Educational Toys for Preschoolers
At preschool age, children tend to be bundles of energy with lots to say and lots more to discover. Some preschoolers chatter constantly, some run and play incessantly and some sing, dance and perform, basking in the glow of attention. And even if your preschooler is just as happy flipping quietly through books, he's got creative energy just waiting to be unleashed. Consider preschooler-oriented educational toys like puppets, hide-away tents, costume articles for dress-up, easels and art supplies, as well as books that invite imagery or rhythmic speaking.
This is a dramatic and creative age. Many conversations between preschool-age friends start with "Let's pretend...." Children become social. They become interested in playing with each other instead of preferring to play alone. Many toys become props for cooperative play.
Preschool-age children also are interested in active physical play. They have more control of their muscles at this age and this can be seen in the move from a tricycle to a two-wheel bike. Preschoolers also are increasingly curious about the world around them. They enjoy realistic toys such as farm and animal sets, grocery store prop boxes, model cars, and trains.
As hand coordination increases, so does the child's interest in simple construction sets and more difficult puzzles. They can manage more difficult creative projects, and enjoy cutting and simple sewing projects, in addition to the paint and play dough of earlier stages. Since children at this age also are busy learning to read and write, give them play equipment that encourages these interests.
You may notice that preschool children play with many of the same toys as toddlers, but do so in different ways. As a caregiver, encourage them to be creative and to experiment. There are fewer safety concerns in this stage, but sharp or cutting toys and electrical toys are still too dangerous.
farm and community play sets
transportation vehicles of all types
simple construction toys
books and records
simple musical instruments
water play toys
dolls and stuffed animals
How you can help
1. Get a book on puppets from your local library. Then act out a scene.
2. Act out fairy tales or other children's stories. *The Three Bears*, *The Three Billy Goats Gruff*, and *Caps for Sale* are good starting stories for this. For more ideas on things to do with children and books, see *Good Times with Stories and Poems*.
3. Reverse roles with the child. Let him or her pretend to be the caregiver and you pretend to be the child.
Children who are 4 and 5 are ready for more organized social play. They grow away from being interested only in their own ideas to being interested in the actions and feelings of others.
Preschoolers love to dress-up and pretend. They need dress-up clothes - hats, high heels, purses, play money, or anything grown-ups wear. Providing costumes, dress-up clothes, and equipment or furnishings encourages preschoolers toward creative, dramatic play. Big boxes that can become houses or stores are wonderful. These activities give them a chance to act out their feelings, emotions, and how they view the world about them. This practice of grown-up roles leads to the child's understanding of adults by giving the child a chance to play at being an adult. Preschoolers learn how it feels to be big. They pretend, imagine, create, and imitate what they think it is like to be grown up. They practice relating to their friends. Creative play combines the elements of imagination and fantasy with what is real.
The preschooler learns rapidly through play. Learning the differences in how things feel, look, and sound helps children develop intellectual skills. The child's vocabulary expands through learning about color and size in play activities. As children develop physically through running, jumping, and hopping, they learn action words.
Giving a child an opportunity to get messy also is a learning experience. Playing in mud, sand, and water or painting and coloring gives children a sense of freedom and another chance to strengthen their imagination and creativity. Preschoolers are not lying when they tell wonderful and exciting tales about things that adults know are not true. They are being creative.
Children who are 4 and 5 enjoy singing just to be singing! They like songs that repeat words and melodies, rhythms with a definite beat and words that ask them to do things. Preschool children enjoy nursery rhymes and songs about familiar things like toys, animals, play activities, and people. They also like fingerplays and nonsense rhymes with or without musical accompaniment.
If you are caring for preschool children, provide a wide variety of music for them to listen to; folk songs, symphonies, operas, rock and roll, and even sound tracks from movies they might have seen. Suggest that everyone pretend to be animals or objects like cats, elephants, trucks, or bouncing balls, and then imitate these in response to the music. You might provide the children with long scarves with which they can pretend to make butterfly wings. Together, you can move your bodies and "wings" and "fly" along with the music!
Four- and 5-year-olds enjoy stories about things they know. They also like to hear things repeated and enjoy rhythm and rhyme. By now their attention span is more developed and they are able to listen to longer books. You can choose a book with short chapters and read one or two at a time. You might even read a new chapter each time you care for the children.
Preschoolers often memorize words to a favorite book and can "read" the story out loud. They use the pictures as clues to help them remember the words. This is their first step in learning to read. Give them lots of encouragement.
Four-year-olds have a great sense of humor and are curious about people and the world around them. They like to talk and tell "tall tales." They also love silly language, riddles, and non-sense rhymes. Sometimes they will even make up their own nonsense rhymes and exaggerated stories to test their language skills. (They are not "lying", just testing their knowledge of real and pretend.)
Five-year-olds are interested in their families, schools, and neighborhoods, and ask many questions beginning with "how" and "why." Choose books about how things are made or done and why things happen. You may want to think of 5-year-olds as little scientists, always asking questions and testing things out.
Four- and 5-year-olds are forming real friendships for the first time, so stories about friends are meaningful to them. Preschoolers also are beginning to have a sense of rules and justice. They are interested in stories about fairness. They also like stories in which the characters make choices and decisions and get involved in confusing situations. Preschoolers also can learn from stories and poems that portray changes in time since their sense of time is not yet developed.
As a caregiver, it is important for you to remember that 4-and 5-year-olds want to be independent, but still are in need of warmth and security. Books about happy family relationships make them feel good. There are many quality books in libraries and stories today about single parent families, stepfamilies, working mothers, and even grandparents. Be sensitive to the kind of families that the children you care for are growing up in!
Books for Preschoolers
Preschoolers enjoy information books and story books, both realistic and fantasy. Non-fiction books about dinosaurs, insects,rocks, foreign countries, and other subjects that interest them are favorites. They also like realistic stories about their worlds of home and community. Try reading stories about real-life children and places.
The silly language and nonsense of Dr. Seuss books also are perfect for this age. Other favorite topics are first experiences (like a first visit to the dentist), family relationships, funny and wild stories, books about weather and seasons, feelings, nature, and animals.
How you can help
You can help by listening to 4-year-olds' "tall tales" without being critical, and by reading fantasy stories such as *Where the Wild Things Are* to satisfy their yen for the outlandish. You also can help by making an effort to answer 5-year-olds' questions. If you do not know the answer, you may say, "I do not know the answer to that, but let's find a book about it." With the parents' permission, you might plan a trip to the library to find the answer.
To help preschoolers become better thinkers and problem solvers, you can choose stories in which the main character makes a decision. You also can encourage children to talk about or retell stories in their own words and tell you about decisions they have made. Remember how dramatic they can be!
Play silly word games with 4- and 5-year-olds to help develop their language skills. See who can make up the silliest nonsense rhymes. Tell some stories with big words.
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC. Lagoni, L. S., Martin, D. H., Maslin-Cole, C., Cook, A., MacIsaac, K., Parrill, G., Bigner, J., Coker, E., & Sheie, S. (1989). Good times being creative. In *Good times with child care* (pp. 239-253). Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.