that children love to do when the leaves start to fall from the trees. After a wonderful walk for collecting leaves, we sort the leaves in all kinds of ways: by color, by size, by shape. We read books about trees and leaves and the fall season. We sing songs and play games about the leaves falling down. The children enjoy rolling paint or brushing paint on the leaves and then pressing the painted leaves onto a large sheet of paper. When they pull the leaf off, there is a beautiful imprint of the leaf.

constructing with blocks
constructing with blocks

Block Center

Building Blocks are Basic

Children learn so much from playing with building blocks that a block center is one of the essentials in an early childhood center. Sizes, shapes, numbers, order, area, length, patterns, weight, cause and effect are just a few of the concepts that they experience as they play and construct with blocks.

BLOCK PLAY- Providing the time and space for the children to explore with blocks "builds" familiarity with their classroom, their classmates and themselves. They may simply start by moving the blocks from one area to another; or form a long line of blocks. They may stack them as high as they can and knock them down. Some children will build intricate structures and use their structures in imaginative play. Playing with blocks can also be a very relaxing way of focusing on a task and can also provide a sense of accomplishment.

pegboard and pegs
pegboard and pegs

Manipulative Center

If you provide it, they will come.

Manipulatives are smaller sized toys that children can connect, attach, handle, shape. Manipulatives help to develop a child's fine motor skills as well as their thinking skills. Some examples of manipulatives are play dough, stringing beads, stacking cups, puzzles and lacing boards. One of the most popular manipulatives for children is legos and other lego-like toys, which come in a variety of sizes from small to very large. For young children, the larger pieces are easier for them to hold and "manipulate."

Fun with Manipulatives- Children tend to play with toys that they are familiar with, so in order that the children have more and varied experiences with manipulatives, one strategy for the begining of the school year is to "set out" different manipulatives each day. By setting out these different toys, and watching the teachers interact with them, the children will be drawn to play with them.

Helpful Tips and Suggestions to Prepare Your Young Child for School

Tips and Suggestions for getting a child ready to begin school; characteristics of a high quality early childhood program; toys and activities that are good for a child's development

Do you have an experience that you would like to share about your child starting school? Or do you have a successful activity that you do at home that has helped your child do well in school? Was there a favorite toy or activity that your child liked to play? Thanks for sharing!

How do You Prepare your Young Child for School?

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