The Ultimate Guide to Preschool

Review general curricula for preschool, including what to expect for each subject. Plus, find at-home activities to support learning in the classroom.
Aug 22, 2019



The Ultimate Guide to Preschool

Aug 22, 2019

Preschoolers learn “pre-skills,” which lay the groundwork for the future. Through their playing, singing and learning, preschoolers gain skills that ultimately help them learn to read, write, build their math and science skills, and become successful students. Preschoolers also learn “school readiness” skills, which help them understand the routines of school, how to work in groups, and how to be students.

Preschool classrooms are often organized by centers or areas that are divided by different subjects and types of play. For example, a typical preschool classroom may have the following centers: reading, arts and crafts, water/sand table, building and math toys, and an area for pretend play. The school day is structured with both time for free play, during which children can choose which centers to play in, as well as structured schedules devoted to each subject.

Though it may seem like it, preschool is not all fun and games. In fact, preschoolers learn through the fun and games! Research has shown that the development of early literacy and math skills in preschool is associated with future school achievement in both mathematics and literacy. (Here's everything to know about language and literacy development in children ages 3 to 5.) Preschoolers are very enthusiastic about exploring the math and science concepts described below and these positive attitudes can also greatly contribute to their future success in school. In addition, as preschoolers move through their classrooms and manipulate toys, puzzles, and shapes, they develop important cognitive skills. 

Reading in Preschool 

Preschoolers develop their literacy skills throughout the day, not only during the scheduled “reading” time. Teachers use read-alouds as well as poems, songs, and rhymes to teach topics across all subjects, and classrooms are filled with signs and labeled objects which help kids make connections between objects and words, and words and letters.

In order to build reading skills, your preschooler:

  • Recites rhymes, songs, and poems.
  • Is surrounded by words and labeled objects in his classroom.
  • Begins to recognize letters and their sounds.
  • Reads, listens to, and talks about books.

Reading Activities

  • Make Character Puppets: Create sock or brown paper bag puppets of your child’s favorite characters in books you read together. Use the puppets to act out the stories with your child. You can also use finger puppets like those in this The Day the Crayons Quit Tote Bundle
  • Make Up Stories: Tell your child stories about your childhood and make up stories together. 
  • Use a Computer: Identify and type out letters, names, and words.
  • Make Letter Cookies: Roll out cookie dough into letters. You can also spell out your child’s name and other words with it. Here are sensory ideas for teaching sight words
  • Rhyme Time: Play a game in which you take turns saying words (both real and silly), thinking of as many rhymes as possible. 

Preschool Reading Checklist

1. First Little Readers Guided Reading Pack (Levels A-C): This parent favorite jumpstarts success in emerging readers with an impressive collection of motivating stories that encourage key early learning skills. This incredible resource helps kids develop skills they'll need in kindergarten. Read more about it here

2. Pete the Cat Phonics Box Set: Complete with 12 colorful books covering long and short vowel sounds, a carry-along box, and original artwork from author/illustrator James Dean, this groovy set uses research-backed methods to easily teach kids how to read. 

3. David Goes to School: You already know high-energy David from the lovable No, David!, and in this charming book, he teaches preschoolers all about how to act in a school setting — all while providing a ton of laughs! 

4. Baby Shark: This sing-along book isn't just incredibly catchy, but its repition teaches preschoolers about the rhythm of language, something that will be helpful as they develop their pre-reading skills. The picture guides illustrating accompanying dance moves will also help them sharpen their fine motor skills and their ability to follow directions. Follow this book up with Hide-and-Seek, Baby Shark! and Bedtime for Baby Shark.

5. BOB Books Value Set: The BOB Books, created by a teacher, are often the first books children can read all by themselves. This big bundle includes nine book sets and covers everything from the alphabet to rhyming words.

Writing in Preschool

Many of preschoolers’ early writing skills are developed through the various arts and crafts projects they do throughout the day. As preschoolers paint, draw, cut, stick, and glue, they build strength in their hands and develop their fine motor skills, gaining the strength and skills required to hold and use pens and pencils. (Here's what's happening when your preschooler starts to color inside the lines.) And, of course, the reading that your preschooler does is directly connected to developing her writing and literacy skills.

