Preschool fun and skill development

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Keep it simple for preschool fun and skill development! I know it is an old adage, but I was recently reminded of just how true it is, especially for young children.

On a recent trip with my grandsons, my husband and I had the opportunity to entertain them while their parents had a “date night” out. Flying to the vacation destination meant limited extra room for toys, but we threw in a small bottle of bubbles at the last moment. As an experienced preschool and kindergarten teacher, I knew how bubbles transcended different ages and ability groups and provided fun for everyone, regardless of ability level.

So, armed with the bubbles, my husband and I took on the challenge of keeping our grandsons Ethan (age 3) and Noah (age 1) happily occupied for well over an hour.

First I was the bubble blower. I blew small bubbles, big bubbles and double or triple bubbles. Ethan happily ran around chasing the bubbles and trying to catch them.

First he tried catching them on his fingers (an amazingly complicated fine motor activity for young children then he tried catching them on the bubble wand. Then he turned to blowing at the bubbles in an attempt to keep them afloat.

Lastly, he happily hopped bunny-style, popping the bubbles that had landed on the floor (a fantastic gross motor activity for young children.

All the while, baby Noah sat happily on the floor and watched the bubbles swirl around him. He giggled each time a bubble landed on his face or hands and delighted in crawling after the bubbles and watching them pop.

Then an entirely new game began when Ethan wanted to be the bubble blower. He blew the bubbles way up high so I needed to jump to catch them, and way down low so I needed to stoop. He blew bunches at a time so I didn't know which bubbles to grab first and he blew one at a time so I had to patiently wait for each bubble.

He blew bubbles straight at baby Noah and then bubbles far from Noah so Noah would need to crawl to reach them. So simple and yet, to our disbelief, over an hour went by and Ethan and Noah were still engrossed.

Later that week, fresh off our high of being “rock star bubble blowers,” we offered our babysitting services again. With the bubbles gone, my husband grabbed several sheets of plain white copy paper from the hotel's front desk.

First my husband showed Ethan how to make a paper "ball" and paper airplane. Then there was a paper wallet, paper hat, and a paper boat.

Then Ethan showed my husband a few of his “favorite” paper creations such as a paper dog and a paper house. While neither my husband nor I could actually tell what Ethan had created, Ethan delighted in making his own creations and explaining them to us afterwards.

We made a "telescope" out of a rolled up piece of paper and spent time hunting around the hotel lobby for rocks, magazines, cups, and just about anything else we could find. Then Ethan turned the telescope into a palm tree by using his fingers to shred the top of the paper tube.

Noah also loved our paper games! We gave him a few sheets of the white paper and he delighted in folding them, wrinkling them, and tearing them into small pieces. We crumpled up balls of the paper and rolled them to him, so he could delight in swatting them back to us. Another successful afternoon!

That night, my husband asked me: "How did we do that? Noah and Ethan are so tied to the tv and video games at home I never thought we'd keep their attention with simple activities.” The answer? IMAGINATION!

Since all children, regardless of ability level, have an imagination, games that allow children to freely stretch and use their imagination are fantastic. Children can tailor each game to their own skill level and be successful within their own limitations and ability levels.

For example, an older or more developed child could have tried blowing super big bubbles by controlling his breath, or he could have tried catching 5 bubbles in a row to make a bubble tower. Or an older child could have made (and decorated) a complicated paper “fortune teller.” Ethan was not capable enough to attempt these advanced activities, but hopefully he will be, one day.

The author of this article is a retired kindergarten and preschool teacher who recently launched http://www.schoolsparks.com. http://www.schoolsparks.com is a totally free resource of information and tools to help parents prepare their children to start preschool and kindergarten ready to succeed.

There's a free kindergarten readiness test parents can take to see if their kids are ready to start preschool or kindergarten and free printable kindergarten worksheets to help children develop critical skills.

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