The 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.



The Guide to Preschool

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 scheduled 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Rhyme Time: Play a game in which you take turns saying words (both real and silly), thinking of as many rhymes for a set as possible. 

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. 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 materiel. He can also cut objects such as plastic straws or lines on wrapping paper. The cutting doesn’t have to be perfect — it’s just exercise for his hand! 

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.”
  • 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.

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 born 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 part of your pet — its body, how it grows, its habitat, and what it needs to live. 

Social Studies in Preschool 

Social studies learning in a preschool classroom occurs throughout the day, beginning with a class meeting (often called "morning meeting" or "circle time") at the start of the day. During this time, many classes review the calendar and the weather as well as any other “class news” for the day. Students may also share their own news during this time. Social studies continues throughout the day as preschoolers interact with each other, learning to share, take turns, and how to work together, Through these interactions they build their social skills and learn how to be successful students.

In order to build social studies, skills 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.
  • Learns about the community and the calendar.

 Social Studies Activities

  • Explore Your Community: Visit and explain what happens and who works at local businesses. Let your child help pay in a store or take out a book from the library. Visit special places like the police and fire stations. Take pictures of these visits and write about them together.
  • 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. 

Recommended Books for Preschoolers 

  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin: This is a great book for teaching kids about letters through music.
  • When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang: This book deals with a young girl’s emotions (specifically anger) and can help you talk to your child about her emotions and how she can deal with her feelings.
  • Everything I Need to Know Before I'm Five by Valorie Fisher: This book covers many topics common to a preschool curriculum (including, letters, numbers shapes and colors), in a creative and engaging manner. 
  • 10 Black Dots by Donald Crews: This book is commonly used in preschool to help children with their counting and math skills.
  • Any book about first days of school: There are many books about first days of school that can help your child learn about school before it starts. These books often feature favorite book and television characters, so take your pick!

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