Has your preschooler ever asked the question, "What can I do next"? Take heed: bought toys are not necessarily needed to fulfill your child's request. Many children are momentarily excited about a new toy or gift, but they often prefer the box and wrappings instead of the contents inside. With that thought in mind, why not use your old newspapers and coupons? They are usually discarded and dumped in the trash. Why not devise ways to use this to satisfy your child's request for something to do? And they are FREE.
You can easily change these discards into learning materials. A good start would be to save the colorful pictures of foods from grocery advertisements that you feel would be of interest to your preschooler. Twenty-five pictures will be a good number to begin with. Try to select pictures of five fruits; five vegetables; five dairy products; five foods from the bread, cereal, rice or pasta group; and five foods from the meat, poultry or fish group.
Encourage the preschooler to help you cut out the items and individually glue each picture on a small index card. Leave space for the price and the name of the food to be added later. The child may want to help glue. Using a glue stick will make the job neater. The preschooler must first learn to identify the unfamiliar grocery items so that he can readily name each food when asked. The individual food cards may then be placed in a row. The child can be encouraged to "read" the pictures from left to right. Repeat this until the child can name all of the foods.
Later, instruct the child to put all of the fruit, vegetable, dairy product, bread product, and meat pictures together into individual piles. Count the items in each pile and then count the piles. For reinforcement, ask the child to recall again the names of the foods in each category. A category may be called a set.
While doing these activities, the child will be actively engaged in several readiness skills. He participates in selecting the pictures to use. Skill include cutting, gluing, sorting, counting, eye hand coordination, as well as visual left-to-right training in preparation for reading. The categories may then be named and labeled on separate index cards and placed with the appropriate category.
A learning activity using the category cards may be developed in the following manner. Tell the child to close his eyes and remove a category card. Then the child can open his eyes and name the category card that is missing. To make the game more fun, say the rhyme, "Close your eyes and don't you peep. One of these cards you must seek." This game is good for memory recall. All the food category cards may then be removed. The child may now be able to recognize the cards and place them in the correct food category pile.
Later, encourage the child to assist you as you begin to develop a grocery store activity. Together you can determine the price of each grocery item that will be for sale. Note: A child of this age needs many experiences in using numbers 1 to 10, so it is better not to price any item higher than 10 cents. Write the sale price numbers legibly on each card with a felt marker or crayon. Nickels, dimes, quarters, dollars, and higher-priced items may be added when the child has a good working knowledge of numbers 1 to 10.
Place each category card in a conspicuous area on the floor or a table for the grocery store. Label each food on the grocery item card using a felt marker or crayon. Retain each food group in the correct category area. Try to use legible letters so that the child can learn the beginning and ending letter names and sounds of each food. Encourage the child to identify each food and its beginning sound. Later, do the same with the ending sound. Assist the child as needed.
Once the store is organized, the child may place his 25 pennies in a container, open his grocery bag and begin to choose the five foods he wants to purchase from his "grocery store." To control buying and money, no more than five foods should be chosen at one time. The child may count out the pennies to pay for the purchased foods. If he doesn't have enough pennies to buy what he chose, an item must be returned. The pennies must then be recounted to make sure the purchases are paid for correctly.
This general store concept enables the child to establish an understanding of addition and subtraction in a fun way. In addition, it aids in developing skills in thinking, problem-solving, fine motor control, together with beginning and ending sounds of the foods from each category. Some children will be able to read many or all of the words. This saving idea doesn't cost anything but time.
A similar store can be set up for children who are interested in sports. Other types of stores that may be introduced are clothing, shoe stores, variety store, etc. since children have varied interests.
Have fun... for pennies!