Pre-school education/Activities

This page is for brainstorming activities for toddlers and preschoolers that may help form some concepts geared toward subjects found in standard elementary school curricula. Some activities involving toys are given in Essential Preschool Part I.

Geography and mapsEdit

Geospatial concepts and their representations on various media (ie maps) are fairly easy to understand. It might be fun and interesting to teach preschoolers about maps and geography. They can start by tracing their route from school to home, locating places such as stores, churches and local landmarks on a street map. They can then learn some elementary cartography by working together to produce a map of their preschool or home and key places within their surroundings. This activity can lead youngsters toward developing a connection between the physical world and math abstractions such as measurement and scale, while exercising their ability to draw, visualize and represent things in their World.

Shapes, Colors and LettersEdit

One idea we should explore are things that are fun for kids to explore. Popping "bubbles" and having the sounds is one idea. Other ideas are games that involve shapes and colors, and possibly some kind of recognition game. Shapes labelling shapes, matching, classifying and seriation are both toddler and preschool friendly. Using shapes to build something structural is another idea. Colours Labelling the primary colours for early toddlers and expanding to secondary colours for older todds and preschoolers. Perhaps a paintbrush to create a scene using colours, for older preschoolers paint by numbers. Number recognition is another area of learning that could be fun to do 1-5 for younger toddlers, 1-10 older toddlers, 1-20 for preschool age. One idea correctly placing the right amount of items to the numeral (1 one apple, 2 two apples, etc).

Jigsaw puzzles can be particularly interesting too. Shadow puzzles are also a good idea - using the shadow of an object and dragging it to the correct spot.

(see for a wrapper we are working on)

Music and SoundEdit

We can do all sorts of things with music and sound. Allow kids to manipulate music (play, stop, tone) that is prerecorded; allow them to generate music (record?) and play with different (midi?) things. We can also allow them to play with sounds in a similar fashion. We can different languages for objects or common phrases.

Music, audio-visualEdit

If both recorded sound and video projection are available, consider showing the sheet music large where all children can see it at once, and letting each in turn practice holding a long pointer and following the "track(s)" right across the page while everyone sings or listens.

Score readingEdit

Don't ignore scores of large symphonies there is no age discrimination in music. (In Europe years ago I was at a concert where 80-year-old Dr. Karl Böhm conducted a symphony written by 12-year-old Wolfgang Mozart. No one seemed to think there was anything silly about this. The music itself was expressive organic adult art in its way and orchestra conductors are also said to be the longest-living occupational group in western civilisation.)

Score printingEdit

LilyPond is music printing

Peter and the WolfEdit

The place to begin might be the full orchestral score of Peter and the Wolf. This remains state-of-the-art modern orchestral technique from an individualistic titan of music. It is also prescient political allegory (for 1936) Peter is Russia, forming a victorious confederation; the duck is Czechoslovakia, swallowed alive; the bird is France or England; the well-armed hunters are the USA; and they captured Bad Wolf alias Adolf.

Interest in the story will draw the children on to study the music calligraphy and also try to read the word text (which should of course be matched, in this case, with the recorded version being heard might require some editing work).

Some TrainscapesEdit

Another angle is the selection of works which illustrate a theme nothing better than trains. There is a website which lists hundreds of music selections which are inspired by or suggest railways, locomotives, etc. Imagine kids reading/listening to a 10-minute piece like Honegger's "Pacific 231" or a 6-minute piece like Villa-Lobos' "Little Train of the Caipiras", learning to keep their attention "on track". I think they can understand and respond to big symphonies too, maybe bit by bit at first.

Dvořák's No. 9 op. 95 (1892) is really THE railroad symphony (probably named after some long-forgotten locomotive in New York that had "New World" painted on it). The main theme of the first movement is shaped like a 19th century train a locomotive with about 3-1/2 cars trailing after it: "Here's a choo-choo, first comes the engine, and then a car, and then a car, and then a car, toot toot!" This theme reappears in the second movement, as if seen from the side rushing furiously past, one car per "here's a choo-choo". In the finale the famous Largo theme reappears as a trainwhistle as the train clatters onward. Even the final chord of the symphony dies away like a train disappearing in the distance. I think with a few hints kids will figure out such references for themselves.

Carl Nielsen's No. 5 op. 50 (1921-22) (finale) is my personal favorite (the finale rises out of the ashes of the first movement like a train-ride into a better post-WWI-- future). Also try Saint-Saëns No. 3 op. 78 (1886); Tchaikovsky No. 5 op. 64 (final movement) (1888); Sibelius: "En Saga", Sym. 2 (final movement), 3 (final movement) and 5 (first movement); Honegger 2 (final movement with Bach trumpet trainwhistle), 3 (first movement), 5 (final movement).

Classic train propheciesEdit

The first real train music might be in the first movement of Mozart's E-flat Symphony, No. 39 k.543 (1788), a 3/4 allegro moving smoothly forward, with the exquisite second theme arranged in bar-groups of 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 can you imagine a locomotive with those numbers? The second movement is a walking andante; the third is a merry-go-round with the newly invented clarinet combining with horns to suggest the calliope; and to reassure everybody with something they're used to, it ends up with one of the riproaringest horse-and-carriage finales of all time. Guess whether the last seven notes are a horse whinny or a portrait of a wheel rushing around, seven spokes' worth. Your children will love this piece.

