Summer Lessons for Your Preschooler

Another school year has come and gone, and it’s summer time already. When you made that last preschool run you may have been thanking your lucky stars that you don’t have to rush everyone out the door so early. But soon the dust settles and you realize you have your child home now – and they are bored. Every day at preschool they were playing with well-coordinated activities in a place designed for messes. Home is a bit different, and now you’re stuck trying to figure out what to do to keep your preschooler’s mind and body just as active as they were at school. 

You may be amazed at how much your child learned throughout the school year. But remember how when you were in school your mind would somehow lose much of what you learned during the school year, and your teachers would spend the first few weeks reviewing that material? It is the same for your preschooler – if they don’t practice the skills they learned this year they may forget them over the summer. Just because the school year is ending doesn’t mean the learning has to stop! Here are some activities for you to do at home with your preschooler to keep their learned skills sharp throughout the summer. 

Two to Three Years


Your toddler may or may not have been in preschool this year, but they still will want some engagement over the summer especially if they have a big sibling who you are working with on their preschool skills. The main area of focus for toddlers, besides socialization, are basic color and shape skills as well as fine and gross motor skills. Many times your daily activities will provide opportunities for your toddler to learn – for example, simply talking about the colors you see while you’re running errands or talking about shapes while you’re playing are great ways to help develop those skills. But sometimes it’s fun to have something special just for them. Below are some summer-themed activities you can do with your Tot Schooler to help hone in on skills that will prepare them for preschool:

Sensory

  • Sensory Bins – Sensory bins are great for toddlers. It is a great opportunity for them to develop tactile awareness and fine motor skills, as well as language skills. As your child plays in the sensory bin use descriptive words to talk to them about what they are feeling. You can also point out different colors and shapes they may see. The objects inside a sensory bin can range from simple – rice, beans, paper, water, nature objects – to more elaborate – sand, colored pasta, cloud dough.
  • For a great list of sensory bin ideas for the entire year, click here
  • Pouring station – Toddlers love to practice their pouring skills, so set up a large plastic bin outside with some tools from the kitchen and allow them to practice pouring water into different objects.
  • Foam pit – If you have a small plastic pool and some plastic balls you find in ball pits, you can add water and bubbles for some great sensory play.
  • Play dough – There are so many things you can use to make this a learning experience beyond sensory play by adding different shaped cookie cutters and using different colors. To extend this activity, place some small items inside the play dough and allow your child to dig for them. Talk about the item (shape, color, texture) as they find them! Need a homemade play dough recipe? This one is our favorite.

Color and Shape Recognition

  • Ziploc bag painting – This activity is a great indoor activity for those super hot days. Simply place some washable paint inside of a large Ziploc-style baggie and tape the baggie to either a window or your table. Your toddler will have a blast pushing the paint around, and it is a great time to talk about color recognition. You can also place two colors together and allow them to explore the change that occurs when the colors mix. This is also something you can leave up in your house that they can continue to come back to throughout the day! 
  • Ice Blocks – Take a few toys, either sorted by color or by shape, and place them in a bin with some water. Freeze overnight (or maybe a few nights depending on how big the bin is), and when you’re ready, take them out for some fun. Turn it into a science experiment by testing different ways to make the ice melt – warm water, salt, baking soda, etc. 
  • Outdoor Chalk Painting – This is a great art activity that can be turned into a learning opportunity. Simply crush up some sidewalk chalk, add water, and mix. Talk with your toddler about the different colors you are using and what happens when you mix colors. You can also draw shapes on the ground to help practice shape recognition. 
  • Sorting Activities – Grab a bunch of different shaped objects from inside the house and create a shape or color chart on your sidewalk using chalk. Let your child sort by color or shape to help practice these important skills.

Three to Five Years


Ages three to five are the perfect preschool ages. Whether or not you chose to put your child in a formal preschool doesn’t matter – you can still do all of these activities to help work on the important skills for this age. There are a few developmental skills that most schools will focus on during these years aside from basic colors and shapes: name recognition and writing, letter recognition and writing, counting and number recognition, and simple patterns. Below are some summer-themed activities that are fun for everyone, and can help your preschooler with the skills they worked so hard to learn over the school year:

Letter/Name Recognition and Writing

  • Water Writing – This is a great outdoor activity that can be modified in many different ways. Using paint rollers or paint brushes, allow your child to practice writing their name or different letters of the alphabet. It’s also a great way to talk about evaporation as their writing disappears!
  • Erase the Letter – Write different letters on the ground using sidewalk chalk. Allow your child to use a large paint brush, a paint roller, or even the spray hose to wash away the letter once they name what it is (and perhaps its sound and/or a word that begins with that letter). 
  • Ice Cream Name – Stuck inside because of the heat or thunderstorms? Ice cream name building is a fun activity to do to practice name recognition. Simply print and cut out this free printable from Free Homeschool Deals and let your child build their name using the scoops of ice cream! To make the activity more durable you can laminate the pages using an at-home laminator. You can also add small magnets to the back to make this an activity that can be done on the fridge or a cookie sheet.

