by Melissa Morgan
reschoolers are movers and shakers. They love to learn through hands-on activities and action-based
experiences. Most preschoolers have shorter attention spans than school-age youngsters, but will stay
engaged longer in an activity that they choose themselves. It helps to offer many choices, and keep
instructions simple and learning sequential.
Thinking Skill Materials You Can Make Yourself
Make your own thinking skill materials, to play and learn! Go on a pebble hunt, and create ladybug
counters by painting small round rocks together. Paint the rocks red, and allow them to dry. Then
place small dots all over the bug bodies. Create an equal number of bee counters, by painting yellow
bodies with black stripes. Use your counters for playing a thinking game, such as checkers.
Create patterns of color or shapes by stringing large beads or buttons onto string or pipe
cleaners. Attach strings of ten beads to a wooden frame (an adult will need to hammer in eye
hooks) to build an abacus. (If your preschooler still puts objects in his or her mouth, make sure
that these activities are supervised carefully.)
Puzzles and building blocks do more than just keep kids busy—they can help young children make
the transition from concrete to abstract thinking. Pattern blocks develop thinking skills, as
kids create and copy designs and duplicate the pictures. An adult or handy older kid can cut
and sand different sizes of small discarded wood pieces into a variety of patterns and shapes
for little kids. Alternately, bulk packages of sponges come in different colors, and are easy
to cut into shapes that little kids can use to design pictures. With these simple tools, kids
learn to recognize symmetry, distinguish similarities and differences, and explore spatial
relationships—skills that will be essential to later academic learning including math and reading.
Toys are just props for a child’s thinking; sometimes simpler is best. How many ways can your
child think of to use a large box? Build a bus, a police car, a kitchen stove, a store, a playhouse.
How about several large boxes: can your child imagine a train, a spaceship, a village?
Children need basic spatial-temporal perceptual (perceptions involving space and time) skills
to succeed at math and reading. Young children enjoy matching activities, drawing lines to
match the animals to what they eat, or grouping types by putting an X on what doesn’t belong.
Drawing lines, cutting out pictures, and writing an X can help children develop the visual
perceptual and small motor skills for writing, as well as helping the child learn to think abstractly.
Your preschooler doesn’t need thinking skills worksheets. However, if you want them to
“play school” with an older sibling, you can find plenty of
free paperwork at tlsbooks.com/preschoolthinkingskills.htm. Books such as Building Thinking Skills,
available through criticalthinking.com, provide activities to help your preschooler
improve vocabulary, pre-reading, pre-writing, math, logic, spatial, and auditory processing
Listen and Learn
Children can develop auditory thinking skills by exploring simple musical instruments, singing,
rhyming, finger play and signing games. Ringing bells and playing simple songs on musical keyboards
can also improve small children’s spatial-temporal skills. Nellie Edge, author of Books That Sing and Rhyme,
says that “The brain is uniquely wired to effortlessly learn through music; the rhythms of sound have a
powerful effect on cognition.” Download free little song books at nellieedge.com.
Songs, such as the old favorites “B-I-N-G-O” and “Pumpkin Stew,” can also be games, and help
develop your child’s imagination. What can I put in my pumpkin stew? Much more than pumpkins!
Find many more songs and games at songsforteaching.com/preschoolkinder garten.htm.
Musical games such as “London Bridge,” “Ring around the Rosie,” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
help improve listening and motor skills. In “London Bridge,” you need at least three people; two hold
up arms to make the bridge, while one person goes under the bridge. Get a group of preschoolers and
play “Mary Wore Her Red Dress”—simply change the name and type of clothing to match the children.
Using real or made-up sign language along with a song, such as “The Wheels on the Bus,” will help
your child remember the words and develop vocabulary.
Most kids never tire of verbal guessing games, such as “I Spy.” To play “I Spy,” you and your
preschooler take turns guessing an object. For instance, you might say “I spy with my little
eye, something beginning with the sound buh.” (Or, “Something red.”) Agree on a number of chances,
perhaps four, to guess the object. Find more ideas for early learning from books such as
Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready (Xulon Press), which includes activities for independent play
and learning, and Parents Guide to Entertaining and Educating Young Children, Babies & Toddlers
Feed Their Imitation & Imagination
Preschoolers like to imitate—that is one way they learn best. (It is also one way they
irritate older siblings, but that is another story!) They will copy your actions, your speech,
and your expressions. They will learn many things by watching; so if you want them to learn how
to think, show them how.
Make a game of imitation with them—imitate them right back! Most kids love this, and it
is a great way to teach them thinking skills. Copy their block tower exactly. Next, build
your own block tower, and watch them do it too!
Build Their Listening & Communicating Skills
Preschoolers are great philosophers, but they need an adequate vocabulary and expressive
language skills to ask the questions to develop thinking skills. Before a child can interact,
they need to verbalize questions such as “Why is the sky blue?” Preschoolers also
need good receptive and conversation skills in order to learn.
When children pretend, they are exercising their thinking skills. “What will happen if
my action figure falls off the edge of the bed?” “Will my doll need a shot at
the doctor’s office?”
Children learn to communicate best when their communication partners (parents, relatives,
siblings, and friends) respond to their attempts, and speak at the same level of difficulty, or
perhaps a little above their level. Don’t forget to take advantage of waiting times, such
as at the grocery shopping checkout line, in the car, or at the doctor’s office.
Use quiet times to help your child develop listening skills. Does your active preschooler know
how to wind down enough to hear a story? Can your child think about a story well enough to
understand it, discuss, and interact with you about it?
At first, story time can be very short, and it can start out active—perhaps by acting out
a short story with stuffed animals or action figures. You will want to gradually take turns
telling short stories with your child. Young wiggling children love interactive materials. Books
that make noise or that have things you can touch on the page or textures to feel are a good
introduction. To help your child increase his or her attention span and build listening skills,
choose a time when your youngster would ordinarily be tired, such as right before naps or bedtime.
Perhaps you could enlist an older sibling to help model quiet listening skills. Or pretend that a
doll or a stuffed toy is sleepy. Your child can help them by being very quiet. Gradually lengthen
the quiet, listening time, as your child learns to sit still longer.
What do preschoolers need the most, to develop thinking skills? They need . . . you. Young children
play to learn; yet if you try and stick them in a chair, you probably won’t get anywhere. So
play with your kids, get in their world, and watch as your preschooler turns into a scholar!