In order to build writing skills, your preschooler:

  • Draws, paints, cuts, and glues, developing fine motor skills.
  • Practices writing letters and names.

Writing Activities

  • Practice Writing Your Child’s Name in Creative Ways: Use sidewalk chalk, paints, a stick in the dirt, or write on a steamy window.
  • Arts and Crafts: The more your child draws, glues and paints, the stronger his hands will be. Preschoolers love to glue and cut anything from googly eyes and shapes to pictures from magazines.
  • Write Letters and Cards: Your child can help you write a letter or card to someone. She can decorate it and help you decide what to write. She can even hold your hand as you write some of the words (particularly, her name) or add her own “note” or picture to a card you write.
  • Cut things!: Guide your child in cutting out different shapes from paper, felt, or another material. He can also cut objects such as plastic straws or lines on wrapping paper. 

Preschool Writing Checklist

1. Scholastic Early Learners: Write and Wipe: This dry-erase book helps preschoolers learn letters and numbers, all while providing pictures and words for them to trace. Parents love this book because kids can use it over and over again for repeated practice (check out more details about the Write and Wipe books here!). 

2. Little Skill Seekers Ages 3-6 Value Pack: A great resource to pair with Write and Wipe books, this set of activity books advances key early learning skills like recognizing shapes, sounds, and colors, and tuning up fine motor skills! Here's how one mom uses them with her son.  

3. BOB Books Workbook Pack: A great companion to BOB Books, this collection allows preschoolers to extend their reading journey into workbooks, where they'll find custom content designed to boost reading and writing skills. They will be able to grow with this workbook set as they enter kindergarten and first grade, too. 

4. Preschool Workbook Bundle: This comprehensive bundle provides everything you need to lay a foundation for successful learning for your preschooler. From wipe-clean workbooks to a sticker activity book, it provides all of the pre-k fundamentals (and fun!). 

Math in Preschool 

Daily preschool math activities include learning numbers, practicing counting, creating and learning shapes, and working with calendars. In addition, playing with puzzles, building toys, blocks, and games helps preschoolers practice and build math skills as they count, manipulate objects, and work with different shapes, spaces, and sizes. 

In order to build math skills, your preschooler:

  • Counts.
  • Learns what a number is.
  • Learns about, finds, and forms shapes and patterns.
  • Measures.
  • Sorts, categorizes, and compares objects.

Math Activities

  • Count in a Fun and Active Way: Count steps as you climb them, count as your child jumps, or count objects as you buy them in a store.
  • Play with Shapes and Patterns: Use blocks, straws, sticks, and other objects to make shapes and create patterns.
  • Sorting Races: Ask kids to sort different shapes and colors as fast as they can.
  • I Spy:  Play “I Spy” with shapes and colors. For example say “I spy a circle,” or “I spy something red.” You can also use the I Spy books for this. 
  • Shape Collages: Make collages or books of objects that are different shapes and colors.
  • Number Books: Make your own counting book. Each page can have a number and that quantity of objects. Use drawings, photographs, magazine clippings, or actual objects (buttons, small toys, etc.).
  • Play with Your Food!: Make different shapes out of food such as sandwiches, cut up vegetables, noodles, and pizza dough. Alternatively, cut pizza dough or tortillas into different shapes of pizza.

Preschool Math Checklist

1. Scholastic Early Learners: Slide and Find Dinosaurs: With this interactive book, preschoolers learn about both dinosaurs and numbers. The slides reveal vivid photography of dinos when moved, helping children learn numbers 1 to 10.

2. PAW Patrol: Heroes at Work!: Your preschooler's favorite puppy pals race off to different rescue adventures in this book, which is presented in a countdown format that subtly teaches numbers. Kids can list off numbers with you as each PAW Patrol pal heads off and then returns to celebrate a job well done! (Side note: This is the ultimate craft kit for PAW Patrol fans.

3. Scholastic Early Learners: My First Book of Shapes: This bilingual board book teaches shapes in an interactive way. Featuring see-through windows and clever pages, it also shows kids how shapes work in the real world. 

