Preschool Learning Tips and Advice

by Peggy Kaye, Director of Learning, Learn with Homer

What is the most important aspect you can think of in how to teach our preschoolers? Should it be repetition, making it fun, consistency, or all three together?


Children love to learn, but the approaches we take can either encourage or discourage their enthusiasm!

Sometimes the best learning experiences are built into daily routines and do not appear to be lessons.

Setting a table for dinner teaches a child to place one plate for every single cup. This one-to-one correspondence is crucial to a youngster's mathematical growth.

It also helps to set time aside for dedicated learning but these moments can, and should, be jam packed with games and giggles.  Consider playing "What's My Letter" for instance, where you hand a child a bag with a magnetic letter inside. Your child cannot see the letter, but can feel it. Can he or she tell you what letter it is?  Then switch. Your child gives you a letter inside a bag.  Your effort to figure out the letter will teach a lot. Is the letter curved or does it have all straight lines? That's a clue!

And if you make mistakes and laugh about them, your child learns that mistakes aren't scary, they are just part of the learning experience.   

I hope this helps!

What is the evidence that preschool is best for my child?


There have been numerous studies on the value of preschool education not just for individual children but for society as a whole.   Here's a link to some notable ones:

They all show the same thing: children who attend preschools tend to do better in school and to do better in life. These children have higher graduations rates and lower incarceration rates.

The money we spend on early childhood programs is fraction of what we pay as a society when we do not have such programs.  That said, some parents can and do provide full and rich equivalents of the best preschools at home.  And it is also true that the kind of preschool program makes a difference.  Some children and parents are most comfortable in a structured formal preschool world. Others prefer a preschool that is organized around a child's own experimentation and play. Both kinds of preschools can work but not for every child.

Should you do any formal learning at this age? Should learning be more hands on at this age?


I believe that children are learning from the moment they open their eyes in the morning until they close them at night to sleep. They learn that labels on boxes mean something by seeing how you shop in the supermarket. They learn about categorizing when they see you sorting laundry. They learn that books have a front and back when you read to them.

Formal learning is also important - even for very young children, but that does not mean the learning shouldn't be fun and feel natural.  

Here are some ideas:

  • Making letters out of premade biscuit dough, cooking them and then eating the letters. That's a delicious way to learn a letter a day!  
  • Searching for the letter S in a supermarket. See if you can find three of them in one minutes! The S race is ON!

What should be taught first at the preschool age?


I think it is important for preschoolers to know the alphabet, to recognize uppercase and lowercase letters, to know letter names and some of the letter sounds. I think it's important to know how to count to 10 and then to 20 in order; to be able to count up to ten objects accurately - most of the time. It helps to know basic shapes and colors and to put things in order by size.

There's a lot more, of course, but I would expect that any good preschool would have ways of making this learning as natural, as hands on, as fun, and as gratifying for the child as possible. At this young age, children should be thrilled to go to school. It should be an adventure in learning they love!  Not that there won't be tears some days or things that go wrong. Learning to be frustrated and to try again is also crucial to a child's development.

How do you get a preschooler interested in learning how to write?


Preschoolers can do a lot of "pretend" writing, which can be great fun but is also very important.

The first step is scribble writing.  Random letters come next.  Trying to match letters to sounds in words comes next  -- which might or might not be done accurately.

Your child might enjoy establishing a pretend restaurant for you and some stuffed animal friends.  He or she can "write" a menu of favorite foods and you can be a customer making the selections.

You might write special notes with stickers for your child that he or she will find in surprising places - under a pillow at bedtime - in a sock drawer while getting dressed.

Give your child supplies (paper, crayons, stickers) so he or she can "write" you in return - and hide his messages as you hid yours.  Such pseudo writing can be powerful steps to becoming an enthusiastic writer later on.

As a rule, I take my lead from children. If I see that a young child is ready to do more advanced work and happy doing so, great! Otherwise I hold off.  I've learned that pushing a child too fast too soon often backfires.

What do kiddos need to know before they start kindergarten?


There are many things a child should know before starting kindergarten.

  • It's good to be able to sit still for short periods of time, to listen to directions, to share, to tolerate frustration and delay gratification  -- at least momentarily.  
  • On the more direct academic side, identifying uppercase and lowercase letters by name and knowing a few of the most common sounds associated with letters would be helpful.
  • Loving stories is very important.  
  • I am a strong proponent of teaching phonics systematically, sequentially and explicitly. I believe the most efficient method is to help children listen to letter sounds in words and to learn to isolate and manipulate those sounds.  Then to step-by-step to link letters to sounds and then to blend sounds (represented by letters) into words as well as "ungluing" the sounds in words in order to spell.  In other words, I believe it is essential to teach children the alphabetic code. This is the approach we use in Learn with Homer and we see, through experience and through objective testing that it works!

What amount of time should be spent with your 3 year old on learning without overwhelming them?


Not all three-year olds have the same attention span and it also depends on the task.

A three your old might be fine playing a game for 8 minutes but will lose interest in other learning activities in under a minute.  I would say as a rule of thumb, though, that planning a 5-10 minute learning session composed of three or four playful activities should be OK for most three year olds.

Always best to stop before your child loses interest, though.  And it is fine to begin with 5-minute sessions and work your way up to longer engagement.

My 4 yr old did not transition very well into UPK4 after being in Pre-K3, how can I ensure the meltdowns do not happen in Kindergarten?


Separation is hard for lots of children.  For one thing, children are not sure what the school day will be like. For another, they do not know what they are missing at home.

Is it possible to meet with your child's kindergarten teacher before school starts?  Even five minutes can help. Your son or daughter will know what the classroom looks like, will have a sense of the teacher and know that the teacher has a sense of him or her.

If that is not possible, you might create a doll classroom and play school for a few days.  Your child can be the pretend teacher greeting students and teaching them how to draw a rainbow or sing a song.  You might have your child dictate a letter to his or her teacher before school starts. He or she can tell the teacher about some of his or her favorite activities.

You might pick out a stuffed animal that your son or daughter can take with him or her the first day of school - a small one that can fit in a pocket might be best.

My 2.5 year old loves to have books read to her, she can also sing the alphabet song, is it too early to start teaching her the sounds of the alphabet?


It sounds like your 2.5 year old might be ready. Start with a few easy letters - "T" for instance. The name "tee" and the letter sound are closely related which is a big help.

Keep the time playful.  Your daughter might stand with her arms spread out and shout, "I'm T! and I make this sound TTTTTTTTT!"  You might say three words: tap, bell, cup and ask her which one has the "t" sound in the beginning.  If she is right, she gets a raisin.  She cannot eat it though until she wins 5 raisins!  Don't spend more than 2 or 3 minutes at a time on the games but play a bit every day.  See how that goes and if it works, great , and if not, stop and begin again in a month or two.


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