A close friend who has a three year old and two babies recently asked me what she could do with her oldest. She is a fabulous mother and has years experience in daycare, so she is probably the picture of Mommyhood when it comes to care-taking. But perhaps she felt a little intimidated by her three year old who is growing so rapidly, getting so smart, but also needing one-on-one time with mommy now that he is sharing her with two other tiny brothers. What should she do with him when she has that alone time with him, other than read to him, to help him educationally?
Here are some things I mentioned that have been hits in my house. Some things are silly but you make do with what you have!
- Making more complex structures with legos/blocks: fire stations, hotels, hospital, school, garages, airports. Talk about the specific looks and purposes of each building. If you want to make vehicles or have them already, talk about them too (how the fire engine is different than the police car and has a different siren sound.) Play with them using imagination and a simple skit when finished so they can practice.
- Learn more complex shapes: octagons, pentagons, ovals, cones, cylinders. Once the basic triangle, square, circle have been mastered, little kids are ready for more shapes and it is good for their analytical skills.
- Practice drawing. Little kids who don’t have much experience can work on triangles, circles, square/rectangles, as well as happy/sad faces and simple letters (x, o, v, t…). Once they master those basic things, add harder pictures either free hand (tree, house) or have them start dot to dots.
- Start learning to color inside the lines, and talk about the black line being a “wall” that the color can’t get past. Put your hand on top of theirs to guide if they are not holding the crayon or making strokes right. Master colors if they aren’t already. Don’t be afraid to add less common colors (tan, turquoise) as well as teach the concepts of light and dark shades.
- Get a Potato Head and master the parts of the body (not just mouth but lips, not just hand but fingers). Once Potato Head is old, draw a body map on paper (trace your child’s outline) and start filling in less common parts (elbow, ankle, wrist, eyebrow).If your three year old is really smart, or closer to 4, you can start explaining other concepts about your body like bones, muscles, skin, and basic processes (like when you eat, your belly inside gets full).
- Pictionary. You draw, he guesses! (Use a portable Magna Doodle for ideal surface).
- threading macaroni, stringing beads, sewing cards
- Phonics, numbers, and animal flashcards. Don’t be afraid to get a complex set of animal cards… Most three year olds who watch TV already know quite a bunch already.
- Dominoes. Just easy counting, matching, and it helps them solidify 1-6 visually in their heads.
- Memory. (the board game).
- Go over the different sports and equipment if he doesn’t already know from TV. Work on the different balls: baseball, soccer ball, football, basketball, golf ball, tennis ball… Most boys absolutely love this. especially if you have them in your home. If you don’t, draw pictures or point at different ones in a magazine. If they can start identifying what type of player from their uniforms, you’ve got a future ESPN master!
- Play doh. Practice rolling, cutting, stamping, twisting, thumping, squeezing, and other fine motor skills. While it’s messy and annoying to keep fresh, the knowledge of textures (crunchy, crumbly, squishy, smooth…) and ability to work muscles make it one of the best hand exercisers ever for pre-kindergarteners. But you’ll want to supervise for awhile otherwise the constructive play disintegrates quickly. Also, you should do this over a hard floor because stamped pieces of play-doh are notoriously impossible to remove from carpet!