4. Counting Dogs: Ten adorable dogs learn to list off numbers one through ten in this novelty counting book. The tabbed board pages are easy for little hands to flip!

Science in Preschool

Very often, teachers will teach specific science lessons once to a few a times a week. During this time, the class will learn about a certain topic (for example, water, weather, animals, plants, and nature) through the use of books, demonstrations with actual objects, explorations outside, or interactive activities. In addition, preschoolers are natural scientists as they play and explore the world around them with their curious minds. They constantly experiment and learn as they play outside, explore natural objects, and play with toys such as clay, sand boxes, and water tables. 

In order to build science skills, your preschooler:

  • Is a natural scientist, constantly exploring, observing, questioning and experimenting as she plays and interacts with her surroundings.
  • Sorts and organizes.
  • Interacts with and learns about nature.

Science Activities

  • Go Outside: Draw, write about or take pictures of plants, insects, animals, and nature.
  • Cook: Mixing, measuring, and cooking all introduce your preschooler to scientific concepts and skills. Talk about what happens when things get hot, cold, or mix together, and which measurements are "more" or "less."
  • Garden: Growing plants teaches preschoolers the basics of how plants grow and what they need to thrive.
  • “Study” Your Pets: Talk to your preschooler about the scientific parts of your pet — its body, how it grows, its habitat, and what it needs to live. 

Preschool Science Checklist

1. Guided Science Readers Parent Pack: Levels E-F: Introduce your child to the fascinating world of science with these age-appropriate readers about animals like horses, chameleons, tigers, bears, and honeybees! This pack comes with motivating stickers, a mini activity book, and tips for parents. 

2. Your Hand in My Hand: This stunning stroll through the year will introduce your preschooler to the beauty of each season. The bold, beauitful illustrations perfectly capture the magic of spring, summer, fall, and winter. 

3. Lego Nonfiction: Big Book of Animals: With their trademark antics and humor, adventurous Lego minifigures will lead your child through the animal kingdom in this explorative book. In addition to vibrant photography, it also features mini comic strips and infographics to keep kids engaged! 

Social Emotional Learning in Preschool 

Social emotional learning in a preschool classroom occurs throughout the day, as preschoolers interact with each other, learning to share, take turns, and work together. Through these interactions, they build their social skills and learn how to be successful students.

As a part of social emotional learning, your preschooler:

  • Works in groups, sharing and taking turns.
  • Cleans up and helps organize the classroom.
  • Practices manners during meal and snack time.
  • Develops conflict resolution skills.
  • Develops communication and conversation skills.

 Social Emotional Learning Activities

  • Mind Your Manners: Practice manners such as saying “thank you” and “please” during meal times.
  • Talk about Your Day: Share moments from your day with your child and ask her to do the same. When something very interesting or exciting happens, take a picture of the moment or ask your child to draw a picture of it, then decide together what you can write to describe it.
  • Clean Up Toys Together: Make clean-up time fun, asking kids to find like objects, put back toys as quickly as possible, or put away toys that are a certain color or shape. 

Preschool Social Emotional Learning Checklist

1. How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends?: "Does a dinosaur mope, does he pout if he can't get his way? Does he hide all his dump trucks, refusing to share? Does he throw his friends' coloring books up in the air?" This playful picture book uses rhyming verse like this and humorous illustrations to teach preschoolers the right way to interact with their friends, and shows them what "playing nice" truly means — an important part of social emotional learning. 

2. Should I Share My Ice Cream? (An Elephant & Piggie Book): It's an important question, and one that preschoolers will learn to answer in this sweet book from the Elephant & Piggie series. Gerald has a big decision to make, but will he make it before time melts away?

3. We're All Wonders: The picture-book edition of the famous novel Wonder, this is the story of a boy with an extraordinary face and his dog Daisy. It's a fantastic way to talk about kindness and empathy with your preschooler. 


Preschool Reading Checklist

Preschool Writing Checklist

Preschool Math Checklist

Preschool Science Checklist

Preschool Social Emotional Learning Checklist

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