Engaging Your Preschooler ...So You Can Get School Done!

by Jeannie Fulbright, homeschool science author.

When I first began homeschooling, I had a baby and a preschooler. This was, by far, the most difficult part of homeschooling. My preschooler was a continual interruption, with constant needs, constant crying, need for training and unceasing attention-seeking. And just when one became old enough to entertain himself, another would enter the preschool phase. I tried many ideas and learned a few things along the way that helped greatly.

One key that was of much comfort was to spend at least 15 minutes of alone time with the child before we began school, reading books, playing with toys, songs, finger games and tickling. This gave the child a feeling of being filled up, affirmed and comforted, much like our time with the Lord first thing in the morning does for us.

Though spending time with the child first helps give the child more peace, it doesn't solve the problem of keeping him or her busy while you do school. To remedy this quandary, I created School Boxes.

School Boxes

I went and purchased several sets of file boxes from a supercenter nearby. Each box was labeled with a day of the week. Within each box, I placed toys that she or he enjoyed playing with and that could occupy for longer than a few minutes. One box had Duplos. One had blocks with farm animals, dolls or dinosaurs. Another contained washable markers, pads of paper and stickers. A favorite was filled almost half way up with white rice, measuring spoons, cups and bowls (and a vacuum cleaner nearby). Shoe laces, foam beads and chenille sticks were found in one. One had a wooden train set with little animals. Puzzles were in another. One was filled with assorted animals. Play dishes and food occupied another box. And on and on, you get the picture. The boxes were put at the top of a closet. Those were now the designated School Boxes. Those toys would only hold his attention long enough for us to do school if he didn't have access to them all week long; they needed to be special.

Each day of the week, when we began school, we would pull down one of the boxes for that day of the week. I wish that I could describe the excitement on my child's face as I pulled the box down and set him up in his little corner. He felt so special, and he loved playing with the toys he had not seen in a week. This usually interested him for about 30 minutes to an hour before the next School Box was needed. But before he could have it, he needed to clean up all the items that went back into that box. Sometimes, if he seemed to be getting bored before the time was up, I would grab him a snack to eat while he played (usually cereal in a little baggie.)

If the School Boxes ceased to lose their appeal, which sometimes happened several months into the school year, I would put them up for a while (absence makes the heart grow fonder). And then I would spend a weekend preparing activities that I found in books such as, 102 I Can Do It Myself Activities For Preschoolers, by Leslie Retchko and Peggy Zorn, or Slow and Steady Get Me Ready, by June Oberlander, or 500 Five Minute Games or 300 Three Minute Games, by Jackie Silberg. Spending a weekend with these resources and some supplies, I could prepare a lot of activities and projects that would entertain and engage my preschooler for quite some time.

Some Ideas

Some of the ideas that I have either read from these books, other sources or come up with myself follow:

Bath Time: Have your child take a shallow-watered bubble bath and homeschool in a room where you can keep an eye on him/her at all times. In the bath, a child will often become immersed in their own little world and not disturb you. But be very, very certain to always have an eye on the child.

Play Dough: If you can stand the clean up, this is a great occupation for preschoolers who are past the age of consuming their Play Dough.

Water Colors: Water colors are fairly manageable. Wet them yourself so that the child is not dealing with cups of water. Give lots of paper, a cheap paint brush and pre-moistened water colors (leave a little water in the watercolor case for the child to use as well). It's great fun for the child to paint with water colors!

Clothes Line: Rope a string between two heavy chairs or somewhere easy to attach them. Then place clothes pins along the line. Show the child how to hang clothes on the line. Let her explore other things she might want to hang on the line, paper, small toys, let her explore with the scientific consequences of hanging too much on one side or items that are too heavy.
(Modified from 102 I Can Do It Myself Activities)

Sock Toss: Form balls from about five pairs of socks. Using a waste basket or computer paper box, stand a few feet away and show the child how to toss the socks into it. Be careful, or your other kids will want to do this instead of school.

Stuffed Animal Train: Attach shoe boxes together with string or wire. Place a long string on one end and show the child how to pull the train along to visit different stations in the house where passengers may be. Collect some passengers, such as a teddy bear or doll, and drop others off at different locations.

Stringing Activity: Have you child string Cheerios or Paper Clips onto a long string or yarn. You may want to place tape around one end of the yarn to make it easier to string...or not. (From: 102 I Can Do It Myself Activities).

Glue Beans: If you have a good area for this, put some school glue on a paper plate, give the child a Q-Tip to use to dip into the glue. Teach the child how to glue beans onto a piece of a paper. You may even draw a picture of something that the child must fill in - like a letter, a house, a bear, a cross. (Modified from 102 I Can Do It Myself Activities)

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