The last 100 seconds of Beethoven's 7th Symphony op. 92 (1812) are an inspired prediction of the southbound Chicago Red Line El leaving the Grand Street subway station, burrowing down down down UNDER the River and up up up to triumphant arrival in the Lake Street station. Maybe there's a ride sequence somewhere in your town that matches up with a known, repeatedly heard piece this way.

All that $$TechEdit

  • With an overhead projector someone must be adept at turning the pages and repositioning the book frequently.
  • Another approach, more expensive, is to make projector slides of each page which are easily changed at the right moment.
  • I know nothing about computer programming in this area as yet, but surely the means to do it are readily available by now. Any piece of music once already recorded on tape or disc etc. can surely now be equipped with a readable (synchro-) "score" or guide-diagram of some kind, which can be projected on a viewing screen while playing the piece it is derived from. This is a form of "reading" training that starts virtually at birth. (If you know someone working on such a project, have them get in touch via this page.)

Grandiose Utopian IdeaEdit

Imagine something like the "light shows" of the 60's, a good-sized space with an entire wall, or all the walls, given over to the score (guide, diagram etc.), and a carpeted floor where children (or anybody) can DANCE while they READ. That would be the most complete music education ever, even more talent-enhancing than singing much as teachers love the latter. (Let's give Disney something positive to build for a change.

Possible carpentry solutionsEdit

How about shifting some computer use time from the present-day 99% entrenched sit-up use position to lying down? That way toddlers can get the benefits of additional study, reading, adventure on their down-time, so to speak, reserving uptime for running around instead of sitting at a desk (this has implications for the obesity problem).

The simplest way is to have supports on either side at a desired height-- 18-30"? above bed (or pillow) level. Two boards stretch across above eye-location, with a plexiglas panel could be 12 x 18" between them. On this panel can lie a book, a magazine, or a computer monitor looking down at you. The mousepad etc. is on your tummy.


Imagine a laptop computer lying flat looking down at you, but the keyboard hangs down toward your belly where your hands get to it easily. Extra boards and wiring can be built in to hold the keyboard in place, and the structure made as strong as necessary. For when you are reading books instead of viewing the monitor, there would be two little reflector lamps fastened down on either side of your head, beaming up 45° toward the paper area (none of the light reflects down into your eyes).

Viewing duo with toddlerEdit

Now imagine at the start, you are lying face up, your toddler right under your chin lying on top of you, the location of the screen adjusted so both have no trouble seeing it, and your hand is over the toddler's hand on the mouse, teaching the clickfunctions. (Wanna bet how soon, counting days fromn birth, the toddler is on to how to do it alone, clickmouse included, even a few keyboardkey sequences?)

Because no exercise uptime is usurped by non-exercise occupations, I don't see any particular problem with how many hours a day a toddler spends doing this, instead of just lying in the crib counting pretty dots on the ceiling which is what they let me do in the 40's.

Eco-Toys (Essential Preschool Part I)Edit

As for what toddlers can do on their uptime, please check the above-cited descriptions of music and outdoor action toys made in any neighborhood from trimmed, sanded scrap lumber etc. (and an 8" kickball made out of you don't want to know what). Now imagine a child experienced with action toys lying at the computer viewing diagrams or videos (and descriptions which dadmom can read aloud with a pointfinger moving) of the selfsame action toys and their use (including that awful zooky music)

Cameras, Hands onEdit

Letting the kids take digital pictures and play with them? Possibly get them involved in other projects (like the Bloom Clock)?

Taking pictures of themselves and friends during different aspects of the day learning the routines. Kids love to see themselves in pictures so seeing themselves on a computer screen would be even better!

Teacher BrainstormingEdit

  • Cognitive game ideas: Fruits/veggies place correct number of items in labelled bushel or by colour for toddler age.
  • Baking activity follow directions and ingredient list to bake a cake or cookies; once it is baked they can decorate by choosing colour of icinf sprinkles etc.
  • Trip to the Zoo different animals, click on them to hear sound and name, sort into different areas where they belong (ie. polar bears in ice and water, monkeys in jungle scene).
  • Hair salon more for girls choice of hair colour, style, accessories.
  • Musical instruments touch them and they make a sound, follow notes to compose a song.
  • Fishing game catch fish with different colours, letters, numbers.
  • Scavenger hunt indoors/outdoors search for different items on a list.
  • Science activities simple theories like sink and float they can make predictions as to the outcome watch the experiment happen see if prediction was correct.
  • Using dramatic/ pretend play as a base for these activities:
  • Going to the dentist brushing teeth, counting teeth, learning about tools.
  • Dressing for the weather dressing for approriate weather..
  • Going shopping for groceries have a list of items to purchase, put in shopping cart, the older the children the more complex, using $ .
  • Restaurant preparing different menus.
  • Gardening centre classification of seeds, plants and flowers, sort by size and colour; water seeds and watch growth measure how much plant grows.
  • Occupations/community helpers what do they do and what are their tools of the trade.