Distance Learning for Preschoolers: What Does My Child Really Need?


With the current shutdown of schools, including preschools, in Vermont for the remainder of the year, I’ve seen many parents say, “I know what to do with my 2nd grader, but I need ideas about what to do with my preschooler.” 

As a mother of a preschooler who will be entering kindergarten next year, and as a speech-language pathologist, I don’t have all the answers, but I can tell you some key things about distance learning for preschoolers. Whether your child is attending preschool daily or whether they are home with a caregiver, here are some of the things they will need. 

First of all, your child needs to play (by themselves and with others).

Children learn language and concepts and develop communication and social skills when they play. These skills are key in developing the basis for your child’s future learning. By age 3, children should be starting to interact with other children during play. At around age 4, children should be at least beginning to engage in cooperative and pretend play, which is best described as playing with other children, planning out schemes, and assigning roles to those playing. Of course, while we’re under quarantine, they should only be playing with you or the other members of your family who live in your home.

Secondly, your child needs to be read to.

Being read to is just another outlet in which children learn language. If you’re looking for books to read to preschoolers, here are some great suggestions.

We have been working on the 1,000 books before kindergarten program that our local library introduced us to with our now 5 year-old preschooler. You should check it out, too!

preschooler readingNext, your child needs you to show them love.

I’m sure 99% of us try to make sure our children know we love them. But, in these times of crisis, I think it’s especially important that we make a special effort to take time to step away from the news, give our children extra hugs, play an extra game, do one special 1:1 activity with them before bedtime, whatever might make your child feel extra safe and loved. This will also help you to feel better too. Just try it! 

My last suggestion is one that your preschooler may or may not need. That’s a consistent routine.

Keeping a consistent routine is the hardest part for me, when thinking about distance learning for preschoolers.

I’m not used to teaching my children at home or having my husband working from home every day, and I haven’t found a schedule I’ve used consistently. This is largely due to my second grader and not my preschooler; I don’t want my son doing too much work without breaks, yet I also feel he needs to be responsible for getting some of his work done. I am working on the scheduling piece and hope in the next week or two, I can solidify a schedule that will work with both of my children.

Basically, your preschool-aged child needs NOTHING YOU DON’T DO ALREADY!

Doing pre-literacy and “math” are a bonus, but you should not be beating yourself up or feeling guilty if you forget to integrate other intentional activities into your normal schedule or if you don’t have time to sit and drill your child on their letters.

If you do have time for some extra activities, or if you are looking for something different yet educational to keep your preschooler occupied, here are some more suggestions for you!

  • Counting– Count the stairs in your house, count the number of M&Ms the Easter Bunny brings you, count the books you read in a week, the number of times you throw a ball. Count everything! If you have an advanced counter who is getting ready to go to kindergarten in the fall like my son was, see if they can learn to rote count by 2s, 5s, or 10s.
  • More/Less– You can work on these concepts in play! Give your teddy bear four pretend cookies and the stuffed rabbit 5. If these terms are new to your child, you can tell them which one has more and less. After that, you can ask your child who has more or less. 
  • Tapping out syllables– This is actually a great activity to do when you read to your child. Find items in the book’s pictures to tap out. If there’s a toothbrush, tap out the two syllables together with your child (tooth-brush), if there’s a lightning bolt, tap out 3.
  • Rhyming– The easiest way to do this is to put some Dr. Seuss books, nursery rhymes, and other rhyming stories into your reading rotation. But you can also come up with rhyming words on your way to pick-up your school district provided lunch or curbside pickup from a local restaurant.
  • Sound work– This is really more for the preschoolers who are getting ready to go to kindergarten in the fall. My daughter’s preschool actually is doing some remote learning with the children via YouTube which makes it easy for me to motivate my child to do this. However, every week they have a ‘letter of the week’ and the kids are asked to come up with a short list of words that begin with that letter. By mid-week, they are asked to collect items from around their homes that begin with that letter for sound circle. My daughter enjoys the scavenger hunt aspect of this activity and we take pictures to send to her teachers.

Are you a family who has two parents working at home who are looking for a little bit of educational screen time so your preschooler isn’t watching Frozen 2 for the 86,357th time? Here are some suggestions of websites that are worth considering letting your child use.

(Please note that I love Frozen 2 and have nothing against it, I’m just trying to give you something different to listen to).

  • preschooler screen timewww.starfall.com – My daughter loves using this site. There are activities for not only preschoolers, but kindergarteners, and children in grades 1-3. My daughter sticks to the pre-k section, however, and fills in the beginning and ending letters of words, lets it read short passages and stories to her, plays memory where she has to match a picture to a word, and other pre-literacy activities. 
  • https://www.education.com/games/preschool/ – This is a free site (you just have to link it to your Google or Facebook account) and you can access a ton of free activities. From first glance, there are lots of math/counting games your child can play easily, in addition to other reading and writing activities that I am excited to explore.
  • https://pbskids.org/games/ – There are plenty of free games here. You can always count on PBS to make worthwhile educational materials that will keep your children engaged!
  • https://www.storylineonline.net/ – This site is currently free during the COVID-19 crisis, but they are accepting donations if you can help! This site is filled with videos of actors reading to kids. Just click on your preferred video viewing method when prompted during your first story and you’re all set. 
  • https://www.abcya.com/grades/prek – This site offers many learning games for a variety of age groups, but definitely includes pre-literacy, math, and problem-solving activities for your preschooler.

As a final thought, I will say, if your preschooler has older siblings, use them! 

My 5 year-old daughter won’t often sit for long with me when it comes to learning activities, but she will play school with her 8 year- old brother all day long! When I tried to teach her to write her name, I spent the better part of a half-hour trying to teach her an ‘M’. My son came home from school later that day. I asked him to work on her name with her while I cooked dinner. He taught her how to write her first name in about 20 minutes! I definitely utilize him to work on many of the skills I’ve mentioned earlier because I know she will listen to him far better than she listens to me! 

Keeping our families healthy and safe is obviously the top priority right now as we face the global crisis of COVID-19. As far as distance learning for preschoolers goes, definitely don’t sweat it. All they really need is what most parents have always done! However, if you’ve been looking for suggestions on what to do with your preschoolers because you feel you should be doing something, I hope I’ve given you some good ideas!

What other suggestions do you have for people looking for distance learning for preschoolers? Was there anything that worked well for your family? We’d love to hear your suggestions!         

Distance Learning for Preschoolers: What Does My Child Really Need?


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