Number Recognition and Counting

  • Erase the Number – Much like the water letter erasing described above, do the same using numbers.
  • Watermelon Seed Counting – This is another great printable activity for indoor play. Simple print and cut out the watermelon, and help your child place dried black beans as the seeds as they count using one-to-one correspondence. This activity not only helps with counting practice, but also number recognition, number association, and quantity discrimination. Again, using card stock to print and laminating will help make them more durable!

Patterns

  • Feet Paint Patterns – If you have easel paper this is a great art activity that uses a tool not normally used – their feet! Put some washable paint (very important!) on paper plates, spread out the easel paper, and let your kids use their feet to make a pattern. Each foot can be a different color, and as they walk along the paper they will create a pattern. For easy feet cleaning, have your hose or a small pool with water available so they can change colors easily. This activity can also be done with chalk paint. 

Pre-Kindergarten: Four to Five Years


If your child is getting ready to attend kindergarten the following school year you may be feeling the push to make sure they are ready with the necessary skills before they enter the world of “big kid” school. Your child has probably attended a year of preschool at this point, so it is a good idea to ask their teacher what skills they focused on at the end of the year so you have an idea of what you can be doing over the summer. The biggest pre-kindergarten skills are: name writing (upper and lower case), letter sounds and word families, sight word recognition, complex patterns, and simple addition and subtraction. Some of these skills are introduced in preschool and the early months of kindergarten, but it’s always a good idea to present the concept to your child earlier so they have a basis for when they are ready to learn it. Here are some fun and educational activities that you can do with your *sniff, sniff* kindergartener to get them ready for the school year. Some of these are similar to the preschool age group above, but are differentiated to the needs of your pre-kindergartener:

Letter/Name Writing Practice

  • Water Writing – Much like the activity described in the Preschooler section above, this activity can be extended for older children simply by allowing them to independently write their name, in both upper and lower case, using paint brushes or a paint roller. You can also have your child practice letter writing and extend the activity by having them talk about the sound associated with the letter. 
  • Writing Journal – When your child starts kindergarten they will probably have a writing journal. You can start the same during your summer break too, and use it to document all the fun things you do! Get some writing paper and staple it together to make a book (add colored construction paper as the cover and let them decorate it to make it a little more fun). Let your child draw pictures of an activity you did recently, and then have them describe it to you. Depending on your child’s level, you can either write it for them or let them practice writing by talking them through the different letter sounds of each word. And remember, the point is not to have the words spelled correctly, but just to get them recognizing the sounds in words.

Pre-Reading Skills (Letter Sounds, Word Families, Sight Words)

  • Erase the Word – Again, this is much like the activity described above in the Preschool section, but it can be extended for older children. Instead of simple letter recognition, try these activities instead:
  • Letter Sounds – Write a letter on the sidewalk and allow your child to erase it when they tell you the SOUND that letter makes. Bonus points if they can give a word that it starts with, too!
  • Word Families – Choose a word family (-op, -at, -ed, etc.) and write it on the ground. Tell your child what sound those two letters together make. Then, write some words from that word family down and allow them to erase the word as they read it.
  • Sight Words – Using a list of sight words, write down a few on the ground and let your child erase them as you read them together. 
  • Hop on Pop – This is a great game for word families, sight words, and letter sounds! Write a bunch of words or letters on the ground using sidewalk chalk. Give your child a bean bag and let them throw it onto a word. Together, hop over to the letter or word and read it out loud. This can also be made into an indoor game by writing letters or words onto paper and placing them on the floor. 

Simple Math (Addition, Subtraction, Patterns)

  • Number Line Math Game – Stuck inside again? This human number line is a great way to get your kids moving! The free printable from Proud to Be Primary gives you large numbers for the number line and number sentences to practice addition and subtraction. Here’s how to play:
  • After printing (on card stock and laminating for durability), use painter’s tape to tape a line down on your floor. Then tape the large numbers about a foot apart along the line.
  • Using the number sentences provided, complete the activity. For example, if the number sentence is 4 + 2, have your child stand on 4 and then hop two numbers. They will see that 4 + 2 = 6 as they land on the number 6.
  • Hop on Pop – Similar to the game described above, but this time use numbers instead of letters and words for number recognition. To incorporate counting, hop up and down the number of times for the number the bean bag lands on!

Summer can be a lot of things depending on everyone’s current mood – fun, hot, boring, too long, too short – but that doesn’t mean learning has to stop! Kids love to be engaged, and learning through play is the best way to get their minds working and their bodies moving. Plus, it gives you as the parent something to look forward to instead of trying to figure out what you’re going to do again that day to keep the whining at bay besides plopping your kids in front of the television again. Do you have any go-to summer learning activities? Share them with us in the comments below!

For more ideas on how to keep your child’s minds and bodies learning throughout the summer, check out 8 Tips for Avoiding the Summer Learning Slump here on Daily Mom. 


Photo credits: Lauren Lomsdale

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Lauren Lomsdale

Lauren is a full-time mom of three girls, who also happens to run her own in-home preschool. She loves to write, run, yoga-it-out, and keep fit. She’s kind of crunchy in her homeschooling, cloth diapering, and natural products sort of way, but she also loves Starbucks and trashy tv. For more about her internal judgments of herself and hilarious quips about motherhood, follow her on IG and Twitter @thescoopmama, fb.com/thescoopmama, as well as her website theSCOOPmama.

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