Make Early Learning Fun
Want playtime to pay off? We've got 16 fun educational games that'll set your tot up for success in preschool, kindergarten, and beyond.
Mirror, mirror on the wall: Ages 2 to 3
Arm your child with dry-erase markers or finger paint, sit with her in front of a large mirror, and let her go wild. Encourage her to trace her head or ears, or adorn your reflections with silly glasses, a beard, a hat! Not only is this a hoot, but writing or painting on a vertical surface “promotes better muscle coordination of the hand,” says Christy Isbell, Ph.D., an occupational therapist in Milligan, TN, and author of Everyday Play: Fun Games to Develop the Fine Motor Skills Your Child Needs. Kids even like the cleanup: a few squirts of glass cleaner and a squeegee.
Baking-soda art: Ages 3 to 5
Fair warning: You may want to take this one outside! Dump a 12-ounce box of baking soda into a 9 by 12-inch pan, and then fill four or five small bowls with white vinegar dyed different colors with food coloring. Give your child medicine droppers of different sizes (squeezing develops the hand and finger muscles he'll need for writing). First show him how to pinch and release a dropper to fill it up, then drip the different colors of vinegar onto the baking soda, and—surprise!—watch what happens. He'll love the way it froths and fizzes into a rainbow, so work in a little lesson on color-mixing.
Treasure hunt: Ages 3 to 5
Put some candy or small trinkets in a “treasure chest” and hide it in your house or yard. Create simple picture clues (a plant, a couch, a step stool, or other items around your home), either by drawing them or cutting them out of a magazine. Then start a scavenger hunt with the clues. Your child will follow them to find the treasure. This will enhance the listening and direction-following skills that help children in the classroom, Hughes says. Plus, you'll whet your child's appetite for problem solving. Add a twist by writing a few clues you'll read to your child, ranging from the simple (“I wash dishes”) to more elaborate (“I rhyme with ‘think’ and I'm in the bathroom”).