What About My Preschooler?

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Many schools aren’t offering online options for preschoolers, and on top of everything else, the onus is on parents to close the gap.

Preschool is not a requirement, but a milestone some parents look forward to — their tot’s first taste of education, interaction with other kids and learning their ABC’s and 123’s.

Right now, you may be at a loss for words: do I send my Prek student back to the classroom or keep him at home? What will work for my family? If you are keeping your little one at home this year, know there are resources out there for you, whether your district is offering online options for you or not.

Vera Brooks, director of Early Childhood Education at Cincinnati Public Schools, says whether you send your Prek student back to school or keep him home, it’s all about structure, routine and play.

“It is challenging during this time,” says Brooks. “It’s really about having that engagement and conversation. Exposing any child to experiences in a fun way,” she adds.

Some parents may feel they don’t have the time, patience, or educational background to properly guide a preschooler. But the truth is, you don’t need a fancy room or to have everything perfectly labeled for your kids. Toddlers learn from you, and they learn from play. Keep it simple and very importantly, be flexible throughout your day.

“People do a lot more than what they think they do,” says Brooks. “Breathe, breathe, breathe. Even though we are doing this distanced learning, we also want to allow the kids to create and just to explore,” says Brooks.

Luckily these days, we have an abundance of online resources at our fingertips. Explore educational ideas that resonate with you and also check with friends and local parenting groups to see what they are doing. In addition, keep these 10 key concepts in mind while teaching your Prek student at home, and take it baby steps at a time.

Establish a Daily Routine

Routine starts when you wake up and brush your teeth. Begin by asking, “What would you like to do today.” The things you do daily is part of your kids’ routine.

“The first most important thing is to have your child into a routine,” says Brooks. “To have that daily routine will give them that sense of security.”

Create Art

Create a simple, daily art project with your little one. This can be as simple as using whipped cream to write their letters, numbers and their name. Use art to teach them to count to 10, or even to understand that three is larger than 2.

“We also want to give children some time to create and explore,” says Brooks. “It’s about providing a child with materials they can use to explore.”

Engagement and Conversation

Toddlers are simple. All it takes is five or 10 minutes to talk about the weather and if you have exposed your child to different experiences in a fun way.

Read, read read!

Read in the morning, read in the evenings, and you don’t always have to read to them, allow them to read to you! Whether they understand the words or not, letting your little tot explore and tell their own story is beneficial to their learning.

Play

Play is very important. Let your kid be a kid and play independently as well as safely with a friend in the neighborhood.

“Through play, [children] learn how to cooperate with each other,” Brooks explains.

And so much more. Play is complex. There are many types of play: symbolic, sociodramatic, functional and games with rules -– to name just a few. Children practice and reinforce their learning in multiple areas during play. It gives them a time for learning that cannot be achieved through completing a worksheet. For example, in playing restaurant, children write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, and make out checks. Play provides rich learning opportunities and leads to children’s success and self-esteem.

Setup at Home

You don’t have to have a picture-perfect space. Choose a safe, comfortable spot that they can see as a learning space and where they can store their crayons, colored pencils, markers, paper, play dough and other materials. Caddys can help you keep the area organized.

“When it’s time for school that’s where they are at,” says Brooks. “It’s not the naughty corner, but an area where they have their things and they are learning how to take care of those materials by taking them out of the tub, they know to put them back in the tub. Basic skills while they are continuing to learn, they will be well prepared when they go back to the classroom.”

Take Frequent Breaks

Keep each learning activity no longer than 15 minutes, suggests Brooks. Take frequent breaks in between learning with movement, songs, music or simply quiet time. Keep in mind, these breaks are not a time for more screen time.

“I wouldn’t recommend for any child to be on screen for more than three and half hours,” says Brooks. “It’s important for parents to realize that since we are having to be distance learning at this time, that technology should not be used other times.”

Outside Time

Outdoor play is a must! Get your little one moving; let her explore the outdoors, go for a walk or play with sidewalk chalk and bubbles. It’s that simple!

“True distance learning is interaction with others not in person,” says Brooks.

Focus on Key Concepts

Think cutting, counting … it doesn’t have to be complex. Allowing your tot to cut and learn their shapes is a simple way for them to learn and strengthen fine motor skills.

Allow Independent Play

Permitting your tot to experiment with different materials and “take risks” is important for their development and growth. Allow them to ask questions and be curious, and remember, it’s OK to be messy! Fill a Tupperware container with sand and let them dig and play away, for example.

Working From Home with Your Prek Student

If you are a parent working from home, you’re not alone, but there are ways you can juggle work and school time in your day. Trying a schedule will help. Think: “If my preschooler were in session, what would the schedule be like?” Aim to get into a routine at home and communicate with your child to help her understand what times they are in school, and what times Mom and Dad are working. This will not only help your Prek student understand, but the whole family.

“We don’t give kids enough credit, “ says Brooks. “They really do understand.”

It’s the same situation as if they were in the classroom. When the teacher is doing their work, the kids are having their individual time, Brooks continues.

“We need to talk with our children and have them fully understand why we have a schedule and we are going to follow the schedule. And reward them! Not only material but with praise — sticker chart, etc. to let them know we are proud of them.”

It’s a given that everyone is under stress right now. Take a deep breath and be patient. If your tot is struggling, throwing tantrums and not adjusting well, have a discussion with him and talk about emotions. Assess how you can create a more comfortable environment for him.

Create a Schedule

What time of the day can both of you get the most work done? Work this time around an independent activity for your preschooler, then follow up with snack time or some outdoor play together.

Schedule and structure is good, but also be sure to allow wiggle room for mishaps and changes in the day. Kids will be kids!

“Parents are putting a lot of pressure on themselves,” says Brooks. “Be proud that you are doing the best you can,” she says.

APPS FOR PRESCHOOLERS

ABC Alphabet – Identify upper- and lower-case letters, parts of the book, alphabetic sounds, name writing.

ABC Mouse – Reading at and/or above proficiency or on-track.

ABC Phonics – Identifying alphabetic upper and lower case letters, parts of the book, alphabetic sounds, name writing and more.

Animal Prek – Math Counting and number recognition. Ex, count to 100 by ones and by tens; count forward beginning from any number; comparing two numbers; and more. Homer (Also K-1) Interactive way to spark a child’s passion for reading, and helps build their skills with a personalized learn-to-read plan.

Monkey Preschool Fix It – Designed to capture children’s imaginations while introducing core early learning challenges.

Ookii Squiggles – A sweet dinosaur, guides children on a fantastic voyage of creativity, where a child’s simple hand-drawn squiggle can become a bird’s nest, a lion’s name, a curly beard and more.

Amanda Hayward is editor of this publication. She is from Cincinnati, Ohio, a military wife and mom of two. If you don't see her writing for Cincinnati Family, you'll find her running, juggling kids, teaching group fitness classes and cooking up healthy recipes.

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