Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two Cents

I thought for the last day of our Read-Along I'd do a few more general posts about preschool and reading...besides...a few days ago, I promised to tell you my advice for doing some home pre-schooling the way we do home pre-schooling.  For those of you that may have missed that post, an email got me thinking I should write this.  A mom, trained in Montessori, of a 12-18 month old girl emailed to ask me for advice in using Montessori methods with a child that young.  She'd been frustrated that her daughter didn't seem interested in many of the activities.  Even though I was super flattered she was asking me, I had to tell her that I really don't know much at all about Montessori...but I did give her what advice I could in how I've taught my kids.   So...let me remind you, that I am NOT an early childhood education expert and really have no training in this whatsoever...except the training that my own kids have given me.  And as any parent of more than one child will tell are DIFFERENT, so what works for me and my kids, may or may not work in your family.  Feel free to contribute your own suggestions and ideas in the comments.

This is just my two cents...

For really young kids (before 2 years especially if they're your first)...
  • My main advice is to get your child and you out of the house.  While I believe there is a lot your child is learning at this stage, they don't have much of an attention span for structured activities. 
  • (Little Farm, Berkeley, CA {free activity})
  • We bought the premium membership to one children's museum and the local zoo so that we could always invite a friend and their children to come with us for free.  By buying a membership, you'll go more because you want to get your money's worth...and if you buy one that allows you to bring a friend it's a lot more fun for mom, which means you'll want to go more.  This gives your child rich, age appropriate experiences and gives you a chance to get out of the house and chat with a friend.  (Where we live now, we're a lot farther away from these sorts of resources, but we take advantage of them when we can.)
  • (Bay Area Discovery Museum and the Oakland Zoo)
  • Find a couple of other young moms with kids your kids' age and just hang out.  When your child is driving you nuts, just give them a call and say, "Hey...want to come over {or can I come over}?  My kid is driving me CRAZY!"  Chances are their kid is driving them crazy too.  The kids will entertain each other and the moms can chat.
  • Go for lots of walks.  It's good exercise, and every young child I know loves to be outside.  A walk can turn a cranky morning into a pleasant one.  It's even better if you call up a friend and go together.
  • (Me and my friend Lisa taking our kids for a walk...5 years ago...she's taking the pic.)
  • If you have an older child, let your younger one participate in their pre-school activities when they show an interest.  They'll love some of the things you do with your older child...and sometimes they just won't be interested.
For older toddlers/preschool age (2-3 years)
  • Find one or two basic pre-school type materials that you think will work for you.  Don't go crazy trying out every program.  Get recommendations from friends with kids 1-2 years older than yours.  We've mostly stuck with the Bob Books and Happy Phonics and been happy with them.
  • Choose a picture book...any picture doesn't always have to be one of the great works of children's literature, and then do an activity that goes with the book.  The activity doesn't need to be anything fancy.  In fact it's better if it's not a fancy activity, because you need to be...
  • Prepared for some of your activities to flop.  Even some of the activities you're most excited about and "just know they'll LOVE" will flop.  With a 2 year old, be prepared for only 50% or so of your activities to really engage them.  (Although sometimes they don't seem to show interest, but then will talk about the activity the next day when they see the book.)  The closer they get to 3 years and beyond, the more likely your activities will meet with the kind of success you've envisioned.
  • (Counting Cockatoos - Sweet Pea was not interested...but she loved the bird I helped her make and the book after the fact.)
  • When you're not feeling particularly inspired, head to the library and look through the children's books.  You'll find at least a few that you can easily think of activities for.  Take your kids with you.  They like choosing out some of their own books.
  • The more you get into a book-activity routine with your child, the more they'll ask for it and the easier it will be for you to think of activities.
  • Do it as often as you can.  For us that is usually about 3 times a week.   Sometimes we really get on a roll and do one everyday...and sometimes we have a really busy week, and we don't do it at all.
  • Some of my best activities didn't come to me until we were already reading the book.
  • (Colorful Chameleons - This was a favorite...and completely easy and last minute idea.)
  • Work with your child's strengths.  I've been lucky that my kids seem to have been ready to pick up reading early, but some kids just develop that ability later.
For older preschoolers (3-5 years)
  • When your child has progressed enough that they can sound out words, have some books at a very easy level, like the Bob Books, and have them read for 5-10 minutes a day. 
  • Have them work on reading 1-3 books (so they have a little choice) until they can read them without stumbling over the words.  Once they've "passed off" one book, then add another book so that they always have a couple of books to choose from.
  • We've had great success using reading rewards charts.  Each time our kids read a book, they get to mark off a square and after every 5 squares or so, there's some kind of reward.  If it's an extra hard book or something, you can let them cross out extra squares.
The Pay-Offs
  • My kids love books...they've gotten used to the idea that they're fun.
  • My kids ask to "do preschool" all the time.  Sometimes I feel guilty if I have to tell them that I'm too busy.  This one is a huge pay-off for me, and I try to remember it on the days when my activity doesn't go as well as I'd like.
  • Firecracker and now Little Brother are both early readers, and it gives them something to be proud of. 
  • My kids start thinking of their own activities to do with books they read.
  • It's just plain great "quality time" with my kids. 
  • I enjoy reading the children's books and look forward to going to the library as much as they do.
Now, I know of parents who put a lot more effort than we have into teaching their children to read, but their kids had dyslexia or other learning disabilities.  If your child has learning disabilities, you're not likely to know that when they're pre-school age.  It may make some pre-school activities more difficult, but it's all the more important to engage them with books in whatever way you can.  By helping them enjoy books at a very young age will give them an attitude that books are something they want in their lives. 


  1. Thanks for these ideas Polly, and for the March read-along! My son is still an infant, but I'm storing all of these ideas for when he's a bit bigger. Hopefully I can instill in him a love for books.

  2. Awesome ideas! Thanks for sharing. One thing that has worked well in our house is to try and link everyday things to pre-academic concepts (much like you have mentioned in previous posts). For example, one day I was listening to the Jackson 5 while doing housework and the song "ABC" came on. Little Buddy heard the letters "ABC" in the chorus and I could see the wheels turning in his head...he grabbed one of his alphabet books and excitedly started pointing to the letters. This was the beginning of him being interested in letters and me being able to point them out in many places throughout the day. I guess the moral of the story is to be open to these little teaching moments because you just don't know when they will come along.

  3. Wonderful ideas Polly! I've enjoyed this read-a-long so much! I've found new books to enjoy with the kiddos and wonderful projects to go along with them. Thank-you so much for doing this.

  4. Until we found a wonderful preschool teacher in our community (she taught preschool in her home, with very small groups), I did a co-op preschool with some other moms. We met a couple days a week, and took turns. This was for our 3-4 year olds. We had little activities in our homes, and we also took field trips to the fire station, the bakery (they showed us how they made donuts), etc.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I love hearing from you. I also love responding, so please make sure your Blogger account is set up for me to be able to see your email address or include your email address. I've had to stop accepting anonymous comments due to spam. If you don't have any other way to comment, you can always send an email.