3 Practical, Non-Academic Ways to Prepare Your Child For Preschool

Many years ago, about a month after my second-born went off to preschool, I discovered that she hadn’t quite been ready. Oops. She did have a speech delay and was in speech therapy at the time, but I didn’t realize how much that had affected other areas she’d need to have mastered before she could really do well in a classroom. Soon, I took her out of that school and sent her to one where the class was half “typical” kids and half kids with delays, and she did much better there. Nevertheless, I could have prepared her better for a regular classroom if I had been consistent in the months before she started with practicing some simple preschool activities. Here are a few suggested preschool activities for you to do with your child before they start preschool this fall.

Preschool Activities to Do at Home With Your Child

These may seem overly simple, but especially if your child isn’t four yet, these preschool activities based mostly on communication needs will help get them ready to respond to their peers and teachers.

1) First and Then Game

“First and Then” is one of my favorite preschool activities to get your child ready for school. It is a little game to teach your child to follow two-step directions. Their preschool teacher will likely have them doing craft or coloring activities that require following simple steps (“First color the shapes and THEN cut them out,” etc.), and there will likely be two-step directions to transition between activities (washing hands, too!). Playing “first and then” will get your child used to following directions with more than one step. Here’s how you play:

  • Write or print some two-step directions on slips of paper and put them in a bowl or jar. The directions should say things like “First, jump up and down, then touch your nose.” or “First, give Mommy a kiss, then go down the slide.”
  • Get with your child in an indoor or outdoor space with plenty of room
  • You and your child take turns drawing slips of paper from the jar. Read the two-step directions for your child and have him or her follow them. When it’s your turn, do the same.
  • Use super silly directions like “First, make a silly face, then bark like a dog!” to make the game more fun.

The more you play this easy little “First and then” game, the faster your kiddo will learn to follow directions. If they are getting really good at following two-step directions, add in a third step for an extra challenge.

2) Sensory Play

One of the best preschool activities you can do with your child is sensory play. This isn’t just one activity, but multiple different ones. The object of the activity: let your child get messy and play with their hands. Go outside and dig in the dirt and in the sandbox. Let them bury and dig out toys from a bin full of rice and beans. Have them fingerpaint or paint with shaving cream. Make slime (eew I know), play with putty and play-doh, etc. Getting those hands messy and used to different textures will help your kiddo learn from the world around them, and get them 100% ready for all the messy learning activities they will encounter in preschool. Preschool aged kids learn a LOT through their sense of touch, and a child who refuses to get his or her hands wet, dirty, or messy is going to have a hard time enjoying preschool activities in a classroom setting.

preschool activities

3) Read your child books about preschool

I hope it goes without saying that you should read to your child every single day of their young lives, but in the months before preschool begins, it’s especially important to read them stories ABOUT kids going to preschool. Sometimes these are called “social stories” because they depict a certain social situation, problem, or resolution and teach a child how to handle it. Sometimes they are just good little fiction or non-fiction stories that give your kids a realistic example of what their preschool classroom might be like. It’s important to give your child these life-like experiences through books so that when they enter the preschool classroom, at least some of it will appear familiar to them. Here are a few book suggestions to get you started.

Maisy Goes to Preschool by Lucy Cousins (one of my kids’ ALL TIME faves!)

Rosie Goes to Preschool by Karen Katz

What to Expect at Preschool by Heidi Murkoff

Max and Millie Start School (Usborne Books – another huge fave of my kids!)

The Night Before Preschool by Amy Wummer

Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

The transition to preschool can be hard for both mama and her little one, but as I’ve learned over the years, I can’t stop time no matter HOW much I want to. (My three stubborn kiddos have just REFUSED to stay little, and all of their preschool years are far behind me.) However, we can make these transitions easier on our child — and therefore easier on ourselves — by preparing them with these simple, practical preschool activities.

Please note that none of these preschool activities really have anything to do with academics!

Preschool is a time for your child to be learning letters, numbers, and colors. It’s MORE than ok if they don’t know all of that going in, but it’s not really ok if they can’t follow simple directions, flip out when they have to get messy, or have NO idea how to handle what is happening in the classroom. If you focus more on sensory and social goals in the months before they start preschool, you are giving them the tools they really need to be able to start learning and participating in a classroom setting.

Do you have a little one starting preschool in the fall? What sorts of things are you doing to prepare them? What sorts of preschool activities have worked well for you in the past when preparing your kids to start school? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Jenny Rapson
Jenny is a follower of Christ, a wife and mom of three from Ohio and a freelance writer and editor.

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